Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bit off more than he can chew

Our 150g tank is heavily stocked with an assortment of Rainbows, Clown Loaches and others. It is always a feeding frenzy when putting food in the tank. It is common for fish to grab whatever is thrown in, regardless of its suitability for them or whether they were the intended recipient.

Here we have an Australian Rainbow that has grabbed a carnivore pellet meant for the bottom feeding fish. It's so big, he can't bite it and it distends his jaw to hold it in his mouth.

We can see the pellet here:

In order to break it down, he would spit it out, then grab it again:

But this wasn't without risk, as another Rainbow was following him around waiting for a chance to steal it:

So better to keep it jammed in his mouth!

A similar show is performed when feeding algae wafers to the Clown Loaches. They are much too big for their mouths, but they will pick them up and take them off somewhere private. Who ever said fish couldn't be entertaining?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

After one month...

After approximately one month, this is where the tank stands. There is lots of new growth showing on the plants, but it is a challenge to hold off the brown algae that is common to newly established tanks. The bog area is still unfinished. Despite all our efforts during construction, it has leaked each time we have tested it. Little by little, each leak has been eliminated, so we hope to have it going soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Launching the new tank

We wanted to have the tank up for the 8th floor loft party, an event my apartment building has on each floor once per year where residents can open their lofts to share with their neighbors. So the last few weeks were stressful, but it came together. As of these pictures, the tank had water in it for only 24hrs, but it looks good and the fish are doing well. After some time, the water will clear up.

The plants are from several stores in Austin, TX where we were the weekend before for the Maker Faire. I took the opportunity to check out the local fish stores in the area and found a bunch of plants I haven't seen at my local stores. With any luck, I can grow them out and sell them to my LFS so they will be available here in Dallas.




Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A new stand...

My old stand was somewhat improvised. I was determined to make this one super sturdy so there would be no question that it could support the weight of almost 2,000lbs of water. I hardly ever create more than a pencil sketch of something before I start building, but I had discovered this great new program called Google SketchUp. It is basically a 3D drawing program with a very unique interface. It takes some getting used to, and watching of the tutorial videos, but it's amazingly powerful. Oh, and it's free!

Design goals this time around were:
  • Leveling feet
  • Removable rock panels
  • Removable trim for easy aquarium placement
  • Over-built design
  • Use notched wood posts that directly support the top frame without relying solely on the hardware
  • Keep the use of cedar and rock. I discovered later that Cedar is an ideal material for use around aquariums because it will never rot.
After a few major revisions, I arrived at the following plan:

Although I calculated the weight per foot to be only 250lbs, I opted to use grade 5 - 2.5"x3/4" hex head bolts with a matching nut and washer. The combination was about $7.50/set, but the high grade means that it should be possible to turn the nut to level the stand, even under full load. I found some plastic caps to put over the head to keep from scratching the floor when I move the stand around during the build.

The panels were designed to be a piece of plywood with two layers of 2x4. The rock facing would be glued to the plywood, then the panel could be inserted between the legs. This would allow filter components to be placed under the stand if desired, plus it makes the stand easier to handle. As an added bonus, when adjusting the leveling feet, the panels can slide up and down so they are always resting on the floor regardless how much leveling adjustment was necessary.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What to do...

After shoveling out 250lbs of gravel, I was able to pull the aquarium away from the wall for a closer look. Sure enough, the cracks were bad:

I couldn't understand what would have caused such a failure. I hoped that it was a manufacturing defect. I pried off the plastic trim along the top hoping to find a chipped edge or an unclean break, as that would be my evidence to complain to Oceanic. Unfortunately, as you can see, it's a perfectly clean edge. A single crack leaves the top edge and splits out to multiple cracks.

I had three theories for the failure. (1) Manufacturing defect. (2) Overheating of the glass by the heater when the water level in the overflow box dropped and I hadn't remembered to turn off the heater. (3) Uneven support by the stand.

I did have some instances where the 500 watt heating element was not fully submerged and was on. But it sat on the bottom and the crack started at the top. I had some concerns about the stand design, but I reasoned that if it wasn't fully supported across the span, it should have created inward pressure at the failure point. It seemed like it would have had to be supported in the middle and not the ends, thus pulling at that point, in order to crack at the top. Neither seemed to have occurred. Once I saw where the crack was and found no apparent manufacturing flaw, a fourth option came to mind. I had drilled several holes in the wood supporting the bog in order to create a large notch along the front edge. The plan was to use the notch to route hoses and wires into the tank, but it ended up not working out. While drilling, I think the bit may have broken through the wood and allowed the bit to hit the edge of the tank. If it did happen, it left no apparent damage on the trim, and if it caused a flaw in the glass, it didn't manifest itself for over two months of water testing and startup. So I don't know.

The warranty on the tank said it covered only "glass-to-glass seals" and "only if the tank is used on an Oceanic stand." The crack therefore didn't qualify, which seems unfair. But such is life. I started to consider replacement options. I had a good relationship with my local fish store, so hoped they would let me order a replacement at-cost. When I stopped in to inquire, I discovered that they had had a fire in the store a few days earlier. While they were loading most of their stock onto a truck to take it to their other store in Houston, they were looking to sell some of their display tanks. None fit what I was looking for though, so I passed.

We ended up ordering a tank from GlassCages.com. Since we were reconsidering things, and I was going to build a new stand, we picked a 240g 72x30x24. The 215g was 72x24x29 which made it too tall to comfortably work in. This would give us more depth to the tank for visuals and it wouldn't be as tall so it's easier to work in. GlassCages builds their tanks on demand, so they would build to spec. I opted to have the holes drilled in the back glass rather than the bottom as I felt it would make access easier. I also liked how a friend who recently opened a fish store did his tanks with home made skimmers. (More on that later.) I opted for a 5th hole to be used as a dedicated drain for water changes. I thought the tank would have cross bracing as the previous tank had, but because GlassCages uses euro-bracing, this tank didn't require cross bracing. This was exciting as it made the top almost fully open. We also upgraded the front glass to StarFire glass which is low in iron content and lacks the blueish tint most thick glass has. GlassCages is in Tennessee, and for only $80 would meet in the Dallas area and transfer the tank to your truck.

It turned out that by Dallas, they really meant Denton which is almost an hour North. So after a long day with a rental van, much sweat and frustrations, we got it home. Here it is.The euro-bracing is the rim of glass around the top and there is one at the bottom inside the tank too.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Catastrophic failure

I went out of town for a week and while I was gone, Shane received a late-night knock on the door from maintenance. Apparently, the apartment below us reported water leaking through the ceiling (keep in mind the ceiling is 12" of concrete). Shane shut off the pumps and the auto-refill system and the leak appeared to stop. The next day, he discovered a crack in the back glass that was located inside the overflow box. Over the next day or two, the crack grew so he drained the tank fully. Fortunately, there were no fish in the tank yet and the plants were easily moved to another tank. The wood trim supporting the tank held a lot of water, so damage was minimal.

The poor empty tank:

The crack viewed from the top:

The crack viewed from the back, under the bog . You can see the long curving cracks:

There isn't really much that can be done at that point, so after months of work, we were faced with starting over.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Planting the Top

Well, we planted the backdrop today. There is a great little shop near here called Sunshine Miniature Trees that has an incredible selection of Bonsais and other neat plants. They have been here for 17 years, and the owner and staff are incredibly helpful and knowledgable. I still do not understand how we could have lived here this long, and not been in there before. With their help, and an assortment of ( less wonderful but still serviceable ) plants we got from the $.99 store, we were ready to plant the back.

Most of the back is always at least damp from the fountain overflow, but it's not necessarily soggy all the time. I expect some of the plants wont be able to handle the damp and will melt, but we've done our best to give them a good chance. For most of the plants, we removed them from the container and rinsed as much of the soil off as we could manage. I then repacked them into peat pots using a potting medium recommended by the owner of Sunshine called 'Cornell Mix'. It's a light weight potting medium made up mostly of peat, with some perlite and other ingredients mixed in. According to him, we should not have to worry about it leaching or monkeying with our water chemistry to any great degree.

The peat pots were then set into a bed of 'Aquatic Soil' which is basically a mixture of perlite and vermiculite, two largely inert forms of fired and unfired clay. The peat pots are set above the water level in the aquarium soil, so we are hoping that the net result will be plants that stay wet, but not soggy. Since they are in the peat pots, we also retain the ability pull them out and let them dry out if need be.

There were a few exceptions to this rule. The climbing fig vine behind the central piece of driftwood remains in it's own pot, and will have to be watered by hand, since it remains well clear of the water. The small jade plant planted in the piece of driftwood is planted directly in a bed of the aquatic soil. We're less concered about moisture there, but I'm a little concerned about keeping it fertilized without leaching into the water. Still, we have high hopes for it.

The Bonsai Juniper, the Fukien Tea and the climbing ivy behind the left water fall are also still in their own pots, since there was not really any planting space behind the fountain. The plant on the far right is called 'irish moss' ( though it is a rooted plant ). I'm a little concerened that the peat pot will occsionally be sitting it water, instead of just wet aquatic soil. If this proves to be the case, I may try to move it into an unglazed terracotta pot. It should be easy enough to conceal, and should protect the soil roots from sitting in mud.

We also purchased some Kyoto moss spores to try to dress out the naked stone on the fountains, but upon further investigation, it may require more care and feeding than we will be able to give it - however, for $5, we figured it was worth a try. We've started a small test batch of it in a sheltered area on the right, but the conditions may be too hostile for it to get established. If so, we will probably start looking for some friendly lichens or other, less picky mosses to get established to try to minimize alage growth and soften some of the lines. If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Lastly, we are waiting for Sunshine to get in some small epiphytes that we can distribute around the rock, driftwood and stand to complete the external decorations. We are also toying with trying to introduce some java moss into the always wet areas around the right hand fountain.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Great LFS!

I had the good fortune to run across a great new pet store in Dallas called 'Odyssey Pets'. They specialize in fish, and dog grooming - Yes, I know that seems odd at first glance, but it also reflects one of their best qualities.

We met Mike - the owner - a couple of years ago while he was working for another LFS. We were just getting back into the hobby, and were just getting our feet wet with seriously planted aquariums. Mike was a consistently good resource, and helped us avoid a number of beginner mistakes, and was in general a font of great information. He has since struck out on his own, and we are very, very happy to have such a knowledgeable, and upstanding guy running a shop in our area.

They also happen to own and show award winning havanese ( small dogs - for those like me that had to ask ). Thus, their focus is not so strange after all. They chose two arenas about which they are both knowledgeable and passionate.

At the moment his fish room is a little small, but they are expanding the shop by another 1500 square feet, and much of that will be given over to fish. Further, what stock he does currently have is healthy, and well cared for. His plants, however, are perhaps his best feature at the moment. They are easily the healthiest and best maintained selection I have been able to find locally.


Check them out.

Name that Fish

Can anyone help me identify this fish? I bought a few of them from our LFS last year when he had them in. I can't figure out what species they are, and the fish store doesn't remember carrying them.

They are personable little fish, though they do startle rather easily, and are extremely peaceful. They briefly shared a tank with some full grown and juvenile Butterfly Goodieds, and while the goodieds didn't exactly bully them, they were much more present and had better appeteites after we removed the goodieds.

They tend to keep mostly towards the bottom. they have alternating red and blue vertical stripes, with an anal fin that runs along the entire rear third of the body, and both have a black spot surrounded by a white/yellow area right at the base of the tail ( this is not a sore or lesion, it is healthy, scales are intact , and was present on all six of the ones we had ) . Body shape is generally round, with no flattening or barbels typical of an exclusive bottom dweller, though they still pick food off the bottom willingly enough. When they are in good color, there is occasionally some yellow fringing on the fins.

I have only 2 left now, but there is a significant size difference between the sexes. Since I cannot identify the family, I cannot say what gender they are, but I have two of the larger variety, which come in at about two inches, while the smaller were 1-1.25 inches. The larger also seem significantly more full bodied, and the smaller were the more active and visible, leading me to guess that I have two females.

I've had them for ~ 18 mos in a sparsely populated 20 gallon, so I believe these sizes are full grown.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A coffee table too...

This one isn't so bad. In fact, it's the first one I've seen to actually acknowledge the need for lighting, filtration, etc. It has the potential to be a neat idea, but the form factor does make it more difficult to maintain.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Truly an obsession

It is possible to take this interest too far...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Crazier than mine!

I came across this tank on YouTube and while I understand how the water would stay in the upper tank normally, I don't understand how it stays in the tank with the airstone in use. I can't think of any physics process by which that air would be removed, and the lack of air is all that keeps the water up there. It's a neat idea...

Speaking of crazy, yet cool aquarium ideas... how's this one? I can't find it at the moment, but I found the site of the guy who made it. Apparently they have the filter inlet on one tank and outlet on the other, and because of a system like this's tendency to retain an even level on both ends, this creates a current through the tube - genius! But it also must have cost a fortune in materials, and required a world of patience... and a lot of guts.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Automatic top-off

Since the tank will have no top and there will be various streams in the bog area, evaporation will be rampant. There are auto top-off systems in the catalogs I frequent, but they seem overly complicated, monitoring sump level, tank level, reservoir, etc. I found a system on Ebay that looked promising. It comes with one or two float valves that can be configured in a variety of ways depending on your needs. It activates a relay to a standard 3-prong outlet. As a safety measure, you can set a timer for between 6-24 minutes. This is how long it will run the pump before shutting off, whether or not the float said to stop. This protects against floating plant matter interfering with the float valve and overfilling the tank. If it times-out in this way, it won't run again until it is reset.

I opted for the two float system. This gives you a float for on/off and a "oh sh#t" backup. If all else fails, there is the timer.

You may have noticed a blue plastic 55 gallon drum next to the 150g tank. This is my tank water queue. Although I upgraded my reverse osmosis system to better support my new tank needs, it still doesn't produce water at a fast rate. So I have it setup to fill the tank to a mechanical float valve. Then I have an electric pump that I use with a garden hose and spray wand to fill my other tanks. For the 215 I added a two-way splitter, routing one to the hose, and the other to a lawn sprinkler valve with a hose barb. I run hose from there to the tank. I leave the hose above water level so the water can't flow backwards into the drum when the water level in it is low. The transformer to power the valve simply plugs into the controller for the float switches. The switches came with plastic brackets and suction cups, but I plan to build a more permanent mount for them.

Butterfly Goodieds

Male: Right side of photo, with iridescent blue scales, and white band on the tail
Female: Center left above clown loach resting on plants in the driftwood.

Okay, I needed a break from building the new aquarium, so I'm going to profile a cool little fish we found a couple of years ago. They are called Butterfly Goodieds ( Ameca Splendens ). They are a hardy little live bearer that some sources indicate are extinct, or nearly so in the wild. Currently, there are no known wild sources, and none of the major breeding houses are interested in them. The species is kept in the hobby solely by dedicated regional breeders who often specialize in goodieds.

Depending on what you read, they can be kept and thrive from 65-80 degrees, though they will seldom breed at the low end of the range. They are very tolerant of hard and soft water, and one breeder even keeps them in a greenwater tank. We keep ours between 76 and 78 in a heavily planted tank, and they are doing very, very well.

They are a very personable and active fish. They most definitely know who feeds them, and will beg shamelessly even when well fed. They like a good deal of current in the tank, and we often see them playing in the return stream when we run the big diatom filter. They are active and precocious enough that they might worry delicate of skittish species, though the only problem we've ever had with fin nipping was with them in our angel tank when it started getting a little bit crowded, and we lost one of the goodied pair.

They do very well with Bosemani and Australian rainbows in our 150, with the males occasionally even chasing the much larger rainbows across the tank. We have two pairs in our 150, and two more breeding pairs in a 20 gallon which we are slowly converting to a species tank. So far, we've had three drops, and we just sold the first batch of 10 to our LFS and gave a pair to a friend, with 8 more currently growing out with their parents.

However, the very, very best thing of all about the neat little fish is that they LOVE hair algae. A pair of full grown ones can strip a 20g tank of an infestation in a matter of days. 4 of them took care of all the hair algae in our 150 in less than two weeks. The picture below shows two juvenile and several fry going after a ball of hair algae - note that they will not disturb the 'japanese algae ball' sitting next to it.

Breeding them, as with most livebearers, is just a matter of providing them with good water quality, and plenty of good food. They are easily sexed, with females being much larger than males, and males having a bright white band on their tails. The banding emerges, I believe at about 3-4 months, but I have to confess that I did not really watch the calendar for them.

We haven't been breeding them enough to have determined exactly what works well, but we feed them a mixture of flake, veggies, tetramin bottom feeder pellets ( these are actually for our ancistris and clown loaches, but the goodieds seem to love them as well ) and the occasional batch of brine shrimp - as well as any hair algae we can lay hands on.

Fry are larger than most live bearers - and large enough to take flake from the get go, so there is no need to contend with infusoria or other involved methods of feeding. They are typically very shy for the first week or two, but they grow quickly and become quite bold as long as you provide some dense plant cover for them to retreat to. Parents do not seem to be a threat to the fry, as we had 3 generations living in the tank at one point, and no observed loss or damage to the fry.

So do they have a down side? Sort of, as I mentioned above, they can be fin nippers if the tank is crowded, or they get bored. However, in our experience, if you keep a pair, or better a small school, they won't generally bother anyone else in the tank.

Second, they really like hair algae - so much so that it is difficult, if not impossible to keep plants with fine foliage, like foxtail, cabomba, hair grass or glossostigma. We tried repeatedly to get baby tears and hair grass established in our VERY heavily planted 150, and they unfailingly found them, and pulled them up. We even went so far as to box off one corner of the tank for a month to allow baby tears to get a foot hold, and they were still all pulled up in less than two weeks.

Still, on the whole, I think they are 100% worth it. If you can find them in your LFS, they are typically pretty inexpensive, easy to keep, and a whole lot of fun to add to your tank. They are peaceful enough in pairs or schools to keep with most other species, and you get the added benefit of knowing that you are helping to protect and propogate a threatened species.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Bog Structure

The bog area is finally beginning to come together. We used cut stone to seal up the sides, and a bead of silicone along where the underlay and the aquarium come together.

Working with natural broken stone has proven to be a challenge, and we've been through several iterations. What you see in the photos should be the final configuration, with the exception of whatever shunts we need to correct to guide the water flow.

We had originally planned to use one of the return pumps as the water source, but we needed both returns to keep up water flow in the tank, so we've gotten two smaller pumps, and split the flow on both to control volume.

The right hand side has a small lake at the top, with an overflow into a small stream that empties into a larger lake that in turn drains into the tank.

The left side is meant to be more of a natural cliff fall. Water will come from the topmost opening, as well as the 'cavern' to the left, and will hopefully follow the water course out onto the center glass support, and then into the tank. Once we have established the water flow, the final flow will be routed so that it keeps the marginals wet, and flows back into the tank. We'll place a terrestrial Ivy on both the left and right side of the lattice and allow it to fill in, as well as attaching mosses and epiphytes to the bog area and the base.

Since the marginals will be planted in a mixture of vermiculite and perlite, there should be little danger of fertilzer or chemical leaching from the plant soil wreaking havoc in the tank, and the terrestrial plants will be watered from, and drain on a separate channel.

We are waiting to build out the center until we pick out plants and containers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Earlier I showed a mockup of a lattice structure for behind the bog area. Something to grow vines on and bring the whole thing together. Unfortunately, I didn't get pictures in progress, but I bought a bunch more cedar fence pickets and ripped them to 3/4" sticks. I kept some in the 2.5" size I cut before. I decided a criss-cross pattern was kind of boring, so I went with a different idea. Below is the back side in nearly complete state.

In the bottom right of the above picture is the jig I used to get even spacing. It's just two scrap pieces nailed at 90 degrees to one another. I used it as shown below. It would sit neatly between two sticks while I nail the next one in place.

Here is the final result, viewed from the front

And here it is in place:

CO2 Reactor

The 150g tank was the first time I did CO2 injection. I selected the Aqua Medic 1000 CO2 reactor shown below:

It has worked well, but it's expensive. Anywhere from $80-120 depending where you shop. It's a simple design, a tube filled with bio balls with hose barbs on either end, a straw tube to pump in the gas and a vent at the top to purge air.

I was looking through catalogs and came across this which looked surprisingly similar. And only $35.

I purchased one along with a box of bioballs...

A couple dollars at my local Petco got me a hard tube that air hose tubing fits over.

I opened it up, poured in the bio balls and drilled a hole in the top for the tube:

I carefully threaded the tube through the dividing disc and down the side, stopping an inch or so from the bottom.

Finally, a few drops of super glue finishes it off and (hopefully) welds and seals the tube in. I haven't water tested it yet, but if it leaks, I will add silicone. In this model, both the water tubes are on top. The one entering the middle of the reactor chamber connects to a tube that extends down to the bottom. In traditional use, this would be the inlet, water would be pumped to the bottom, flow up through the media and out the top. In my case, I want the water to flow against the CO2's natural tendency to float upward. So I will pump the water in the top and force it to travel down through the bio balls before flowing up the pipe to get out.

The only thing missing from this is the air vent. I have some small valves from an indoor watering system that I thought about using. They have barbs on them so installing them directly would be challenging. I could mount a small piece of the straw tube the same as the one there already and use a small piece of hose to bridge between the two. Or I can play it by ear and see if I need to be able to vent air regularly.