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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
It's been a 2.5-year journey since the ressurection of my passion and interest in the aquarium hobby. I have always admired the beauty and wonder of any given aquatic landscape, from the most simple of rustic landscapes beneath a flooded Amazonian forest documented on YouTube, to diving under in a local BC lake, or the tropical marine waters of Kuaui.

So nearly 3 years ago, I purchased my very first Fluval 1200 series from Aquarium West. My very first aquarium as an adult. Together with my partner, we embarked on a journey as creators, as artists, and as keepers of fish and inverts, tasked in adopting these creatures and providing them a paradise they never new in their challenging infancy, being netted constantly, transferred, and then shipped to our far away shores.

My most significant of influences is the late Takashi Amano. His works of art speak to me like never before in the aquarium hobby. In addition to his inspiration and finesse that have inspired so many around the world to a new level in the aquarium hobby, my childhood and teenage aquarium keeping experiences have also shaped me. I still have a soft spot for biotopes, for water parameter "diversity," and low-tech aquariums.

I'll be posting pics of the evolution of the 90 gallon from its conception, to its current transition into a more vibrant planted aquarium. One of my signature emphasis will be water parameters and the selection of livestock. I have a strong preference for wild caught, or river farm raised fish from Brazil and other parts of South America. As for shrimp, well, I can't help it, I'm sure most come from southeast Asian farms. Amano shrimp are wild caught and not endangered as far as I know. I would like to thank Aquarium West and Canadian Aquatics for being my main source of support for supplies and livestock over the past 3 years. I found Miyabi Aqua-Design's website as an excellent resource as well for not only understanding the nature aquarium, but for the most effective ways of minimizing and preventing algae blooms during initial set up. I wish I knew about the website before I had my 90 gallon set up growing pains.

90 Gallon Fluval Aquarium specs:

Fluval 406 Canistar filter
4 x 39watt T5 flourescent lights included with canopy
2x Kessil 360 LED lights on goosenecks.
aqua soil (Tropica)


Water parameters (after cycling):
pH: 6.5
kH: started with 1 dkH
gH: 1 dgH

More to come tonight!
 

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Looks cool I like the wood layout
 

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I have a fluval 1000. Can't wait to see more pictures!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
It was a summer evening when my tank order was ready to be driven over to my apartment at last. It does help to be on the ground floor when bringing in a large aquarium. Literally brought in through my backyard, staff at Aquarium West took time after business hours to deliver the beautiful tank and stand. My dining area was war zone, ready to deal with the initial setting up. I wanted to at least get the tank filled and running.

At that time, I was more awed by the beautiful nature aquarium aquascapes, photographed by ADA. Unfortunately, I was unaware of the intricacies and extent of nature aquarium science and methods. I basically used the styrofoam casings that came with my purchases, to create elevation and a sense of scale, covering the styrofoam with the aquasoil, and anchored by stone and driftwood. In a way, perhaps it was a good thing I decided to fill the aquarium, at least half way before planting. If not, I would've done so much work with the layout, only to have chaos ensue once water was added to the mix. Styrofoam is way too bouyant, even for substrate and stones to hold down. It threw the aquasoil, stone, and wood, right out of its way to float to the top. The water became a promordial soup. I was just thankful that the stones merely rolled away onto more aquasoil and did not crash into any glass. The foam ballooning to the stop could've stopped my heart though, as it was loud and the tips of the branches smacked loudly against the glass.

And so, two frustrated creators decided to start from scratch. It was time to drain the aquarium, replant, and refill. I did it all with a Home Depot bucket, a smaller container for scooping, and coordination and encouragment from my partner. I had not yet purchased the python (a great investment I might add). It was setup attempt #2 that also inspired the branches hanging down from the top left corner of the aquarium rather than from the substrate upwards. I'm not sure how I feel about it now. Perhaps it's looking at them daily that has stripped them of their charms. Perhaps it's because it's almost completely shrouded by fissidens and java fern at this point. All I know is that my future setups will not feature this.

Finally, I was ready to turn the system on (3 hours later). It was quite the workout without a proper siphon at the very least. I also had to have a stool to climb up in order to plant. It all began with the Fluval 406 canister running, creating a very basic current. 4 T5 PowerGlo in a sealed canopy, and a heater... That was it; that was the beginning.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
More shots of the 90 gallon Genesis

I like to think of myself as a creative and artistic force. In a way it was a spiritual experience. This is how this aquatic world slowly came to be...
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
So in the initial set up, I was wrestling between two competing concepts, based on two competing sets of aquatic values. This is just me of course, and I am aware that many in the aquarium hobby either don't care, or downright disagree. I'm talking about the "purist" side of me that is fueled by curiosity in specific biotopes, and the interest in recreating a given ecosytem has always been a pipedream. I have a strong preference to keep tetras only with other Amazon fish and not mix n' match with other fish. Why is this a pipedream? Because there is the other side of my that is more 'lax' and of the understanding that sometimes, the most interesting relationships between fish and other livestock, may not be possible if it weren't for a bit of a mix n' match, also, the aquarium hobby is based on popular demand and so the supply usually results in limited options when an aquarist is looking for livestock specifically from a single wadding pool in the world.

It became apparent that one side of me had to give way. I love tetras and German blue rams, at the same time, I love kuhli loaches and cherry shrimps (at the time). I love Amazon Swords, but I also love Xmas moss. The final compromise materialized and it was a softwater community. This translated into a tank of fish and inverts predominantly originating from softwaters of southeast Asia and South Asia, and South America, namely, Brazil.

Plant specs (genesis):

Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis Parvula)
Amazon Sword (Echinodorus Rose)
Christmas moss (Vesicularia Montagnei)
Jungle Val/eelgress (Vallisneria Americana)

Fish specs:

Zebra Danios
Cardinal Tetras
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
As time passed...

Of course as time passed, and my tank cycled, I quickly diversified. For the first few months I added the following:

Fish:
Cardinal Tetras
German Blue Rams
Ottocinclis
Kuhli loaches

Inverts:
12 Amano Shrimp

I had no idea that Ottos were that sensitive. My first few batches (6 fish/purchase) would last a few days to a few weeks, with two or three max surviving past two months. I kept Ottos in my adolescents with no issue, but at that time, I discovered and added them into a mature low-tech 27 gallon that was choked with live plants.

We had little success with the rams as well. The Ottos and ram deaths were inexplicable, with no sign of disease or other apparent cause. The local pet store suggested that my ottos may have died of malnurishment, though I personally ruled that out considering our feeding regiment and developing colonies of light dust algae on stones and on the glass. By this time, ammonia and nitrite were already at 0ppm, and nitrates were at 20-30ppm, fluctuating.

Plants added immediately after cycling:

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus Callitrichoides)
Alternanthera reneckii mini red
dwarf red cryptocoryne (no idea the exact name of the species (pic below features it)

Algae!!!

This was also the beginning of my first algae nightmare. The most disgusting of which was the brown hair algae. It began to tangle on everything! Of course no 'cleaning crew' is a match for an algae bloom, especially when the imbalance of some sort was left unresolved at the time. The algae fiasco began almost 1.5 months following set up, and persisted for a few more months. By that time I had installed a CO2 injection system with a 12lb. canister. I ran it day and night to ensure consistency at 2 bubbles per second. I has also installed a small powerhead directly above the stream of microbubbles that would then redirect the CO2 back down into the middle of the water column, circulating to the other end of the tank. The algae however, did not abate. Excel was applied, but that only slowed down the bloom. Every night I would manually net out large amounts of algae. For the life of me, I could not figure out what fueled the algae bloom. It was disgusting and after 1.5 months of manual algae control. I had enough... More on how I finally beat the algae in my next post.
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
Thank for the "likes" guys. The first part of this journal is a reflection of the beginnings of my 90 gallon project. The aquarium has of course come a long way since then. I was too distracted by other things when I should have been focusing on this. I've always wanted to do a journal. Constructive feedback, positive, or anything in between in welcomed.

Back to the algae issue. I came across this YouTube video that best demonstrated the "hell" I went through. Our dilemma was so similar, my partner and I had quite a few laughs watching this short clip.


The only difference was that I did not end up shutting down my tank and restarting, though I felt like doing so many times. I therefore did not have to do a dry start which is what the video is suggesting. I am a complete advocate of this, and I think Miyabi Aqua-Design's website on tips for nature aquarium setups is right on target with its techniques to prevent the brown hair algae chaos.

Still, I am a believer that there is more than one way to get to any given destination. Without knowledge of the dry start method at the time, I tried everything this guy did, to no avail. On this forum, I reached out for advise. Consistency with lighting and CO2 injection was strongly recommended as a long-term remedy. I agree, but it ended up being something as simple as taking off 2 x 39 watt T5 bulbs and maintaining consistent lighting for only 8 hours, no more, seemed to work.
 

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Discussion Starter #11 (Edited)
The triuimph from aquatic adolescence into maturity!

... Moving on from the algae bloom, it never happened again. Perhaps it was the lighting, perhaps it was just a coincidence. I have confidence (perhaps unfounded), that if I were to reinstall additional lighting into the tank, that it would not necessarily cause the same algae bloom now in my mature aquarium. Dennis Wong on YouTube best summarized that once aquatic plant mass dominates, there is very little room for algae to grow.

The aftermath of the algae was nonetheless significant. My dwarf hairgrass was nearly choked out of existence. The same went for my alternanthera reneckii mini. My dwarf baby tears was all but gone. My jungle val however was the least bothered by the algae. My dwarf hairgrass and the alternanthera reneckii mini were the first two species to make an impressive comeback. I also added riccia into the tank. Once there, it's hard to get rid of it.

Finally my aquarium was stabilizing vegetation in general was growing in. Here are a few shots from the early days. Throughout the entire maturing period and afterwards, the water parameters in my tank remains constant with no significant changes.

Plants I forgot to mention:
Dwarf lily (Nymphaea sp.)
Riccia Fluitans
Xmas moss (Vesicularia Dubyana)

P.S. Can somebody tell me why all my photos end up uploaded sideways? It's very frustrating. They are iPhone shots and on my desktop, they appear to be the right side up...
 

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when I upload from my phone it only ever recognizes things in horizontal format. dunno if that is your problem or not but it was mine. On the computer it always was smart enough to display them with the proper orientation. When I uploaded them, same problem. Maybe that's your problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Thanks Mark and Dou for your feedback. Yes, that's the exact problem I had. I have since signed up with Imgur, so I hope it remediates the issue, let's see.

Maturity doesn't mean the end of change...

In the next several photos, you will see how the original plants grew in. Being a newly returned "prodical hobbyist," much of my confidence was in myself that I knew what I was doing. This confidence was put in question during the algae bloom, and when the plants grew in, I realized that my "style" has not changed after nearly 15 years. It was slightly messy, perhaps elegant chaos if I were to be detailed, not pretentious.

But then who was I kidding. I had absorbed only the images in my head of Mr. Amano's great works, but barely bothered to do in-depth research on his techniques. Although I was exposed to some of it, I was of the mindset of saving money, and chalked most of ADA's products and recommendations as pretentious and impractical unless I wanted to set up the "Lamborghini of aquariums."

Before I go into how I came to revise such notions mentioned above, here are some shots of my tank in its initial, grown-in maturity in all its rustic charms.


The initial moss I used for the branches of course, is Xmas Moss (vesicularia dubyana). Here's a side shot. You can also see the hairgrass carpet, and that I separated my alternanthera reneckii mini var. red, into two areas mirroring each other when you view it normally from the front. For a more natural look, this was a mistake.

I also tried to grow a dwarf hairgrass carpet, but I was very unsatisfied with the curling leaves. The species that I'm sure I used was eleocharis parvula. More on this later.

Not the nicest of shots, moreover you can see that I pruchased a porous stone that is just sitting there with no real attractive features.

I never mentioned a CO2 injection system. Thanks to Aquarium West, I purchased a 12 lbs. tank from them, and then purchased the cheapest CO2 diffuser that I could find. I run this at about 1.5 bubbles/second, day and night for consistency.
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
More about the specs...

Some of you may think that I have a pretty ghetto CO2 injection system, perhaps only better than a DIY system. There is also debate as to whether or not it is beneficial or a waste to runt he CO2 system 24/7. This is one thing I did thorough research before purchase. As with anything, there are many ways of looking at factors that matter to you, and there is no one right way.

I decided to leave my CO2 on because it provides consistency. I have found no significant evidence of a CO2 build up, no pH swing at all, and no fish dying because it. I found that if my aquarium, with already soft water and limited kH to buffer, will have a pH of 6.6 to as high as 6.7 when the CO2 isn't running for more than one day. I found that if it is on, it stays between 6.2 and 6.4, with no swings beyond this, at any given time of day. I have enough surface agitation, that excess CO2 escapes into the air at night. That being said, is this a waste? At 2 bubbles/second, by 12lb tank has lasted for 6 months. It costs $22 to refill the tank, or a few hundred $$ to purchase a solenoid. Perhaps in smaller aquariums, there is a greater risk in keeping the CO2 running, however, CO2 has a hard time dissolving in water, and much rather escape into the atmosphere.

So whats the point of the added CO2? Well the smaller the mircobubbles, the more CO2 is efficiently dissolved into the water for plant intake. Also, I placed my diffuser directly under a powerhead. Those same microbubbles are then redirected back down the water column on an angle, circulating the supply from the back right side of the tank to the front and left side. Some may even get sucked into my canistar filter intake, and then pushed back out from the back left side of the aquarium to the right. This certainly helps maximize efficiency. I have a friend with a 75 gallon tank who runs just 1 bubble per second, but has a spray bar immediately redirecting the mricobubbles to almost the bottom of the tank and from left to right for him. He also has more kH in his water that helps. Buying time for the microbubbles to stay in the water column is my tip. In all my photos, you will notice mircobubbles fluttering everywhere.

Oh yes, I also added cherry shrimp into my tank and they thrived despite the soft water. Here's one of my originals that I think is still alive and kicking today after 1.5 years! I buried a few small shells and added some kH buffer in minute amounts for a 90 gallon volume. At about 2dkH, and 3dgH, my shrimps seemed happy and I had lots of babies as some of you may know.
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
The change as it unfolded

The living evolution; what evolved?

Out of chaos comes order - and then of course, some things fall back into chaos. As things settled and the plants grew in, I just wasn't satisfied. As you can see from earlier posts, I have a giant boulder that was just sitting there on the left side of the aquarium. Little did I know that what I purchased was a dragon stone. I purchased two others actually. The one I was referring to is just one big ugle block that simply needed a good eye and a vision to find its place in the tank. Aside from the dragon stone placements, the Xmas moss grew into beautiful star-like crowns that simply sat on the branches, also on the left side of the tank.

And so it was that I, the creator of this aquatic world, decided change was in order. Those poor shrimps, tetras, and loaches; it was like "Day After Tomorrow" just happened to them, except I was mindful not to kill or squish anything... I think... The dragon stones came up. The Xmas moss was detached gradually and sold in clumps to fellow hobbyists (thanks guys). It didn't take long before I liked the new arrangement of the dragon stones. The branches stayed pretty much where they were. I replaced the Xmas moss with fissidens. Java fern bits that hitched a ride from plant and fish purchases thrived and matured in the tank. The driftwood was difficult to rearrange in a way that looked natural and pleasing to my eyes. After many tries, I finally settled on one. Inadvertantly the structure left a bowl-like structure in the woodwork sitting directly on top of the dragon stone structure, and to the foreground. I was quite pleased.

So most, if not all my Dwarf Babytears died with the algae bloom. The tank is also very deep; even my Kessels have a hard time penetrating the water column all the way down to the substrate. Research lead me to its less demanding and more versatile twin, the Monte Carlo. Thank you Dou for selling me some Monte Carlo. The guy has an amazing ADA tank office space and I had the privilege of a quick glimpse of it. The rest is history as my vision of the carpeting plant cascading down the bowl-like structure of the driftwood was realized within less than two months.

The concept of my tank went from a high tech tank with a very rusty layout, to a much more complex and pleasing one. Fissidens moss is an excellent candidate for adding texture and age to the drowned branches, without obstructing the structure and shape of the wood. Here are some shots of the progression below. I found that even a slight CO2 injection reaps excellent results.

The transition of moss and plant species was not instant. I sold, traded, and then bought other plants from either other hobbyists, or from stores.

This is how it all started. I forgot to mention that I found tiny fragments of various java fern species and stuck them into the woodwork. The results were amazing as you can see.

A few Amano shrimp enjoying the finished cascasing carpet and helping pick off any unwanted algae.

This is with everything all grown in. You see that Amazon Sword. I'm trying to sell it! Anyone want it? It's huge and healthy! Check out the classifieds.
 

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That looks amazing!! Glad you are happy again......or are you :)

It's a never ending struggle of being unsatisfied in this game, I think it is why I like it so much. Let's get a whole tank shot in there!!
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Yep. You'll see in my future posts that all those changes made me happier, and for a time after each stage, there was satisfaction, but it does fade and I'm back to how can I continue to improve. As we speak, more things are changing and that also meant more fish and shrimp. I've added more Amano shrimps and Oto cats. So far out of the 10 new Otos purchased, we've 1 confirmed death, which is relatively great. They are all happy in their new home.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
NATURE AQUARIUMS vs. NATURE vs. Low Techs vs. Biotopes

Finally! My entries have caught up about the genesis, the growing up, and the continued evolution of my 90 gallon planted aquarium. If I even have one fan, I apologize for the delay in posting the past week. I will simultaneously fill you in on how my tank is doing right now, as well as stir up age-old issues that are best, not siphoned up from under the sustrated (pun definitely intended ;P).

As I have mentioned before, I was very inspired by the late Mr. Amano and most of his masterpieces, especially his last piece before his untimely death, "Floresta Submersas," at the Lisbon Oceanarium. Back to my 90 gallon, the tank had humble beginnings with lofty fantasies, and slightly outdated experience in expecting major roadblocks along the way. The initial structure of the hardscape was far from sophisticated, though the one element that I am still proud of, and that I have NOT changed since the beginning, are the two large branches that lean and reach down the aquarium from left to right. Currently the fissidens moss and java fern have taken up all the real estate on both branches. Along with the dragon stones that now line and support all the woodwork, these are the only things in the aquarium that vaguely echo the art of a nature aquarium. It seems the right half of my tank resembles more of a traditional Dutch planted tank. My current approach is to change the tank very slowly and now, change will have to compete against the force of preservation, as neither my partner nor I, wish to change too much more without more careful and refined planning.

But as I write this, I am reminded of my dichotomy. On one hand, I used to maintain several low-tech, and biotope aquariums in my youth, before our current knowledge of plants, invertibrates, and options of lighting, fertilization, etc. I use to manipulate kH and pH with simple baking soda (I don't recommend it unless you actually have no other options and it's urgent). Up until only recently, I would be quite uneasy with the idea of acclimatizing a fish or shrimp to water parameters foreign to that resembling their place of origin. I valued the indigenous diversity aspect of not just the livestock, but also the challenge of creating biotope aquascapes and water parameters to match. I also wondered back then about using regular gardening soil, but I never did. In my youth I didn't pay attention to detail all that much and I wondered how garden soil won't turn the water pitch black.

Now let's talk about some heated, similar debates that have raged right here in the BC Aquaria forum, as well as many others: soil vs. aquasoil; nature aquariums vs. low tech aquariums; do fish really behave the way they do in the wild in nature aquariums; etc. I think the reason for passionate debates on every perspective is because we forget REALITY deals a lot with fuzzy logic. A type of logic that is more a nuisance than anything for our brains when organizing information in our world. Aquarium hobby debates are no different; reality is often found somewhere in between any given opposing side. So which debate shall I start? OK nevermind, too tired. I think in my next post, I will tackle nature aquariums vs. low-tech aquariums another night.

The right half of my aquarium today.
 
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