Golden Ratio

By: tsunami
December 30th, 2005
8:58 pm

Golden Ratio

For this week's weekly topic, I have chosen to write an article on the golden ratio with visual examples. At the end of the article, I invite anyone to participate in a Golden Ratio excercise at the end of this article.

The invention of the golden ratio dates back to the classical era, created by the ancient architect Vitruvius, who states:

"For a space divided into equal parts to be agreeable and aesthetic, between the smallest and largest parts there must be the same relationship as between this larger part and the whole space."

Since the Rennaisance period, painters have used and applied the formula to other subjects as well. The golden ratio has even been applied to human faces!

The ratio can be summarized as the small is to the large as the large is to the whole. Mathematically, the whole is 1, the large is 0.618, and the small is 0.382. When drawn on an aquarium, there should be four intersections which refer to the four possible focal points. These intersections can also denote other key areas of negative or positive space which are not necessarily the focal point of the tank. Also, the horizontal lines can be used in creating a horizon line (the line dividing the water column from the plants or substrate). All these statements will be clarified below with the visuals.



In this concave layout with Rotala sp 'Green' and Glossostigma elatinoides, where is the focal point? The focal point lies on the top left hand intersection on the branch where the two mounds of Rotala meet. More typically, a concave layout will have the golden intersection fall on the negative space (i.e. background) between the two mounds.



In this layout, the upper right hand intersection seems to be the focal point ---and also the vanishing point, where the plants end and the negative space (black background) begins. The top horizontal line also fits perfectly with this aquarium's horizon line.



For my third example, I chose a Dutch aquarium. The focal point seems to fall on the colorful Ammania gracilis on the top, right hand side. Is this the correct focal point?

Keep in mind, that these rules are not hardset and that there are several other guidelines you can follow in creating your aquascape. The golden ratio is just one tool out of many.

How to apply the golden ratio to your tank:

When first setting up your aquarium, I find it useful to take out a ruler or measuring tape and mark the aquarium with a marker. Measure the length of the aquarium and multiply that length by 0.618. For example, a 36 inch long tank x 0.618 = 22.25 inches. Draw a vertical line. Now, measure 22.25 inches from the opposite side. Draw another vertical line. Measure the height of your tank from bottom to top and multiply that by 0.618. Draw a horizontal line. Measure the height from top to bottom this time and repeat. When all is said and done, you should have a square in the dead center of your tank with four intersection points just like the aquariums pictured above. If you want to use the golden ratio, now you know where exactly is the focal point, where the horizon line should be located, etc.

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Aquascaping Principles, by Birgit Wolfgang

By: tsunami
December 19th, 2005
9:59 pm

Aquascaping Principles, by Birgit Wolfgang

Aquascaping Principals
by Birgit and Wolfgang

Aquascaping
In recent years the term aquascaping has become better known by aquarists all over the world. The big man from Japan, Takashi Amano started with his books a new style in aquaristic. The simple gathering of plants, beautiful stones and driftwood is no longer the goal of many aquarists.
Aquascaping has become a valued art.

This article is based on the style and ideas of the Nature Aquarium, combined with my very own opinions and experiences. It is allways a question of personal preferences on what type of aquascape you try to achieve. Many people just love those good looking japanese aquascapes, but they don´t feel able to achieve it. It is not a question of experience wether you can do it or not. It is no more difficult to have a beautiful Nature Aquarium than it is to have a normal tank. It is just the careful selection of plants and accessories that makes the difference. So many people just don´t have enough self confidence to try it. This article will give you a very compact guideline. Follow the rules and you will achieve your goal.

Amanos Nature Aquarium (NA) is often misunderstood. It is not the aim of the NA to reproduce nature biotopes of special regions. It is more the goal of creating an underwater landscape. A landscape seen before in real nature, not under water.
I myself started, trying to copy some of amanos works. But soon I realised that you cannot copy anything that has to do with living beings. Nevertheless it is good for practicing to start with copying an aquascape you really like. You will automatically use the right plants, place the stones correctly and create some free space which will give your tank more depth of field. With time, you will develop your own style, and sometimes you will like it even more than the one you tried to copy.
Then you start your new setups by thinking of a landscape you once saw and really liked. This may be just an accumulation of stones in the mountains, or a huge clearance in a wood. Everyone has his own preferrals, so everyone will choose another landscape and get his own style.
In Nature Aquarium plants AND fishes are the centerpiece of a tank. In providing the best conditions for your plants to grow, you usually do the same for your fishes. When the plants have everything they need to grow well, at the same time they provide the best conditions for your fishes. Plants use up excessive nutrients in the water that may cause Nitrate levels to spike, and they produce oxygen which is indespensable to the life of fishes.

AGAIN: This short article shall help you create those beautiful aquascapes you have seen in books or on the net and you never thought you can achieve.

So let´s start:

1. Imagination
Imagination is the key to aquascaping.
Get the pictures of available plants and accessories into your mind. Try to combine them in several ways. If you are not able to do this, you´d better start with copying a tank you like. With time you will find it easier to do your imaginative work.
You´ve got your picture? Well, then let´s go.

2. Choosing a background
There are some different ways of choosing a background. Some people use cork, others wood, some paint the background and some use self adhesive foliage. No matter what you do: as long as you don´t want your tank to stand in the middle of a room, give it a background. It is very unnatural to see the wall with all the hoses and cables shining through the tank.
When painting, or using foliage: You´d best use black or blue. This will give your tank a wonderful contrast and also make it easy to concentrate on the tank itself. You don´t want the people to focus on the background, just because it is red?

3. Choosing your substrate
It is unlikely that your aquascape will look natural when you use pink, blue or bright green gravel. You´d better take brown, gray or black. There are different types of substrate that will make your plant grow better or worse. Feel free to ask questions on the board on wether you should use.

4. Choosing the shape of your future layout
There are several composition types:
The concave setup (high on either side and low in the middle)



The convex setup (the opposite of the one above, so low on either side and high in the middle)



Convexity" doesn´t need to be produced by plants only as you can see.
The triangular setup (high on one side, getting lower to the other)



The rectangular setup (high everywhere). This is the one you should avoid. It doesn´t give you areas of free space. But these are very important to create an illusion of depth. So less sometimes is much more.

5. Choosing the accessories
For a long time, aquarists where looking for the perfect (beautiful) piece of driftwood, or stone. Then they placed it into the tank, and.... well, it didn´t look satisfying, did it?
Especially when making a setup with stones it is much more important to use different sizes of the same type, than just take one very beautiful stone. One single stone in a tank will allways look artificial, but when you place two or more, that´s what you usually see in nature. OK, OK – there is Ayers Rock, but it doesn´t actually look natural, does it (sorry to the Australians, didn´t mean to offend you).
Now take your stones or your driftwood and place them in a triangle (if they are at least three). The biggest one (if really big enough) usually is the main focal point, so take special care where to place it (see golden ratio in main focal points in the following chapter).
Never use different type of stones or driftwood. You can gather the ugliest stones you can think of. They just have to be the same type. Place them correctly in a group: I promise, they will look nice (don´t know if it works for red-bricks though)!

6. Setting the main focal points

To get a smooth aquascape you need to set one or at maximum two focal points. This is usually something that pleases your eye. Either a stone, or a piece of driftwood, or a beautiful (group of) plant(s). This is where the golden ratio comes in.
You sure have tried to put the most beautiful of your plants right into the middle of your tank. Well, it didn´t look too good, right? That´s because when you have a symmetrical aquascape, your eyes tend to wander from left to right and back, forth and back.... This is not the relaxed atmosphere you are looking for when you sit in front of your tank and watch it for hours.
Greek philosophers and mathematicians found out long ago: the best ratio that pleases your eye is 1:1,618. Heeeh?????
To explain. When you drink your coffee, you mix one part of milk with 5 parts of coffee (just as an idea) You have a ratio of 1:5.
So when you place your focal point, you devide your tank length into two pieces. One has the ratio of 1,618 and the other the ratio of 1.
How to do that??? Very simple: just measure the length of your tank and divide it through 2.618. Take the result and measure it from one side of your tank. Mark it. The rest is 1.618 (no maths there). This is the place for your very special „centerpiece“, focal point or whatever you call it.



It is not wise to have two centerpieces in relatively small tanks (under about 60gal). Never try to create more than 2 focal points.

7. Foreground, Midground, Background
To get some depth into your tanks it is most important to use low growing plants. It is not particularely necessary to have high growing plants as well, because you can have hills or higher stones and driftwood that fulfill their demand.
If you don´t have either stones, hills (terraces) or driftwood, you need higher plants as well to give a fine background.
Amano often uses Riccia fluitans and glossostigma elatinoides. While the second one can really be a challenge – sometimes even for experienced aquascapers, Riccia is quite easy to cultivate. It is a floating plant that needs a little care.
You will find an article about how to cultivate riccia easily in this forum.
Hairgrass (eleocharis) is another plant used very often as a foreground. Note: Glossostigma and Hairgrass must not be planted as they come from your lfs. Divide them into very small bundles, and plant them separately. This will make it grow in faster and also reduces the risk of decaying. After planting Hairgrass, prune the plant to a hight of about ½ - 1 inch. Eleocharis is grown emers (above water) in plant nursarys. Until the new shoots will appear, the old ones will rot and get infested with algaes.

8. Planting order
First you plant (place) the focal point. Then the lowgrowers and midgrowers and in the end the high plants.
Try to allways plant very dense.
Especially stem plants are a good way to form your aquascape. Many small leaved species, such as micranthemum micranthemoides, m. umbrosum, mayaca sellowiana or rotala indica to just name a few, can easily be trimmed to a desired shape. But therefore you have to plant it quite dense as I stated. Take two to three stems and plant them with tweezers. About an inch beside: plant the next bundle of two to three stems, and so on. The more dense you plant in the beginning, the faster the tank will grow in. Especially in the initial stage it is wise to cut the tops, replant the cuttings between the old ones while you leave the rooted parts in the substrate. So you can easily propagate your plants. The rooted parts will bud new shoots within short time.

9. Plant leaves and colour
It is allways wise to use plants with different leave size and/or colour. This again will create more depth and naturalness. If your tank is not too big (under 60gallon) it is wise to mainly use plants with smaller leaves. That will make it look much bigger than it actually is.
Especially red plants can help you give your tank more contrast. But be aware: If you use one single red plant it will again work as a focal point. If you allready chose a stone to be a focal point, you may get too much tension into your scape and your eyes will wander from one focal point to the other.

10. Fishes
You shouldn´t add fishes right from the start. There are many articles on fishless cycling in the net.
IMO (and not only IMO) it is better to choose schools of small fishes than just a few different big ones. A huge shool of tetras or rasboras will make your tank look much bigger (especially on pictures – you want to take part in an aquascape competition, don´t you?!?).
Choose fishes that won´t disturb your aquascape. Many species tend to dig – not good for your foreground carpet as you can imagine.
Also keep in mind that many fishes that are small when you buy it may easily grow to the size of half your tank. This is neither good for your aquascape, nor for the fish, so ask and READ before buying. Sometimes it is better to read, or ask in the net, because many lfs just want to sell. A bargain which was said to stay small may easily grow to size of a small shark.

11. Maintainance
Setting up an aquascape is one thing, but maintaining and enhancing its beauty is completely different. Only regular pruning and waterchanging as well as getting the right balance of nutrients/light/CO2 will make you achieve your goal. Sometimes when your plants grow in, you may even have to change a group of plants, cause it doesn´t look like your original imagination. It is acutally not that difficult nowadays with all the help you get, especially on this plant based forum. You just have to give it a try and believe in yourself.

Birgit Wolfgang

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An interview with Eric Cheng, August 2004

By: tsunami
December 19th, 2005
9:07 pm

An interview with Eric Cheng, August 2004

August's aquascaper in focus is... Eric Cheng!

Name: Eric Cheng
Location: Hong Kong, China
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Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Eric: I have been interested in this hobby since two years ago. Before that, I had discus in my tank. One day, I shopped at an aquarium store, and there were some attractive planted tanks. My wife and I both wanted to have something different in our living room, not only the discus. And she decided to buy me a new tank as a present, so I planned to learn and do something new to challenge myself.

Carlos: Could you please describe your the fertilization and maintenance routines you use on your various aquaria? What liquid and base fertilizer brands gives you the best results? How often are water changes performed, and how much?

Eric: I usually perform water changing once a week, just 1/3 of the tank volume. I mostly add some ADA products afterwards, such as Brighty K, Green Brighty Special Lights, Step 2, ECA and Tropica TMG. Those products are really good supplements for growing healthy plants. I also like to use ADA Aqua Soil Amazoma as base fertilizer because it is compatible to many kinds of aqua plants.

Carlos: Most of the layouts you present seem to have a lot of Japanese influence, conveying an atmosphere reminescent of a lot of Japanese entries in the ADA contest. Do you tend to use these as a source of inspiration?

Eric: I totally agree that my layout creation is influenced by Japanese style, especially, Takashi Amano. He is fantastic; the conveying of his presentation is natural, smooth and non-artificial, just like real scenery in front of me. I hope that I could learn more from that, and then inspire me to have new ideas for my layouts in the future.

Carlos: What are you usually trying to recreate in your aquascapes? A natural or idealized landscape like a mountain range? A biotopic underwater scene like from a lake? Do you incorporate any particular aquascaping techniques frequently in your layouts to achieve the emotion or idea you are trying to convey?

Eric: My dream aquascape is a natural one, and I always believe that keeping it simple is best. All of my layouts are not complicated. It is easier for me to handle and design, which makes me achieve what I want more easily. For me, I think that the most important technique is pruning. Because I am a hair stylist, I am more sensible about pruning and layering. I always apply these skills to aquascaping.

Carlos: How do you manage to get the tetras and other characins in your layouts to school so tightly for a photo? Any tips or is it mostly patience?

Eric: Firstly, let those little tetras get used to their living environment. When shooting photos, spending time to wait is a must. Or you can try to control them by using turning on and off the light, making them swim in the same direction.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Eric: My main goal is that I am a fish and aqua plant lover; I like to bring them home and create a moving picture that I can put it in my living room. Actually, setting up a new tank motivates me spend time on practicing my skills. I am so happy to see that I am improving.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Eric: Actually, I don’t have any specific techniques. But I would like to share some of my experience. For the driftwood, choosing the right size is very important. It has to fit and match with the size and style of your tank. Rock placement is done according to the shape and the surface area of the tank you are working on. For the plants, do not put similar colored plants together --creating more contrast makes the whole layout more outstanding. At last, choosing the right kind of fish is necessary, but it depends on the atmosphere of your tank.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Eric: The most enjoyable part of the hobby is the process. I learn many different things from different processes. And I see my skill is improving. Because of this hobby, I have met some new friends that I can share my experiences with, give comments, and support.

Carlos: 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?

Eric: For me, aquascaping is the combination of inspiration, creation, and thoughts. Whenever I plan to set up a new tank, I observe everything around me to inspire myself to create a new layout for my tank --so I don't have any particular aquascaping layout ideas at the moment.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Eric: Analyzing other people's layouts, listening to other’s comments, and asking when you are in doubt. Get lots of information before going out and buying all the materials you need for a planted aquarium. Getting well prepared is very important to a successful aquascape.
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Dimensions: 25cmx25cmx25cm (10inx10inx10in)
Volume: 15.6L (4.1g)
Fish: Nannostomus sp., Otocinclus sp.
Plants: Eleocharis parvulus, Glossostigma elatinoides

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Dimensions: 45cmx24cmx30cm (18inx9inx12in)
Volume: 32.4L (8.6g)
Fish: Trigonostoma heteromorpha
Plants: Vallisneria sp., Blyxa japonica, Microsorium pteropus 'Narrow', Anubias barteri var. nana, Java moss

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Dimensions: 60cmx30cmx36cm (24inx12inx14in)
Volume: 65L (17g)
Fish: Hyphessobrycon sp.
Plants: Glossostigma elatinoides, Hygrophila polysperma 'Sunset', Heteranthera zosterifolia, Anubias barteri var. nana, Ludwigia arcuata, Eleocharis vivipara

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Dimensions: 90cmx40cmx40cm (36inx16inx16in)
Volume: 144L (38g)
Fish: Black Neon Tetras (Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi)

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Enjoy!

Carlos

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An interview with Harry Kwong, July 2004

By: tsunami
December 13th, 2005
12:02 pm

An interview with Harry Kwong, July 2004

For July's aquascaper in focus, I have chosen to interview another avid aquascaper from Hong Kong --Harry Kwong!

Name: Harry Kwong
Location: Hong Kong, China
---------------------
Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby How long have you been in the hobby?

Harry: My interest in aquariums started with a birthday present for my little girl --a glass bowl of Colise Lalia --three years ago. I started just like most beginners, thinking that keeping an aquarium is not too difficult. However, after a certain number of fishes died, I became serious in this hobby. I then start searching on the net, finding a very helpful Hong Kong aquarium website and got lots of information, technique and knowledge there. In the beginning, my favor was in fishes, but I think fish will be very boring to live in an empty tank. Since then, I started my interest in planted aquaria. It has been over one year since my first successful planted tank,and it is one of the most challenging hobbies I have ever had and will surely keep it on.

Carlos: Could you please describe your the fertilization and maintenance routines you use on your various aquaria? What liquid and base fertilizer brands gives you the best results? How often are water changes performed, and how much?

Harry: For people who don't know much about chemicals like me, I prefer to use brand fertilizers such as ADA, Tetra, Dupla etc so far, if I can afford. If you love your plants and tank, you better not to use cheap and unknown fertilizer since it may cause disaster in your tank. Usually I will use ADA Step 1 for new tank, Green Brighty Special for shade tank, ECA for color plants, KCL solution for all the tanks, TMG for mature tank; every month or two I will apply JAQNO -Flora Stick Pro near the roots. I do believe in dosing fertilizer every day instead of once a week. At least one third of water will be replaced every week.

Carlos: Most of your aquarium layouts show a distinct Chinese influence. How important are traditional Chinese art techniques in your layouts?From where do you draw your inspiration?

Harry: In fact, frankly speaking, I didn't intend to show a distinct Chinese influence. However, in most of my layouts, I like to add some colored plants(red) among the green leaves. Red color in Chinese means joy, happiness, vitality, energy...etc. Hong Kong's culture is a mixture of Western and Eastern civilization, and more or less my ideas and concepts will unconsciously be influenced by Chinese Culture.

Carlos: What are you usually trying to recreate in your aquascapes? A natural or idealized landscape like a mountain range? A biotopic underwater scene like from a lake? Do you incorporate any particular aquascaping techniques frequently in your layouts to achieve the emotion or idea you are trying to convey?

Harry: For me, I seldom dive under water, therefore it might be difficult for me to catch the feeling of an underwater scene. In my idea, underwater scenery is boring and disorderly. Therefore, I would rather like to create a natural aquascape imitating mountains, forest, beaches...etc, just like what we can see and feel everyday. In my opinion, to create a good piece of work you should catch the feeling first. That's why a good aquascaper will always love the nature.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Harry: For every new tank setting, I will treat it like a piece of art. My main goal is to make my idea come true and, in the end, take a good photo.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Harry: Before arranging and setting up the tank, I will usually have a layout in my mind (better to make a sketch). The most critical aspect is looking for suitable materials, such as stones, woods, plants...etc. I don't have many guidelines for wood or rocks only that they must look natural. In most of my works, I will put wood and rocks together in a tank because I love too see both elements in a tank. It is easier to create good perspective and structure this way. As I've said before, I like to have colorful plants among the green leaves which will bring out the contrast and focus. Schooling fish such as tetras and medium sized rainbow fish are my favorite. I will not choose fish that hide or large fish. The size of fish should also have to match with the proportion of the tank.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Harry: Setting and maintaining a tank needs a lot of care, patience, persistence, enthusiasm and problem solving abilities. I enjoy the challenges and the overcoming of all difficulties until the tank is ready to take the photo. A good photo is the result of all my past hard work.

Carlos: 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?

Harry: In the future, I'll try different ways of aquascaping arrangement in different tank sizes. Also, I'm looking for technique of handling various types of plants in one tank. In the future, I'll try to design a set of "series tank", i.e. two or three individual tanks combine together to make one aquascape view. There are lots of things I need to learn, such as handling different types of plants; use of chemicals and fertilizers; different light sources for different plants....etc. There is no limit of learning and study in the aquarium hobby.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Harry: For beginners, my advise is to search for information and learn. Nowadays, through the internet, we can find a lot of good works online, and we can ask questions that get answered, saving us a lot of time. Before starting an aquarium layout, we should study all the pants that will be placed in the tank: their growth behavior, light requirement, way of fertilizing...etc. Beginners are always trying to put all their favorite plants into their tank all at once. It may look good at the beginning, but after a certain short period, problems come, and they don't know how to handle it. Sometimes, too much failure will make people lost interest in this hobby. Try to make a simple tank, learn the way of planting. Once you can handle it, than start a more complex one. We should understand that aquascaping is not just as simple as mix and match. In fact, we are doing this with living organisms. It is a piece of living art. We have to follow things step by step and gain experience from failure. To improve our skill and technique, we should search more, read more, try more, and get closer to nature.

Carlos: Is there anything else you would like to say that wasn't asked in the questions stated above?

Harry: Why do we love aquascaping? Because, basically, we are part of nature. Although we are living in an artificial concrete jungle, we long for getting in touch with our natural environment. Aquascaping will make people get closer to nature which helps us understand and love our world more deeply.
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Title: Beach of Paradise
Dimensions: 60cmx22cmx30cm (24inx8.8inx12in)
Volume: 9g (40L)
Substrate: black sand, decoration white sand
Lighting: Philip Flourescent Tube 2x20w (3 wpg)
Plants: Microsorium pteropus 'Windelov', Microsorium pteropus 'Narrow Leaf', Microsorium pteropus, Anubias barteri var. nana, Anubias barteri var. angustiifolia, Anubias congensis, Anubias gracilis, Cryptocoryne x willisii, Cryptocoryne wendtii, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Brown'
Fish: juvenile Bosemanii Rainbowfish (9)

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Title: Rainbow Paradise
Dimensions: 70x43x50cm (28x17x20in)
Volume: 33g (151L)
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil Amazonia
Plants: Rotala indica, Rotala macrandra, Vesicularia spec, Hygrphila lacustris, Glossostigma elatinoides, Eusteralis stellata, Echinodorus spec., Hygrophila polysperma 'Rosanervig', Didiplis diandra, Rotala sp, Blyxa japonica, Blyxa echinosperma, Ludwigia repens, Hemianthus micranthemoides
Fish: Melanotaenia boesemani, Melanotaenia lacustris, Melanotaenia praecox, A. Macmasteri, Neon Tetra, Epalzeorhynchus kallopterus (Flying Fox)

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Title: Island of Green Serenade
Dimensions: 40x40x46cm (16x16x18in)
Volume: 17g (74L)
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil Amazonia, decoration white sand
Lighting: T5 9wx5 (2.65 wpg)
Plants: Java Fern, Java Fern 'Windelov', Narrow Leaf Java Fern, Bolbitus heudelotii, Vesicularia sp., Rotala indica, Anubias barteri var. nana, Anubias barteri var. nana 'Petite', Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Green', Echinodorus angustifolius, Didiplis diandra, Ludwigia repens, Cyperus helferi
Fish: H. herbertaxelrodi (Black Neon Tetra), H. pulchripinnis (Lemon Tetra), H. flammeus (Flame Tetra), Nannostomus marginatus (Dwarf Pencilfish), Labeo bicolor, Epalzeorhynchus kallopterus (Flying Fox)

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Title: Little Green Field
Dimensions: 24 x 8 x 7 in (61 x 20 x 19 cm)
Volume: 24L (6g)
Lighting: T5 14W x 3
Flora: Echinodorus spec., Elecharis azurea, Vesicularia spec, Hemianthus callitrichoides, Eusteralis stellata, Anubias barteri var. nana ‘Petite’
Fauna: Hyphessobrycon flammeus (Flame Tetra) Nannostomus marginatus (Pencil Fish)

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Carlos

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An interview with Wayne Sham, June 2004

By: tsunami
November 19th, 2005
11:27 am

An interview with Wayne Sham, June 2004

For this month's weekly topic, I've chosen one of the members of www.aqugrass.com , Wayne Sham! Enjoy!

Name: Wayne Sham
Location: Hong Kong, China
---------------------------------------------------------------
Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Wayne: When I was seven years old, my dad gave me my very first tank. Since then, the aquarium hobby became part of my life. My first planted aquarium was set up about four years ago. The shops loaded with all sorts of different plants really attracted me. I've been addicted to aquascaping since then, and the winner of Taiwan's 2002 Aquascaping contest made me daft about aquariums.

Carlos: In your photos on www.aqugrass.com , you seem to use ADA products almost exclusively. Could you tell us about how the ADA substrate system and ADA liquid fertilizer line work? If you have Seachem, Kent, and Tropica products in Hong Kong, how do they compare to the ADA line in quality and ability to grow healthy plants?

Wayne: ADA and Tropica are the two brand products here in Hong Kong. Those substrate system and liquid fertilizer are qualification guaranteed. For example, ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia is relatively good compared to other brands in terms of growth of plants, formation of roots, as well as pH controls. However, it compacts easily, and replacement is needed about every 18 months.

Carlos: Your larger aquariums seem to show quite an array of species in arrangements that have hints of European flower bed scaping techniques, while your smaller aquariums seem very minimalistic with greater Zen influence. From where do you draw your inspiration? Do you follow any particular aquascaping style or use any particular techniques frequently in your layouts?

Wayne: Taiwan Aquascaping Style affected me the most when I was first starting in the aquarium hobby. Elaborate decoration but not very natural. But I love natural and heavy planted Dutch styles for my large aquariums. They are much more colourful and copious. I had also been affected by Takashi Amano’s works that implements lots of wood elements, which provides vital picture and feeling. I was applying these two tank styles, natural and heavy planted Dutch style, to my aquarium last year which ranked 46th in the ADA contest.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Wayne: I hope I can break through my old constructs, design new layouts, and try more different ideas that I've never tried before.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Wayne: There is a lack of rock material here, therefore, I always use woods instead. I would prefer to choose wood that is thin, branched and shaped. I would place 7 to 8 pieces of woods for a 90cm tank. Plants should be colourful and contrasts with each other. Besides green colour, red and yellows are widely used. I won’t choose fishes that are too colourful and schooling fishes are preferred.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Wayne: Consulting other's aquascaping ideas and designs, searching for materials, producing the layout, finishing as well as finalizing the layout with photography sessions. Every single one of these steps is enjoyable. Frankly, the admiration from others, such as judges, is very delighting. Moreover, obtaining experiences on designing and creating aquariums that improve my future layouts is also important. Because of this, I enjoy entering as many competitions as I can (ADA, AGA, TAPC, etc.).

Carlos: 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?

Wayne: In future arrangements, I shall keep trying different types of planted aquariums including both natural aquascapes and non-natural aquascapes.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Wayne: Learn the characteristics of the plants you are using. Look at more photos of aquascapes and study them. Try adding elements you like from multiple tanks into your layouts --practice. Slowly, you will create your own style.

Carlos: Is there anything else you would like to say that wasn't asked in the questions stated above?

Wayne: I deeply hope that there is a Hong Kong Aquascaping Style one day in the future.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Title: Chrismas
Volume : 67L
Dimensions :W60cm X D28cm X H40cm
Lighting : T5 13W X 5, 6400K
Substrate : ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

Plants :
1. Didiplis diandra,
2. Willow Moss
3. Dwarf Rotala
4. Heminanthus micranthemoides
5. Glossostigma elatinoides
6. Blyxa japonica
7. Anubias barterinana

Fish/Shrimp :
1. Otocinclus affinis
2. Thayeria boehlkei
3. Siamese Algae Eater
4. Neocardina sp.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Title: Happy Valley
Volume : 182L
Dimensions :W90cm X D45cm X H45cm
Lighting : 30w X 5, 8000K
Substrate :
1. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia
2. Bright Sand
3. Penac W

Plants :
1. Riccia fluitans
2. Blyxa japonica
3. Heminanthus micranthemoides
4. Willow Moss
5. Java Fern
6. Dwarf Rotala
7. Anubias barterinana
8. Bolbitis heudelotii
9. Hydrocotyle vulgaris
10. Red Pinetree
11. Ludwigia arcuata
12. Microsorium pteropus ssp.
13. Red Pinetree

Fish/Shrimp :
1. Otocinclus affinis
2. Siamese Algae Eater
3. Paracheirodon axelrodi
4. Neocardina sp.
5. Neocaridina denticulata

---------------------------------------------------------------
Layout Title: Natural Buffalo
Volume : 360L
Dimensions :W120cm X D50cm X H60cm
Lighting : 150w X 2 HQI, 5200K
Substrate :
1. ADA Power Sand Special (S)
2. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia
3. Penac W

Plants :
1. Blyxa japonica
2. Green Ammannia (Rotala so, “Green”)
3. Willow Moss
4. Java Fern
5. Junior sword plant
6. Sagittaria lancifolia
7. Dwarf Rotala
8. Nymphaea lotus rubra
9. Bolbitis heudelotii
10. Ludwigia arcuata
11. Sunset Hygro
12. Dwarf Anubias
13. Red Pinetree
14. Hygrophila polysperma var. “Rosanervig”
15. Eleocharis parvula
16. Microsorium pteropus ssp.
17. Rotala wallichii

Fish/Shrimp :
1. Otocinclus affinis
2. Lemon Algae Eater
3. Siamese Algae Eater
4. Red Phantom Tetra
5. Melanotaenia boesemani
6. Pterophyllum altum
7. Thayeria boehlkei

---------------------------------------------------------------
Layout: Breezy Hill
Volume: 20L (5g)
Dimensions: 35x21x26cm (14x8x10in)
Lighting: T5 8W X 5 (8 hours per day)
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil Amazonia
Flora:
1. Glossostigma elatinoides
2. Echinodorus tenellus "micro"

Fauna:
1. Boraras maculata


---------------------------------------------------------------
Layout: Rainbow Garden
Volume: 182L (48g)
Dimensions: 90x45x45cm (35x18x18in)
Lighting: 32W X 3
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil Amazonia, ADA Bright Sand
Flora:
1. Microsorum pteropus
2. Fontinalis sp.
3. Echinodorus tenellus "micro"
4. Nymphaea lotus
5. Sagittaria lancifolia
6. Anubias barteri var. nana
7. Microsorum pteropus "Windelov"
8. Hydrocotyle vulgaris
9. Cyperus helferi
10. Cryptocoryne wendtii "brown"

Fauna:
1. Melanotaenia besemani
2. Nematobrycon palmeri
3. Siamese Algae Eater


---------------------------------------------------------------

For more of Wayne's inspirational works, please visit:

http://www.aqugrass.com/gallery/wayne

Carlos

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An interview with Enrico Monteiro, May 2004

By: tsunami
November 12th, 2005
9:19 pm

An interview with Enrico Monteiro, May 2004

For this month's aquascaper, one of my personal favorites!

Name: Enrico Monteiro
Location: Brazil
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Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Enrico: I discovered the planted aquarium hobby about three years ago, when I began visiting the www.aquahobby.com forums. By the end of 2002, I had setup my first planted aquarium with a fertilized substrate, strong illumination, and CO2. It's been a lot of fun since then.

Carlos: In the aquariums you submitted last year into the AGA contest, you mention that you do not use any liquid fertilizer in your tanks. Despite that fact, many of your stem plants look remarkably healthy perhaps due in part to your enriched substrate. Could you tell us about your substrate method?

Enrico: Well, in last year's contest, I did not use liquid fertilization in my aquariums since they were setup recently. In mature and algae-free aquariums, I use some liquid fertilization but not much. For the substrate, I use earth worm castings, using Mr. Vladimir Simoes' method. I consider it an excellent substrate fertilizer because it provides a wide variety of macro and micro nutrients to the plants. I consider it to be very safe to use if you follow Vladimir Simoes' method. More information about this substrate method can be found here:
http://www.e-aquaria.com/des_monteiro.html


Carlos: From where do you draw the inspiration for your aquascapes? Do you follow any particular aquascaping style?

Enrico: I draw a lot of inspiration from Takashi Amano's works. I think it is fascinating and challenging to make an aquascape that does not look contrived. In the aquariums in which I try to follow more of a Dutch style, I try to add design elements from Amano's Nature Aquariums.

Carlos: Your layouts are very crisp and refreshing to my eye, with some very unique elements I have never seen before. In your 112L (30g) aquarium with the java moss in last year's AGA contest, did you leave the background empty of plants on purpose? What were you trying to recreate or evoke in this aquarium?

Enrico: My original intention was to let the background plants, originally Rotala sp Green, to fill in a little more. Unfortunately, the Rotala sp Green would not grow in as well as I would have liked so I replaced it with the easier to grow Hygrophila polysperma. I tried to take pictures later, but by the time the Hygrophila polysperma had grown in, the moss had gotten way out of control.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Enrico: My main goal is to try new design elements and new ideas --hopefully to make something new as a result.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Enrico: I always try to use basic aquascaping techniques. Unfortunately, many techniques aren't exactly ones that you can read from a text or from the internet. You have to practice.

I also use a lot of intuition in my designs, trying to place plants or hardscaping material in the places I think they look best. Before I even fill up the aquarium with water, I tend to draw out the design and try several different arrangements on a flat surface (outside of the tank).

I think fish choice is very important for the presentation of a layout. Unfortunately, fish are not very easy to get rid of once you want to try out a new design which clashes with those fish.


Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Enrico: I enjoy how the aquascape sometimes takes you in directions you didn't plan to take.

Carlos: 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?

Enrico: My goals right now are to create cleaner, more well executed aquascapes. I also plan to make greater use of ferns, which add a different quality to a layout that I really enjoy.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Enrico: Read a lot, look at a lot of pictures, and have patience!
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30g (112L)
28 x 16 x 16 in (70 x 40 x 40 cm)
Lighting: 6x18 watts Osram Daylight 6100K fluorescent bulbs (3.6 wpg)
Substrate: Fine gravel capped over 3-4 cm laterite+processed earthworm castings
Flora: Cryptocorine wendtii 'Brown', Eleocharis minima, Glossostigma elatinoides, Hygrophila polysperma, Ludwigia arcuata, Ludwigia sp. 'Pantanal',Microsorum pteropus, Microsorum 'Narrow', Vallisneria americana, Vesicularia dubyana
Fauna: Serpae tetras

-------------------------------------------------------------------
66g (250L)
39 x 20 x 20 in (100 x 50 x 50 cm)
Lighting: 8x30 watts of Osram 6100K daylight fluorescent bulbs (3.6 wpg)
Substrate: Fine gravel over 5 cm laterite+processed earth worm castings
Flora: Alternanthera reineckii 'Lilacina', Bacopa caroliniana, Eusteralis stellata, glossostigma elatinoides, Hemianthus micranthemoides, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hygrophila polysperma 'Sunset', Lindernia sp., Rotala macrandra, Rotala rotundifolia, Rotala wallichii
Fauna: Cardinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Harlequin Rasboras (T. heteromorpha), Rummy-nose tetras (H. rhodostomus)

-------------------------------------------------------------------
66g (250L)
39 x 20 x 20 in (100 x 50 x 50 cm)
Lighting: 8x30 watts of Osram 6100K daylight fluorescent bulbs (3.6 wpg)
Substrate: Fine gravel over 5 cm laterite+processed earth worm castings
Flora: Anubias barteri var. nana, Blyxa echinosperma, Blyxa japonica, Echinodorus Tenellus var. 'Amano', Glossostigma elatinoides, Ludwigia arcuata, Ludwigia glandulosa, Ludwigia sp. 'Pantanal', Micranthemum umbrosum, Rotala indica 'green', Rotala sp. 'nanjenshan', Rotala Wallichii
Fauna: Harlequin Rasboras (T. heteromorpha), Cardinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Rummynose Tetras (H. rhodostomus), and Black Neons (H. herbertaxelrodi)



-------------------------------------------------------------------
66g (250L)
39 x 20 x 20 in (100 x 50 x 50 cm)
Lighting: 8x30 watts of Osram 6100K daylight fluorescent bulbs (3.6 wpg)
Substrate: Fine gravel over 5 cm laterite+processed earth worm castings
Flora: Glossostigma elatinoides, Echinodorus tenellus var. 'micro', Blyxa japonica, Cryptocoryne balansae, Vallisneria americana, Vesicularia dubyana, Microsorum pteropus, Anubias barteri var. 'nana', Rotala rotundifolia 'green', Rotala wallichii and Eusteralis sp.
Fauna: Symphysodon aequifasciata, Paracheirodon axelrodi, Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi, Hemigrammus rhodostomus, Crossocheilus siamensis and Rasbora heteromorpha


-------------------------------------------------------------------

Carlos

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An interview with Jeff Senske, April 2004

By: tsunami
November 12th, 2005
8:58 pm

An interview with Jeff Senske, April 2004

Jeff,

Thank you for volunteering your time for our aquascaping forum. Here are the questions I would like to ask you for the interview. You can simply answer the questions and send them to me when you are done by email. Here are the questions:

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby?How long have you been in the hobby?

JEFF: Aquariums have always been a part of my life. My Grandfather kept aquariums in Germany (which,of course, has always had a strong presence in the aquarium hobby/industry). My Dad owned a tropical fish store while he was in verterinary school and we always had tanks around the house. Saltwater, freshwater- I can't remember a time when we didn't have a "pet" Arowana, for example. All my first jobs were in fish and pet stores and I just really enjoyed it. We started our own retail store from scratch in 1990 and it quickly became a true hobbyist's shop. Unfortunately, as successful as the shop was, Mike and I were young and not very business savvy. As well we were such hard-core hobbyists ourselves, we had a tendency to spend all our profits on new displays and cool rare fish. I ended up moving to California for a few years and my brother decided to sell the store and go into custom aquarium design,installation and service. I moved back to Texas and we worked together for another company for a few years before starting Aquarium Design Group in May of 2000. Around 1997 I saw Amano's Nature Aquarium World books and, like countless others, was completely blown away. I knew instantly that the Nature Aquarium style was what I wanted to do. I spent a good year just studying those books trying to figure out how on earth to create such things. So while I have been in the aquarium hobby all my life, and did keep "tanks with plants in them" before seeing Amano, I really only have been serious about planted tanks and aquascaping for about 7 years.

Carlos: As a professional aquarium designer, what strategies and techniques do you use such as decisions effecting plant choice, technology, and pruning techniques to make sure the aquarium runs smoothly while you are not there?

JEFF: The majority of my layouts must last at least 2 years. While I do have a select few clients with smaller tanks where I can do stemmed-plant compositions, mostly I am dealing with 200 plus gallon systems-often taller than the standard 24" (60cm) Amano and most others work with. So, as for plant choice, I work with a lot of anubias, all the ferns (narrow-leaf Java fern has been perhaps the greatest plant to come along for my needs), Cyperus helferi (great because it really adds a certain elegance or what I like to call "finery" to a layout- especially when using a lot of anubias and thicker-leafed ferns), Crypts, and Echinodorus. I am really into Crypt willisi for a foreground plant in big tanks right now. I like Crypt lucens a lot as well. These thicker-leafed varities seem alot more resilient and less prone to meltdowns or Crypt disease and make really cool, low-maintenance foregrounds that can last and last.

Technology-wise, I am totally into trickle filters/overflow boxes on big tanks now. CO2 reactors are a must over diffusers. I am also totally dedicated to halide lighting now too; especially HQI. It packs such a punch in a small package- you can grow anything under them.

As far as pruning techniques are concerned, it's really an area that I fell I am still constantly learning. I have really had to "learn as I go" and devise my specific methods because so many of my tanks are in settings where they have to be very presentable at all times. So where you might normally really whack a section, I might have to be more careful or trim in a more detailed manner as to really retain the shape or presence of a given section or plant. Thinning out really mature tanks has proven to be an area where I have not had any real reference points or "tips" if you will; unlike with trimming stem plants for example, where at least Amano has provided some direction or reference. It's really just a feel thing and sort of hard to describe in terms of specifics. Suffice it to say my goal is to maintain as much consistency as possible. There is definitely a "pressure" element to it, I can assure you, when the client expects the tank to always look great. I can add here that I do lately emphasize plants that don't necessarily need to be rooted in substrate (again, anubias, ferns, mosses) and this has even come to include many stem plants. I've found a lot of awesome stem plants actually do better and are much easier to manage when the aren't planted/rooted deeply in the substrate. I am either gently attaching them to stones or using a weight to hold them in place. Do keep in mind, though, my use of stem plants is generally pretty limited to only the hardiest species (lots of Hygrophila varieties).


Carlos: I've heard members of the Dallas-Ft Worth club discuss your DIY substrate recipe. Do you still use this substrate mix? If not the ingredients, could you please detail your reasoning behind the recipe? If you have switched to commercial substrates, which one do you use now?

JEFF: My recipe has always been a mixture of laterite, Flourite, Terra-lit, and Flourish tabs. I usually cap this with whatever gravel I'm using on the specific layout. Recently I started adding a little Ferti-Plant Plus on the topmost layer just for a little "jump-start" of nutrients near the initial root growth. I tried switching to Carib-Sea's Eco-Complete and was really disappointed. It did not seem to measure up to the claims on the packaging- which would have you believe it was the most amazing and all encompassing product ever made. I wish there was a comparable system to Amano's out there. Why one of these companies have not analyzed Amano's stuff and basically duplicated it is an ongoing mystery to me. Obviously his system is awesome and looks awesome too. I think there is really something to his Power Sand product. While Flourite makes up the bulk of my mixture, I find it exceedingly ugly and never keep it exposed.

Carlos: Of all the aquascapers I've interviewed so far, your aquarium layouts seem to be the most influenced by Takashi Amano. Do you follow any particular artistic style or philosophy when creating your planted aquarium layouts?

JEFF: Let me just say that I would not be doing what I am doing in this life were it not for Amano. He has been a source of boundless inspiration, and I owe the man a tremendous debt of gratitude. If you follow Aqua Journal, you know he continues to progress and push limits. Yes, I do still reference Amano when devising a new layout. Especially in the area of "tricks" and planting techniques. The different ways he uses Java moss for example- as an accent, a foreground, or completely encasing a piece of wood, for example- I study his work and deploy the same techniques. However, I feel in the end I am still creating something unique and my own. I have never (intentionally ) tried to duplicate and Amano layout, but to take cues from him is sort of necessary. The ADA Layout Contest has certainly exposed us all to some world-class aquascaping as well.

I also wouldn't say I try and follow any one style or aesthetic, though obviously I amdrawn to Japanese styles and influences. Because the spaces in which I do tanks varies so much, I feel I must be able to cover a lot of ground in terms of style. I can tell you that if there was one defining moment for me- a singular event that forever changed the way I approach aquascaping- it was at the 2001 AGA Convention. I had brought several photos of my work and like the student before the master I showed them to Amano. He said I was on the right track and obviously knew how to grow healthy plants-but that my tanks lacked "philosophy." While he did not elaborate, I understood what he meant. I was arranging plants and trying to balance things enough, but my compositions lacked a unifying element- a clear direction or intent. Plants growing healthfully in an aquarium alone are not sufficient to achieve the higher goals of aquascaping, though I do think such tanks to can evoke a similar response from someone who doesn't "know" anything about aquascaping as an artform (i.e. what we are now commonly referring to as "collector tanks"). Ghanzafar Ghori's Tank of the Month here at APC certainly shows that. He claims it's not aquascaped, but I find it beautiful and a brilliant accident.


Carlos: When creating a new layout for a customer, what type of design planning occurs before actually setting up the tank?

JEFF: These days, quite bit of design planning occurs. When I first started, I was both ambitious and naive. I was attempting all sorts of high maintenance foregrounds and lots of stemmed plants. To a large extent, I was limited in terms of plant availability and resources because I had only ever really bought plants from my local retailer. I would see all these cool species in the Amano books, but I had no idea how to get them. Cyperus helferi is one that always sticks out in my mind because it is the perfect tall, grassy, very elegant plant and it is totally stationary- no unwanted runners invading other sections and no real trimming involved. Now that I can get most all of the species I need, I have been able to form more coherent ideas in my head and then actually produce them with at least some degree of accuracy.

Typically I meet with the client specifically to discuss the layout. They look at a combination of my portfolio and Amano books and Aqua Journals. Of course they migrate toward the most amazingly impossible designs first, whereby I proceed to tell them the 100 reasons why that design won't work for them (inappropriate tank dimensions, maintenance issues, etc.) What this does, though is allows us to figure out the general direction of the aquascape. Are we going minimal, dense, stem plants, shade plants, is layout consistency a major concern or is some down-time while stem plants grow back on O.K.? Rocks, wood, rock and wood, open foreground or glosso/riccia fantasy? etc. From there I try and think of the lowest maintenance/most manageable way to achieve the look. Most of the time I have a few weeks from the time I have discussed layout until I go in and do it, so I spend quite a bit of time- while I'm driving, eating lunch, etc.- thinking about layouts. It ultimately is a lot of mental prep because when I go in to execute, I'm in a setting where (unlike your own home) I really have to get it right the first time. Of course I can still make changes once the tank gets going, but the essence and direction has to be there from the get go.


Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

JEFF: My goals are foremost concerned with blowing the clients mind, to put it frankly. Right up there though is the desire to impress or feel like I've outdone myself. I am extremely critical of and usually very hard on myself. In my mind, I am yet to produce an aquascape that's even close to where I want to be. I feel I've done some cool tanks, but still have so far to go to even get in the same universe as Amano and many of the other great aquascape designers out there. I do have to remember that the VAST majority of my planted tanks really do have different objectives and accompanying needs that put me in a (at least somewhat) different category. I am doing this as a business and not just a hobby, so my approach is different- as are the results. My main goal right now is to create an aquascape of the ultimate impact that still is practical to maintain (into the years, not just months). At the same, I don't want to become formulic- I want to do something different every time, even if it's with the same core elements.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Fish choice?

JEFF: I try to go into a layout with some design direction but a lot of times, once I start arranging the hardscape, it takes a turn I never expected. Often it's even totally accidental. Maybe a piece of wood shifts a certain way, revealing an angle that cues the repositioning of another piece and so on until pretty soon you've created something totally spontaneous and new. So I like to have a clear direction, but really try to keep my mind open and in the moment. Though I can say for the most part I do often use same of the defaults we all do of tall plants in back, shorter plants in the front with a well defined midground. Where I can't do this is on many of the really challenging room-divider or multiple-angle installations I do. On these, you basically have to abandon all rules because- as far as I 've seen anyway- there are none. I just haven't seen enough examples of those types of layout situations to have any sort of reference point for how to go about it in my mind. Amano certainly has not gone there to any degree. Oliver Knott is among the only others, and let me just say here his layouts are very cool.

As for using colored plants, I find I just don't have a lot of great settings. So many of my tanks are exceedingly tall- 30 inches plus. It is really hard to grow a lot of color plants in those dimensions. What I do try and do is bring in different shades of green and really focus on leaf shapes. A good contrast of shapes with the right complements can create good visual interest even the color is predominantly green. Sometimes I do incorporate a red stem plant or something that will get some height and is rugged (i.e. Rotala magenta, Rotala indica, Hygophila ploysperma) in a way that if I either trim it down or have to get rid of it down the road, the layout as a whole is not dependent on it.

Fish choice is a biggie for me. I'm really into trying to harmonize the fish with the aquascape. It's a double challenge for me in many instances, though, where the client gets set on having a fish because of the fish- not the way it will complement the layout. Cardinal tetras are the best example of this. Everyone wants cardinals for their bright colors whether the are right for the tank or not. Ultimately, I am really looking to satify the needs of the specific project and people are generally more into fish than plants and you have got to impress both those with and without a clue as to what a planted tank is all about. I always try to avoid the "fish circus" look that can easily occur when you have too many species. We have all learned that fish don't stay in these perfect formations like in Amanophotographs. Too many species scattered about can really distract from a great aquascape. I've certainly encountered the same thing with discus. I think that's what kept my extra-large entry in the 2003 AGA Contest out of more serious running. Too many garish discus amongst a rather serene copmposition. I could not have agreed more with the judges' critique in that respect. That was,however, a prime example of a client dictating the fish and me not having much say in the matter. While fish to layout harmony is a subjective, creative, artistic matter, it's really the key to bringing it all together. It all depends on your goals for the aquascape. I think Amano has more than proven it's not just about color- shape and movement are a big part of the equation.


Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums?

JEFF: Honestly, the coolest thing for me is seeing people's reactions to planted tanks. I mean to aquariums in general, when they are well executed, most people inherently respond in some sort of positive way. But planted tanks truly evoke their own unique response. I think it's that a tank with flourishing live plants is actually what most people idealize in their mind when they even just think of the word "aquarium"- they have just never actually seen it really done. I think that's why we all had that tingling feeling when we first saw the Nature Aquarium World books. The coolest thing before that (to the non-hobbyist anyway) was a reef tank or salt water fish tanks.

Laying out the hardscape, in particular, has become very enjoyable. I'm sure finally having access to beautiful wood and stone helps! Dry-scaping changed everything for me, too. Laying the tank out without water in it gives you better overall perspective and you can move things around so much easier. It's just a lot more civilized! Plus the tank is nice and clear when you fill it up; they seem to get going much faster, too. I'm much more into the process now. Before I was just going for it- I didn't know how I was going to manage so many tanks and control all the variables. Now that I've got a little experience under my belt, I can relax a little and try and enjoy it more.

I feel very fortunate to get to do something I am so passionate about for my daily work. Getting to work with architects and designers and other artists on big projects is very rewarding. ADG is really trying hard to elevate the aquarium arts to the same heights as other artforms and crafts, and we have made a lot of encouraging headway this past two years. It's a ton of work, but when you love it, it's not so bad.


Carlos: 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?

JEFF: I'm going to continue to work on designing really high impact but lower maintenance/long-term oriented aquascapes. I want to push the limits of what can be done with the familiar, hardy, and abundant Cryptocorynes, Anubias, Echinodorus, Valisnerias, ferns and Hygrophila species. But I also love stem plants and intricate foregrounds and I want to expand in those areas as well. Sand and open foregrounds are really intriguing also. Using an open, sandy foreground has proven awesome for discus planted tanks. I'm doing heavy Ehinodorus species in the back, dividing the substrate from the sand with stones. This creates a wonderful open area for food to settle so the discus can graze off the bottom at their leisure. Another big benefit is that you can vacuum the open portion as often as you like to keep it really clean. This not only improves water quality by removing an excess of debris you nornally wouldn't get to, but keeps the foreground sand itself pristinely clean and nice looking. This style of discus layout has allowed me to feed a wider range of foods to the point that I have got most of my fish totally off bloodworms (so they actually grow and thrive!).

We recently completed our first open-top tank here at Gallery ADG. The custom tank is a totally trimless, no center-bracing or perimeter support construction making it a super clean-lined Amano-style glass box and it is gorgeous. The composition is almost entirely stem plants with 3 species of hairgrass, 2 species of tenellus, and Glossostigma foreground. The mostly wood hardscape has long branches that break the surface and create a dramatic architectural feel. High-maintenance? Indeed! It's not a layout style we expect to offer to a lot of clients. We really did it foremost for the sheer art and coolness of it. I'd love to see the open style get more momentum here in the States and people have to see it to get it and progress it.

Anything left to learn? Oh my, so much still left to learn. I'm just getting started. I did my first serious plant tank in 1998 so my career is still in it's infancy. I have many ideas, some of which I've held on to for a long time now, that I am yet to have the setting or the TIME (!) to execute. To those ends, I am still full of energy and passion. I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO AQUASCAPE!!


Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

JEFF: Keep it simple in terms of species until you get the hang of it. Try and explore your creative ideas, don't worry about getting every latest cool plant. Think about how you can creatively use the plants you can get and get more into your hardscape (wood, stone, decorative substrate). Always enjoy.
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700 gallon (10 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft)
Lighting: 4x175w Metal Halide + 2x110watt 10,000k VHO over the Hygrophila (1.31 wpg)
Substrate: Eco-complete capped with natural quartz gravel
Plants: Anubias barteri v barteri, Anubias barteri v nana, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'red', Cryptocoryne lucens, Cryptocoryne x willisii, Microsorium pteropus "Windelov", Microsorium pteropus "Narrow Leaf", Hygrophila sp., Vesicularia dubyana (Java moss)
Fish/Invertebrates: Congo Tetras, Serpae Tetras, P. simulans (green neon), Roseline sharks, Otocinclus sp, Caridinia japonica.

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375 gallon (8 ft x 30 in x 30 in)
Lighting: 3x150w Metal Halide (1.2 wpg)
Substrate: Eco-complete in the back with Deko-line "Broken White" in the front
Plants: Echinodorus bleheri, Echinodorus "Ozelot"
Fish/Invertebrates: Discus (Blue Diamond and Striated Red from Jack Wattley Discus), Cadinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Caridinia japonica.



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550 gallon (8 ft x 3 ft x 3ft)
Lighting: 3x150 Metal Halide + 2x140w 10,000k VHO Flourescent (1.33 wpg)
Substrate: Laterite+Terralit+Flourite capped with natural quartz gravel
Plants: Hygrophila sp., Cyperus helferi, Anubias barteri v barteri, Anubias barteri v nana, Microsorium pteropus "Narrow Leaf", Microsorium pteropus "Windelov", Cryptocoryne wendtii "green", Cryptocoryne walkeri, Cryptocoryne pontederiifolia Cryptocoryne balansae, Cryptocoryne lucens
Fish/Invertebrates: Cardinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Rummy-nose Tetra (H. rhodostomus), Lemon Tetra (H. pulchripinnis), Otocinculus sp, Caridinia japonica.

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Carlos

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An interview with Luis Navarro, March 2004

By: tsunami
November 8th, 2005
1:24 am

An interview with Luis Navarro, March 2004

For March's APC's aquascaper in focus...

Name: Luis Navarro
Location: Texas, USA
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Luis,

Thank you for volunteering your time to this interview so that you can share your aquascaping knowledge and technique with us. Here are the questions I would like to ask you.

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Luis: I remember my parents giving me my first aquarium in 1985 after a horrible earthquake that killed thousands of people in my country. It was a therapeutic gift. While living in the tropics, it wasn't long before I realized that we have plenty of native aquatic plants and fish too, so collecting was an everyday thing to do.

Carlos: Luis, your planted aquariums have more light than most hobbyists in the USA. Is there any particular reason why you chose to use so much light (5-8 wpg)? Even experienced hobbyists have a difficult time balancing an aquarium with these high light levels. How do you keep your aquariums stable with so much light (i.e., describe your water change, substrates, and liquid fertilizer routine)?

Luis: Honestly, the only reason why I started using so much light was because there was not very much information back then about how to keep plants alive. My only book Aquarium Encyclopedia by Dr. J.D. Van Ramshort has many pictures of planted aquarium canopies with plenty of light --flourescent and incandescent. It also has beautiful Dutch aquarium pictures in it, and the biggest list of plants I have I have ever seen for such an old book printed in English. I will strongly advise you to get the book if you ever see it they even mention Co2 injection! I guess the intense lighting became a habit, and once the tank is well established, I never have any problems other than the light bill and a very unhappy wife.

Substrates are the second most important factor when making a planted aquarium. I have tried nearly all the products (flourite, eco-complete, florabase), and I have great success with most. The most important aspects of a good substrate material are a long lasting supply of nutrients and good porosity to support a healthy bacterial colony.

As for fertilization, I would like to say that the way I fertilize may not be the best for everyone as the biology (bioload, lighting, maintenance routine) of each tank is different. I use a lot of iron and micro nutrient fertilizer, added up to 4 times a week. Twice a week, I add another fertilizer with trace elements. I add macro nutrients only when I see an obvious sign of deficiency! The reason why I don't have to dose large amounts of macro nutrients to my aquarium is due to the high bioload in my tanks.

I use the Dupla drops in most of my aquariums, but soon I will go with the American brand fertilizers which have proved just as efficient and way more affordable than Dupla.

Water changes are done on a weekly basis 50% at the time.


Carlos: On your excellent web page www.mynatureaquariums.com, you state that you blend the philosophies of wood and rock of the Nature Aquarium style with the use of color from the Dutch Aquarium style in your aquariums. Could you please explain? If you would have to describe your own unique aquascaping style, how would you describe it?

Luis: I really like both styles, and I try to blend a little of the two to create something more appealing to the every day people. The Nature Aquarium is beautiful to most of the people who like aquatic plants, but the use of just a few plants and one kind of fish is not enough for some people. The way I see it is that we live in a country where almost everything is abundant, and we like to have choice. The blending of different cultures and food is what makes America unique. I like to think of this when I aquascape, keeping in mind my family, my friends, and my culture --how to get their attention and complement the plants and not the fish. I also like to study how to make Nature Aquariums. The human brain is extraordinary at creating new, original designs so I don't worry about trying to imitate Amano's work. I do use simple nature aquarium techniques in my aquariums, though, including ryouboku (driftwood) and iwagumi (rock) techniques. I then touch them up and high light them with plants common to Dutch aquascaping.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Luis: Make an impression. I really enjoy when people ask me if the plants in my aquariums are real.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Luis: In Houston, we are lucky to have many different sources for rocks and driftwood that it makes you think twice before making a final decision. A long term layout goes well with driftwood, rocks, and plants that will not overwhelm the aquascape. If you want plenty of color and a more sophisticated design, you will have to work on it three times a week just to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look like.

I usually choose branchy driftwood for my designs. Driftwood should not take up all the space, however, as the stem plants will be the main focus of the tank. I usually attempt to do two focal points in my aquarium --creating a heavier, main focal point and a weaker, secondary focal point. I think this helps make the layout less boring.

Rocks are a different story, because plants grow rapidly and often hide them from view. Only the very dominant ones will show up in the long run so thinking about the future helps me create a better layout.

About the fish, I hate to admit it, but yes I can take up to four months to put the first fish in a new aquascape. It doesn't have to be perfect, but I try make a good choice.


Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Luis: Looking at them. I like to sit in front of them with a hot cup of coffee in the morning, because later I am too busy maintaining them that I end up tired by the end of the day. This also applies to the workplace, because we have six tanks there --and I maintain those as well.

Carlos: 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?

Luis: Good aquascaping skills are acquired through experience. You will never learn if you don't try getting your hands wet so to speak. I have made many mistakes, but I fix them and move on. Reading and learning from people like Tom Barr, Claus Christensen, and Takashi Amano to name a few who have devoted their lives to the study of aquatic plants back up their studies is very important. They made me ask: why? I may not post a lot on other forums, but I do read a lot and probably know most of you through your posts and articles. I like to listen with a closed mouth and do what works best for me.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Luis: Be persistent and don't let algae or a dead plant discourage you from continuing. There aren't any green thumb people in the world. There is a reason for everything, so read, learn, and get your hands wet.

Carlos: Is there anything else you would like to say that I may not have
asked about in the previous questions?

Luis: Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my ideas and points of view in your forum.
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30g (20 x 18 x 20 in)
2x96w --6.4 wpg
Substrate: Eco-complete topped over Fertiplant
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Micranthemum umbrosum, Marsilea quadrifolia, Eleocharis montevidensis, Eusteralis stellata, Vallisneria nana, Echinodorus tenellus, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'brown'
Fish: SAEs (C. siamensis), Pearl Gourami (T. leeri), Harlequin Rasbora (T. heteromorpha), Norman's Lampeye

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58g (36 x 18 x 18 in)
4x96W 10,000K PC, 4x55W 10,000K PC --10.41 wpg
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Eicchornia diversifolia, Rotala sp Green, Bolbitis heudelotti, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Eusteralis stellata, Anubias barteri v nana, Ludwigia glandulosa, Hydrocotyle verticellata, Echinodorus tenellus, Echinodorus 'Rubin', Hygrophila lacustris, Marsilea quadrifolia, Micranthemum umbrosum, Cyperus helferi, Ludwigia brevipes, Nymphoides sp.
Fish: Rummynose tetras (H. bleheri)

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75g (48 x 20 x 18 in)
6x55w 10000K and 6700K, 2 x 55W 10,000K --5.87 wpg
Substrate: Florabase over Terralit
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Anubias barteri v nana, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Cyperus helferi, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Hygrophila augustifolia, Hemianthus micranthemoides, Microsorum pteropus, Anubias barteri v barteri
Fish: Bleeding Heart Tetras (H. erythrostigma), Rummynose Tetras (H. bleheri)

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El Paso
Volume: 39g (147L)
Lighting: 110 watts power compact 6700K
Filtration: Eheim 2213
Plants: Echinodorus tenellus, Anubias bareri var. nana, Cypherus helferi, Eleocharis montevidensis, Limnophilia aromaticoides, Rotala nanjanshean, Lotus spp., Hottonia palustris, Crinum spp., Physostegia purpurea
Fish: Puntius densonni O-cat Cardina japonica

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La Ceiba Seca
Volume: 75g (284L)
Lighting: 440 Watts Power Compact 10,000K
Filtration: 2228x2 Eheim Cannisters
Substrate: Florabase, Carat #1
Plants: Microsorum spp., Bolbitis heudelotii, Limnophilia aromaticoides, Anubias barteri var. nana, Anubias barteri var. barteri, Cryptocoryne spp., Cyperus helferi
Fish: Angels Tetras, Cory’s, O-cat, Cardina japonica

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An interview with Oliver Knott, February 2004

By: tsunami
November 8th, 2005
12:46 am

An interview with Oliver Knott, February 2004

On the very first week of every month, I have decided to do something a little different with the weekly topic. Besides just presenting discussion topics on technique, style, composition, etc, I will hold an email interview with a notable, accomplished aquascaper. post it on the forum, and present a sampling of his or her aquaria. Hopefully, we will all be able to learn and take something from these discussions (even beyond just aquascaping). For Aquatic Plant Central's very first aquascaper in focus, I have chosen German aquarium designer Oliver Knott. So without further adieu, here it is:

Name: Oliver Knott
Location: Germany
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Oliver,

Thank you for volunteering for the interview. Your sharing of knowledge and technique on the APC forum will be very much appreciated. Here are the questions that I would like to ask you.

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Oliver: It is my job --since I was 16 years old. I always looked for new things in the aquarium hobby and tried to learn as much as possible besides the normal job routine. It was maybe about seven years later before I saw tanks from Amano-san --and they were so great! At that time, I made my first "nature" tank with Riccia stones.

Carlos: Oliver, I have noticed that many of your aquariums do not have nearly as much light as many in the United States. As a professional aquarium designer, what other strategies and techniques do you use such as plant choice, technology, and pruning technique to make sure the aquarium runs smoothly while you are not there?

Oliver: Automatic pH-regulators, daily fertilization with automatic fertilizer sets, and a light timer... and someone who makes the weekly water change.

Carlos: Looking at your aquariums, many of them seem very natural yet very unlike most Japanese tanks following the Nature Aquarium style. Do you follow any particular artistic style or philosophy when creating your planted aquarium layouts?

Oliver: No, I look at a tank and I know how it will look like. Sorry, I can't describe it in a better way.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Oliver: My main goals are that it will look harmonic and interesting --not run-of-the-mill.

Carlos: 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? How about the use of colored plants?

Oliver: No, it's just emotional reactions when designing and making decisions.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Oliver: When the tank grows successfully, seeing the development from little plants to beautiful ones. Also, a nice, splendid tank that the customers are astounded with.

Carlos: 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?

Oliver: There are so many things I want to try in the future. So many plants I haven't used yet. I will never be finished with learning! In March, I'll visit Amano-san for a two week practical training.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Oliver: Consistency is the most important, I think. Water changes, fertilizing, cleaning, pruning the plants --all these jobs should be done regularly.

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147g (51x27x27 inches)
4x54w T5 + 1x39w T5, total of 255w, 1.73 w/g
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil
Plants: Hemianthus callitrichoides, Taxiphyllum sp., Ludwigia sp Cuba, Limnophila aromatica, Eusteralis stellata, Riccia fluitans
Fish: Puntius denisonii, Otocinclus paulinus (spec. "Negro"), Caridina japonica

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122g (51x24x24 inches)
4x38w Arcadia lamps, 1.25 w/g
Plants: Narrow Leaf Java Fern, Windelov Java Fern, Nymphaea sp, Cryptocoryne sp, Anubias barteri v nana
Fish: trio of Discus

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122g (51x24x24 inches)
2x54w T5 tubes, 0.88 w/g
Plants: Cryptocoryne balansae, Java Fern, Windelov Java Fern, Nymphaea, Echinodorus tennellus, Cryptocoryne sp, Taxiphyllum sp.
Fish: Altum Angelfish, Rummynose Tetras, Bleeding Heart Tetras

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Volume: 1,500L (396g)
Dimensions: 400cm (160") x 70cm (28")x 55cm (22")
Lighting: 6 x 70 Watt HQI (behind) 8 x 54 Watt T5 (in front)
Flora: Hemianthus callitrichoides, Cryptocoryne wendtii "Tropica," Cryptocoryne wendtii "Brown," Taxiphyllum sp. (java moss)
Fauna: Puntius denisonii, Cardina japonica, Otocinclus affinis, Poecilia sphenops

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Volume: 500L (132g)
Dimensions: 130cm (52") x 60cm wide (24") x 60cm (24")
Lighting: 2 x 150 Watt (HQI 5.000 Kelvin) 2 x 30Watt (tube 7.500 Kelvin)
Flora: Heteranthera zosterifolia, Limnophila aromatica, Didiplis diandra, Sagittaria subulata, Hemianthus callitrichoides, Taxiphyllum sp.

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Volume: 250L (66g)
Dimensions: 100cm (39") x 50cm (20") x 50cm (20")
Lighting: 4 x 30 Watt T8 (2 x 4.000 Kelvin / 2 x 9.000 Kelvin) JBL
Flora: Potamogeton octandrus, Potamogeton gayi, Juncus repens, Cyperus helferi, Taxiphyllum sp., Eleocharis acicularis
Fauna: Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi), Otocinclus affinis, Crossocheilus siamensis, Caridina japonica

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Volume: 580L (153)
Dimensions: 160cm (64") x 60cm (24") x 60cm (24")
Lighting: 2 x 70 Watt HQI (5000 Kelvin)
Flora: Alternanthera aquatica, Hydrocleis martii, Microsorum pteropus "Narrow," Anubias barteri var. nana, Vesicularia montagne (Christmas moss)
Fauna: Phenacogrammus interruptus (Congo tetra), Otocinclus affinis and Otocinclus paulinus Also: Caridina japonica

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For the rest of his gallery:
http://www.pbase.com/plantella

Enjoy,

Carlos

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Roland on Low Maintenance Layouts (Live Chat, Sept 2005)

By: MiamiAG
October 21st, 2005
6:14 am

<tsunami> Hello all APC members and welcome to one of our guest speaker presentations! This night’s guest speaker comes from the tropical island nation of Singapore at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. His extensive knowledge of Southeast Asian biotopes and experience of setting up aquariums in public and private places has earned him a position in this year’s APC Aquaplant Layout Contest judging panel. Please help me welcome my good friend Roland Seah!

<lorba> I am very honored to be sharing my experiences with you here.

<tsunami> How do you define a long term, low maintenance layout and aquarium?

<lorba> In my humble opinion, a long term layout is one with plants that will keep growing and thriving without replacing. Low maintenance could means little fertilization or lesser water changes required. Most importantly, you do not have to cut and trim them every weekend.

<tsunami> Roland, let us start with a walk through for setting up a successful long term, low maintenance layout, starting with the equipment. What filtration type and filter media do you find best? Do you use any special media or products to keep water clarity high?

<lorba> For me, a long term and low maintenance layout is one which needs minimal handwork. Let’s talk about the filters. In all the aquariums (3ft and above) that I set up, I uses 2 external filters. One will be connected to the surface skimmer and output to the tank via an external CO2 reactor. This filter will contain mostly wools and serves as the mechanical filter. The other one is the biological filter with mostly ceramic rings or eheim filter me

<lorba> I found that by using 2 filters, the water can be kept really clean, even if you have quite a few corydoras digging here and there. The best part is, I don’t wash them at least for a year. The flow rate may slow down slightly over time, and you can just clean the mechanical filter.

<tsunami> For low maintenance layouts, I am sure that lighting choice is an important decision. One must not keep the light too high or the layout will be hard to keep stable, and not keep the light too low or the plants will not grow. How much lighting and of which type do you tend to use? Does tank size and depth become a consideration in choosing the best lighting option?

<lorba> When budget allows, I always use Metal Halid (MH) with Fluorescents (FL) or Compact Fluorescents (PL) as support. You can find these lights all in one piece, like the Arcadia or Dymax. I believe that very bright lights brings about a good photosynthesize period and plants can grow better, even for a shade/slow plant like java fern.

<lorba> Usually, I will try to provide longer hours of dim lights and shorter period of intense lights to the plants. For example, 8am – 1115am, the PLs are switched on. 11am – 4pm, the MH are switched on, and 345pm – 6pm, the PLs are switched on again. This simulates the lighting period of a normal day, and I find that you have very much less problem with algaes. For example, I’ve never had algae problem for this tank since it was set up.
http://www.greenchapter.com/view.php?pg=0&tp=150&id=7

<tsunami> On to CO2 equipment, what do you tend to use? Do you use any pH controllers or other monitoring devices to assure that CO2 is kept stable?

<lorba> I do use pH controllers sometimes, but most of time, I adjust the amount of CO2 base on bubble counts, tank size and layout. For some tanks, I even remove the CO2 injection after the plants have matured and growing. Of course, this can only be applied on low maintenance set up with hardy plants. See this for a CO2less example : http://www.greenchapter.com/view.php?pg=0&tp=100&id=32

<tsunami> When laying down the substrate, do you use a base fertilizer?What is it composed of and why do you tend to use this product? What do you tend to use over the base fertilizer? Why have you chosen this as your preferred substrate medium?

<lorba> This is really about preference, budget and availability. I used to favor JBL before I switched to ADA and FERKA. JBL is affordable, but it is bulky to transport and store when I set up a big tank. I uses ADA soil and powersand in some of tanks as I find them good for growing beautiful stems plants. The growth is truly different when you put them in ADA and normal sand. I uses FERKA Aquabase most of the time as it is very small and light.

<lorba> I uses FERKA Aquabase most of the time as it is very small and light to carry around in its concentrated powder pack. The Aquabase is mainly organic stuff and works roughly like the powersand. Its really about budget and preference between these two.

<tsunami> Do you have any other comments to make on equipment hardware for setting up a low maintenance aquarium?

<lorba> To make your tank a real low maintenance one, you should invest in some good equipment which helps to keep the water in better condition. Such as installing a UV filter, better filtration and adequate lighting. When the water is good, you have less worries and problem.

<tsunami> Now that we have touched base on equipment, let us move on to the actual setup of a low maintenance layout. Do you tend to use rock, driftwood or both when creating an aquascape? Which aquascaping techniques do you use to help you place these pieces within the aquarium?

<lorba> I usually use both in most of my aquascapes. And depending on the theme, some may have more rocks or wood then the other. Of course, if you have a zenish theme in mind, rocks is very useful.

<lorba> Placing them is really about achieving a sense of balance. When you put some rocks or woods together, they will need to form a connection with each other such that you see a flow of contour or structure.

<lorba> Stand away from the tank and observe them from a further distance after you place them usually helps a lot. You should also imagine how the layout will look like when the plants are matured. This will remind you in creating and catering the space for growth.

<lorba> I am quite a lazy man and thus, I choose the easiest way of doing things - a method which I call Modular Aquascaping. Use as much rock or wood as structure with ferns, moss or Anubias attached on wood. Once they are placed in the tank nicely, you will only be left with the foreground and background plants.

<lorba> Take the below 17footer for example, 70% of it are “Modules” and I completed the entire aquascape in less then 3 hours. Most of the time spent on carrying the big heavy trunk!

<lorba> http://www.greenchapter.com/view.php?pg=0&tp=0&id=28

<tsunami> It seems that a large part of the effort in your low maintenance layouts is devoted to the epiphytes growing upon the driftwood. How do you tie the mosses, Anubias, and ferns to this hardscape material? How do you decide where to place the larger ferns and Anubias and where to place the moss on these pieces? From my understanding, larger ferns and Anubias can be focal points or fillers while mosses are more subtle layout elements.

<lorba> In the native jungles and swamps that I often trek in, I noticed that there is very sparse vegetation when it reaches the water. Most of the time, if there is any aquatic plants, they are cryptocoryne species. More then often, you find moss covered logs and roots, or ferns and aroids creeping over all the embankment.

<lorba> My aquascape styles are very much affected by what I observe here. (See some photos here:
http://www.greenchapter.com/article.php?catid=3&id=12)

<lorba> To keep your plants nice and lush in a low maintenance tank, you will need to understand the brightness tolerance of these mostly shade plants. Ferns such as microsorium pteorus do well in both low and high. Thus, is suitable to be place higher and central of the tank which probably receive the most light.

<lorba> You can use rocks or bare wood as elevation to place these ferns (tied on wood) to create terrace or contour. I like to tied some on branch forks as well and the ferns usually grow into a nice ball in mid water.

<lorba> Anubias species are broad leafed and thus, is more suitable as carpets at lower heights. This gives the aquascape a better sense of balance. Usually, I place them underneath some plants or at the sides and corners where the light is least intense.

<lorba> Moss is essential to complete the aquascape as they form the micro details in a big picture. You can have them grown into balls among branch forks or even on small pieces of wood on the floor. They will eventually spread out nicely.

<lorba> I used thin fishing line to tie all of them to wood or rock. Threads are quite unsightly and takes long time to disintegrate.

<tsunami> How about the rosette plants such as Cryptocoryne sp. and Echinodorus sp.? How do you choose to plant these in your layouts, and how exactly do you go about planting them? Do you remove all the outer
leaves or shorten the roots before planting?

<lorba> Before I plant them, I will cut the roots down to about 2-3cm. If the Echinodorus has too many leaves, its helpful if you remove 1/3 to 2/5 of the leaves. The plants floats easily when there is too many leaves.

<lorba> Plan the position and space carefully when you go for a echindorous, as most will grow to very large size taking up big diameters. On the other hand, cryptocorynes are wonderful midground plants. I like to stuff them in between woods and in clusters at the sides.

<lorba> Just to share a useful note that I learn from a farm operator. When you plant a potted cryptocoryne which is tissue cultured, it is best not to break them up. Remove as much mineral wools as you care and plant the whole bunch. They will grow faster and nicer this way. You can easily tell a tissue cultured pot by determining if the plants are well rooted, and stick to each other closer by rhizome.

<tsunami> Do stem plants in these layouts play any role, at least in the beginning stages to absorb excess nutrients and control algae?

<lorba> I find that by playing with the light intensity period mentioned before, algae is minimal even without stem plants. However, lots of stem plants do help in the beginning stage of any plant tank. Choose the fast growing species such as rotalas.

<tsunami> What care tends to go into your aquascapes? Do you add liquid fertilizers to the aquarium, and what do you tend to use if you do? I imagine that you would not use too much nitrate or phosphate in such layouts, which would speed up growth.

<lorba> For most of my tanks, I’ve designed so that minimal care is required, such as the lighting period discussed, and also by keeping the water chilled at 25-26C. All fertilization and water changes are kept at once a fortnight for the low maintenance layouts.

<lorba> I do upkeep a few high light stem plants tank on my own which I uses FERKA Aquatilizer (macro, micro) and Balance (K and Trace elements) on alternate days. On top of this, I add Potassium powder almost on daily basis to keep the bubbling and pearling nice and a little Nitrate per water change to get strong stem plants growth.

<lorba> If you love toninas and eriocaulon, this is one of the best way to keep it growing nicely and healthily.

<tsunami> How often do you change the water and when do you start doing so?

<lorba> As mentioned, I do water changes per fortnightly at 50% for low maintenance one. As for the high light tanks which I added lots of fertilizers and nitrate, I do more frequent water change at probably once per week.

<tsunami> Do you usually face any sort of algae infestations during the first few months? How do you handle algae outbreaks if they do appear in such a layout?

<lorba> The only time when I face algae infestations is when the tank gets some direct sunlight and when water change frequency is adequate. Most of time, algae comes from the new plants that I bought, rather then grown out of the tank.

<lorba> I am not permitted to do black outs in my customer places, therefore, frequent water changes and dosing fertilizers as usual helps a lot. Physical removal of the algae is important as well.

<lorba> More then often, if you find algae among your mosses, the best solution would be dump it and start over again. A lazy-man method, but it’s the fastest and most effective way.

<tsunami> After the aquarium hardscaping and plantings are completed, how long do you wait before adding the aquarium inhabitants? Do you add shrimp and algae eating fish in the first month and then later add the other fish? Please explain.

<lorba> Most of the time, my tanks are in public location where the owners will not tolerate a single day without any fishes. Since water parameter is pretty neutral here in Singapore, I add the fishes on the first day.

<lorba> The most usual combination I have are : 300 shrimps, 20 otocinclus, 10 Siamese algae eaters, dwarf puffer fishes and whatever fishes chose. More then often, it is 200 cardinal tetras. Casualty rate from what I see is pretty low, mostly the shrimps suffered if they come from a lousy shipment.

<lorba> I guess the 2 filters method helps too where high initial bio-load is concerned.

<tsunami> When choosing fish for these layouts, what do you tend to look for in the fish? Do you choose fish according to color, size, or movement? Feeding habits? How does general maintenance of a fish species affect its viability as a choice for a low maintenance layout? i.e. discus are high maintenance in relation to most other fish.

<lorba> There is a reason for popularity of cardinal tetras. They look beautiful in any aquascape, and stands out especially in slightly dim, low maintenance green tanks. These fishes feeds readily on autofeeders and I have least worries about keeping them well fed.

<lorba> For biotope themes, for example a Southeast Asian one, I choose fishes that are active and school well. Most will get use to the feeding spot and linger around the area during the feeding time. Such as harlequin rasbora, six banded barbs.

<lorba> Discus on the other hand is slightly tricky, especially during the introduction period. They might be very shy and fall sicks easily. But once they get use to it, they are pretty fine with even chilled water at 26C. Make sure you have big plants or hiding places to avoid stressing them out. If you intend to keep them with other cichlids such as altum angels (in bigger group), you will need a biger tank so that territory is not an issue.

<lorba> Tricky fishes are those that have different appetite. I will need to buy crickets to feed the archer fishes, and they may go hungry once they hunted down all those in a vivarium before the maintenance day.

<tsunami> From beginning to end, how long would you say does such an aquascape need to mature? Could you give us a general timeline of what we should be seeing in a week by week basis in the first 8 weeks?

<lorba> For a low maintenance tank with moss ferns, you should not be expecting much in the first 2 months. Most of the time, ferns may brown off before coming back strong. Moss will take some time to adapt and grow lushly.

<lorba> Try to use ferns or anubias that are already grown underwater for your new aquascape. Probably some young plants from a big mother plant. This way, you skip the acclimatization period of the plants which sometimes take months!

<lorba> I would say give a fern, crypt and moss roughly about 4 months to mature.

<tsunami> Do you have any other recommendations to add in the creation and progress of a low maintenance layout in the first couple of months? Anything you have to recommend to the neophyte who does not want to dive immediately into a high light, CO2 injected stem plant tank?

<lorba> Keeping a low maintenance tank does not necessary means lower cost or lower technology. But, generally, fluorescents do the job nicely.

<lorba> CO2-less is fine for new set up, but you will experience very slow growth and may be, not a lush one. A moss-only tank might see good result though.

<tsunami> What do you enjoy most about your work and business as a professional aquascaper in Singapore?

<lorba> The most enjoyable part of my work is to be able to meet many people and be able to create something that they like. The most satisfaction comes when the customer likes the work. Its also very helpful to hear the comments of non-hobbyists as they can usual pin point something that is lacking.

<lorba> Its fun to be able to turn hobby a job!

<tsunami> Thank you for giving us this presentation Roland. It has been most informative and helpful in creating alternative layouts for those who do not have the time to make frequent water changes, weekly pruning, and heavy fertilization.

<lorba> Thank you too, for being here tonight. I hope you find some helpful tips in getting your hands drier and lower your water bills!

<tsunami> Thanks everyone for doing a good job of keeping silent. Now, we will commence our question and answer period. If you have a question, please send me a private message in chat. I will ask questions in order of receipt.

<tsunami> Question asked by SnyperP
<tsunami> Do you forsee FERKA being available in the United states in the future?

<lorba> Likely. I was talking to a company who did a trial on the product. But I have yet to hear anything.

<tsunami> CGI009 asked:
<tsunami> Do you use a TDS meter?

<lorba> No, i guess its not really necessary for a tank. And for good water in Singapore, its less required.

<tsunami> Next question is by squee:
<tsunami> For a 2ft 16 gallon tank, do you think that crypts should be used? If so, are they more suitable in the midground or background?

<lorba> If you If you are planning a low maintenance one, crypts are a perfect choice. Try C. parva for somewhere in the foreground. Other crypts like wendtiis, becketiis are good for mid/background in small tanks. C. balansae will be too big for a 2ft tank.

<tsunami> Last question for the night, asked by SnyperP:
<tsunami> We've all recently seen alot of your customer location tanks. How much time do you generally spend at each location? Specifically in mind at Banmainum in Thailand.

<lorba> The Bnmainum is not maintained by me. J The restaurant owner is a hobbyist himself. There is also a good friend of his who help out at the store within the compound.

<lorba> I try to keep maintenance at a location within an hour. I do spend up
to 2, 3 hours at private houses, maintaining and talking to my customer. Still very much interested to talk about plants and fishse.

<tsunami> First, I'd like to thank Roland again for providing this wonderful
presentation to us. Next, I'd like to thank all of you for cooperating
during this presentation and, most of all, for being here. THANK YOU ALL!
Chat is now open.

End of #apcchat buffer Sun Sep 04 05:06:50 2005

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