A Shady Glen By Steve Lancashire Hello everyone out there in UKAPS land. Its been a while. After living in a rented house for nearly a year we finally moved in to our new house in March 2010. Having spent some time and a lot of money refurbishing the house, April and Easter saw the perfect opportunity for me to finally think about what I was going to do with my aquarium. Following the last re-scape â€˜A Simple Plainâ€™ nothing much happened and the will to push the boat out on expensive substrate and planting wasnâ€™t there because living in a rented house and not really knowing how long we would be in there for led to the tank being pretty much left to do its own thing. This what the tank looked like shortly after moving in to the rented house in April 2008. This is more or less what it ended up like several months later. So being â€˜inspiration-lessâ€™ I put a post up on UKAPS for ideas on what to do for the new scape. Thanks to Lisa Perry, Nelson, and Steve UK for leaving posts with ideas and suggestions. The problem with scaping a bow fronted corner tank (Jewel Trigon 190 litre) is that by the time you have put your hardscape in there isnâ€™t usually a lot of room left for planting, and by the time the plants have become established the hardscape is usually hidden or lost. Just like the picture below. So what was I going to do this time? I have often thought about trying to maximise the sides of the tank and use the height for the hardscape, leaving as much room as possible for the planting in the centre. The trouble with this idea is that again, by the time the hardscape is built up to a substantial enough base to build up the height, there is no room left for planting. I have always wondered what it would be like to create a â€˜valleyâ€™ of some description with a banked wall up both sides of the tank. Again this is difficult when the two sides are not exactly opposite each other, so instead of creating a valley with two sloping sides facing each other, with a corner unit, the two sides form more of a â€˜Vâ€™ shape. So I ditched the idea and set about a traditional hardscape. Plan A. What could possibly go wrong? First stop, a visit to the Green Machine in Wrexham and a chat with Mark, Jim and Graham. With my credit card nervously twitching inside my wallet with the expectation of what was coming I left the shop with Â£320.00 worth of ADA Aquasoil, Aquasoil Powder, Power Sand, a box of varying size pieces (lotâ€™s of) lava rock, and a good selection of plants. As usual my better half, my wife Gaby was off on her annual sojourn to Germany for Easter. So with the house newly refurbished I was free to make a mess with plenty of time to clean up before she got back. :? Having fitted the garage out with what was left of the old kitchen units from the house, I had two small tanks set up in the garage, one with my with my fish in and the other a storage tank for my plants whilst the filter was maturing, hopefully with the intention of combating the expected meteoric rise in Ammonia levels from the ADA Aquasoil. ps The Fridge Freezer in the corner is for sale!! Storage tank for the plants. So with the plants stored and fish waiting patiently for their new home to be completed I set about my task. Plan A. First I need to get my rock sorted for the hardscape using a sieve to separate out the big bits. Then get my Aquasoil sorted. And grade my substrate. Then of course you need to do a dry run to test out the space available to see if everything is going to fit. Dispose of any left over Aquasoil responsibly. EEEEeeeeerrrangonaminnit I think I'm looking at the wrong project here, that's another journal altogether, too much going on at once, sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yes the Aquajournal, so like I was saying, get yourself well prepared before you start could you could be in for a long day / night. Make sure you have got some nutritious supplies to keep you going. (Recognise the towel anyone?) Okay so they have got chocolate on, but they are wholemeal!! Get your favourite programme on the tele, preferably the Omnibus version that you have recorded earlier. Can you tell what it is yet? Here's another clue. Yes I know, very sad but true, I blame my mother. So moving on. Make sure you have got everything to hand ready to go, there is nothing worse than when you get to that stage when you are looking for the thingymajigg and everything comes to a stop while you look for it. Then you get distracted and start working on something else. eg. This is not for sale! All useful tools on standby. Car keys where you can find them if you need to rush out and buy something you have forgotten. After several attempts I made what I thought was a reasonable attempt at hardscaping the tank, but quickly realised that I had fell in to the old trap of covering more floor space inside the tank than I wanted, leaving less room for planting. This is pants!! So, disappointed, I scrapped the idea, took out the Lava rock and contemplated Plan B. :idea: Plan B was to go back to the original idea of creating height in the form of two rock walls to use the height at the sides of the tank and free up more area for planting and make the investment in the ADA substrates worthwhile, after all, there is no point in going for top grade substrates and not being able to plant anything in it. Authors note: The dining room table and chairs are for sale Having seen an article on the use of â€˜Eggshell Crateâ€™ in saltwater reef aquariums on another forum website, I thought that this might be something worth considering. So, straight on to the Internet to find a supplier of â€˜Eggshell Crateâ€™ As luck would have it I found a local supplier in Queensferry and rushed around to pick up my rather large piece of plastic for Â£5.95. Bargain!! The next job was to cut two pieces to fit the area I wanted to cover. A quick snip here and there with a pair of pliers, job done. A note to anyone trying this, if you donâ€™t want to be finding small bits of plastic in your house two weeks later do the job outside! A little tip here, and that is if you decide to embark on this crazy idea, make sure you cut the piece you want slightly bigger than planned, you can always trim it down later, but you can't make it bigger! I made sure that all my Lava rock had been thoroughly washed and then soaked in mature aquarium water in the hope that this would add more useful bacteria to the start up process, again thinking about the ammonia spike. Next I set about preparing the Lava rock, by basically smashing it up with a lump hammer and a bolster. Another note worth mentioning here, and that is make sure you keep any bits bigger than the dust particles, they come in very handy later for fixing small bits of plant on to. After this again I soaked all the Lava rock in mature aquarium water for the rock to absorb some of the bacteria and also wash off any small bits of loose debris. Examine all the pieces and look for natural holes and crevices where you can either thread the strimmer cable through or plant smaller bits of Hemianthus or Uticulara etc. I used strimmer cable for two reasons, one because it was easier to work with, and two because it doesnâ€™t snap when it comes into contact with the sharp edges of the rock. The clear cable becomes virtually invisible when placed into the water, and when the plants are attached you canâ€™t see it anyway. Any rock without holes can be drilled or basically just push a pointed screwdriver through it. Watch your hands though! Anything too big or tough that you can't push a screwdriver through gets a different treatment. Don't try this at home folks. Then cut loads of pieces of strimmer cable ready to thread through the Lava rock, six to eight inches long, and tie it on to the Eggshell Crate. I did this with military precision, by counting the total amount of pieces I had, split them into small piles according to size and made sure that I had the same amount for each piece of Eggshell Crate. Next, starting with the larger pieces at the bottom I tied the Lava Rock on to the crate using the strimmer cable. Keep going here and donâ€™t be too worried about the appearance. Donâ€™t worry about any visible loops and donâ€™t try to tie the rock on too tightly. You need the loops to slip plant roots under, and you need some â€˜giveâ€™ in the movement of the rock so that you can place other bits and pieces in between. I used small cut offs from Redmoor roots, pre soaked and with the Willow Moss and Flame Moss already tied on. I did this earlier as part of the preparation using 2kg breaking strain fishing line. I had the roots in the tank in the garage allowing time for the moss to begin taking hold. When attaching the rock with the strimmer cable make sure you leave plenty of cable at the back. I then tied the loose ends from one piece to those of another as a sort of double locking technique in case one bit came loose. Once it is finished you can then trim off any loose ends leaving about an inch so that the knot does not come undone. When tying knots, I used a double reef knot, alternatively speak to your granny who might be able to assist in this department. With the crate finally virtually covered in rock, larger pieces at the bottom and smaller pieces at the top, stand back and admire your handy work. I still wasn't convinced at this point that it was going to work or look right, but I thought what the hell, I have come this far I may as well keep going. If I am not happy I just needed to lift the Eggshell Crate out and come up with another plan. So, thatâ€™s the hard bit done next comes the fun bit. I mainly used Bolbitis Deformis, Java Fern, and Dwarf Anubias as the main planting structure and then used Flame Moss, Christmas Tree Moss, Hemianthus and Uticulara to fill in the gaps. Make sure you identify where you want to place your Redmoor roots and leave enough space to lodge them firmly in between the rock. Another tip here is that you will need to place a few large â€“ ish pieces of Lava rock inside the tank at the base of the finished piece of crate. If you try to stand the crate perfectly upright you will find that it wants to topple over. If you lean it at a very slight angle and wedge the larger pieces of rock under and in between the others it will remain in position. There is a slight gap at the back but this negligible in terms of lost space compared to filling the planting space full of hardscape. Keep the plants moist by spraying them with a fine spray bottle, I used mature aquarium water with a little splash of plant nutrient CSM+B. So, now that you know your crate fits, put it to one side while you get on with job of adding water nice and gently so that you can get the foreground plants in. I split my Uticulara, Hemianthus, Dwarf Hair Grass and other foreground plants into as many portions as I could safely get away with and set about planting it using my planting tweezers. Did I mention that the Dining table and chairs were for sale? Once the foreground plants were in and I was happy, I placed my Eggshell Crate onto a large plastic tray with some mature aquarium water in it. I also had a water sprayer with a mixture of mature aquarium water and a small amount of CSM+B mixed in with it. I used the spray to keep the plants moist as I was tying them into position on the rock. This takes some time, but the end result is, I think worth the effort. Then I filled the tank up with two thirds Re-mineralised RO water and one third matured tank water. Once the first piece of crate with the Lava rock planted up was finished I placed it in the tank, remembering to place the larger loose bits of rock for support at the bottom. Do exactly the same with the second piece of crate. The Java Fern all looks a bit floppy and long at first, but the idea is wait for the roots to grab hold of the lava rock and new shoots start to sprout before trimming off any excesses. Same goes for the Bolbitus. One thing I should mention here and this I found particularly fascinating, and that is that any bits of Hemianthus or Uticulara that came loose from the foreground area just got blown around the tank until it found its own place in a crevice or nook and cranny, even the tiniest bits are now beginning to creep across the lava rock and take up a natural position as they probably would in the wild. You can also use your tweezers to slot in any other bits of moss and so on that you have spare to cover any areas of the Eggshell Crate that are still exposed. I am hoping that before too long everything will be covered like a natural wall in as close to a natural environment I can achieve as possible. In this picture I have added another internal filter which had been maturing in another tank for a month all with the hope of minimising the effect of the ammonia spike. Then you can place you pieces of Redmoor root in position. I found that the wood just sort of found its own position after jiggling it between pieces of rock. The last thing I did was to fix all my left over bits of moss and other cuttings into the natural holes and crevices. Once I was relatively happy I switched the filters and the heater on and waited for the water to clear slightly. At some time during this whole process I might have slept and occasionally paused for something to eat. Canâ€™t remember the exact details. The next day, or was it the day after that, just to satisfy my curiosity I measured the Ammonia levels using a Tetra Ammonia Test Kit. Shock!! Horror!! Itâ€™s all true!! Never mind waiting twenty minutes at room temperature, within seconds the reading was positively nuclear toxic level, off the scale, bluer than blue. Gulp. Oh well better settle down to a week or two of 50% water changes every other day. Even after a 50% water change the reading was still off the scale. OOOooer. I thought that the Eheim Professional 2 filter which had been maturing nicely for at least 2 months would have quickly reduced the Ammonia Levels. Wrong! However after the end of the first week at least the reading was on the scale. After two weeks I came down one morning, did the test and amazingly, literally overnight the reading was bright yellow and has been ever since. So maybe working with the mature filter did help after all. I would be interested in hearing other members experiences and how long it took for the ammonia to disappear. It has now been four weeks since I finished the Aquascape and I have just added six Otticinclus and twelve shrimps, six Amanoâ€™s and six Red Tails. All occupants are doing fine so far. The plants all seem to be doing well. There are one or two signs of a very fine hair algae but nothing to be concerned about at the moment. I put this down to the short period of high ammonia levels in the initial stages. Fingers crossed it does not get any worse! I have only got 2 x 18 watt fluorescent tubes that came with the tank originally, but I have added 2 x 15 watt tubes in both of the lids - 66 watt total. So based on the Wattage Per Gallon (WPG) watts per US Gallon, if I have understood it right (watts divided by the US Gallon) I have only got 66 watts in total, so divided by 40 equals 1.65 watts per gallon. I am seriously considering buying an Arcadia Series 4 Pendant light with 1 x 150 watt 5200 kelvin metal halide, and 2 x 24 watt fluorescent tubes. So I would appreciate any input from the lighting gurus on how much light is need for this tank before I splash out. The lights are on individual timers and only set to come on for around 5-6 hours per day at the moment. I will probably increase this in the next week or two (unless someone advises me differently) As far as fish stock goes, in my tank in the garage I have got about 10 Ember Tetras, 2 Clown Loaches, 2 Coryadorus, a few more Otticinclus and 3 Red Turquoise Discus. Firstly, let me say right off, that the clown loaches are going nowhere near this tank and for at least a month or two, nor are the Coryadorus. I have also decided that the Discus are far too big to put into this tank, so the question right now is, what exactly should I put in the tank. If there are any Biotope experts out there who think that the look and the setup fit a particular region of the world and that therefore a particular species of fish should go in then please feel free to let me know. If it were down to my personal choice I would go for a large shoal of Cardinal Tetras and nothing else. So far I have only just resisted the temptation to go out and get some!! I might still do this yet, but I want to wait a bit longer for all the plants to get established and the tank has matured up a bit more. So thatâ€™s just about it, another Re-scape finished for at least another year and I hope even longer all being well. I will post some more pictures in a week or two as the tank develops, who knows it might just finish up looking half decent. PS As of the time of submitting this journal I am happy to say that the hair algae suddenly turned white almost overnight and has become completely limp and wispy. I am thinking that it has died. Ahh shame!