Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Life Begins - The set up

This is it. The aquarium is coming to life.
Although I haven't finished all the preparations and a few things are still missing I have decided to seize the opportunity and go ahead with setting it up.
This is the fun part where ones artistic view comes into play. There are many ways of arranging and designing a tank. For me it is very hard choosing between them but finely I settled on one design which I like.
The first part was arranging the rocks and sketching the layout

Next I added the substrate (a bag and three quarters of FloraBase) and readjusted the rocks positions.

The substrate is great to work with. It stays piled up easily and planting in it was very easy. Although I don't have a lot of experience with all the kinds of substrate available I think this one is very good.
Once everything was in place I added the light colored sand in the middle to form a stream like area

In laying out the hardscape I followed most of the "rules" of nature aquariums aquascaping but since the aquarium is square a few modifications where done which will be balanced out by the plants.
From above

The planting was done with the soil slightly moist so as to make sure the plants stay in. I've put in most of the plants I'm planning on having

And finely I filled it up with water, hooked up the systems and the aquarium is now alive.

Setting up the CO2 system was fairly easy. The reactor is very cool. It has this very neat tornado inside and it's working well. The canister filter was easy to work too and is very quite, I hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Part IV- Let there be light!

Maybe the most important thing for plants, and life in general, is light. Together with carbon (in the form of injected CO2) they create our little piece of nature.

There are many issues with lighting, its luminosity spectrum and shape influence the look and growth of the plants.
There are many kinds of lights but the dimensions limited my options to 15W T8 fluorescents or 24/36W PL lights. Metal Halides were ruled out as being too bright and expensive (although I might change sometime in the future).
I liked the variety of T8 bulbs available and people seem to like the ones that are special for growing plants. So far I have two 4500K and two 6000K lights and I'm going to get two Growlux or 935's in addition. I don't want to put more than 6 bulbs so if the luminosity won't be enough I'll over drive some of them.

I've started installing the lights yesterday, the pictures show the test runs. Once I get all the wiring correct I'll tidy it up so they stay invisible and make a cover for the top.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Things are moving

Just a few pictures of the progress made last night…

Started wiring the electricity and working on the lighting

I wired it so I have one set of outlets connected all the time (for the filter, heater, etc…) and a second on a timer (lighting, co2, reactor, etc…).
Lighting will be 6X15W T8 fluorescent light bulbs (the ballasts can be seen in the picture)
I also got the filter, Atman EF1, it's a very simple cheap canister type filter.

It has two sections, one with biological media the other with some kind of sponge.

The filter will be mostly for keeping the water clear (i.e. mechanical filtering) so I will see how it works then decide if different filtering media is needed.

It comes with lots of parts and connections as can be seen in the picture. The build quality is reasonable, it's not robust but if one isn't abusive it should hold well. It is also very simple and has a moderate motor, for this aquarium it should be good since a slow current is more favorable. I think for its price and considering that most people are satisfied with it, it is a good buy but I'll know for sure only after using it for some time…

Substrate also arrived, I hope by next week I'll be ready to set it up :-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Change of plans OR Step III - The air we breathe

Well, I thought I had it all planed out… low-tech tank, simple, low maintenance… Not any more it isn't:

That’s right, I'm going high tech. got my hands on this Red Sea CO2 pro system with a 5kg cylinder. As new just not in the original packaging, such a nice opportunity, I couldn't just let it go…
There's a duel gauge regulator, a needle valve, bubble counter, the Red Sea 500 reactor, tubing and a CO2 level indicator set. The stuff looks very good.
I did a search on the internet to get an idea of what this system is like, looks fairly promising. It is self contained and it suits a wide range of tanks. Unlike with a packaged set I got this one without the manual, not a big problem, though, I just downloaded it from the Red Sea site. The manual is fairly straight forward but even without one the system is simple enough so setup is no big deal.

I like the design of the needle valve and bubble counter, putting them together on the side of the aquarium is sensible. I also like the fact that they attach with suction pads so that I can remove them easily.

My preference is to have an inline reactor so as to keep it out of site and have less tubes running in the tank. Nevertheless, I would like to try out this Red Sea CO2 reactor 500. It has a nice design and I'd like to see how it works. I read on the net that some people found it problematic at high flow rates so I would like to give this little baby a test drive and see how far it can go.

My only problem so far is with the regulators connection to the cylinder. The way the sealing is done you can't close it without a wrench or spanner. I think this issue is handled in a better way on other regulators I've seen, where ones hand is enough for securing the thread. This isn’t a significant issue, though, since you only do this once every few month.
My first impression is therefore very good but before I can put it to use I have some rethinking to do with regards to the lighting, substrate and a few other things in light of my change to a high-tech tank.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The glass is here

Also building the aquarium looks like lots of fun I chickened out of doing it myself. Afraid of the possibility of a leak and a hundred liters of water seeping into the wooden floor I looked for someone else to do it for me. I got recommendations for a great aquarium builder and gave him a call. We discussed what I wanted (simple rimless tank, 8mm clear glass…) and he was very attentive and helpful but also insisted the glass should be 10mm thick, trusting his judgment I agreed to that and hoped it wont look too cumbersome. Once the cabinet was finished I had the dimensions ready for him, I asked for it to be 52cm by 51.8cm and 42cm high. The tank was ready within a few days but I had to wait for ten days for the silicon to cure.

The tank was built to the exact size and fits perfectly on the cabinet but there were a few things I didn't like. The biggest one is the issue of the green tint, although the glass doesn't look too thick the green coloring is very noticeable. I looked at many tanks since and I think I could have insisted on 8mm glass which would have been a little better. On the other hand the seams are very elegant and the amount of silicon is really minimal (as you can see in the pictures) thanks to the thickness of the glass.

On the outside the work isn't as clean and there is some access silicon that has to be removed, when I got the tank there was tape going all around it and when I removed it there was silicone underneath that has to be removed.

The builder also added supports at the bottom of the tank which I did not want.

He said it is the only proper way to prevent leaks.

I disagree but it is too late now, I will just have to wait and see what it looks like after I fill it in with substrate (in a regular tank the bottom is covered by skirting so one doesn't see the supports but I want to leave it bare)
I'm very pleased with this tank I tested it for leaks (no problems as expected) and now I can hardly wait till I get the rest of the things ready…

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Step II – Taking a stand

Let me start by saying that I'm not a carpenter and have no training in wood working. I built the stand in what looked to me as the simplest yet sturdiest way, I could be completely wrong. The design is similar to that of the ADA stands, the size and finish where made to fit our living room.

Since I had spare planks that where about to be thrown out anyway I decided to give it a try and if it didn't work I'd have one ordered from a carpenter. I used pieces of an old cupboard to build the stand. I think it's called MDF but I'm not sure, it's some kind of laminated thing and not true wood anyway…

My skills with a saw aren't too impressive so I tried to cut as little as possible and use the original dimensions of the planks. The stand's top therefore measures 52x51.8 cm and its height came to be 66.5cm.

Putting it together I used the kind of screws I saw on many Ikea products, if you drill the end part wider you can screw them all the way in so that they don't stick out.

Next comes the filling. I'm not good at doing things accurately so obviously once I assembled the stand there where some gaps. The acrylic filling was also used to seal the edges where the lamination was cut and hide the ends of the screws.

Some sanding and now it looks much better. I also cut a hole in the back for the hoses and wires to go through.

Many layers of primer and paint to make sure the stand is water resistant.

Fixing the door in place, you have to get it just right and no matter how carefully I measured I still had to readjust it several times till it worked out…

And the final result

I added plastic legs and checked the stand to see if it was level, to my surprise it was and there was no need for any adjustments. I also checked to see if it would hold, putting on a weight of more than 150 kg the stand was just fine.

Total cost was less then 10$ (for the screws and filler), it took me about 3 hours and I had lots of fun. I like the result very much and now it is time to order the tank…

Step I - Size matters

I like the idea of a freestanding tank with room to view it from all sides (like in the ADA gallery, look here too).

Unfortunately, since I don't have the space, a corner would have to do. The size of the tank was limited by the furniture to 50cm, so I was looking for a tank that would give a large as possible viewing are and maximize the water volume. I wanted a 50cm cube liking its symmetry but when I positioned a cardboard model to help determine the height of the stand it didn't look so good. In the end I decided on a 50x50cm 40cm high rimless tank. At 100 lt. it is not huge but there is enough depth to it so that I can do something interesting...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

...and thus the creation began.

Not long ago we moved into our new home, while rearranging our stuff one thing became apparent- the old aquarium had to go. It just didn't fit anywhere and so my wife and I agreed we needed to get a new one. (Only, my wife was thinking of a new and smaller aquarium while I was hoping to get a tank at least twice the size of the old one.) After some discussion we settled on the shape and size and I could get started with the planning. The new aquarium will be standing in the living room and I was going to make it a low-tech aquascaped tank. This blog is meant to be the story of this tank following its planning, setup and evolution into a little piece of nature.

...then came inspiration...

Anyone involved in planted tanks eventually discovers the works of Takashi Amano. The ADA gallery, the aquascaping contests, the beautiful books – so many amazing aquariums. I like this aesthetics and admire his works, so naturally I wanted to have such an aquascape in my house. Spending many hours in front of the computer admiring the wealth of beautiful tanks on various forums and sites I started getting the creative itch. I also wanted to create an aquatic garden, a piece of living art I could sit and watch for all day. I had many ideas buzzing through my head and I was looking for the opportunities to set them free.

In the beginning there was fascination…

I'm totally captivated by the looks of aquascapes, a miniature universe so delicate and graceful. The beauty of nature so close but untouchable, sitting there in the aquarium isolated from the dry world surrounding it. I can still remember the first planted tank I saw, it's not the best I've seen but it had that magical thing about it that made me notice it. It was in a friends lab at university, he told me that his colleagues where very involved with it taking great effort to maintain a balanced ecological system. Seeing that aquarium got me interested and I started researching the subject. I found 'El-Natural' planted tanks fascinating and soon I had my own low-tech planted tank going.