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Cheap Aquarium Plant Seeds Test Day 1

I’ve decided to evaluate the usefulness of aquarium plant seeds imported from overseas.  These can be had inexpensively, so I think they may be a good addition to the store.


I tried some before and they actually did germinate and turn into plants, but they floated to the top of the water and were eventually floated away.  Not great ground cover.IMG_0020

This time around, I had an epiphany.  Why not use gelatin pill capsules to keep the seeds under the substrate until they get properly waterlogged.  I happened to have a bunch of these capsules left over from my old DIY root tab project, so why not?

The process is very straight forward, the capsules easily pull apart.  Just load some seeds in on half then push the other half back on and you’re good to go.  The seeds are very small and pretty dense, so it’s not necessary to overfill the capsule.


Fill up a few of these, enough to plant these a few inches apart in the area in which you want carpeting plants in your aquarium.


Now the waiting begins.  Just like any other seeds, it will take a few days to a week or so for the seeds to germinate.  I’ll post updates as there are things to take pictures of, stay tuned.

Click here for Day 2

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This Happened: My Double-Sided ‘Scape

I have been putting off making any updates to this site for a while now as I was planning on moving.  I knew that I was downsizing and I thought I might use my 60 gallon planted tank as a room divider in my new place.


Sure enough, that’s exactly what ended up happening.  It’s kind of weird seeing it so barren after it spending most of its life as an overgrown jungle tank.


Right now, things are a little sparse in there, but the plants will grow in and fill out giving it a little more full of an appearance.  I’m hoping I’ll get those microswords to carpet on the “front” side of the tank while the taller plants grow up into the middle and back of the tank.


I also owe you all a post on how to move an aquarium like this one.  I swear I’ll get it written soon.  Until then the “after” pictures will just have to do.

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August ‘Scape Update

If you follow this site (why don’t you? Just click the button on the right), you’ll know I recently had to re-scape my creek tank thanks to some feline hi-jinx. I also recently re-did the setup of the 60 gallon tank, so I figured I’d share some pictures.

29 Gallon Creek Tank


IMG_0134It was  a decent enough setup that somewhat resembled a creek, though the lava rock and java fern aren’t exactly native.  I kind of felt that the driftwood messed with the rule of thirds and didn’t look natural.


IMG_20150809_190622213_HDRI decided rather than two hills with a valley in the middle, I’d go with a large, pronounced hill.  Originally I wanted a drop off, but this ended up more like a hill.  It’s barren now, but I planted a tiger lotus in the back and an apogenton in the mid ground.  That should fill out that hill nicely once it grows out.

Similarly, the Java fern will hopefully grow out into a nice, bushy background.  I have some random native stem plants in the corners and back to add some variety when they grow out.

The driftwood is more natural laying down and draws the sight line across the bottom third of the tank. There’s some java moss which hopefully will take off and lend a softer, more natural look in time.

60 Gallon Planted High-Tech Community Tank


This is my main tank, and the one I spend much of my time on.  There wasn’t anything in particular wrong with the setup and I was very pleased with how well the java fern took off.

Basically, I was just bored and decided to mix things up.


IMG_20150809_190539917_HDRFirst thing to note: I didn’t go crazy planting the ludwigia repens. This photo was taken about a week after I did the aquascape.  I had cut those plants way down, most were only a couple inches tall.  These things just blew up like weeds.

It’s great for background, but they are effectively choking out the tiger lotus.  That is the problem with a jungle scape.

I have to say I’m still not 100% happy with this setup.  I wanted do something more like a rock cliff with driftwood protruding from it.  Turns out my giant fake driftwood there is way too big for the tank and will only fit a couple ways.

The new setup does make for some nice hidey spots for shrimp and fry. I’m hoping this will also get more light on the dwarf swords so they’ll spread out and cover the open ground.  But, I have a feeling, this setup will look different come the next update.

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Time can do amazing things

I’m going to change things up a bit for this post.  Rather than an aquarium build, tip or deal I’m going for a little retrospective piece.

I was browsing through some old photos and I came across this little gem:


See that little plant on the right sitting on the driftwood?  That’s one of those little java ferns you can buy in various pet shops that comes packaged in a plastic box with some sort of gel in it.

Not very impressive I know.  Well how about this shot I just took today:


And that is a wider shot of the same log I took today.  I did add some java moss to the log, which is the little bits you see mixed in with the plant. Otherwise, that all came from the sad little fern in the first picture.

I’ve also trimmed and culled that plant many times in the past year or so.  I’ve removed tons of daughter plants cut off leaves, you name it.  I can’t get the thing to stop growing now.

I kind of forgot the whole thing started from a little twig about a year and a half ago.

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Disaster Strikes: The autodoser incident

Sooner or later it will happen to you. Something will go awry and turn your beautiful aqua eco system into a nightmare scenario for your fish, and maybe your whole house.

I was lucky that this wasn’t one of those incidents that required some kind of insurance claim. Some of the inhabitants of my planted 60 gallon aquarium, they weren’t quite so lucky.

I’ve been using a DIY fertilizer dosing setup successfully for some time now.  But, recently, I tore the setup down to rearrange it and top off the liquid fertilizer.  I moved the dosing pump to the outside of the tank near the water line.

After a bunch of testing and re-testing I finally got the system to prime and flow like I wanted. That night I headed off to bed and awoke to the horrifying noise of an air pump running in my cabinet.

The only air pump I have set up in my 60 gallon fish tank is the one used to keep the fertilizer mixed, and it only runs for 5 minutes while the lifter pump is running – at 10 PM.  Here it was 7AM, the 1 liter bottle of fertilizer was nearly empty and the water column had a distinctively tannic look to it.

Then the panic set in.

I quickly performed a 50% water change and unplugged the system. Some of the fish were at the top of the tank, but many of the livestock didn’t seem too bothered by the rich environment.

Later in the day, things weren’t so good.  I saw the ottos were lethargic and looking rough, and there was a dead white cloud minnow on the bottom of the tank.  I transferred the ottos to another tank and did another 50% change

I’ll probably keep doing at least 20% changes regularly this week to make sure all the excess nutrients have been removed, and hope no more fish succumb to the water quality.  One of the ottos sadly did not make it through the night.

I did a post-mortem and found that the timer I use for the dosing system has two on/off settings.  Somehow, I accidentally enabled the second on timer without enabling an off timer.  Essentially the system was programmed to come on at midnight and never turn off.

The takeaway from this is when setting up your equipment, double check everything.  Make sure it works as intended.  Take your time, the results of this simple mistake could have cost me my entire population.  While this was a DIY setup, the same can be said about commercial products as well.

I’m just lucky this didn’t happen with an overflow system or something like that.  It doesn’t take much water leaking to ruin a floor or more.

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Hands-on with the UP Aqua Inline CO2 Atomizer

Up Aqua atomizer is tiny

The U.P. Aqua CO2 atomizer is a tiny gizmo to inject CO2 into your planted tank. It works with a canister filter and pressurized CO2.

I recently purchased the U.P. Aqua CO2 Atomizer to replace my no-name internal CO2 diffuser.  I chose the UP because it had good reviews on Amazon, and I wanted something that sat inline with my canister filter and not in the display tank itself.

Here’s a link to the product on Amazon: UP Aqua Atomizer on Amazon

Just a heads up: if you use that link, I’ll get a small percentage of the sale price as a commission.  Don’t worry, it costs you the same either way 🙂

The first thing that caught my attention was how small this thing is.  I’m used to diffusers with a lot of real estate to give the CO2 time to dissolve into the water. This thing fits in the palm of my hand.

The way it works is pretty straight forward. Inside that contraption I’m holding is a core not UP Aqua atomizer packageunlike in-tank ceramic diffusers.  Water from the canister filter’s outflow goes through the tube.  CO2 is held outside the ceramic center under pressure which pushes the CO2 into the water stream in the form of micro bubbles.

Installation is pretty straight forward.  You cut your return hose and place the atomizer inline. The intake is at the bottom of the atomizer and output is at the top.  There’s a port for the CO2 hose at the top of the device.

All connections including the CO2 intake are barbed with lock nuts ensuring nothing will slip off while in use.  This being a direct from Asia sort of product, its barbed connectors are metric.  That happened to be perfect since I use a Sun Sun canister filter, which is also metric.

If you’re just going to put this setup inline hanging from your hose, it’s pretty straight forward. I decided to get all fancy, however.  I already have an inline heater (another awesome thing to have) and adding the CO2 gear along with that outside the tank was getting a bit excessive.  I took a detour and routed my output hoses and inline gear along with my CO2 setup through my tiny storage area in my aquarium stand.  It was a lot more work, but I can’t argue with the results.

Organized hoseWith everything in place, I turned on the system.  The first thing I noticed is how much I had to crank up the pressure to get the CO2 to diffuse.  A DIY CO2 system won’t do at all here, you need some serious pressure.  It takes a little more pressure to get going at first.  The first time I started the system I cranked my valve so high, I blew the lines off the bubble counter.

It took a few hours for the ceramic core to break in and I got the gas flowing at around 1.5 bubbles per second.  At that setting, I can see a very fine mist of micro bubbles coming out of the filter’s output and into the water column.

That means that there’s less than 100% CO2 absorption going on there.  But, based on the bubbles I see, there’s definitely some absorption going on there.  I did play with the CO2 output. The mist seems to almost completely go away at around 1 bps.

old co2 diffuser

My old in-tank setup also let some gas escape.  It output larger bubbles and you could see them spit out every once in a while.  These bubbles are much more fine in the new system.  Because of that I’m not sure I can really compare the rates between the two.

What I do know is it looks one heck of a lot nicer than the old setup, so I think I’ll stick with it.

For under $20 it’s a pretty good option if you have a canister filter and a pressurized CO2 setup.  Here’s that link to Amazon again: UP Aqua Atomizer on Amazon.

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Use Inexpensive Equipment for Automatic Aquarium Dosing

If you regularly add anything to your aquarium like fertilizer for planted tanks, you know what a pain doing it every day can be. There are sweet precision dosing pumps available online, but they are expensive. There is a cheap pump out there called the Aqualifter.  It’s less than 20 bucks, but the problem is it’s not metered, it just continues to pump about 3.5 gallons per hour. But, with a few additions, you can set up one of these pumps to dispense much smaller amounts of liquid for a shorter time.

DIY aquarium dosing pump setup

Here’s a list of what you’ll need (there’s a link to Amazon at the end of the article too).

  • Scissors
  • Small measuring cup to measure the dose you’ll need
  • Aqualifter pump
  • Airline tubing
  • Air control valve
  • Digital timer
  • Bottle or other container
  • Air pump (optional)
  • Extension cord or outlet splitter (optional)

The basic setup is pretty simple.  You just connect the inlet port from the Aqualifter to the bottle with air hose.  Run tubing from the output port to the top of your aquarium and connect the valve.  You can add additional tubing after the valve if desired. 02021401 I recommend you do not put the tube in the aquarium water.  When the power is cut off, tank water might siphon back into your dosing system and make a big mess.  If you need to do it that way, add a check valve to your setup.

DIY Dosing Pump Calibration

IMG_8497Once you have everything where it’s going to go, it’s time to test and make adjustments.  Close the air valve and then plug in the pump.  Slowly open the air valve until your liquid starts dripping out.  I used water during the calibration. Make sure there is additional space in the bottle for air to enter.  If it’s perfectly sealed, it will create a vacuum and nothing will flow. Adjust the outflow until the setup dispenses the amount of liquid you want in the time span of 1 minute. Once you got it dialed in, put the pump on the timer and set the timer to come on one minute per day at the desired time. IMG_8499Now your dosing will happen automatically.  Pretty sweet. One note, when you do the calibration step, it’s important to do it with everything in the place it will be permanently.  If you test outside the tank and then move it, the difference in height or tube length might alter the liquid flow.

Add a mixing pump to dosing setup

Ok, I have to admit, this isn’t new ground, I found these tips online in plenty of forums.  My addition is the optional steps I’m going to share now. IMG_8498I use dry fertilizer mixed with distilled water.  As a result, things tend to settle.  Since I probably won’t shake the bottle regularly, I need something to occasionally stir up the solution. That’s where the air pump comes in.  All I did was plug an air pump into the same timer as the lift pump using an extension cord.  Then I ran the tube into the bottle. Now, when the timer kicks on, so does the air pump.  Since it’s just a tube in there, it generates huge bubbles which stir up the liquid just fine. To be honest it kind of sounds like the engine from a 1978 Buick when it’s running, but it sure gets the job done. I pretty much had the gear laying around already, so for just the cost of the Aqualifter I got a nifty setup that did the same thing for me that a much more expensive metered pump does. You wanna do this project yourself?  Hit the link below for an Amazon list of all the stuff you’ll need.  (I get a small commission for anything you might buy) Equipment List for Project

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Tip: Try Home Improvement Store for Gravel & Harscape

9cb22db5-2098-4399-8c2d-675c739675ab_300Here’s a tip that I wish I had thought of before I dumped about 100 dollars into aquarium gravel and rocks at the local pet store.  Unless you’re looking for bright pink aquarium gravel or something, chances are you have an even better source than the pet shop: your local home improvement store.

Places like Home Depot carry gravel of all sizes and colors in their landscaping section.  Some are even available on their website. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper, you could end up paying a fraction of the cost for the same stuff because it’s not in a smaller bag marked as aquarium substrate.

Landscaping stones and lava rock also make for excellent and inexpensive aquarium decorations.

Of course that only applies to regular gravel, rocks and sand. If you need something more specialized like planted tank substrate, you’re better off sticking to aquarium stores (and watching this site for deals on the stuff.)