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EPQ Aquascaping Journal ~ Nature Aquarium

Shoshi Scaping

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Joined
13 Mar 2021
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17
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UK
04.04.2021

Hi everyone, I've decided to start this journal in order to document the process of my latest aquascape. This journal will also tie into a school project that I’m doing called an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). An EPQ is worth 50% of an A-Level and is essentially an essay or artefact on any topic you’d like to write about; and of course I just had to choose aquascaping.

I thought that I’d start off this thread by saying who I am and what my goals and plans are for it… my name is Shoshi and I fell into the aquascaping hole just over a year ago. Since then, it’s been a never-ending hobby of mine and has become one of my biggest passions. In April last year I decided to start an Instagram account due to enjoying aquarium photography as well. I’ve loved every minute of having that account and have met some amazing people along the way, not to mention the amount of inspiration it’s given me.

The reasons behind starting this thread are to keep track of all the steps of creating this specific aquascape but also to inspire some people and to help educate people on the hobby. Originally, I was only going to mention small parts of the project on my Instagram page but then thought why not share the whole journey publicly! This journal won’t be the actual artefact for my EPQ but will help me to form the main basis of the actual thing; the artefact is going to be a powerpoint which I may convert into a handwritten journal once I've finished the aquascape's journey (time-dependent), I'll be sharing photos of some of the slides on here (e.g. the picture underneath this text which is the front cover that I've drawn).

My aim for this project is to apply everything I’ve learnt so far about aquascaping and to stretch my scaping ability. This journal will include everything from my initial ideas and inspiration, all the way to the end product.. I look forward to documenting the journey of this scape and hope that some of you will join the journey too!

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Shoshi Scaping

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13 Mar 2021
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05.04.2021

Here's the inspiration board I created a few days ago, I've also picked out my favourites and evaluated them. This is to show the process on how I'll decide on the final idea. My plan at the moment is to create a nature aquarium which is heavily planted and recreates a natural environment

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As you can see from the board, my idea is to use wood roots which crawl across some rock (probably pebbles), either surrounded by sand or a carpeting plant. Within the branches will be large epiphyte plants like java ferns and bolbitis with some stem plants in the back.


06.04.2021

I started the hardscape last night and will carry it on today. This is what I've got so far..

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I think that there are too many pebbles and not enough space for plants so might change this around later, I'll also see how it looks with the branches facing more to the side and not as upright (in the direction of flow from the filter)

The tank I'm using is an optiwhite aquarium by Amtra and is 36x23x26cm, 21L and will be filtered by the Oase Filtosmart 100 Thermo. The light is an ONF Flat Nano+ and I'll be using DIY CO2 (sugar & yeast). The soil is by Tropica, rocks are Scottish cobbles & pebbles and the wood was called 'slim wood' but I think they may be small redmoor roots.

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Shoshi Scaping

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27.04.2021

Hey everyone, sorry for the lack of updates recently, nothing much has happened to this scape since I last posted as I've been focusing on the 'coursework' side of the EPQ. I want to make sure that I don't go too far ahead with the tank and miss important stuff as there's no going back after it's started! I'm hoping to meet with my supervisor within the next couple of weeks to discuss the next steps and then I can hopefully move on from the hardscape part..

I've actually changed the hardscape twice since last updating this journal. I followed through with the above idea by rearranging the branches to face in the direction of flow and removing the larger pebbles, however, I found that the hardscape just didn't look right. I've ended up using a piece of bogwood that I already had, mixed with only a few pebbles. The current hardscape design is very simplistic and definitely doesn't have the 'wow' factor but the plants are going to be the main focus of this tank; you'll barely be able to see the hardscape once planted.

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The tank is currently in the Dark Start Method process and I'm interested to see whether this has any effect on algae, plant growth etc. I'll try to update you more on this project and I can't wait to get it properly started!
 

Ian61

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26 Mar 2021
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Keswick
Hello. A levels have certainly improved since my day if aquascaping is encouraged. Good luck with your project. One quick thought about your scape is how much dense shade is created under the wood overhang? This might just be an issue if you’re looking for dense planting throughout. I will follow with interest.

Best wishes.
 

Shoshi Scaping

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Hello. A levels have certainly improved since my day if aquascaping is encouraged. Good luck with your project. One quick thought about your scape is how much dense shade is created under the wood overhang? This might just be an issue if you’re looking for dense planting throughout. I will follow with interest.

Best wishes.

Good point about the shade created by the wood.. because of this, I’m thinking of planting a cryptocoryne species in that area so it hopefully won’t be a problem!
 

Shoshi Scaping

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30.04.2021

As we get closer and closer to planting the scape I thought I'd share my ideas for it so far...

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And a list of the plants I've got in mind:

On the wood:
Microsorum Trident or Microsorum 'petite'
Bolbitis Heudelotii
Vesicularia dubyana (Christmas moss)
Anubias 'petite' / Bucephalandra sp 'Red'

Background:
Pogostemon erectus
Rotala rotundifolia
Myriophyllum guyana or Limnophila sessiliflora/aquatica
Cryptocoryne balansae
Rotala rotundifolia 'green' (midground/background)

Midground, foreground & carpet:
Hydrocotyle tripartita 'Japan'
Eleocharis acicularis 'mini'
Lilaeopsis bransiliensis
Cryptocoryne beckettii 'Petchii'
Marsilea crenata

I'm trying to use plants that have leaves on the smaller side to keep a sense of scale within this scape due to it being a nano tank. I am always inspired by one of Amano's quotes which states: "While it is normal to make a large aquarium appear large, the fun is in making a small aquarium look really big." As I work with nano tanks, I always keep this quote in mind when creating any new scape.

Before I plant this tank, I need to finish the inital ideas stages in my project and where I got my inspiration from. I also don't want to plant it until I've spoken to my EPQ supervisor again to make sure that I've done enough to go ahead; altogether, this will probably take a few weeks and no doubt I will have changed the hardscape again by then haha
 

Shoshi Scaping

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03.05.2021

Today was a very exciting day as I was able to talk with @George Farmer to discuss my ideas for this tank. The conversation really helped me to get a clearer picture of what I want to achieve in this project and has also helped me to finalise my vision for this scape.

I knew that I wasn't completely happy with the hardscape so I asked George for his opinion on it, it always helps to ask someone with a fresh view. One piece of advice he gave me about the hardscape was to lower the left side of the wood into the substrate which will also probably make the tip of the wood poke through the water's surface slightly. This just gives a bit more of a natural effect and means that I can add a small emersed section with some moss which can actually help to prevent surface scum. He also suggested swapping the smaller yellow pebble with the larger grey pebble as the grey one is quite eye-catching. I'll try these two things and post more about them soon..

Onto the plant choice; we first discussed the foreground plants in which he recommended Marsilea crenata, I then added about some dwarf hairgrass mixed in to create a bit more of a textured carpet. These are both a good choice as they're more slow-growing than other carpeting plants which would rapidly grow out of control in a small tank like this. For midground plants, including in between the rocks, we talked about smaller species of cryptocorynes. I mentioned my idea of having Lilaeopsis bransiliensis in the back right corner as a plant to pull the foreground and background plants together, however, George pointed out that bransiliensis stays quite short and how I might be better off going for Lilaeopsis mauritius/mauritiana which grows a bit taller. We then went on to talk about the background area which will mainly be made up of stem plants. George suggested using a triangular composition and achieving this by trimming the stems. I was originally going to use Fibonacci's golden ratio but I'll definitely try out both and see which one is preferred. For epiphytes on the wood, we spoke about a trident fern and moss. He advised me to add the moss later on when the tank is more mature to avoid it getting covered in algae (the Dark Start method should hopefully speed this up).

As for writing the actual EPQ this Summer, I asked George if he had any advice for writing as he's recently written his book. He said that finding the time when your 'creative juices' are highest is the best time to write, this was early in the morning for him. I suppose this is something for me to find out in a couple of months' time! He also suggested how to write- it should tell a story, not just be a factual piece of work as a story is a lot more engaging and insteresting. Adding onto this, another point he made was to find the balance between being educational, inspiring and entertaining, which can be applied to both writing and social media; all very wise words.


A big thank you to George for taking some time out of his day to help me with this project and I look forward to using this feedback to improve the scape : )
 

Shoshi Scaping

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07.05.2021

I messed around with the hardscape for one last time, bearing the advice from George in mind. I switched the grey and yellow pebbles around and it looks a lot better however the wood didn't look right when I moved it to poke out the water. It was too upright and didn't look as if the flow from the filter had pushed it 'downstream', I did however bury the left side of it into the soil which is a definite improvement. I still wasn't completely happy with the hardscape but decided to go ahead with planting and I'm really happy I did now.

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08.05.2021

The big day arrived! Time to plant the scape, but first I had to get a few things ready:

I managed to prepare everything in time for the plants arriving which is a miracle in itself to be honest. I started the morning off by setting up the RO system and letting it run for a few hours- I'll need this for all the daily water changes this week! Whilst I let that run, I changed the grey hose on the Oase filter to some clear hose, partly because it was too short. The hose now goes behind the piece of furniture which looks a lot neater and is less noticeable. I then created some DIY CO2 with sugar & yeast and connected it to the diffuser in the tank. It was then time to grab a bit of lunch and finally time to get planting!


Three hours of filming, plant prepping, planting & filling later, this is the result...

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The planting went surprisingly smoothly, no floating wood or plants and the soil was hardly disturbed. I had plenty of plants, even some leftovers which I later added into my betta's tank. I also managed to not get superglue all over my hands which is always a plus haha

The final plant list is as follows:
Background
Cryptocoryne Crispatula (aka Balansae)
Myriophyllum guyana
Rotala rotundifolia
Didiplis diandra


Midground
Microsorum pteropus 'Trident'
Cryptocoryne x willsii
Hydrocotyle verticillata
Lilaeopsis mauritius


Foreground
Eleocharis acicularis 'Mini'
Glossostigma elatinoides


Others
Phyllanthus fluitans
Vesicularia dubyana (adding later when the scape is more mature)


I'm really chuffed with how it looks, it's also a lot better than I imagined and hoped for as sometimes my scapes can look a little sparse and sad when first planted. The key to this one was planting heavily which I don't usually get the chance to do, hopefully it's worth it and will help with algae issues and the whole balance of the tank in the long run. Of course I already have some improvements in mind like adding a bit of bolbitis and bucephalandra on the right of the trident fern and adding a midground plant between the Lilaeopsis mauritius and background stems but these are all things to improve in the future, for now I'm going to let the current plants fill in and I'll enjoy it in the present.


To end off this post, here are some random shots I took which I thought were worth sharing : )

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Shoshi Scaping

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09.05.2021

We've encountered one major problem so far: the CO2 hasn't been working. As I'm using DIY CO2, as opposed to pressurised, it can be a bit temperamental and difficult to get right at first. I've used it in the past and it worked a treat but of course the one time I need it most, it decides to not cooperate.. typical, isn't it

I tried following three different recipes (all sugar & yeast) but I was getting about one bubble a minute lol.. I then narrowed the problem down to being something to do with the yeast. Although the yeast was still in date on the packet, I bought some new yeast to test this theory and as I assumed, this was the problem. The new stuff is working a lot better than the old stuff (it did still take 24 hours to get up to full speed but I didn't bother to 'activate' so that's probably my own fault). It was definitely slightly worrying yesterday when I wasn't sure if I was going to get the CO2 working! I have some advanced category plants in this scape so it's lucky that it seems to be solved now. I'm still tempted to go down the pressurised route at some point, just not right at the moment.. that's one for the future.


I also performed the first of the daily water changes yesterday, however I did it after the main photoperiod. From now on, I aim to do this just before the light comes on/ at the start of the photoperiod to increase the efficiency of it.

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10.05.2021

I woke up to the CO2 finally working this morning and came home in the afternoon to find the drop checker turned green! Now I've just got to keep an eye on it so it doesn't go overboard as it's now churning out a bubble every 5 seconds which I guess is quite a lot for such a small volume of water. Luckily I should have a bit time to find the perfect recipe due to there not being any livestock in there yet. However, this brings me on to my next point: stocking.

I'm already quite set on what I want to keep in this tank, especially due to using RO water which I want to take full advantage of. I'm thinking a colony of golden bee shrimp with a small school of chilli rasboras as their water parameter requirements seem to overlap and match the parameters of the tank (supposing the CO2 doesn't make the pH fluctuate which is unfortunately quite likely because of the already acidic nature of the water). This is another thing to keep an eye on but also means that I probably can't add a clean-up crew from setup. Ideally, I would like to add a couple of amano shrimp or my existing cherries to the tank as soon as possible to help with the inevitable algae and diatoms at the beginning, however I don't know whether I want to risk it just yet. I suppose I'll keep a close eye on all the parameters over the course of this week and if they don't fluctuate too much, I may go and buy 2 amano shrimp at the weekend which I've actually never kept before! These guys would move over to my betta's tank once I get the golden bees/ they're not needed in this tank anymore (I was planning on getting them anyway so it wouldn't hurt to get them a little sooner!)

The main part of the whole fluctuating parameters problem is that you can't turn DIY CO2 off at night which is quite a big worry of mine once I've got livestock in the tank. The only thing I can think of doing about this is taking the diffuser out the tank at night but that seems a bit crazy?! If anyone has any advice or experience of this kind of thing then please do say as I'd really appreciate it!

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I also realise that I haven't mentioned much of the hardware and technical stuff yet, eg the current parameters, equipment, fertiliser etc. I'll definitely do this within the next week or two and include photos so look forward to yet another ramble haha
 

Wookii

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Just so you know, that drop checker is supposed to be submerged inside the tank - you're unlikely to get an accurate read off it from the surface film.
 

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