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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Years ago I had a 20 gallon high tech disaster. CO2, water changes and limited lighting did not end a constant battle with hair algae. It drove me mad. So I gave up and left the hobby. I accept full blame. High tech tanks require more knowledge than I had, and more time than I was willing to devote to a planted aquarium.

This time I did not repeat my past mistakes. The aquarium is low tech. I did not try to imitate the designs of aqua-scape masters. I designed my own concept of mini freshwater pond and since nothing in nature looks manicured, that translates into less maintenance. I also wanted something small so it could be kept on my desk. Most of all, it had to achieve a state of biologic balance with as little input from me as possible. — That’s a tall order for any aquarium but more so for a nano: especially one with livestock.

The aquarium is only 4 months old and has been fully stocked for only a month, so perhaps it’s still too soon to know if I’ve achieved all of my goals. The water is crystal clear, and so far water parameters are rock steady (pH = 7.2. Nitrates and Nitrites = 0). I do 5% water change about once a week at the most. There is minimal hair algae imbedded in the java moss but it isn’t flourishing and may in fact be receeding. There is no hair algae elsewhere.

I’ll post a few photos now. In a later post I’ll detail what I used from hardscape to plants to live stock, and will describe the issues I’ve encountered so far.

4 months
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The aquarium: a cylindrical glass vase 12” round by 8” high. Capacity: 3.5 gallons

The first decision I made was to use a glass cylindrical vase for the aquarium. I knew I wanted a few small fish and I reasoned that a traditional 3 - 4 gallon rectangular or square container would limit the ability of the fish to swim naturally. It was the right choice. My fish spend many hours swimming continuously in wide circles along the tank’s perimeter. There are also crevices and hiding places they like to explore.

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Lighting: a desk lamp with a plant grow lightbulb — on a timer for 8 hours of light a day.

Hardscape: driftwood, small stones and rocks

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Planting medium: ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia ver. 2, topped with Aqueon Plant & shrimp substrate. Shrimp can easily tear into the ADA Aqua Soil so I topped it off with the Aqueon product which is too hard for the shrimp to damage. The small, round Aqueon baked clay spheres also provide a very large surface area for the growth of beneficial bacteria as well as a breeding ground for tiny worms, seed shrimp (ostracods) and tiny copepods — all of which make for an outstanding cleanup crew as well as a self-replenishing food supply for the fish.

Plants: Anubias nana, Anubias nana petite, Java moss, Micro swords, Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum), duck weed. I can’t overstate the importance of the frog bit and the duck weed. I’m convinced they are the main reason I have such excellent water parameters. They grow so fast that they “suck up” all the nitrogenous wastes form the live stock, decaying food and plant debris. Plus they shade the plants below, and cut down on the grown of hair algae (which need more light than the Java moss. To aid with the growth of the floating plants I ocassionallay dose with API Leaf Zone.

The Java moss is a haven for the growth of rotifers — a good source of natural food for the killifish. The rotifers can’t been seen by the naked eye, but under my microscope I see dozens of rotifers in each 1” long piece of moss, so the aquarium contains several thousand rotifers.

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Livestock: 8 Cherry red shrimp (Neocaridina), 8 Least killifish (Helerandria formosa), a few rams horn snails (to keep the glass spotless), and as noted above, tiny worms, seed shrimp and copepods as both natural food for the fish and as ax excellent cleanup crew.

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Filtration: Most of the filtration is done by the plants -- especially the floating plants (Frogbit and duckweed)... and by the planting media. I also use an EA Performance Hang-on the Back filter. It houses a small amount of Aquaclear BioMax and Topfin filter pad material. The flow rate is set to its minimum setting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Great job! Simple is always best when venturing into the hobby. I think you made sound choices that all make sense.
Thanks, Doc. -- I want to share some of the issues I ran into.

Water - Clarity and color: When filling the tank I was careful to add water slowly in an attempt to minimize the dispersal of fine particles in the aqua soil. But in spite of water changes and filtration, the water remained cloudy for over a week. The water color was a darker yellow than I expected: contributions from both the aqua soil and driftwood. Time and water changes reduced the intensity of the "black water" to where it is now just a very pale, slightly tinged yellow.

Algae - black and green: A month after setting up the aquarium I experienced an extraordinary diatom bloom (black algae). The diatoms were fun to look at under the microscope but the black algae bloom made the tank look awful. The driftwood and plants were nearly covered in it. At about the same time green algal growth was starting to coat the inside walls of the aquarium. Mechanically cleaning flat glass is easy. Cleaning curved glass is another matter altogether. -- Snails to the rescue! Just a few Ramshorn snails cleaned up all of the black algae as well as the green algae on the aquarium glass. And they did so in just 2 or 3 days.

Plants - growth and loss: - The floating plants did well from the day I first put them into the aquarium. The micro-swords and the Java moss began to grow exuberantly after a short hiatus of about a week. However, both varieties Anubias (nana and nana petite) entered into a slow death spiral. It appears that even though Anubias is an easy to grow, low-light plant, it requires good water parameters to thrive. The Anubis nana came with seven bright green leaves, a healthy thick stem and many roots (which I tired to the driftwood). Two months later it had only one leaf remaining on what was a mostly rotting stem. I was going to remove it until I spotted the beginning of new growth. It is now in full recovery. I experienced the same thing with the nana petite and even ordered a replacement. But that plant also recovered after a 90% die back. Today, all 3 Anubias plants are healthy and growing normally.

Low maintenance does not equal no maintenance: That much I knew even before deciding to get back into the planted tank hobby. Maintenance consists of a 5% water change about once a week (even though nitrates are zero), and the occasional need to control plant growth. Each week I remove and discard some Frogbit and duck weed. Otherwise, they would cover 100% of the surface and would block too much light. The micro-swords need occasional trimming and weeding, but that's easy to do. The Anubias take care of themselves. The only pain is keeping the Java moss under control. My 3.5G aquarium doesn't lend itself to the technique of trimming the moss while suctioning the tank during a water change. The shrimp, especially, require stabile water parameters and large water changes would be disruptive.
 
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