Take inspiration from George Farmer's high-end shrimp tank to create an aquascape worthy of display.
When I was invited by the PFK team to see the new Sharnbrook Shrimp bricks and mortar premises based in Rushden, Northamptonshire, I jumped at the chance. I'd recently developed a keen interest in shrimp, especially as I was enjoying success breeding my own high-grade pure Red line shrimp, Caridina cantonensis sp.
The shop was impressive but was missing one vital element: a display aquascape. Shop owner, Lucas Witte-Vermeulen was already working closely with Tropical Marine Centre (TMC) which supplied the store's LED lighting. The logical step was to go for a TMC Signature aquarium and cabinet. I volunteered my services to aquascape the tank and joined forces with TMC, Tropica and the UK Aquatic Plant Society (UKAPS) forum and Facebook groups to have an open day with an aquascaping demonstration.
Pick of the plants
Lucas and I discussed what would make an ideal aquascape for shrimp. Plants imported from Asia were completely off the agenda due to their potential contamination with pesticides. Even the slightest trace of these chemicals will kill shrimp within minutes of exposure.
The obvious choice was to use Tropica's relatively new 1-2-Grow range of plants. The plants are grown in a laboratory under strictly controlled conditions that guarantee there are no snails, algae or pesticides. These plants are grown in plastic cups using a nutrient-rich agar jelly that requires rinsing off prior to planting. The root structure is very small so planting with small aquascaping tweezers is essential.
The Anubias and Trident ferns were also supplied by Tropica and grown in Denmark where pesticides are not used in the plants' production. Because we were using an external filter there is a potential that small shrimp can be sucked into the inlet. So, the simple solution was to use a mesh guard; these are now readily available from shrimp specialists. Lucas was keen to use a non-enriched soil, as enriched soils often cause an initial ammonia spike, and we were keen to stock shrimp early on with mature filter media.
Lucas had some excellent pieces of Redmoor wood to choose from, but there was one piece that fitted the 45 x 45 x 30cm/18 x 18 x 12” Signature tank perfectly. With its many thin twisty branches it added lots of interest and areas to easily attach the Anubias and ferns.
The wood was pre-soaked for the weeks leading up to the open day, ensuring that it would remain submerged after filling with water. The moss was tied onto the wood during the demo with fishing line with assistance from UKAPS co-founder, Dan Crawford. Plant choice was largely determined by Tropica's 1-2-Grow range, which actually suited my planting plans perfectly.
A mix of Eleocharis 'mini' and Lilaeopsis brasiliensis would make a great slow growing and low maintenance carpet in the foreground leading to a vibrant mix of Staurogyne repens and Alternanthera in the midground. Attaching to the wood various mosses such as Weeping, Flame and Christmas would add an instant sense of maturity especially in combination with the Anubias and ferns.
We wanted to use some high-grade shrimp to complement the aquascape and decided to avoid the usual red and white colouration associated with bee shrimpkeeping. After some discussion, we opted for a mix of Taiwan bee ‘panda’, ‘King Kong’ and ‘Blue Bolt’.
The shrimp were added after two days of allowing the aquarium to settle, with an already mature filter. Lucas always keeps his bee shrimp in RO water mixed with a remineralisation powder to achieve a TDS of around 200. In the first week 20% of the water was changed daily, followed by 20% every other day for the second week. Now around one third of the water is changed weekly.
With every water change Mosura BT9 bacteria is added and the shrimp are fed intermittently with Mosura Bio Plus.
Tank and cabinet: TMC Signature 45 x 45 x 30 cm/18 x 18 x 12", gloss white cabinet
Lighting: TMC GroBeam 1500 Ultima – seven hours photoperiod
CO2: TMC Expert CO2 set, one bubble per second
Substrate: 7.5 l Ebi Gold soil
Fertilisers: Tropica Specialised, two pumps per day
Water: RO, re-mineralised to 200 TDS, 21°C/70°F
How I set up my shrimpscape
1. I'm using a TMC Signature 45 x45 x 30cm/18 x 18 x 12” aquarium with gloss white cabinet. The glass is low iron, which gives greater clarity. The aquarium is open-topped, braceless and rimless meaning wood and plants are able to protrude and grow from the water surface. The 45cm/18” square footprint provides a great space for shrimp and aquascaping.
2. One and a half bags (7.5 l) of Ebi Gold Shrimp Soil are added. The soil is idea for Caridina cantonensis sp. shrimp as it buffers the pH and reduces hardness. It is not enriched with nutrients so if plants are used liquid fertiliser will be required. The grain size is 1-3mm making it idea for shrimp and plant roots. The black colour provides good contrast for the plants and shrimp colours.
3. One piece of Redmoor wood is added. This forms the backbone of the aquascape so it is essential to spend some time choosing the right piece. This wood floats unless it has been pre-soaked for a fortnight or so. Some wood will also produce minor fungal growth in the early weeks after set-up. This can easily be removed with an old toothbrush and siphoned away, and it rarely returns. Tropica 1-2-Grow mosses are tied onto various parts of the wood using fishing line.
4. Anubias 'Petite' and Microsorum 'Trident' are tied onto the wood. Consideration is given to where the ferns and Anubias are positioned, as they will grow and change the impression of the aquascape over time. They are slow growers making them low maintenance and will tolerate shade and low nutrient levels. It's important not the plant these into the substrate, but keep the rhizomes exposed to the water column.
5. Reverse osmosis water is added to the aquarium up to the top of the soil making planting easier. Tropica 1-2-Grow Eleocharis sp. “mini” and Lilaeopsis brasiliensis is planted in the foreground. Each pot is carefully divided into several portions. It is essential that the nutrient-rich jelly growth media that the plants sit in is completely rinsed off. This done simple by gently massaging the plant in a bowl or small bucket of tepid water. The mini hairgrass portions are then planted using aquascaping tweezers.
6. The remaining tissue-cultured plants are added to the midground and foreground. Staurogyne repens and Alternanthera 'mini' produce fresh green and red leaves respectively. Growth is relatively slow making them suitable for this dedicated shrimp set-up where constant pruning is not ideal. In the background 1-2-Grow Ammania “Bonsai” is planted. This stem plant grows vertically and slowly producing beautiful round leaves with a green-orange hue depending on the aquarium conditions i.e. lighting and nutrients.
7. Once the planting is complete reverse osmosis water is added slowly to prevent clouding. A colander is placed on the aquarium and plastic on top of the soil. This ensure the water is dissipated preventing any uprooting of plants that have very little anchorage due to their small root structures.
8. Once the aquarium has been filled the equipment is added. A TMC PowerFilter 200 is an external filter fitted with TMC AquaGro 16mm glass lily pipe inlet and outlet. A stainless steel mesh shrimp guard is fitted to the inlet to prevent the shrimp from getting sucked into the filter. A TMC Expert Set pressurised CO2 system is fitted, which consists of a pressurised cylinder, glass non-return valve, bubble counter and in-tank glass ceramic diffuser. The CO2 is set to 1 bubble per second. Lighting is a TMC GroBeam 1500 Ultima LED tile that is suspended 45cm/18” above the aquarium. Photoperiod is set to seven hours using a plug-in timer.