The name Kris Oddy may not be one that aquascapers immediately recognise — yet. The amazing talent of this self-taught ’scaper has gone undiscovered, until now...
WORDS: NATHAN HILL
Meet the aquarist
Name: Kris Oddy.
Years keeping fish: On and off for ten years.
Number of tanks: I’ve lost count but there have been a lot!
Favourite fish: I’d probably go with Koi — they’re graceful and always bring a smile to my face. In an aquarium setting, I’ve always loved the Ram cichlid.
Most ever spent on a fish: £200 on a Koi.
Of all the fishkeeping cliques, aquascaping is the one most usually associated with fish tank celebrities. Prizes like those in the International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest, and the associated exposure of a win, put ’scapers the closest to the public eye.
What I never expect from the ’scaping world is an unknown name to come out of nowhere with a magnificent tank, but that’s what happened. When Kris Oddy appeared on the PFK Facebook page posting pictures of his layout, I instantly sent feelers out. Nobody in my circles had heard of him.
Kris is an aquascape privateer, unaffiliated with any clubs or groups. He’s never entered a contest, and has taught himself how to make a great tank without outside influence.
It goes without saying that I had to pin him down for a chat about his magnificent layout. Here’s what we discussed...
The aquarium hardware
NH: What can you tell me about the tank and cabinet?
KO: It’s a custom-made, 80 x 35 x 40cm/31.5 x 14 x 16in Optiwhite tank. It was designed to fit a particular space in my dining room, and I wanted it made with low-iron glass for the best possible viewing.
My brother, Laurence, who is a professional carpenter, made the cabinet. He based the core design on the ADA cabinet for the 90P model, but I asked him to change a few things.
This tank was set up on January 19, 2015. At time of photography, it had been running almost a year.
NH: Is this your first stab at aquascaping?
KO: This is my second aquascape, or high-tech nature aquarium. But throughout my time keeping fish I’ve owned discus tanks, Malawi and Tanganyikan set-ups, and a vast number of low-tech community planted tanks.
NH: How would you describe the tank?
KO: I would describe it as a therapeutic living picture. It’s amazing to sit in the dining room to eat and have such a nice entity to look at.
NH: What filtration do you use?
KO: It’s a cheap Aqua Pro external canister. I went for the largest model they made with a UV included.
NH: Do you use glass inlet and outlet pipes?
KO: I do, and I have to clean them every 3–4 weeks, but with the right tools you can do this very easily. I wash them with warm water first, and then just I soak them in a hydrogen peroxide 3% solution that gets everything off. Handling hydrogen peroxide isn’t to everyone’s liking though, it’s a bit controversial. (Feature ed’s note: Hydrogen peroxide is a powerful bleaching agent that does indeed need careful handling!)
NH: What lights are used?
KO: Lighting was supplied by maxigrow.com. The unit here is the PL 2 propagation grow light, which is a compact fluorescent light using two 55W daylight tubes.
I used to do lighting bursts and try and recreate something close to nature, but in reality I’ve found it works better to keep things simple. I use a set start and finish time and with this tank it took a while to get it just right. Now I have the lights on for just over seven hours constantly.
NH: How do you keep the heater concealed?
KO: I have an external Hydor heater hidden in my cabinet — it works flawlessly.
NH: What substrate and hardscape do you have?
KO: I have used the full ADA substrate system including all additives (ADA Bacter, Clear Super, Tourmaline BC, and Multi Bottom) for this one. The Aquasoil is a mixture of the Amazonia regular and powder types. Driftwood and Dragon stone make up the hardscape.
NH: Is there a reason behind the soil fertilisers?
KO: I wanted to see if it really worked as well as claimed. I’d seen multiple videos showing the power of the ADA system, so I called up James Findlay at The Green Machine to discuss the ADA products and ask his opinion. He spoke very highly of them and after seeing some of his own impressive aquascapes, I wasn’t inclined to disagree with him.
NH: What other fertilisers do you use?
KO: I’ve stuck to ADA ferts. I use Green Brighty step 1 and 2 along with Brighty K. I dose as recommended and it works amazingly — it’s super easy to use too.
NH: How do you inject your carbon dioxide?
KO: It’s all about finding the balance for your own, individual aquarium. I use a fire extinguisher as my source, with a CO2Art Complete Aquarium system (solenoid and regulator) feeding into an in-tank glass diffuser. I use a bubble counter to check dose rate, and currently it’s running at about three bubbles per second. I have a drop checker (a constant, blue-bromo device to measure dissolved CO2 content) too, which comes in handy.
Carbon dioxide dosing starts about an hour before the lights come on and finishes about an hour before the lights go out. This helps the plants adjust and avoids huge fluctuations.
NH: What water parameters do you maintain?
KO: The pH is 6.8, ammonia 0ppm, nitrite 0ppm, nitrate 40ppm.
NH: Do you use RO water or tap?
KO: I use a mixture of both hot and cold tapwater. The ADA Brighty K also helps to neutralise chlorine.
NH: What maintenance do you need to do? Is there a daily, weekly or monthly routine? How long does it take you?
KO: I do a weekly 50% water change and I trim the plants at least once every eight weeks. My weekly routine starts on Friday morning when I clean the inside of the glass and then syphon out 50%. I try not to take any shrimps if I’m cleaning the HC (but it happens). I then refill with fresh water, add the ferts and clean out the skimmer. It takes around 45 minutes on a good day.
NH: What gear do you use on the plants?
KO: I use straight scissors and long tweezers for trimming and replanting.
NH: What have you learned while putting together this set-up?
KO: That if you put in the time and effort, you get good results. But it is hard work.
NH: Do you have any other tanks in the pipeline?
KO: My dream tank would be huge, like Amano’s personal tank he owned in Japan. I am going to take this one down and set up a new one soon. I intend to use some sand for visual effect, along with Aquasoil. It’s going to be amazing!
NH: What plants have you currently got?
KO: Inside the tank there is: Microsorum sp. ‘Trident’, Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’, Anubias nana, Staurogyne repens, Java moss and Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Brown’.
Outside the tank I have two different types of orchid, anchored with zip ties to the wood that juts out from the water, and terrestrial moss taken from the waterfall on my garden pond. The moss is wrapped around the root system of the orchids, but it also slightly touches the water surface, so a capillary motion means that it takes water and feeds the orchids. And it looks great.
NH: Which have been the most and least successful plants?
KO: The most successful was the Hemianthus, but that could be because I’ve grown it in the past and I know what I’m doing with it. The least successful to get going was the Microsorum sp. ‘Trident’, although I believe this was down to the balance of the tank not being right. I don’t think it could handle the tank establishing, and I had to remove lots of it at first.
NH: What inspired you to put the orchid and bromeliad on the wood?
KO: Actually they are both orchids! (Feature ed’s note: That’s me told!) I can see why you’d think one was a bromeliad, as the leaves are very similar. Maybe I’ll try that out, too. I was inspired to try orchids on the wood by my father-in-law, Tony, who is from Venezuela. I’ve visited his home there a number of times and I’m always super impressed with his amazing garden, and his plant growing skills. He has orchids everywhere, all anchored to trees and branches. I saw a lot of this over there and it soon dawned on me that this is how they grow in the wild.
NH: Do you draw inspiration from any particular aquascapers?
KO: I’d have to say yes. I’d also like to dedicate this aquascape to the man himself — Takashi Amano.
I’ve seen a lot of beautiful nature aquariums in my time, all created by a number of great aquascapers. There are way too many to name here.
I’d always kept tropical fish, but one day when I didn’t have a tank set up, I went to a friend’s house and saw his amazing aquascape. I’d never seen plants as healthy before, nor had I heard of using CO2 for plant growth, or even specialist substrates like Aquasoil. I asked my friend how he did it and if he’d seen others doing this. He pulled out his phone, opened up Google and typed in Takashi Amano. We talked about aquascaping for a long time, and after a while of watching Amano videos on YouTube, I was desperate to try a set-up of my own.
NH: How do the terrestrial plants do in this set-up?
KO: They do great, though I’ve had to be careful with placement. For example, I couldn’t put an orchid directly under the lighting because it’s just too intense; it would kill it really quickly. Orchids like light, but not direct light, so I place them away from the centre and they seem to do well.
NH: What advice would you give to somebody planning on a tank like this?
KO: I’d say before doing something like this try something a little smaller first, like a nano tank. Don’t spend loads of money on your first aquascape, try it on a smaller scale.
If you have already have aquascaping experience and would like to take it to the next level, then take as much time as you can planning in advance and thinking about what you want the set-up to look like. Research as much as you can.
Once you’ve decided on the plants you want, consider their lighting, CO2 and nutritional needs. Remember that not all plants like the same conditions.
Think about the hardscape you want and how it will work with your plant choices. I’d recommend going for a low maintenance set-up, avoiding plants like Hemianthius unless you really know what you are doing. Be patient as it really takes a while to find the right balance.
Get a note pad and write down everything you do, including the results of all of your water tests. If you keep a log of what you are doing and what is happening, then you can always look back and understand more about your aquarium from any time period. Moreover, you may pick up some insights of how to fix any problems you encounter.
But, most importantly, have fun doing it.
NH: If you could start again, what would you do differently?
KO: I would add the Microsorum sp. ‘Trident’ much later than I did, at around maybe three months in.
NH: What fish species do you have?
KO: I love to utilise fish in the nature aquarium in a role they’ve evolved to suit. And of course, I like them to bring some colour and movement to the tank.
I think the choice of fish can really affect the appearance and mood of an aquascape, and help bring the original concept to fruition. I originally started this ’scape with Serpae tetra as the main schooling fish but unfortunately they can be very nippy and they just didn’t work out. Even though they looked amazing, they had to go.
Currently the tank houses Cardinal tetra, Flying fox, Pygmy corys, Otocinclus, Rams, King tiger plec L66 (a species that doesn’t eat plants), as well as Amano shrimp, Rock shrimp and Cherry shrimp.
NH: Has there been any spawning?
KO: The Cardinal tetra spawned once, but it was eaten up very quickly. I think I accidentally triggered it as it happened soon after I poured a couple of litres of cooler water into the tank.
The Rams have had a few attempts, but no fry as of yet. The Cherry shrimp have gone crazy in there and I’m convinced they have crossed with the Rock shrimp.
The Amano shrimp are always spitting out eggs but because of their life cycle it could never happen in fresh water.
I attempted to raise Amano shrimp once. I got all the way to adding the saltwater to a separate breeding tank and feeding it with the phytoplankton, but in the event I ended up syphoning the shrimplets out by mistake. I didn’t try again after that.
NH: What food do the fish get?
KO: I feed the fish a variety for a balanced diet, which keeps them healthy and looking their best. I feed New Life Spectrum discus formula (crushed up), Tetra Pro Colour and a spirulina flake. And from time to time I also chuck in some blanched courgette or spinach leaves.
NH: Have you ever had any problems with carbon dioxide and fish?
KO: In the past I’ve run it too high and all my fish were at the water surface trying to get oxygen. That’s why I think a drop checker helps — it allows you to make sure you don’t overdo it for the fish. That’s why I have one, anyway.