Getting To The Roots

There's a huge amount of interest in freshwater planted aquaria at the moment. We begin a new series in the January issue of Practical Fishkeeping looking at all aspects of planted tanks, and the author has some interesting and radical suggestions for setting up planted aquaria without necessarily using the full range of equipment - CO2 gas, heating cables, and dedicated lighting...

Our own planted project tank in the PFK office very quickly used up its first canister of CO2, but in the busy atmosphere of magazine production we forgot to get a new canister. To tell the truth we thought the control system on the unit was so poor that we'd forever be replacing the gas supply anyway. So we experimented without it.

The tank was set-up with proper planting substrates, reasonable but not great lighting, under substrate heating, a small internal filter, a heater and a nitrate removing device.

We used plain tap water at around pH6.8, and the tank is decorated with "controversial" Ocean Rock. This, despite the sarcastic mail we keep getting telling us otherwise, is inert. To get this type of "Ocean" rock you must buy from Trilcot - we can't guarantee that other won't harden your tank water.

The tank holds a selection of basic plants - mostly known to do well in most aquaria - and they are thriving - as are the fish. We're always told that filtration shouldn't be too powerful in a planted tank, and it's often suggested that only a few fish should be stocked.

Shortly after we set-up the tank we "inherited" a job lot of fish from another tank. There were eight Schuberti barbs, three Black widows, a Red finned black shark, three Corydoras, a Gold three-spot gourami, and usefully, an algae-eating Flying fox.

The shark should be territorial to the fox but the line of sight is so often shut off by plants and decor that skirmishes are few and short. We've lost a single barb in three months, and most of our original stock of guppies is still in the tank - the others are now in the freshwater plenum set up mentioned elsewhere on this site.

Our only real problem has been the "non-powerful" filter which clogs very quickly (the fish are especially ravenous in this tank and the extra food is probably the problem). The particular make we used - a Rena - has a relatively fine foam, and we must clean it more often - the plastic inner support collapses under the strain. Must be a good powerhead/pump on the top mustn't it to suck so hard against the pressure?

You'll have gathered from all this that the tank is thriving - so much so that we have both pruned the plants and passed them on to other tanks. No question that the tank could be improved and that the addition of more CO2 and more lighting could produce even better results. The famous algae-eating shrimps - if we could get any - would help with the small amounts of algae that have appeared here and there.

But to our minds the success of the tank more than justifies the amount of extra equipment (compared to an 'ordinary' tropical tank) to grow plants properly. It seems, and I know our new contributor agrees, that if you must do without anything it's the CO2. Of course the real test comes when you try to grow the more difficult plants. Perhaps that's our next challenge.

© Steve Windsor. May not be reproduced in part, or whole, without permission.