By: Faruk Gençöz
March 1st, 2007
Introduction and background
I am Cliff, from Hong Kong, China. As I was born and grown in country side of Hong Kong, I am so familiar with the natural environment. I love trees and plants, and I have a dream that I want to be a farmer when I retire. Aquarium is a dream place for me to experience that with no snakes and rats. Firstly I started with a planted tank, enjoyed watching the plants growing, and felt the energy of living things. While growing plants in two years, I understood many different kinds of plant characteristics. I started to have a thought that I should be using them at another level. I decided to use them to present ideas, so I started aquascaping.
100cm X 40cm X 40cm
Lights, tubes, watt, spectrum, K
T5HO (39Wx 4) and T8 (30Wx 2), all 6500K
pressurized, very normal setting.
ADA red soil, re-used
I use fat and re-used woods with few yellow rocks
One 900L/hr filter and a 600L/hr pump
This tank needs less trimming and maintenance since I used moss and front-ground plants mainly. I just tried to move the woods and moss when I found the layout being 2 dimensions...
I change water 1/3 every week.
Plants: I mainly use moss. Willow moss, triangle moss, mini moss, christmas moss, Glossostigma elatinoides, Anubias barteri var. nana, Cardamine lyrata, Eleocharis ''parvula'', Hemianthus callitrichoides ''Cuba'', Hydrocotyle leucocephala, Microsorum pteropus ''Narrow'',Glossostigma elatinoides
Fish and invertebrates : Black and white angel fish, Rasbora heteromorpha, Neon Tetra, Beckford's Pencilfish, Red moon, Siamese Algae Eater
TMG, ECA, Kent K+, Seachem iron bottom.
I never measure that.
Idea and Motivation
The taste of the wild
Some years ago, I went back to my old home, walked along my old primary school...
It is a school forgotten in a country side, It was closed for about 15 years, it was sad... I saw broken walls, broken stairs, windows, trees and grasses are mess everywhere... growing thru walls to walls...
It was sad, but I smell something....The taste of the wind.....
I closed my eyes, I feel them, the smell of the soil, the smell of the tree leaves, the smell of the empty playground, the smell of the dog just walked thru..... All brought me back to my memories.... I call them the taste of the wind....
I remember the garden keeper was always coming to me and asked me to teach him the spelling of simple words...CAR....TREE.....
I think he will be angry if he knows his garden is being mess up like that....
anyway, he was about 50 when I was a kid.... I hope he is still healthy now....
I backed to city after the holiday, backed for works, backed for living, backed for something... or most of the thing I don't understand....
Everyday, I was living in the smell of fast food, cigarette, air-conditioning, rubbish bin with 8 Starbucks cups inside, 5 males and 13 females sitting in the same room
I started to forget the Taste of the Wind......
But I remember a Japanese movie I had seen... Dodes' Kaden...by Kurosawa..
Kurosawa's first film in color, and it is also the most pessimistic one.
Though he used surrealistic color and setting to achieve an atmosphere, combined with the 70s color film textures, the film inevitably gave audience an intense depressing feeling.
the Story is about a retarded kid, Dode, he and his family is living in a rubbish area, which also have many other people live there, also have no hopes and they are also someone who left by the entire world....
Dode always imitates a tram drive and " Drive " around his town. The film focused upon the slum life who debase themselves to survive. Kurosawa attempted suicide after finished the film.
Kurosawa's films always reflect his own view and feeling of the world... when he was young, he always filmed about love, relationships, friendships, past, family, beliefs..... and one of his film "Dreams" was about environmental problems....
the motion film technique was upgraded at 60s to 70s.... and the world was going into another stage also, everything was improved so fast, science, economics, tradings...everything...... but at the hopeful moment, Kurosawa chose to make a most hopeless view...
to the theme of my thought, and the idea of the film...
I started to make a natural by a bit mess up feeling layout..
use old ADA red soil... what a nightmare....
Clean up with a DIY water in-flow....
be careful , it is easy to hurt your hands...
build up the right hand side's soil...
because the first idea was only moss and few foreground plants...so I did not need ferts in the substrate
fixed the area of the sand (changed few weeks later..hehe)
build up the right side
place the drift wood and stones... (cheap and re-used ones.... used only for supporting)
it is OK clear after put in water.... the re-used soil method was fine..
As the time goes by
I wish I could do more layouts. I am too slow. I need 8 to 10 months to complete an aquascaping layout. I still keep a 35cm layout on which I have been working for 18 months.... still not yet finished... And also, I wish I could travel more to have more fresh ideas.
Anyway, Good luck everyone. Cliff.
By: Faruk Gençöz
January 31st, 2007
This month we are proud to present Diana Walstad's low-tech aquarium. She is the author of Ecology of the Planted Aquarium and has a great impact on our hobby, especially for those who go El Natural. Let's enjoy her style.
Introduction and Background:
I come from a family that always had tanks in the house and a pond in the backyard. I never had any luck with aquarium plants until I started using a soil underlayer in the tanks. Plant growth was phenomenal- like nothing I had seen before. With the robust plant growth, I found that I could keep fish healthy without a lot of tedious work (water changes, gravel cleaning, etc). I began combing the scientific literature for more information and started writing articles for the Aquatic Gardener Association. One thing led to another. I first published Ecology of the Planted Aquarium in 1999. The book has done well. It has been translated into German and Italian and is now available as an e-book.
I trained in microbiology and spent many years doing medical research. I work now as a cell biologist for the federal government.
I set up this 45 gal (170 liters) in 2001. I had problems with green water algae and mat algae the first year. However, plants always did well in it. Eventually it became my favorite tank.
Tank dimensions are (48” X 13” X 18”). Tank is next to a large window with a sunny Western exposure.
Lighting: two 40-watt T-12 bulbs in a dual strip-light fitted with an aluminum reflector. One bulb is a cool-white; the other is an Aquarium Plant Bulb (pinkish color). Tank gets muted sunlight (slatted blinds drawn across window to reduce sunlight intensity and cut down on algae)
CO2 system: No artificial system. Fish respiration and bacterial decomposition of organic matter provide CO2 naturally.
Substrate: I layered the bare bottom with 16 lb of an inexpensive potting soil designed for growing houseplants. Layer was about 1 inch (2.5 cm) deep. The manufacturer listed the following ingredients: Organic compost from mushrooms and other materials, peat humus, sand and bark fines, vermiculite, perlite, and dolomitic limestone. I mixed 2 tablespoons of phosphate fertilizer with the potting soil. Then I covered the gravel with 25 lb of medium-size gravel.
Filtration: Submerged Powerhead (AquaClear 301) with an attached Quick filter.
Maintenance: I change about 50% of the water every 3-6 months. I clean the filter cartridge, trim plants and remove mat algae about every month.
Inhabitants: Twelve Rainbowfish. Ramshorn and Malaysian Trumpet Snails.
Fish feeding: Twice day with mostly flake food or dried bloodworms. Fish get treats like chopped chicken liver or hard-boiled egg yolk once a week.
Plant fertilization: None.
Water Parameters (approximate): Ammonia = 0. Nitrite = 0. Nitrates = 5-10 ppm. GH = 8. pH = 7.4 (late morning). Specific Conductance = 250 microSiemens/cm.
Aquascaping: I planted tall, strap-leafed plants (Cryptocoryne balansae, Sagittaria graminea, C. wendtii, and a single Echinodorus major) on one end of the tank. I put Anubias nana and . Rotala indica on the other end. Small plants (Echinodorus tenellus and Sagitarria subulata) went in the center. Cryptocoryne cordata “blassii” began to propagate well enough that I let it become a central focus for the tank. Initially, I planted many other species, but these are the plants that survived. Most of the trimming/plant removal is designed to keep C. balansae and R. indica from taking over the tank.
This picture shows me and the film crew of NOVA NOW, the science show on the USA's PBS (PublicBroadcasting Station). They came last year to take pictures of my tanks. This picture includes the 45 gal tank I wrote about, me (blue shirt and white slacks), and some of the NOVA film crew.
By: Faruk Gençöz
January 1st, 2007
January 2007 Tank of the Month: Roy Deki
Introduction and background:
I am 46 years old and live a suburb of PhoenixArizona. My wife, Beth and I have 1 beautiful daughter named Emma. I started this hobby a little over 4 years ago. My first tank was an Eclipse 6 with Tiger barbs and a lot of plastic plants. While surfing the web for more information on responsible fish keeping, I was cordially invited to join The Tropical Resources Family of Sites, by its owner Cindy Williams. This soon became my home on the web and there I discovered the world of planted tanks. From that moment on I have been addicted to this wonderful hobby.
I spent 12 years in the landscaping business in MontereyCalifornia in the early 80’s. At that time my father was heavily involved in the Monterey Bonsai Club and was an instructor as well. I guess you can say aquascaping is in my blood.
This past year (2006) has been a very fruitful time for me and my passion. Along with 2 other fellow hobbyists (Bryan Lafollette and Mike Talley) here in the Phoenix area we managed to form Arizona Aquatic Plant Enthusiast, AAPE for short. We started with about 8 attendees to our first meeting back in December 2005. We have now grown to consistently have 20+ attendees at every monthly meeting. Along with the club I started to work part time at my favorite LFS, Pet’s Inc in Tempe. I have been given free reign with the display tank and the retail plant isle. This consists of 10 40 gallon breeders, 4 of which have high light and co2 injection.
My inspiration is one that is quite common, Takashi Amano. While doing research on aquascaping I came upon his first book. I have since fallen into my own style, I really don’t know what it would be classified as, but I feel it is a combination of Amano’s nature aquariums and Dutch style. I try to incorporate natural hardscape placements along with manicured plants. The best example of this style would have to be my AGA 2006 entry called “Mizu Ikebana” Which literally means “Water Flower Arrangement” (2006 AGA Aquascaping Contest).
In this aquascape I was obviously attempting to create my first Iwagumi style tank. My thoughts before creating this tank, was to have a very low maintenance tank but also one with a very serene and minimalist aquascape. I chose to use Seriyu-seki stones because of the textures and the color contrast it has with Hemianthus callitrichoides. I chose to use Coralife NO T-5 28watt fixture over the back portion because I had notice in the past its effect on Blyxa japonica. Under these lights B. japonica seems to grow compact and has a very nice bronze hue to the leaves. The color of the Seriyu-seki stone, in combination with the lime green color of the HC sloping from front to back and with the bronze color of the B. japonica in the background gave this tank the visual depth, given its small dimensions.
Volume: 15 gallons
Light: Coralife 65 watts power compact (6700k) in the front, Coralife NO T-5 28watt (6700k/10000k over back…10 hours per day.
Filtration: Aqua clear 50 H.O.B.
Co2: Pressurized system with ceramic diffuser.
Substrate: ADA Aqua soil with Power Sand Special, TourmalineBC added at start-up.
Fauna: 11 Neon Green tetras, 7 SAE’s, 7 Amano shrimp.
Flora: Blyxa japonica and Hemianthus callitrichoides.
Challenges with this tank:
Algae, algae, and more algae…I knew going into this project that this would be an issue. I had all the healthy B. japonica I needed and I purchased some very healthy HC from a fellow member here at APC. Once the contour of the substrate was established and another fellow member sent me the Seriyu-seki stones. I planted the B. japonica and the HC, cranked up the co2 and let the tank do its thing. I only dosed with Flourish at 1ml per day and Flourish Excel 3ml per day, with weekly 50%water changes. I managed to grow every type of algae that exist. After about a month I did a 3 day blackout. The Blyxa survived better than the HC, but I didn’t have to replace any of it. Another month passes, more algae. This time I over dose with H2o2 I managed to kill off all of the algae and the HC. Continuing my dosing and water change regiment and replacing all of the HC, another month passes and the tank is “balanced”. Now the only trimming needed will be mowing down the HC to keep it tight and low.
This tank has been set up for about 5 months now and has become my favorite tank. It is now so low maintenance that I get to enjoy it more that work on it.
By: Faruk Gençöz
December 1st, 2006
December 2006 Tank of the Month: Tony Gomez
Introduction and background
My venture into aquariums started about three years ago, if my memory serves me well. I started with a basic fish only tank which was home to some rescued fish. That same month, I added a pressurized CO2 system and 3.8 WPG. I went off the deep end right away and loved it since.
The tank and stand are custom made for me by a local shop.
Lights, tubes, watt, spectrum, K
The lights are T5HO Techlights, using the GE Starcoats. Even though I have experience with PCs and NOs, I'll take the T5s over them any day.
CO2 system, pressurized, DIY, noCO2, diffusor, reactor
5 lb. cylinder with a DIY reactor
Substrate, type, layers, any fertilization in the substrate
ADA Amazonia and powersand special. The substrate is actually about one and a half years old right now and and still doing well for me.
Hardscape, driftwood, rocks
Manzanita from Manzanita Burlworks - The Source for Quality Handcrafted Manzanita Products. This scape uses a bunch of individual branches grouped together and rocks that were sent to me by a friend (thanks again!). Unfortunately, you can't see them in the final product.
Filtration, maintainance, water change, replacement of the tubes, trimming
I am horrible at this. I try to do weekly water changes, but sometimes I go three weeks without a WC (like right now).
Inhabitants, plants, fish, invertebrates
Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis, Neocaridina denticulata, Otocinclus affinis and Planorbis corneus.
The Lemon tetras have an interesting story. In the previous scape, I had a large school of them, but a CO2 accident nearly wiped them all out. A few adults and juviniles survived and spawned again. resulting in the new school. They really liked to breed in the japonica.
Fertilization (in the water column) and feeding
I aim for daily dosing. However, these days, I tend to dose depending on how the tank looks. (Over time, I learned how to judge the tank’s nutrient needs by observation.)
As for trimming...practically non-existent. I re-planted the blyxa once and periodically trimmed the ludwigia.
The fish are fed daily, with periods of no food.
Basically, I just enjoy the tank and hardly touch it.
I don't know. I stopped measuring water parameters about six months into the hobby.
When I scape, I kinda just go with the flow. I get my hardscape material in hand and just play around with it. When things look like how I want them, I set it and go from there.
Every tank I created was a new learning experience. This time, I wanted to have a full-blown scape with both rock and wood as a hardscape. This was my first experience in using both materials in a serious project. I used my personal classic combo of plants and then tossed in the stems. I didn't go overboard with stems by any means, because I wanted this tank to be extremely easy to maintain.
My advice to new people in the hobby: don't get overwhelmed. Take things slowly and look at lots of aquascapes. Take your time in finding what appeals to you and learn what scapes are low and high maintenance. When you know what you want, get your hardscape materials and play around with them for a while.
Some people have a talent for eyeing a good hardscape, while others work hard at it. This is ok.
Don't hesitate to post images of your hardscape and/or layout to get some feedback. If you are still stuck, DO NOT give up.
There is nothing wrong in copying another tank, if that’s what you enjoy doing. Even if you try really hard to duplicate it, you won’t. In the end, it will still be your handiwork, simply inspired by another.
November 17th, 2006
On the web, my nickname is Kookaburra. It’s the name of an Australian bird, and also the name of a French comic book. My real name is Dimitri Roger. I live in a small town near Orleans (France). I am 28 years old and I’m a “young manager” in the agro-alimentary industry.
I have been creating planted aquariums for the last 2 years. I bought a 250 liter tank when I purchased my house in 2004. Because I like plants and gardens, it is logical for me to form aquatic gardens in my tanks.
With the intention of learning more about my passion, I tried to find some information on the web. At the same time, I discovered the French forum www.forumaqua.com, and its specific section for the planted tanks. With the forum users’ help, I studied all the things to grow the plants well and to create the most beautiful aquascapes. So I want to thank all the people who have helped me in “Forumaqua”.
My first aquascaping attempt (October 2005)
My inspiration sources are the “Dutch style”, and what we call “les jardins à la francaise”. “French style” gardens are a specific type of terrestrial gardens, with a very strict organization of plantings. I truly like this kind of gardens, with various geometric forms and great contrast of colors.
An example for a French style garden (Chateau de Versailles)
Regarding the aquascape, I wanted to make a presentation in using the “V”shape in the background. In order to create contrast, I composed another “V” (but inversed) with Glossostigma in the foreground. The aim was that the 2 sides of the planting seemed to be symmetric.
I have to explain this particular choice of “symmetry” in my aquascape: I did it to surprise the viewers, who get used to viewing the “golden ratio” representation. And this geometric scape corresponds well to my intention of making an aquatic “French style” garden.
Moreover, I would like to say that I don’t use driftwood or rocks in this aquascape not by “choice”, but rather by “limitation” … In fact, it’s very difficult to find some good-looking driftwood or rocks in “aquarium market” in France!
A top view of the tank which makes it possible to see the great density of the plants
- Dimensions : Width 115 x Depth 35 x Height 65 (net volume = 220 Liters)
- Lighting : 160 W => 4x40W T8 neon tubes (2 "Sera-Daylight" + 1 "Sera-plant" + 1 "Sera-Bluesky"). 12 hours a day.
- Filtration: external filter EHEIM 2026.
- CO2: pressurized CO2, "JBL Proflora vario500".
- Fertilizer: PMDD (Macro-nutrients) + Flourish + Iron.
- Substrate: underlay with home-made nutritious soil (40 % heather ground + 40 % puzzolana + 20 % green clay) and ground layer with "sand of Loire".
Tank of the Month (November 2006)
3 Cleithracara Maroniis - 3 Laecatara dorsigera - 30 Paracheirodon axelrodi - 10 Carnegiella strigata - 10 Corydoras Aeneus.
One of my favorite fish : Cleithracara Maroniis
Heteranthera zosterifolia - Micranthemum umbrosum - Ludwigia Repens Xarcuata - Hygrophila polysperma "Rosanervig" - Bacopa caroliniana - Rotala hippuris - Lobelia cardinalis - Eusteralis stellata - Nesaea crassicaulis - Glossostigma elatinoides -Echinodorus tenellus - Ludwigia arcuata - Ludwigia repens - Rotala sp. "Green" - Rotala rotundifolia - Ludwigia Palustris - Hygrophila polysperma - Echinodorus "magdalenensis".
Rotala sp. green, a very interesting plant for her way of pushing in cascade
Ludwigia repens "Rubin": My favorite red plant to create beautiful contrast
Finding a good location for the plant groups was my first challenge. This should be very complicated in all style of planted tanks, but I think it is harder especially in this kind of densely planted tank. I have to consider the different shapes of leafs, the arrangement of the colors and the potential growth patterns of the plants.
Another challenge for me was to catch the most suitable time to take the best photo of the tank. Because of the large diversity of growth patterns of different plant groups it was hard to have all my plants in good shape at the same time for the best photo.
I stopped this tank 2 months ago due to a “broken” joint in the silicone.
Because I would like to create something totally different, I am going to make another tank with more suitable dimensions for planted tanks: 110x55x55. And I will use pendant metal halide (2 X 150 W HQI) lamps.
I intend to try another style of aquascaping, more of an “Asiatic” inspiration and totally different to what I do habitually. For my future work, my favourite source of inspiration is the planted tanks of the “Creative Aquascape Union” (Creative Aquascape Union).
See you at the beginning of 2007, for my next aquascaping!!!
May 16th, 2006
This month we have the pleasure of presenting Justin Law's awesome aquarium- Summer Dance. The Tank of the Month series is not intended to focus only on accomplished and skilled aquascapers but with Justin we just couldn't resist. So, here's his interview along with the eye candy. Enjoy!
My name is Justin Law. I am 24 years old and I live in Hong Kong. Mostly I use "Gohan" as my net name coz I loved Dragonball Z so much when I was a child. I started keeping fish when I was 18 years old. But I didn't know how to keep them very well, I just kept on buying and they just kept on dying! Then I stopped keeping them coz I felt it was silly to keep killing them. Three years ago, I suddenly wanted to keep fish tanks again, but this time, I wanted to get some aquatic plants too. I did a search on the Net and finally I found www.aqugrass.com. I searched the old posts and kept on following the steps and finally made up my first planted aquarium. I cannot say it was a layout coz I just put in all the things I wanted!
Half a year later, I knew all the basic skills and maintained the tank well. I saw Wayne Sham's tank which had just won a prize in the Taiwan aquatic plant layout contest (I forgot the exact name of it already!) and the first image in my brain is.........WOO......how can an aquatic plant layout be so beautiful! Then I tried to learn more and kept many good aquatic plant layout photos (over 400 tanks already!) Finally, I finished my first layout:
I got addicted to aquatic plant layouts and I finished many layouts in that year! I also upgraded my 14" tank into a ADA 17" tank. In 2004, some aqua friends asked me to join the ADA Contest 2004, and by luck, I got 104 world ranking with this tank:
That same year, I set up a 6" tank too and entred another Japanese mini layout contest. This time I got the 4th place!
Winning the prize/ranking made me feel more confident about aquascaping! Getting closer to some aqua friends and going on more Internet web pages (e.g. www.aqugrass.com and www.aquariumfarm.com) made me more addicted. And I tried to think more and design more layout........so I set up Secret Garden, Breeze of Wild and Summer Dance in the year of 2005. Although my Secret Garden got 225 world ranking in ADA contest 2005, I did not give up and joined the AGA contest 2005 and finally I got Best of Show, First Prize and Second Prize in the small catagory. I hope the coming years, I will have more and better layouts.
My Tank (Summer Dance):
Aquarium Size: ADA Cube Garden [45cm (W) x 22cm (D) x 30cm (H)]
Substrate System: ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia
Filtration: Hydor P10 300L/H
Lighting: 4 x 15W ADA NA-LAMP, 11 hours/day
My tank have two light breaks, 4 hours – 1 hour break – 5 hours – 2 hours break – 2 hours. The reason of this unusual scheme has no particular scientific basis.
I was previously lighting my tanks with a continuous 8/9 hours photoperiod, but I occasionally had algae issues. After talking with some experienced aquarists, I decided to split the photoperiod into 2/3 intervals. With this technique, plants growth is not negatively affected and photosynthetic processes perfectly takes place. On the other side, algae seem to suffer this situation. I believe that one light break would be enough: the last 2 hours of the timing have a very practical function: to let me enjoy the tank when I am back from work!
Fertilizer: ADA Green Brighty Step 1, ECA, Iron Bottom. I just follow the menu of them to add.
CO2 System: JBL 500g CO2 bottle, 2 bubbles/sec
Plants: Rotala rotundifolia (green) , Eleocharis “parvula” sp., Hemianthus callitrichoides"Cuba", Rotala macrandra sp. , Rotala wallichii , Microsorium sp.(narrow) , Blyxa japonica , Bolbitis heudelotii , Fantinalis antipyretica
Fish: Paracheirodon axelrodi, Siamese Algae Eater , Nannostomus beckfordi
Invertebrates: Neocaridina sp.
Maintenance: I change 50% of water twice a week.
I like both photography and aquascaping. I usually go hiking and take photos, sometimes I find that natural places give me many ideas to make a new layout! Also, learning more about photosgraphy helps me know more about the golden ratio, the color, the contrast, etc. which improves my layouts!
As I am very fond of photography, I usually arrange my layouts using the Golden Ratio rule. In Hong Kong there are many specialized shops but often wood and stones are not in good shape and too big for small tanks. So everytime I see some suitable decoration, I buy it and store at home. Therefore, I can do my layouts anytime.
Planning a new layout is a very time consuming process. For example, picking the right decorative material and its placement can last for several days! I like colored plants but I try not to use them too much because they catch the observer’s eye and take it aware from the overall impression. I try to locate them only as focus points.
I like to use some colourful fish (e.g. Paracheirodon Innesi) if my layout is mainly based on green plants. Their size must be small because my tanks are small and big fish would make my tanks look smaller! Usually I do not use fauna in the start-up stage of my tanks, except Caridina Japonica and Crosseochelius Siamensis.
Only when the the layout is finished do I complete the fish population. I usually read Aqual Journal, I like Amano's work so much, so sometime my layouts are affected by his.
May 15th, 2006
The May 2006 installment of the Get to Know series features our friend Roland Seah.
Here's a picture of Roland, Shark and Jake, respectively. Shark is the chemist behind FERKA.
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself (your CV).
I have been keeping fish since I was a kid. Workwise, I started out as a software engineer after my studies, but my growing involvement in the aquarium hobby eventually saw me entering this field on a full time basis to enjoy the hobby more as well as generate more awareness of this activity.
2. How did you get involved with aquarium plants and, later, with
From an early age, I have been keeping ‘planted tanks’ with tetras, driftwood and hydrilla tied with lead weights. As a student, I had to stop pursuing the hobby after a while due to limited financial ability. But once I began to work, an active interest returned. My return to the hobby was a small 3 ft tank setup costing about S$2,000. But due to inexperience then, I ended up buying wrong equipment and accessories for quite a while.
Later, I came across internet discussion forums and got to know Simon, who set up www.aquaticquotient.com. I volunteered to help revamp the website and became the forum’s webmaster. During this period, I learnt a lot more about plants and fishes while doing research, programming and managing the database for the website.
Eventually my interest inspired me to embark on a full time career in setting up planted tanks. I first started out as part of a freelance group but this didn’t turn out well. After that I set off on my own with a friend who had switched jobs and joined me as an active partner. The company, Green Chapter, is now approaching its second year and we are in the midst of planning new projects and trading activities.
3. What are your favorite books? Movies? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages? Vacation spot?
I like reading fantasy epics like books by Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks (e.g. Wheel of Time). Also the Lord of the Rings series. Music wise, I prefer soothing and relaxing stuff. I also dive and cycle for leisure. Coffee, beer and red wine are my preferred drinks, and I go for beach resorts around this region for breaks.
4. What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point? Any
Failures you'd like to tell us about?
Well, I would say one key accomplishment is starting and keeping this company operating in the black despite pessimistic views and criticisms about this supposedly ‘dying’ industry. There is also some satisfaction to be involved in designing huge custom planted tanks for private owners as well as public projects such as setups at the Jurong Bird Park in Singapore.
Of course there are some hiccups along the way, but I don’t think we have encountered any major failures at this point, although there is certainly room for learning and improvement in all aspects.
5. Tell us a little bit about the planted aquarium hobby in your country.
How has it changed? How has the Internet changed it? What do you see in
the next 5 to 10 years? Is aquascaping big or are people just learning to
This hobby has been around for at least 10 years, but only a few shops have the professional know-how to properly grow aquatic plants. Previously, the range of equipment available was limited and very expensive, and not many people could imagine spending thousands of dollars simply to grow aquatic plants. Most people would maintain tanks for the sake of showy fishes such as arowanas, goldfishes and giant gouramis.
But with more foreign brands entering the market with a greater variety of equipment at lower prices, the planted tank hobby has enjoyed good growth, although here it is still a minority within the aquaria hobby.
Most hobbyists still tend to rely on the shop owners to convey their often limited and sometimes erroneous knowledge about maintaining a planted tank. But with the internet, new information can be shared easily and the standards of awareness have risen as more people go online. Local online communities such as aquaticquotient.com also help bring together people in periodic meetings and outings to shops and farms.
I think the planted aquaria hobby will continue to grow in the future, although it may not match the glamour of marine tanks with their vivid range of colours. And the standards of hobbyist tanks and their skills should rise further as new and better techniques are developed and shared.
6. Speaking from experience, you supply some excellent Cryptocoryne
specimens. How did you get involved with Cryptocorynes? Do you grow any of the species?
My love for Cryptocorynes came by chance when I went on a local field trip with some forum friends. The difficulties involved in keeping these plants alive and getting them to bloom is a good challenge for me. In addition, the genus’ diversity of shapes and species also attracted me.
Since then, I have been trying to obtain more less common species and have come to know people sharing this interest from different countries, with whom new ideas and practices can be shared.
I grow a number of species myself, such as C. affinis, C. aponogetifolia, C. auriculata, C. bullosa, C. coronata, C. decus-silvae, C. ferruginea, C. ideii, C. cf. jacobsenii, C. keei, C. longicauda, C. minima, C. nurii, C. pallidinervia, C. schulzei, C. striolata, C. thwaitesii, C. vietnamensis, C. yujii, and C. wendtii ‘green gecko’.
7. What advice do you have for someone who is getting into the planted
I would say, if you are serious about getting it right, you have to spend your money on the correct items. If possible, don’t hesitate in spending a little extra for better quality equipment, as these are likely to deliver better performance and last longer.
8. Describe your typical workday schedule.
I usually wake up at seven and start by replying to emails. Then I set off for the office and attend meetings or work on scheduled maintenance jobs. There is also planning work and paperwork such as quotations and proposals. I normally chill out at a pub before calling it a day.
9. Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
One reason I actually got back into the hobby was because a girl at a disco who kept arowanas inspired me.
March 28th, 2006
1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself (your CV).
Water Treatment: Sacramento State
BS in Aquatic Biology: University of California, Santa Barbara
MS in Botany, University of Florida, Gainesville
Ph.D. in Plant Sciences: in progress, UC Davis
I teach Biology at a Community college. In the future I will seek a position at UC as a professor and researcher.
Planted aquariums have been my focus since 1989. I've had some plants in my tanks since about 1977 and was keeping fully planted tanks before starting my college education. For about 10 years I've maintained, designed and 'scaped planted aquariums as a business. These tanks have ranged from about 1 gallon to almost 1600 gallons.
Many societies and meetings have invited me to speak over the years, covering a wide range of topics on both freshwater and marine aquatic plants. I've designed numerous devices to help aquarists and have done woodworking, acrylic, and plastics fabrication. I am involved with local fish and plant clubs, serving on their Board of Directors for several years.
For the past 5 years I have done substantial lake management as part of my environmental consulting business. Current projects include larger Koi ponds, fungi control, lakes, and wetland creation.
I have been working for the California Dept of Food and Agriculture doing educational outreach, review articles, and testing of herbicides on aquatic invasive weeds. More recently, my role with the CDFA is smaller and I am moving to UC Davis' Aquatic Weed lab to work with Dr. Lars Anderson. We will be looking at the Synergistic Effects of Multiple Alternative Treatments on Hydrilla verticillata, Egeria densa and Eurasian milfoil. Presently I am conducting research control efforts with South American Sponge plant (Limnobium spongia var laevigatum) and will be starting a 2-year funded Hydrilla tuber study and a Purple Loostrife study later this fall.
I have had articles published in English, Polish, German, Italian, and French with articles in Weed science journals, TFH, FAMA, TAG, AP and RA, AP and GGA. Monthly in-depth review articles about aquatic plants can be found at www.BarrReport.com.
I seek an understanding of the basic questions surrounding plant growth and control. My research addresses both herbicidal and non-herbicidal methods and using new approaches to solve aquatic weed control issues. These include both microphytes (generally algae) and macrophytes (plants and seaweeds) in fresh and saltwater environments. Establishing the minimum effective dosing level for a target weed without building up resistance to the herbicide is an important part of my work. This reduces cost, minimizes the impact to non-target plants, and reduces the long-term environmental impacts.
I've discussed a variety of topics over the years on the web and in person with many people interested in plants. I am involved with a number of local societies and am a member of SFBAAPS in San Francisco, CA, the oldest and perhaps largest aquatic plant hobbyist group in the USA.
2. How did you get involved with aquarium plants?
I kept them from the time I started. Most tanks had water sprite, creeping jenny, and various water weeds from the local areas. The LFS I worked at as kid always had a few plants growing well in some of their tanks. I got involved in fully planted tanks after thinking about adding some plants to all the driftwood I'd collected. I knew very little about plants at the time. I found Dupla planted tanks and equipment, but did not feel it was needed to do well.
3. What are your favorite books? Movies? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages? Vacation spot?
Authors: Steinbeck, Payne, Milton, Plato, Faulkner, and various philosophers.
Movies: Sci Fi/Animation.
Music: Most styles of music. I play bass.
Games: Candy Land with my 4 year-old Nephew is about it lately.
Food: Fish, fowl, Thai, Indian, Chinese and veggies, of course anything with sugar also.
Drink: Water, a rare swig of siphoned tank water and tea are my main liquids.
Vacation spots: coral reefs and marine plants, high altitude mountaintops, mountain bike micas, jungles, wetlands.
4. What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point? Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
I guess it would be getting around some of the dogma that folks always seem to get caught up in. If I had to pick one thing, the best accomplishment would be helping folks. My list of failures is too long to discuss here. At some point I’ve likely experienced most of the problems that other folks have.
5. It is no secret that you brought a novel perspective to planted aquarium fertilization with your Estimative Index. How did you come up with EI in the first place? How has it evolved over the years?
I'm not sure making a relatively simple standard solution each week is really my idea, but that's how it evolved. The only novel thing is the application to our hobby. Steve Dixon and I talked about a range of optimal parameters many years ago. I eventually wrote an article on it from our talks (see the reference section of sfbappas.com). Initially, it included testing and lower, more conservative ranges for most nutrients.
We explored higher nutrient levels and how far things could be pushed before seeing algae or stunting of the plant growth. We had a nice set of test kits (actually Steve did) and we checked their accuracies. After we got a decent handle on these ranges, I went about pushing them further to see if they might cause algae at higher concentrations. Upper limits were not especially important for most every nutrient except NH4. At least this held true for ranges of nutrients that one might normally find or be able to target without a test kit. I simply did huge water changes, and then added the nutrients back. From there you eyeball the plants, rather than relying on the test kits. If the plants look good, then the water changes will prevent any build up. Estimations of concentration based on teaspoon weights and water volume did the rest. Soon I'd done it so many times that I could help folks anywhere with little information. If I overdid something I could easily rely on the next water change to remove things. After experiencing nothing except awesome plant growth and others started to report the same effect, folks stopped relying on the test kits so much.
The real problem was folk's insistence on using test kits. Most used them infrequently, and only after a problem had occurred. They didn’t look to test a specific hypothesis, and often relied on inaccurate readings. Everyone wanted to know all the tested parameters, yet few knew how they interacted together or what caused the algae issues. Some felt EI was a leap of faith, yet folks already knew how to do a water change. ADA's routine is not much different.
6. How has the aquarium plants market changed in the last 10 years?
Well, we could get perhaps 50 species 10 years ago. Now we can get over 300. Folks in one part of the world are able to quickly send the plants all over. Availability has made leaps and bounds. As folks have had less issues growing, they are focusing more on aquascaping. This is a nice trend. Folks everywhere are getting good at it, not just in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands. There are far more folks involved and fewer academic types who were primarily the ones that tried and figured out so much. Today the “how” is fairly easy to address.
7. How do you see the aquarium plants market in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years?
I suppose more of the same, more folks doing ’scaping, more growth in the hobby, more public awareness, more competitions, more species available, more folks keeping open tops, and better lighting. There will be more brands and enhancements made to the hobby.
8. Do you have any thoughts about the US aquarium plants market?
This is pretty much what I spoke of above. Across the world many localized areas are embarking on a renaissance of planted tank “how and why.” As articles are translated and people share information on the web, they develop their ability to grow plants. One must be able to grow before they can garden. While I have tried to help many folks with the how and why, the ’scaping is something they need to do and try on their own. I will offer suggestions and options but seldom a critique. I feel it is my duty to help folks without access to correct information, or worse, misinformation.
9. Tell us a little bit about The Barr Report. Why did you decide to start it up? How's it going?
Well, I thought Greg Watson was trying to sell me Amway and multilevel marketing – it was his idea. I have little interest in web design, so he wanted to do that part, while I added content. Folks have complained for years that I did not have a site. It seemed that to have any lasting credentials one needed some photos and a web site.
Many of the things I've figured out over the years needed more support and needed to be written up in a nice format. There are plenty of books and beginner articles out there already, but not much on the culture of aquatic plants that really addressed things like PO4 and algae effectively. This way, I have a routine to get a book written in a step-wise manner. The money had nothing to do with it. I just get sick of repeating myself a dozen times a day.
It is going much better than we'd hoped. I don’t think it's something anyone else can duplicate and the value will last. It was a better idea than publishing a magazine with all the problems inherent to translation, etc. I can send it to anyone with an internet connection instantly. They can print it out or read it from the screen any time. Eventually I'll edit it and produce a much-needed book on Aquatic Plant horticulture for aquariums.
10. Are you conducting any interesting experiments at the moment that you can share with us?
I'd have to kill you if I told you.
My substrate test is almost done. There are a couple of tests yet to do, but I might not get to it before moving on. There are several things we are looking at in the lab. There is also a very simple test method I will write up for hobbyists that can help evaluate substrate differences that I will share in the coming month or two. As I write articles for the Barr Report, I learn a great deal as well, and this generates ideas. But mostly I am looking at some basic things: CO2 mist/circulation, delivery; substrates; low O2/organic decomposition of plant leaves (a source of organic nitrogen that includes NH4) and algae. I have a simple method to do relative growth rate (RGR) analysis for aquarist with a relatively cheap scale. I also want to show folks how to properly calibrate a testing method and will write a short article for each this spring for the BarrReport, in addition to the new articles on Oxygen, PO4, SO4, etc.
11. Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I'm not nearly as crotchety in person, I used to skateboard 24/7, and had long hair.
March 1st, 2006
I am a husband, father of two wonderful girls, and grandfather of four grandchildren. I've almost always been self-employed and believe strongly in the principles of hard work and "giving back" to our communities, whether those are our neighborhoods, towns, churches, or
in today's internet age, communities like the Aquatic Plant Central. Where many of us find our "online planted aquarium home".
2. How did you get involved with aquarium plants?
I've been an avid aquarist since childhood when my parents gave me a 5 gallon metal frame, slate bottomed aquarium with guppies. Decades later, my wonderful wife, one by one, slowly took over my beautiful passive community tanks. Turning them into Cichlid tanks. She didn't
even realize that "my" tanks had become "her" tanks until an old friend of mine asked if I was still into aquariums. I explained that I no longer had any tanks of my own and that my wife had converted all of my nice passive community tanks into Cichlid tanks. At that moment of "realization", my wife made the mistake of telling me I could go buy my "dream aquarium". Thus, the birth of a 180 gallon planted Discus tank.
3. What are your favorite books? Movies? Music? Games? Foods? Beverages? Vacation spot?
My favorite book is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. I often feel like Arthur Dent. Unfortunately, life does not come with a nice electronic guide with a friendly cover that says "Don't Panic", but I really think it should (Hey Art, how about a nice Don't Panic button on the APC homepage? It could hotlink to an introduction to plants thread in the forums.) Sorry about that, you were asking about favorite books and vacation spots…
My wife and I are partners in every sense of the word. We live together, work together, and play together. I personally wouldn't want it any other way. For years, we both shared the same office, two desks in the same room. I couldn't ask for a better life partner or business partner. However, when it comes to vacations, my wife wants to be on the go all the time, places to see, places to go. Personally, I prefer a quiet beach with a cabana bar nearby and a stack of aquarium books and magazines. My favorite vacation readings are "antique" aquarium magazines. For example, I have a complete set of "The Aquarium" magazine include the first years in 1932.
4. What do you consider as your accomplishments up to this point? Any failures you'd like to tell us about?
Success is usually the result of many failures. If we think about watching our children learn to walk. First, they fell many times. It is rare that we can accomplish new things if we are unwilling to fail many times. However, as adults, we often are unwilling to risk failure. Something that I think is a shame.
My wife and I start a new business almost every year. Since we are in the hospitality business (hotels), it usually involves a travel related or real estate related business. We do take a risk and give new ideas a try. Sometimes those ideas succeed, and sometimes those ideas fail.
There are also "consequences" of choices we make, both positive and negative. Years ago, I set a goal to take "month long vacations" every year. Inevitably while we are gone, a CO2 tank empties and I return to an algae infested tank, almost an annual reminder of what life is often like for those new to planted aquariums. While it may be frustrating at times, it is also a good reminder of "what it was like when I first started out". It is easy for those of us with more experience to "forget" what it was like to first get started. What seems like "obvious" information, concepts, facts, was usually not so obvious when we first got started. Nor is it obvious to the many new hobbyists entering the planted side of the aquarium hobby. Returning home to an algae infested tank is a good reminder. So when we see "new" questions posted by those new to the hobby, we need to remember what it was like when we were first in their position. How much help did we receive when we asked those very same questions.
5. You are well known for helping aquarists everywhere get the nutrients necessary to properly take care of their aquariums. Why did you decide to start www.gregwatson.com?
It was an accident. When I first got started with planted aquariums, it took me over three months to find all of the various "ingredients" that I needed. I ended up ordering them from three different suppliers (which included three different shipping charges). Almost a year later, when I was close to running out, I called the supplier to place an order and found out he was no longer in business. I ended up having to buy in bulk. Not a month later, when I ran out of the second ingredient, that supplier would no longer sell to individuals. Thus I bought in bulk again and started sharing with my friends at my costs.
Soon, I started finding "friends" to share ferts with that I had never met or talked to before. Then I setup the shopping cart on my personal website. We each "give back" to the hobby in different ways. We have some great hobbyists who fund wonderful online aquatic resources like APC right out of their own pockets. Ferts are just my way of "giving back" to the hobby.
In 2004, when I "accidentally" made a profit, I contacted numerous online forums and asked about donating those profits back to the hobby. Thus today, you will see me listed as a "sponsor" on numerous forums.
6. How has the aquarium plants market changed in the last 10 years?
Sadly the United States still does not have Tropica plants available to us in the commercial retail market. Recently we lost an Icon in the commercial side of the retail plant market. However, we also have an increasing number of hobbyist who are doing a wonderful job of helping us supply the "non-commercial" retail market. If it wasn't for these great hobbyists the variety of plants we have available would be much more limited. I also attend about a half-dozen aquarium club auctions every year and it has been exciting to see an increasing number of plants appearing in the auctions.
One of the most challenging adaptations we have faced is the change in lighting. When I first got started, we thought anyone with over one watt per gallon of light was on the cutting edge. Today, 2-3 watts seems to be the norm and 4-5 watts is increasingly common. These higher turbo charged light levels are increasingly challenging the hobby.
Personally, I am a big fan of Diana Walstad and her low-light aquariums. My favorite aquarium book is "The Family Aquarium" by H.D. Butler, published in 1858 (almost 150 years ago). Chapter III is titled "The Tank - How to Fit It Up Picturesquely", an 1858 primer on aquascaping. Chapter V is titled "The Fresh-Water Aquarium - Its Vegetation - Where To Seek For It, and How To Recognize It", an 1858 primer on stocking and maintaining the planted aquarium. Nearly 150 years ago, our hobby was talking about the importance of plants in a balanced aquarium. In the natural lighting of the time, algae was rarely an overwhelming concern.
There is a lot we can learn from a study of our history. Many of the things that we talk about today, have been discussed repeated in aquatic literature over the last 150 years. Today, the internet makes it easier for us to form communities where we can share information much more easily.
7. How do you see the aquarium plants market in general changing over the next 5 to 10 years? Do you have any thoughts about the US aquarium plants Market?
Currently, we have several US hobbyists that are working hard to help bring new plants into our market. The US market seems to be about a decade behind Europe but I believe our market is potentially much larger and thus I am optimistic and hopeful that these hobbyist efforts will be successful. One of the challenges though, is communicating the cost of bringing these new plants into our market. So while at first glance a price of $10, $25, or $120 for a plant may sound high. It is often only a fraction of the cost a hobbyist incurred to bring that plant into the US. Over time, our hobbyist community will be able to cultivate these plants and bring the prices down. So when you see a hobbyist retailer advertise these kind of prices, we need to understand that they have often invested a lot more just to bring these plants in.
8. Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know.
I have alluded already to my passion for aquatic literature. I have recently acquired the domain name AquaLibrary.com under the umbrella of a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Over the next ten to fifteen years, I plan to continue to build an aquatic reference library dedicated to the preservation of our aquatic heritage. For the last two years, summer interns from the Library Sciences department have been cataloging and archiving my personal library. Eventually, I hope that this non-profit organization will be able to provide an "inter-library loan" type service through aquarium clubs to preserve and make available aquatic literature to club members. We have a wealth of history, heritage, and knowledge in our aquatic literature, publications, magazines, and newsletters. It is my dream to help preserve that heritage and literature for future generations.
Each generation passes on its knowledge and heritage to the next generation. Great online aquatic resources like the Aquatic Plant Central portal and other forums are an invaluable part of our hobby.
My thanks go out to Art and his team of volunteers, including Edward,
Gnatster, and Laith just to name a few.
January 28th, 2006
This month's Aquascaper in Focus is Norbert Sabat!
Norbert, thanks for agreeing to be this month's Aquascaper in Focus! Lets start off with me asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself.
I live in Warsaw (Poland), I am 27 years old and I work as an architectural engineer. Everyday I work in an office where I am busy with architectural projects - boring work, which does not really seem to interest me. I went to school at Warsaw University of Technology but I never really finished everything (probably one day). I always liked drawing, I also loved comics (Marvel, DC etc), I also entered a few "molding" contests but after high school I lost interest. I listen to all types of music but my favorite is hip-hop.
Tell us, how did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?
Honestly, I never really treated the planted aquarium hobby very seriously but there was something that always pulled me towards it. I had my first aquarium in my childhood that my father took care of. Later on I took a break from fishkeeping for 12-13 years up until 2002 when my sister received a goldfish in a fish bowl from her friends on her 18th birthday. For some reason, I started to take care of that fish by changing the water every 2-3 months, feeding it, etc. It wasn’t a large responsibility but for many aquarists (although nobody will admit to it) it all started with just a goldfish or a Siamese fighting fish in a small cup.
In the summer of 2003 something pushed me to buy the poor goldfish a regular rectangular aquarium. Unfortunately, the goldfish was not too happy in its new home so it was soon moved back to the fish bowl but new fish went into the aquarium (Neons, Rams and Corydoras). It was a classic beginner tank as it was overstocked, under filtered, low light, and very poorly planted. At that point I was not even thinking of a planted fish tank, to tell you the truth. I never even knew that planted aquariums even existed!
Everything changed in the Fall of 2003 when I got hooked up to the internet and started to learn about this hobby. One day I surfed to a site that had pictures of planted tanks (Amano style and Dutch style) and it left a deep impact on me. At that point, I thought that in order to create a fish tank of that magnitude you needed an unbelievable amount of determination and knowledge (plus I thought that people that created these tanks were from another world).
My passion grew larger and in January 2004 I started a 100x40x45 cm tank. Over the next few months my fascination with Japanese planted tanks grew very rapidly. As a result, in April 2004 I changed my fish tank over to a planted tank (I installed more lights, Co2, started to fertilize etc). This is how it basically started for me. As you can see, I have only been in the plant hobby for less than two years. Oh yeah! The goldfish has moved from the bowl into a regular 40-liter aquarium that has been his home for almost a year.
From where do you draw the inspiration for your aquascapes?
This is probably going to sound weird or too general but my inspiration comes from nature itself where I am constantly searching for themes for my tank arrangements. “Searching” might be too strong of a word since 99.9% of my ideas come by accident -- sitting on a park bench looking at a clump of grass under my feet. I am a rather quiet and reserved person so that is why I love to take walks by myself where I think a lot. Very often looking at a fragment of nature (bushes by the pond, certain rock arrangements), I imagine how I can create something like that in an aquarium and what kind of plants to use in that particular aquascape.
Do you follow any particular aquascaping style?
My favorite tanks are in the “nature aquarium” style, especially works by Takashi Amano (only from the last 7-10 years though as the older ones don’t appeal to me), where there is a lot of artistic work. I don’t only like one particular type of arrangement but I rather equally like rockscapes as I do branches and root layouts. “Dutch Style” layouts do not touch me that much anymore as such glamour and splendor does not appeal to me. It actually reminds me of unnatural scapes, unnatural French gardens or French poodles (basically nothing that can occur in nature). As I was observing the last results in the ADA competition I can safely say that the “nature” themes are evolving into abstract offshoots. Although they did not all display a true natural picture, it was closer to my aesthetic tastes than Dutch layouts.
What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?
What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?
The basic rule is to have fun. I do not think too much on the arrangement. In other words, it is not my intention to use it to reveal some type of truth about life, emotions or my personal philosophies. To me, aquascaping is similar to painting- I take an empty canvas and paint whatever comes to my mind. When I finish my painting (plant/rock arrangement), I simply put it away on the shelf (i.e., I make a final picture) and take another empty canvas (i.e., I start another arrangement from zero).
I believe that in order to develop ourselves we must do new things, face new challenges because if we do not, we will not progress. Without challenging ourselves, we can take one decade to work on our planted aquarium yet our arrangement will still look the same way as it did ten years ago. Practice is the basis. For me, designing plant aquariums (the first day and the first two months) is more interesting than possessing the aquarium. There is nothing more fascinating than creating an underwater garden, the stages after that are boring for me. Of course I like to marvel over the final product but if I was to look at the same arrangement over six months or a whole year I think I would go crazy !
When I position the aquarium I do not pay attention to whether or not it is in harmony with the environment because my room is too small to worry about that. When I have my own home I am sure I will take that into consideration. Up to this point my arrangements follow one basic rule: minimalism of plant types, that is why I use just 2-6 types planted in large groups. Also, I never pay attention to the chemical aspect of this hobby. One time I tried to examine the hidden processes that occur in an aquarium (absorption of nutrients, concentration of chemical compounds, etc.) but I came to the conclusion that it is not worth my aggravation. I prefer to use a moderate lighting range of 1.5-2.5 watts per gallon, therefore, I do not have to struggle to keep the aquarium in good condition. I always rely on my eyes and intuition more than testing. I prefer to play a gardener rather than a home chemist .
Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement?
I think I am not using (at least consciously) any rules in arranging rocks/wood and plants. I am an architectural engineer and have developed a good spatial sense. I painted for many years (supposedly I was not bad at it) so some aspects are obvious to me. When looking at an arrangement of rocks, I simply see what is wrong, I can predict how some characteristic line of arrangement will look when the plants will be grown. I can see proportions between the given elements. I do not think in the least that my aquariums are without flaws (quite the contrary) but many things come to me without any effort. I do not have to follow any rule of arranging three rocks in a “golden partition” because those rules are as instinctive as breathing to me.
My last arrangements of small aquariums (48 and 44 L) were done spontaneously. Generally I knew what I wanted to do (for example, I told myself that I want to do iwagumi withmoss) but when I took the first rock in my hand, the rest was done without thinking. However, it can be said that all of my arrangements were different from the ones I arranged in my mind before I began the work.
How about the use of colored plants?
I try to avoid colored plants (meaning other than green). Up to this point my arrangements have been uniform except my one 180L aquarium had orange accents. Therefore, I cannot tell you much on this topic. I like small colored accents in the central and back area of the aquascape (e.g., the group rotala wallichii is often used) but I do not like aquariums where color is dominant.
Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?
Not really. Of course fish are important, they add life to the aquariums but for me fish are just an accessory and upon changing the arrangement I remove them without any regret. Some may call me insensitive but that is the way I am. If I were to become attached to a fish it would be to some larger fish but not to some brainless school of fish such as the neon tetras. Up to this point I have tried to select the smallest fish possible to make my aquarium visually appear larger…
I’m always fascinated with your aquarium backgrounds. In your pictures, they seem to resemble the far away horizon. How do you get that look?
I’m always experimenting with new types of lighting for the background. Usually I use a white piece of cardboard positioned 5-10cm behind the aquarium where I shine a light from the top. This type of setup lets me take pictures where the surface of the water (in rear) is not noticeable. Additionally, this type of background along with lighting from the top creates a shadowing effect on the lower part of the background so it makes the tank seem deeper. Generally, I think that adding a great amount of light for the background gives better photos. I try to be very open to new ideas so I experiment with new colors instead of the classic blacks and blues (I think it is very difficult for some people to stop using those colors).
What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping?
Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?
It’s hard to tell what the future brings. Due to a lack of time, I took apart all of my planted tanks except for one biotope 44 liter with Apistos. I just think that I need a little break so I can catch my breath and look with fresh eyes at aquascaping. One reason being is that I was somewhat “bored” of my last aquascapes, where I was looking at the environment but I was not satisfied with the results. I was not able to trick myself into believing that small tanks can be just as passionate as large ones. I think that I learned enough to create any type of arrangement so for now I will just perfect the tools of the trade and concentrate on the artistic aspect. Like I said before, my aquascapes are pretty simple; in the future (if I set up another planted tank) I will concentrate on the smaller details and larger variety of plants. My biggest calling will be a tank with HQI lighting in the range of 3-3.5WPG. I was always afraid of a strong light like that and I always thought that it was not necessary to have a beautiful tank.
Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?
Look at as many pictures of tanks as possible, analyze the arrangements and plant selections so you can see for yourself where a specific plant should be placed, how it grows etc. If you want you can just copy other aquascapes (only the best ones). Some may critique you for it but it’s a good lesson for you. Never begin with really strong light so if you have no experience stay away from the 2.5-3.5WPG range as all you will have is problems. Constantly practice with your arrangements and remember one thing, “Rome was not built in one day”.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak about this hobby and Kamil for translating it.
All photos are protected by international copyright law and owned by Norbert Sabat