Monday, March 8, 2010

Lighting and Further On

We last left off where I discovered I needed more light for my plants, I had found another aquarium light downstairs and put it on top of the tank, hoping this would solve my problems. Since I had figured at the time everything was going to be fine from here on out, I went to the pet store the next day and ended up buying some more plants to try and fill in the tank. All along I had figured if I just plopped them in there and left them alone, eventually they would turn out to look just like one of the great tanks I had been seeing all over Google and different message boards. So here I was with my 6 stems of Anacharis, the Purple Waffle which was bound to die (didn't know this yet), a Java Fern and another 6 stems of Ludwigia Repens.

At the time I thought it looked beautiful and as much I've scoured old message boards and computers, for the life of me I can't find any pictures, but I assure you.. it looked terrible. Again after a few days, things started to go awry. I started getting some algae on the plants and decorations due to the extra light being left on, as I hadn't yet discovered the idea of proper light TIMING. This is very important for those new to planted aquariums. I promise you, leaving your lights on for more then 12 hours a day is in no way beneficial to your plants at all. Not unless your a huge fan of different forms of algal plant mass anyway ;). With that being said, as I had mentioned, things weren't looking very well, so back to the drawing board (internet) I was again trying to discover what my problem was. Honestly I didn't find an answer at all for atleast a few days, turns out I wasn't really looking in the right places. 

What I did eventually find was that my tank was considered "lightly" planted and it was low tech at the time. Low-tech was considered lower light (1 - 1.5 watt per gallon range) with no Co2 supplementation. Co2? As in carbon dioxide? How in the world was I going to implement that in a aquarium? The thought completely dumbfounded me until I had read further about DIY (Do It Yourself) Co2 implementation and diffusion. DIY Co2 is a fairly decent method for a low-tech tank like mine, so I needed to find a way to do that. I also learned that my plants would likely benefit from a more nutrient rich substrate and even could be enhanced even further with water column fertilizer dosing. At that moment it all dawned on me. 

This whole time I had been trying to get plants to survive underwater, but I never stopped for a second to think about how normal terrestrial plants grow. They need good soil, nutrients, good light and through photosynthesis they absorb carbon in the form of carbon dioxide and release oxygen in the process. Why would aquatic plants be any different? Suddenly, my family "present" became something more than that. I saw unlimited possibilities in my mind for what could be done, it was just a matter of whether or not I had the time and budget to follow through. Turns out I had a little bit of both. I immediately hopped online and discovered how to build your own Co2 generator, using 2 liter bottles, yeast and sugar. I went a little bit of a different route however and bought the Red Sea Bio Generator, a commercial product that came with it's own venturi powerhead pump for the diffusion method. It's a little more costly than making your own, but I had a little extra cash and it made it just a little easier. If you do consider buying the Red Sea Bio Generator for yourself, they do have refill packs that you can buy for ease, however it's CONSIDERLY cheaper to make your own. A recipe for the mixture will be at the bottom of this post. Also when I bought the co2 generator I had bought a set of SeaChem Liquid Fertilizers and a bottle of SeaChem Excel for an extra carbon source. I received in the mail, set everything up per instructions and dosed regularly as the instructions on the bottle told me too. 

Everything really started to come together after all this, the plants were growing, albeit slowly. Eventually after about or month or so, I was able to save up enough cash to buy some new substrate (gravel/soil). At the time, the only thing available to me locally was Flourite. Flourite is a hard clay mixture with a particularly high iron content which would be good for plant root development. I purchased enough for my tank, immediately went home and tediously replaced the gravel in the tank with the Flourite after rinsing it for nearly 3 hours in a bucket until the water ran clear. If you skip this step, you'll be in for some EXTREMELY muddy water for I couldn't even imagine how long. Even after I rinsed mine out till it was clear, the tank still was murky for atleast 24 hours or so, but eventually cleared out after a water change. It did take some time for the plants to adjust after having to replant everything and trimming, but they did eventually fill in fairly nicely over time. For about 3 months I kept trimming the plants, and replanting here and there. It started to look half-way decent for what it was.

After that, I ended up moving across states here to Indiana, space was just completely unavailable for my tank or the 55 gallon I had upstairs that housed a set of Golden Geckos. All fish, geckos and anything I could manage except equipment was sold, given to friends, or donated to the pet store. I wasn't very happy with having to leave it all behind, but it had to be done...

DIY Co2 Recipe + Equipment

You will need the following items:

- 1 2-liter soda bottle, empty and rinsed out of course ;)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp bakers yeast/brewers yeast
- Fresh Warm Water (not from the aquarium)
- CO2 Proof Tubing/Airline Tubing
- A small amount of silicone sealant, to seal the tubing and bottle

Here's what you need to do:

- Drill a hole in the soda cap large enough so the tubing will fit snuggly.
- Push the tubing through the soda cap so it sticks out maybe 1/2 inch through the bottom of the cap.
- Seal around the tube on the top and bottom of the soda cap with the silicone, then allow it to dry and try to see if it's air tight.

Once that is done and finished, it's time to mix the ingredients:

- Add the sugar to the bottle.
- Add the yeast.
- Add the water to the bottle, only add till the top 4 inches or so empty as this room is needed to produce the Co2 and prevent the mixture from entering your tank.
- Cap the bottle and put the other end of the tubing into whatever method your using for diffusion (even a fine mist airstone).

The Co2 should start bubbling out within a 5 to 24 hours, but I promise it will come. The mixture will last about 2 weeks or so, and then you'll have to make the sugar/water/yeast mixture again. There are other ways of Co2 diffusion, being high-tech with actual cylinder and reactors, but that will be talked about another day once I get to my current tank.

There are a few other ways of building this set up, as well as different recipes as well, one even including jello. Do your research and discover what you think would be the best for you! This was just the easiest way of diffusion I could think of off hand for a complete beginner.

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