Saturday, April 13, 2019

5 Things You Need to Know About Planted Aquarium Lighting

If you’re getting into planted tanks, learning about lighting can be overwhelming. Keep reading to find out the 5 things I wish I’d known about lighting when starting my first planted tanks.



If you want to play with live aquarium plants, lighting is one of the key building blocks that you have to learn about. The goal with lighting is to grow plants, enhance their coloration, and of course minimize algae. When your lighting is out of whack with the available nutrients, your plants can end up failing to thrive or being covered with so much algae that you can’t see them anymore. So let’s dive into my top five list for lighting:

Tip #1 : Buy a planted tank LED light

Yes, you can use the default light that came with your aquarium kit or get a really cheap light, but I find they’re usually not strong enough or don’t last very long. Some people build their own LED lights, especially if they have a giant fish room with multiple aquariums, because lighting can get really expensive. But if you only have a few tanks like me, light companies like Fluval or Finnex are pretty good at what they do. Buying quality lighting from them ensures that your plants will get the full spectrum they require.

DIY LED aquarium lighting
Homemade aquarium lighting by the King of DIY

Tip #2: Get a light that covers your entire tank

Some lights aren’t great at light dispersion or spread, which means the plants right underneath the light get lots of photons but the plants on the edges of the tank are pretty shaded. Now you can work around this by planting high light plants in the middle and low light plants on the edges. However, most people just get a better light or buy multiple lights if they have a large aquarium to cover.

Multiple lights on planted aquarium
Multiple lights used on large planted aquarium (source: American Aquarium Products)

Tip #3: Make sure your light is strong enough

Speaking of making sure all your plants get enough light, you also want to consider the brightness in your aquarium, especially if you have a deeper tank. You may hear people talk about a light’s PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) rating, which refers to the light's strength. There’s a lot of debate on how much PAR is required, but the rule of thumb I’ve heard is that low light plants need 15-30 micromols of PAR, medium light plants need 35-50 micromols, and high light plants need over 50 micromols (plus CO2 injection to avoid algae). Some products will list the PAR rating, but other times I’ve had to search online for the PAR readings that other hobbyists took. If you’re lucky, your local fish club may have a PAR meter that you can rent (because they’re super expensive).

Tip #4: Use an outlet timer with your light

Why do you need a timer? Because if you forget to turn on the lights enough, your plants will get sad and lose their leaves. If you give them too much light (or leave them on 24/7), you’ll have so much algae and green water, you probably won’t be able to see into your tank anymore. How long to turn on your lights really vary from tank to tank. If you have a ton of fast-growing plants in a high tech tank, you may leave that light on up to 12 hours a day. But if you have slow growing plants in a cold water tank in a room that already gets a bunch of ambient lighting, maybe you set your timer closer to 5 hours. Some people split up their lighting so that it’s on in the morning, turns off while they're at work or school, and then is on again at night.

aquarium light on a mechanical timer

Tip #5: Lessen your lights in the beginning

If you remember my previous post, I mentioned how new plants in your aquarium need time to acclimate to their new environment. During those beginning stages, they’re not going to grow a lot, so if you provide a lot of light, the plants aren’t going to use it as much, and algae is going to take advantage of it instead. Therefore, some people recommend starting your timer for only six hours a day for the first few weeks, and then gradually increasing to eight hours or beyond afterwards.

Bentley Pascoe said that if you have a dimmable light like the Fluval Plant Spectrum LED light, he actually dims the lights for his new plants. With an 18-24” tall tank, he starts off the light at 50% strength for the first two weeks, checks for plant versus algae growth, ups it to 65-75% strength if the plants are doing well, and then keeps increasing the light strength until he hits the maximum amount he wants. For shorter tanks, he’ll start the light off at 25-35% strength and then slowly increase from there. Genius!

Question of the Day

What’s your favorite type of aquarium light and how long do you have it on for? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!


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Saturday, April 6, 2019

An Introvert’s Guide to the Aquashella Aquarium Festival



Everyone’s been hyping up Aquashella, a fish convention for hobbyists, so I really wanted to attend the Dallas 2019 one. But… I’m a major introvert who’s still trying to stay semi-anonymous. So what was it like? Which FishTubers showed up? Was it worth attending? Keep watching to hear my version of the story!

Question of the Day

Did you attend Aquashella or do you want to? Comment below to share your experiences, and become a Patreon supporter for more behind-the-scenes footage!


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Saturday, March 23, 2019

What Is the Nitrogen Cycle for Freshwater Aquariums?

When I was a brand-new fish keeper, I remember asking questions like, “Can you put fish in a new tank right away?” and “What is new tank syndrome?” Keep watching as I explain the aquarium nitrogen cycle in easy, beginner-friendly terms, as well the beneficial effect that aquarium plants can have.



Materials I Mentioned

Water test kit
Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad

Resources

The Nitrogen Cycle - Fully Explained!
Nitrogen Uptake by Aquatic Plants
Using plants as nature’s filtration
Fish store tour of Ocean Aquarium

Question of the Day

How did you find out about the nitrogen cycle when you first started keeping aquariums? Comment below to share your because I’d love to hear them. Also FYI, I won't have a post next week because I'll be at Aquashella. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!


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Saturday, March 16, 2019

How to Boost Root Growth in Aquarium Plants

So you want to try keeping stem plants, carpets, rosettes, bulbs, or other rooted plants in a planted tank, but after buying your first few, they ain’t looking too hot. Keep watching as I reveal the top 5 things I’ve learned so far about growing healthy roots for healthy plants!



When I first started dipping my toe into the aquascaping world, I went with your beginner plants – java fern, anubias, bolbitis, and so on. What do all of these have in common? They’re rhizome plants that that you can pretty much glue to a rock and treat it like a piece of aquarium decor. Very hardy, don’t need much light, hard to kill.

Eventually, I wanted to broaden my horizons and get into the world of rooted plants that actually need soil or substrate to live in. That totally opened up my options to stem plants, carpeting plants, crypts, bulbs, you name it! I mean, we’re talking level 2 stuff here, right? Hah! That also means I had to be prepared to face level 2 problems and outright failures. So, come along with me as I reveal the lessons I’ve learned so far when it comes to growing healthy roots for healthy plants!

Tip 1: Leaves may melt off after you first plant them

First off, I learned that at the plant farms, most aquarium plants are actually grown emersed (above water with only their roots and substrate covered in water) rather than submersed (grown entirely underwater). Crazy, right? The reason why they do that is because aquatic plants grow much bigger and faster when they have unlimited access to carbon dioxide from the air, and their leaves are also free of algae and snail eggs. However, when we take those emersed grown plants and plunge them into the water, those leaves go into shock and often melt off, leaving you to think that you bought a dud. Don't throw the plant away! Leave it in your tank, cut off any dying, emersed grown leaves, and eventually the new submersed grown leaves will pop out, probably looking a little smaller and shorter than before. You’re essentially paying for the healthy roots on a plant, not the leaves.

Emersed vs submersed growth in cryptocoryne parva
Emersed vs. submersed grown leaves on a crypt parva (source: spec-tanks.com)

Tip 2: Don't move your rooted plants if at all possible

Once you’ve picked a spot for your new plant, don’t move it. Unlike rhizome plants that allow you to frequently redo your aquascape just by moving the stone or driftwood they're attached to, rooted plants need time to settle in and become, well, rooted. Every time it gets uprooted – whether because you’re rescaping, you accidentally bump it when gravel vacuuming, or you have a jerk of a fish who likes to dig – you’re basically pushing the reset button for that plant and it has to get used to its surroundings all over again. It’s not going to grow well until it feels nice and stable for a while. (P.S. Plant weights can help keep your plants down until they grow more roots.)

Tip 3: Make sure the substrate is deep enough to grow roots

So, what’s the best way to make a rooted plant feel nice and comfortable? Well, I’m not going to get into a big debate about which brand of substrate is superior. Just remember: regardless of what kind you choose, make sure you use enough of it. Some of you might be tempted to buy something really high quality and expensive, which means you may not have the funds to get a lot of it. Most planted tank sources recommend a total substrate depth of 2 to 3 inches (or 5 to 8 cm). That way your plants have enough room to grow deeper roots and not get uprooted at the slightest touch.

Tip 4: Pay attention to the particle size of the substrate

Speaking of substrate selection, I know I just said that I didn’t care what kind you bought. That being said, you have to make sure the substrate particles aren’t too big or too small. If you go too big and have the equivalent of river rocks for your ground cover, the gaps between the stones are too wide and the roots won't anything to hold on to. (Again, I’m talking about rooted plants, not rhizome ones that can hold on to practically anything.)

Aquarium using river rock as substrate
River rock is too big of a substrate for most planted aquariums (source: Reddit)

If you go with a really fine sand, like Caribsea Super Naturals sand, there’s hardly any space between the particles for the roots to grow in. The sand is going to compact way too much and end up smothering the roots to death. Therefore, if you want to use sand, make sure it’s much coarser and larger in diameter, like Seachem Flourite black sand.

Tip 5: Use fertilizers to enhance root and shoot growth

Okay, so you’ve got your perfect substrate, you’ve planted your rooted plants, and you pinky swear not to move them. But they’re still not thriving and staying rooted for some reason. What else can really encourage good root growth? First off, if you're using an inert substrate that doesn't innately contain any nutrients, don't forget to add fertilizers into the substrate in the form of root tabs. Most aquarium plants consume nutrients from the ground and from the water column, but which one they use more depends on the species.

Another tip I heard was from Aquarium Co-Op, a retail and online store that sells live aquarium plants. Remember in the beginning of the article , where I talked about emersed versus submersed grown plants? Well, when Aquarium Co-Op gets their shipments from the plant farms, they actually try to start the process of converting plants to submersed grown, and their secret sauce for encouraging roots to grow faster is using a combination of their own Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer and Seachem Flourish Advance. Flourish Advance is described as a natural phytohormone supplement that “dramatically stimulates the growth of both roots and shoots in aquatic plants.” The ingredients include potassium, phosphates, calcium, and magnesium, which are some of the basic building blocks for plants.

Aquarium Co-Op warehouse holding tanks for live aquarium plants
Aquarium Co-Op starts converting plants to submersed growth before selling to customers

When I was having problems with plants staying rooted in my betta tank, I started adding this magical juice to my regular Easy Green dosing, and boom, no more floating plants! It’s too early to tell whether or not this definitively works for me, but Aquarium Co-Op is buying this stuff by the gallons so you can be sure they wouldn’t be wasting their money if it wasn’t worth it.

Question of the Day

What are some lessons learned about planted aquariums that you wish you'd known as a beginner? Comment below to share, and I may include them in the next plant tutorial article. If you missed Part 1 of this series, check out my 5 Tips for Starting Your First Planted Aquarium. Take time to enjoy your aquariums, and I'll see you next time!


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Saturday, March 9, 2019

How to Clean Your Betta Fish Tank the Easy Way!

So you got your first betta fish, but find it a huge hassle to clean the aquarium. Keep reading as I show you the easy way of keeping the water nice and clear with minimal effort!



When I was a kid, a betta fish was one of my first aquatic pets because they’re so beautiful and interactive. Unfortunately, I found it a pain to clean his bowl because I always had to catch him, dump out all the glass marbles, scrub them in the sink, and then transfer everything back. (Kids, don't try this at home.) Eventually, I started avoiding this time-consuming chore and… eventually, my betta fish got sick and died from living in his own waste. Poor thing!

Little did I know that there existed a miracle tool that has saved me so much time and energy, so I can actually enjoy keeping fish. Let me introduce you to the aquarium siphon (also known as a gravel cleaner). This simple hose is like vacuum cleaner but without any electronics – and it’s about to become your best friend!

gravel vacuum for aquarium
The Python mini siphon is my go-to tool for cleaning betta fish tanks.

How to Do a Simple Water Change

So let me cover how to do a simple water change for your betta fish, which will only take you 5-10 minutes at most. You’ll need 3 things: a mini siphon (linked above), water dechlorinator, and a bucket with a pour spout that’s big enough to hold at least 50% of the tank water
  1. Remove the lid on the aquarium and turn off heater and filter.
  2. In order to start “vacuuming” your fish tank, put the big tube end of the siphon in the tank and make sure the small hose end goes in the bucket.

    How to Start a Siphon
    You can start water moving through the siphon simply by dipping the upright tube into the tank, raising it up out of the water, and then before the water totally drains out of the tube, quickly plunge it back into the tank.

    Once you notice water moving into the bucket, you can invert the tube and start vacuuming the bottom of the tank to remove fish poop, uneaten food, and other detritus.
  3. When you’ve finished vacuuming and have removed 25-50% of the tank water, take out the siphon and empty the bucket. (Old fish water is good fertilizer for houseplants.) Then fill the bucket with warm tap water that matches the tank temperature.
  4. Add water dechlorinator to the bucket (or directly in the tank), and refill the aquarium.
  5. Turn back on your heater and filter, replace the tank lid, and you’re done!
All the water change materials can go back in the bucket so it’s easily accessible for next time.

Using Python mini siphon to gravel vacuum a 3.5-gallon betta fish tank

How to Deep Clean the Tank

Now a water change once a week is pretty easy, but once a month, I like to do a deep cleaning on the aquarium. Here’s my detailed routine, which also includes a few extra steps you may need if you’ve upgraded your betta fish to a planted tank. You’re going to need all the materials from before, as well as a water test kit, algae scraperfertilizer, and maybe some aquascaping tools.

Materials needed for monthly deep cleaning for betta fish tank
  1. Remove the lid and use your test kit to test the water quality to make sure all’s well.
  2. Use your algae scrubber to remove algae off from the walls, plants, and dรฉcor. (I personally like to use a razor blade and toothbrush for my glass aquarium.)
  3. If you have live plants, now’s your time to trim and remove any dead leaves.
  4. Turn off the heater and filter, and begin gravel vacuuming the substrate like before.
  5. Clean your filter sponge or other media in old tank water (or you can be brave like Prime Time Aquatics and wash them in running tap water).
  6. Empty out the bucket, fill it with warm tap water, and add your dechlorinator. 
  7. Pour your water in the tank. (I like to use a clean plastic bag or colander to pour the water on, so that the water won't disturb the decor.) 
  8. Turn on the heater and filter, and add fertilizers as needed.
Filling planted tank or aquascape with a colander
Pouring water through a colander when refilling the tank will prevent your aquascape from being disturbed.

Bonus Tips

I’ve also got some extra tips for keeping your betta fish tank clean without a lot of extra effort, such as:
  • Add a gentle filter to keep the water from getting stagnant and gross.
  • Don’t overfeed your betta fish because less food = less poo.
  • Consider getting a bigger tank of 3 gallons or more because more water volume means it’ll take longer for your betta fish to dirty the water (and you can do fewer water changes overall).
To learn more practical tips about keeping betta fish, check out my other betta care articles. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you in the next post!

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Top 7 Helpful Resources for Axolotl Care

So you’re interested in getting a new axolotl, but feel overwhelmed with all the information out there. Keep reading as I reveal the best axolotl resources to help you get started!



If you didn’t know already, I previously owned axolotls. Unfortunately, one died from my own human error and another from health issues. It's one thing to lose a shrimp or a betta fish, but when you lose a larger pet that’s almost a foot long… it’s just particularly painful. So I haven’t kept axolotls for over a year now because I wanted to take a break and really do some in-depth research on what it takes to own them. I don’t want to go through the heartache of prematurely lose another one, if at all possible.

Online Axolotl Resources

So, today I’m going to show you the results of my search and rank my top favorite axolotl books and resources. This is not a care guide article, so if you just want to go straight to my favorite beginner resource, visit axolotl.org. It’s free and available online, very well-organized and easy to read, and has a lot of accurate, detailed information that really helped me when I was getting started.

axolotl.org website for axolotl care

Another website that has a lot of information is exopetguides.com. Their axolotl guide was released last year and therefore is the most recent resource out of all the ones I explored. Written by hobbyists, this article describes the latest, most conservative trends in axolotl keeping, so if you don’t want to get yelled at on axolotl Facebook groups or forums, this page will steer you clear of most controversy.

Children's Science Books on Axolotls

Now if you’re like me, I don't like to blindly trust popular hobbyist views and would prefer to double-check information with the professionals. The most readily available resource at the library was children’s science books, which weren’t that helpful because they usually consisted of a 1-page description about axolotls mixed in with other 1-page summaries of other oddball animals. However, I did find Inside Animals: Frogs and other Amphibians by David West to be of interest because of the great diagram of axolotl anatomy.

Cute as an Axolotl by Jess Keating

Research Books and Papers

As for research books and papers, there were tons once I started really digging. Axolotls are commonly used in research for their regenerative properties and have even been shown to have an effect on breast cancer (woohoo!). The king of all axolotl research books is Developmental Biology of the Axolotl, edited by John Armstrong and George Malacinski. Published in 1989, it’s a collection of scientific papers on axolotls. Probably less than 25% of the book contains relevant info on their natural history and practical care because it’s written for research facilities, not hobbyists. If you're interested in checking it out, see if your local university has it because the textbook costs about $100 to $300 online.

Developmental Biology of the Axolotl edited by John B. Armstrong and George M. Malacinski

The now defunct Indiana University Axolotl Colony also released the Axolotl Newsletter, which you can order all 30+ issues from the Ambystoma Genetic Stock Center (AGSC) for $60. I’ve reviewed several issues online for free, and for the most part the newsletters are heavily geared towards researchers and how to keep axolotls in a laboratory environment. However, there’s a bunch of valuable nuggets of information in them, so check out the newsletter link above.

Axolotl Newsletter from Indiana University Axolotl Colony

Salamander Care Books

The next category of axolotl resources actually comes from salamander pet care books, which I think is totally valid because it’s worth looking at how similar species need care. Newts and Salamanders by Frank Indiviglio was published in 2010 and comes highly recommended on Axolotl.org (and I can see why). The book’s author has a master’s degree in biology and worked as a zoo keeper for reptiles and amphibians, so his book is very detailed and informative. Mr. Indiviglio also has a lot of great axolotl articles posted on ThatPetPlace.com that you can read.

Newts and Salamanders by Frank Indiviglio

Another book I found is also called Newts and Salamanders, but was written by Devin Edmonds in 2009. This one provides a lot more info on how to setup an aquarium for aquatic salamanders, but doesn't have as much specific info on axolotls. Still, it's a decent book to check out from the library.

Newts and Salamanders by Devin Edmonds

Axolotl Care Books

Finally, the last category: axolotl pet care books. Axolotl.org lists Axolotls by Peter W. Scott (published in 1981) as the first book on its recommended resources page. The first half of the book is devoted to axolotl biology and the second half is devoted to care. Some of the aquarium setup and feeding info is a little outdated, but I did find the breeding and health sections to be pretty interesting. All-in-all, a good read where the author clearly consulted a lot of university researchers and professors.

Axolotls by Peter W. Scott

Another axolotl-specific book I found is Axolotls, Mexican Salamanders as Pets, published in 2013. The author Elliott Lang writes many different pet books for a living and he’s actually owned axolotls himself, so think of this as a well-researched, hobbyist-written book. As of the writing of this article, I personally think this is one of the most thorough, practical books for keeping axolotls on the market. It lays out how to set up the aquarium, appropriate tank mates, diet, breeding, etc. You may not agree with everything Mr. Lang recommends, but if you’re going to buy a book as a beginner, this is the #1 book I would turn to. Highly recommend!

Axolotls, Mexican Salamanders as Pets - front cover

My Final Recommendation...

Before I finish this post, there is one final resource I would recommend: find a good exotic vet that treats axolotls. I think one of the major mistakes I made when previously owning axolotls was not having a veterinarian lined up for them when things started going south. An experienced vet can offer a lot of knowledge and is capable of doing things the typical hobbyist can’t – like taking x-rays, examining fecal samples under a microscope, injecting antibiotics, and so on. Lesson learned: I can’t state how important it is to find a vet for your axolotl before you even get one.

All-in-all, I feel like I’m much better equipped now with the wealth of resources I’ve collected and hopefully will have better luck with my next axolotl. If you want to learn more, check my articles on axolotl care. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you in the next article!


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Saturday, February 23, 2019

How to Prevent the Top 5 Worst Days in Fish Keeping!



Recently, there was a video challenge that went around where FishTubers were tagged to reveal their worst days in fish keeping. Find out how I ranked the top five worst aquarium disasters on YouTube and what was the most common mistake among them!

Who Had the Worst Aquarium Disaster?

Bentley Pascoe
Heidi's Fish Tank
Mike from 915Mang
Nathan from Simply Shrimps
Zenzo from Tazawa Tanks

Question of the Day

What was your worst day in fish keeping? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for practical fish care tips for busy aquarists and follow me on Instagram for more updates! ๐ŸŽฎ❤️๐ŸŸ