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.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lighting Canopy - Build Part II

The reflectors seemed to keep the light in the area of the tank, so I decided to go with 10" sides, mainly to hide the fixtures inside. I didn't put gaps between these planks so the light won't leak out, particularly on the ends where the reflector doesn't reflect the light downward. The addition of the sides made the canopy much more rigid which was good.

I wasn't sure where I would put the ballasts. They are heavy, but not too bad. I test fit one along the center brace and the mounting holes aligned with the planks that have the metal supports and eye-bolts. I decided it would support the ballasts and allow plenty of space for cooling.

The ballasts came with jacketed, heat resistant cable going to spade plugs for the light fixtures. With the ballasts mounted so close, I didn't need that much cable but didn't want to try to shorten it in case I needed to move the ballasts later. Due to the special jacket on the cable, it wouldn't coil neatly, so I just routed it neatly around the fixture. It looks like I planned it all from the start!

One last touch was the addition of some more 2x3 along the bottom edge of the side supports. I cut grooves lengthwise on the inside and fit some glass in them. I think it would work, but the glass I bought was simple 3/32" glass which was difficult to cut cleanly, much less install without breaking it. Since the canopy will be so high above the tank I think I'll go without glass for now. It was mainly to protect the bulbs, so I'll keep an eye on it.

It looks good! I added some trim pieces to the ends to cover up the cut corners that were on the fence pickets. I found that the 2x3 I put along the back edge cast shadows on the bog area, in part because I ran out of planks for the back. For now I took off the 2x3 along that edge and I'll wait and see how it goes.

The tank is filled here for water testing purposes. I also wanted to soak out any contaminants that may have been introduced during the build process (the silicone said it was 100% silicone but also said it wasn't for tank use, plus the cut rock panels were glued together with liquid nails.) To help in that process, I'm running the filters packed full of charcoal. In the bog area you can see the beginnings of the slate build. A friend suggested some lattice for the wall with some climbing plants. I used some cedar scrap to mock some up to see how it looked. I think it's worth pursuing.

Bog Setup - Redux

Epoxy is a pain in the $!@. I knew this, we've used it before, but somehow, we forgot just how annoying. To be fair, West makes a gread product, just not for this application.

If you haven't figured it out yet, coating the pink stuff didn't quite work out. It didn't melt, or spontaneously combust... it just, well, um, yeah, you get the idea. So, time for plan B. Bright and early this morning, Michael and I set out for a trip to the hardware store, and our friendly neighborhood stone yard.

The plan? Use the real thing. But, obviously, the lightweight little support structure we had put in before wasn't going to be enough to hold 200-300 lbs of stone, so first we had to build a new platform, when we ( in typical fashion ) over-engineered just a tad.

At the stone yard, we bought a couple of hundred pounds of what they described as 'Multi Slate Flag. Beautiful stuff. Did I mention we loaded it, and a 50 lb bag of beach pebbles, and another 150 lbs of Rainbow Schist into the back of Michael's Mini Cooper?!

Next, we took these beautiful big pieces of slate, and beat on them with a hammer and chisel to make them into smaller pieces which we tried to pile artfully on the bog shelf. Here are a couple of initial planning shots

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Lighting Canopy - Initial test

We're not really supposed to be drilling into concrete structures here, so we were lucky that some mysterious ferries stopped by when we weren't looking and magically installed some expanding concrete anchors in the ceiling for us in just the right spot! The addition of some aircraft cable made hanging relatively straightforward.

It was time to give it a test run. It wasn't as overwhelmingly bright as I feared so that was good. I decided to pitch the reflector towards the back so I made use of my adjustment mechanism, which you can see up close in the photo below.

(Note, these photos are black and white because the camera white balance was off so they came out very blue and couldn't be easily corrected.)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Lighting Canopy - Build Part I

I set out on this part of the project with a few ideas. I liked the idea of making the lighting canopy out of cedar to complement the rest of the aquarium, and thought something that looked a bit like a grape arbor might look good. I also wanted the light fixtures to have some means to be adjusted to fine tune the pitch of the reflectors to control the direction of the light.

We bought a bunch of cedar fence pickets that were on sale, and some 2x3's to fasten them to.
The pickets were about 6" wide, 1" thick and 6 feet long. I put them on the table saw and ripped them into uniform 2.5" strips which seemed more to scale with what we were building. I cut three 2x3 pieces to 24" in length figuring the canopy should be roughly the dimensions of the aquarium itself. Then I just nailed the pickets on top, using one as a spacer to leave gaps for air flow.

Once that was complete, I turned it over and test fit the reflectors, marking where the mounting holes for those would be. From this I decided where the eye-bolts should go. I realized that the boards were likely not strong enough to support the stress of the eye bolts alone, so I dug through our stock of assorted materials and found some pieces of metal left over from some shelving. I drilled holes in those and mounted the eye-bolts through them. This would cause the stress to be spread out through most of the exposed board on that side of the canopy. I would add some liquid nails later to keep the metal supports in place.

My idea for making the reflectors with adjustable pitch was to use these threaded fasteners shown on the right in the above photo. I would drill larger holes in the reflectors and insert these, then use the ring on the left to secure it to the reflector.

I would then insert these bolts through the wood in the canopy and thread them into the connectors on the reflectors. By turning the bolts from the top, I could draw each of the four connectors up or down and turn the reflector slightly in any direction. I also sketched out a similar system to bend the reflector sides inward to narrow the beam, but opted to wait and see if that is necessary.

To fasten the connectors to the reflectors I found these neat washer-like things that essentially slide on one-way. I found the best way to put them on is to set them over a hole drilled in a piece of wood as shown.

Then set the reflector over it, lining up the hole we drilled and setting the threaded connector in place. Then I used a scrap piece of wood to hold it in place while I delivered a couple blows to the wood piece to drive the connector into the washer below. The scrap wood prevented me from accidently hitting the reflector with the hammer. The connector on the left has been installed, the one on the right is ready to be installed.

Here you can see the connectors from the back side, ready to accept the bolts.

I drilled the holes and installed the bolts through the top. You can also see the eye bolts in place. Then I held the reflector in place and used an allen wrench to get all the bolts in place.

And here it is finally mounted. One bonus of this mounting method is that the reflector is set off from the wood which will promote cooling.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Building the Bog

We've decided to make the bog by building up sheets of pink styrofoam insulation ( see picture below ). It's light weight, chemically stable, cheap and very easy to work with. We began by cutting a piece to the size of the bog platform to use as a base. We built up the land forms by layering several pieces together, cutting holes in the layers of foam to hold various marginals and epiphytes. We also cut channels into the base layer to provide water courses, and shaped the stacked layers aling the edges with a looped hacksaw blade to get an eroded, somewhat natural looking texture ( this is not shown in these pictures. )

One of our goals was a tall, dramatic looking water fall on one end. Rather than trying to stack and bond together the dozens of small pieces it would take to get the desired height, we decided to a smaller number of larger ones, bond them, and stack them perpendicular to the base ( second photo ). The next step is to blend the pieces together and create a rocky, irregular surface for the falls.

The final step is to blend, color and apply a gray-brown epoxy coat to the entire board to make it water tight, and prevent anything unpleasant from leaching into the water. We're using West epoxy resins, and using colloid silica to thicken the mixture. We've got a couple of test batches poured and are waiting for them to set to see which mixture is most effective.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

The garden platform

A key part of this aquarium from the start was the inclusion of a bog type garden area above and behind the tank. This is a first attempt at building a support for a shelf. Actually, it wasn't the first attempt, the first attempt was a 2x4 frame that used lumber that was far from straight, thus the resulting frame was not flat. This was an attempt to make due with the wood despite its deformities.

Feeling a bit impatient, I made use of some particle board furniture pieces I had laying around and put something together. It is supported by the wall itself though and that is something I wanted to avoid. Depending on what the structure on top is built with, it may need to be rebuilt.

The plastic shown is 40mil plastic sheeting that is sold for lining shower floors before laying tile I think. It is pretty thick and therefore very durable looking. It's not cheap however, almost $6 per linear foot. But the goal was to establish a means where no matter what happened up top, the water would always end up back in the tank.