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Adventures with my 15l baby biorb for plants and shrimp


10 Oct 2020
Thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been doing with my baby biorb over the last few months in case it’s useful for anyone else thinking of doing the same, and who is approaching this as a total beginner like me. I started with basically no idea what I was doing, and am still learning so this is a very non-technical account of what I’ve been through.

About 10 years ago I got the Baby Biorb in the classic ‘I’d like something small with a couple of fish’ = buy something not suitable for the fish you have bought = dead fish, feelings of guilt (esp when I read some of the stuff on the fish fora/forums) = giving up.

SO in July I dug it out, spent hours reading things in the internet (and ukaps definitely seems to me to talk the most sense on lots of things), and have had a go at a planted tank with the aim of keeping shrimp... I thought spending a bit out in the hope of something nice was better than sending it to landfill.

Set it up as out of the box (central bubble tube thing over sponge filter, stones/clinker-y media in base).
LED in lid - a pleasant warm colour. Good for human mood, but turns out probably less good for plants esp. I suspect java fern.
Went to my nearest aquatics place who had just reopened, and the very useful man advised me to get some bogwood and a couple of what I now know are epiphytes (java fern, and anubias).
Everything runs pretty well. Apart from going really brown from the bogwood - but this went eventually, even though I’d presoaked the wood. I get an API master test kit (and later KH and GH kit), test things, observe, obsess about getting a lower ph for the future shrimp, since the internet tells me the ph of my tap is too high for Neocaridina. I know now I probably didn’t need to do all this, but watching measurements change and learning about what changes water parameters has all been really useful nonetheless.

I start using rainwater remineralised with Salty Shrimp cut with tap water for changes, about once a week, and doing a rudimentary clean (it’s REALLY hard to get in and get the filter out once you’ve got bogwood and plants, especially since the top opening is so narrow). Java fern looks a bit unhappy, but it’s all doing ok. Anubias is growing pretty well. The clinker is forming a light brown proto-earthy stuff which I mostly leave in the tank.

11 cherry shrimp arrive from a very friendly seller on eBay. They spend an extra night at the sorting office, but all make it to the tank. They do a great job of munching through the small amount of algae and cleaning up. I don’t feed them. (Interestingly there’s never really been much algae in this tank.)


I do add some worryingly cheap catappa leaves from amazon - but there is nothing visually wrong with them, and the shrimp like them - and add some java moss.
One of the shrimp came berried, and eventually produced the babies. I added a small interpet nano heater when the weather turned since I do not keep the house very warm - and the shrimp definitely do more with the heater on. The stuff on the clinker at the bottom, which I don’t hoover out, is doing no harm, and I think the shrimp munch it a bit. All fine, but slowly losing java fern.

The new shrimp tank arrives 😬... and on setting it up I realise just how dim the original led is.
The biorb has been a great experience, but there are too many frustrations with it, mostly (1) the limitations on not really being able to have soil plants, (2) the central filter bubble tube limiting usable space, (3) the opening being very tight to get in and do anything, even with long tweezers. The pump is also getting quite loud.

10 shrimp moved to the new tank. (I’m pretty proud of this - been set up about a month.)

There are at least 5 more shrimp plus another berried one left in the biorb. I might have lost some of the babies to the fIlter - I did put a bit of a pair of tights over it, but I just don’t know. BUT some of the babies definitely made it. I’m using the biorb too for trimmings from the other tank (and blimey, doesn’t frogbit grow?!). I’ve now turned the original filter off, and have stuck an Aquael pat filter mini in. I was hoping it would run stuck to the bowl, but it seems to want to be vertical so it’s just hanging. It’s also got a new brighter led.

It’s not pretty, and frankly has made access even worse, but I’ll see how things go, and whether I can modify the lid to allow the filter to hang separately to the lid. There are a couple of anubias in it, a load of moss plus some small bacopa and hydrocotyle leucocephala cuttings. Everything in this tank and the new one is hopefully easy and non-fussy. I’m definitely low tech... I’m also now doing a feed every couple of days with Aquascaper (I can’t see that I’m ever going to have enough water volume to make EI dosing worth it).

The plan when I bought the filter was to ditch original filter and clinker substrate system entirely, and the bubble tube, and go to more normal soil/sand substrate, i.e. just use it as a bowl with a light.

Once I’ve moved the remaining shrimp out, I might do this, but try without the filter and just with a light and regular big water changes. I know terrarium is also an option, but much to my partner’s horror I do like having a second tank...

Anyway, that‘s the adventure so far. More to come.
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I'm still yet to do anything with the 30... Just been to busy to start looking at it as yet...
But, I still think extend the air hose internally and run it up the inside of the bowl at the back, increase height of chosen substrate to increase surface area, use a regular sponge filter towards the back amongst tall stems. Maybe dwarf sag carpet the rest, or hydrocotyle or something
Usb air pump to run the air and a flexible usb led light, and it's a very low cost bowl
But, I still think extend the air hose internally and run it up the inside of the bowl at the back, increase height of chosen substrate to increase surface area, use a regular sponge filter towards the back amongst tall stems.
Yeah...this is was totally what I was hoping to do in the end but then managed to buy *entirely the wrong kit* 🙄 (it’s been a long few months...) I think I’ve worked out what I need now, apart from what diameter of airline I might need.
USB is a nice idea - hadn’t thought about that. Thanks.
I've just started 30l Biorb, I removed the internal filter and epoxied an acrylic disc in the base to seal it. I've gone walstad style and swapped the original light for an Aquael Leddy Plant. THings are looking great so far, need to get some shrimp in soon to clean up the fungus / Algae!
So USB pump arrived today from AMAZON and I cannot hear the pump at all. I can hear the bubbles, but not the pump.
I attached it to this foam filter also from AMAZON
Actually, I opened it up, removed (cut away) the skinny tube that runs to the bottom of the pipe and installed an airstone into it. In all honesty I don't think I needed to do that at all so I'd not recommend doing that. I have it now bubbling away in a Poundland cocktail fishbowl. Filter could do with a touch more weight at the bottom perhaps, but its nice and small, and lets be honest, we're talking about 30l (for mine) and 15l (for yours) and much less once substrate is counted for
I'm interested in what you can come up with, it's great to bounce ideas!
I had a Eureka moment earlier regarding the filter, so much so that the bowl is up on my kitchen side and now running a (not quite finished) DIY filter to test... And it's past midnight !
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Next steps: have run a little sponge filter from the existing biorb air inlet (not changed pump - new allegedly silent pump really wasn’t).
I’ve filled the base of the bowl with the clinker biorb medium + two spare sponge donut filters to bulk up the volume, plus a box of dennerle deponitmix substrate + left over gravel from my shrimp tank. I’ll probably trim the hose more, but need to fill it and see how the refraction makes everything look. More plants any day now...

Already feels like less of pain now I don’t have the central tube.
Plants! Been in for a week - mostly staurogyne repens, a few cuttings of bacopa compact, plus marsilea hirsuita.
(How on EARTH do you plant marsilea hirsuita?! Currently kind of weighted down.)
Already bushier, and starting to fill in a bit.

Advantage of a tank with this must refraction is if you get fed up with it, just rotate a few degrees 👍
Thanks both.
The light is just the standard fitting in the biorb (this is a pretty old model), but with a new cheap led 20w daylight bulb. Had to Phone A Friend on the bulb - crap with electrics.
New substrate set up and planted for about 4 weeks. Everything looked pretty perky, then the staurogyne shed a load of leaves - think this might be adapting to submerged rather than anything more sinister. Marsilea is sending up new shoots.
I’ve bunged in a pair of homeless anubias tied to rocks (one of these is the first plant I bought back in July and is tough as anything), and cuttings and spare floaters - thought upping the plant mass might help the tank mature quicker.

Not the look I was after, but actually I quite like it!
6 weeks since replanting. The staurogyne continues to do more melting and looks truly awful, but everything else looks ok... feeling slightly more positive than last week about this experiment, but I am starting to wonder whether a terrarium will ultimately be the best use for the biorb. It’s still a royal pain in the a*** to get in and trim anything.

Thought I’d test the nitrate level, since I’m thinking about moving some shrimp over - and API kit is still showing 160/dark red, same as last week. I hardly ever test my water since getting over the obsessive testing of last summer, so need to also test my tap as a control to check the kit isn’t off - though I guess with melting plants it might be up.

Will persevere for a bit longer with it. It is nice having the burbling in the background while working from home 🙂
2 more weeks of persevering. Nitrate testing has shown steady decline to something approaching 20ish. (Even if kit is out, it shows a change in the right direction.)
Staurogyne looks even worse, but stems at the back still have leaves and actually look ok. I’m wondering if this is a flow issue, since my filter is now off centre at the back.
Growth otherwise is slow but definitely there - floaters fine, new leaves on Anubias(-es), and marsilea sprouting.
Still think when I stop working at home everyday (whenever that is) I’ll likely break it down and terrariumise it.

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Love-Hate relationship continues.
With hindsight I think the main problem is not doing a good enough job of the substrate, so it’s now an odd jumble of the biorb rocks plus not-enough left over shrimp gravel. Things are growing slowly, but it’s not exactly an underwater jungle.
I have a 45 L biOrb and share your frustrations about lots of aspects of it like the small opening and the weak lighting and the hassles of the filter changes (Aquarium | Fireplace aquarium), but they do have an attractive aesthetic to them and yours looks really good to me. With 15 L it's going to be tricky getting conditions stable but you could consider a low-tech approach where you put the central bubble tube set-up back in place but then don't ever bother changing the filter - that's been my approach. The lighting is weak, but in the 15L the light is also never very far from the stuff it's lighting up, so that's a point in favour and your plants are already doing well so you're doing something right for sure. My £0.02 anyway. :D
Thanks! I get grumpy with it, but then I find myself smiling at it...
don't ever bother changing the filter
EXACTLY! 😛 I did so little in the way of cleaning when I first set it back up last summer because it was such a pain... java fern eventually died (prob lack of nutrients I reckon), but everything else grew, and the shrimp bred so it can’t have been that bad.

Maybe there is a pre-terrarium zero filter/bubble tube phase. I’m running another, smaller bowl without a filter and that’s going pretty well. I’ve been wondering about only having it half full of water and encouraging some emerged growth above the waterline. Hmm.