We take a look at the lovely planted aquarium of Andy Hart, which has proved to be so successful, he's already planning his next!
This looks excellent, particularly for a first planted aquascape. What research did you do and what was your biggest source of inspiration?
I spent three months designing and understanding the equipment before a single thing went into the tank. My main challenge was fitting it in limited space and ensuring that all of it was hidden, and didn’t ‘invade’ the kitchen too much.
I then spent ages looking at aquascape websites and books. My goal was to create something natural looking and to scale, with all plants growing among each other.
I was advised to plan beforehand, so started sketching ideas and layouts. I then moved onto a tray of gravel and rocks, and worked out their best positioning. It helped me plan the scape and identify the right plants for the front, mid and rear.
You come from a family of fishkeepers. What do they think to your tank and have they considered creating their own?
My dad and brother are fish mad. Dad has had everything you could think of in his fish house, including cichlids, Discus, an indoor Koi pond and many catfish. My brother keeps marine and also a huge freshwater 'nasties' tank with stingrays and arowana.
Both instantly liked my planted tank, and dad has now set up two of his own. I think my brother will slowly cave in and be convinced that he needs a planted tank too.
What surprised us was the level of planning, technology and science that goes into creating an aquascape. Dad and I have experienced a steep learning curve, despite thinking it would be easy.
We recently attended a seminar where we saw planted tanks created from scratch and the experience has proved invaluable.
The tank is in your kitchen. Has this presented any problems?
Yes! Planning was vital as the tank was being located in a corner on a worktop and this presented several challenges — not least making it and all the equipment fit.
The next problem was hiding all the equipment, and this involved drilling a hole in my kitchen worktop to run all the pipes and cable to the cupboard below.
We tend to spend lots of time in the kitchen so the tank is often a focal point. Water changes are a dream as the sink is only half a metre away. However, the tank is only 28cm/11” deep and this has limited my plant selection as cupboards are just above.
You have used the relatively rare Dragon stone. What made you decide to do so and does it influence water chemistry?
I saw some in a shop and instantly took a shine to it. The rock is full of holes and cracks, which is ideal for plants and mosses to grow in. It can also be easily modified with a hammer.
However, give pieces a good wash first as mine were full of clay and mud, and, once washed, revealed much more detail/holes. Based on my research and experience this rock doesn’t affect water chemistry. It appears inert.
What do you regard as the most important lessons when setting up and maintaining a planted tank?
Understanding the roles of light, CO2 and nutrients. When I started I put in too much light and not enough CO2. This, combined with a few other issues, including lack of flow and generated algae problems, took a couple of weeks to get under control.
I spent time working out what caused this and how to prevent it happening again. So read and understand the basics before you start.
This aquascape is more than nine weeks old now, I think the key factors to its success are two to three water changes per week, combined with good flow and CO2 and daily dosing of the fertilisers.
I have also spent time creating stability and balance, and making sure that, where possible, control of lights and CO2 is automated — and try not to interfere with it.
How often do you maintain the tank, what do you do, and how long does it take?
I daily dose with the ADA Brighty K and STEP1 fertiliser. I also remove/prune any dead or decaying leaves.
I typically do a minimum of two 50% water changes per week and clean the external filter once a month. My filter turns over the tank volume ten times an per hour.
In total I probably spend some four or five hours a week on tank maintenance, which I thoroughly enjoy!
Your fish selection is interesting. What made you choose those particular species?
I believe selection is key and the fish must be to scale, hence my choice of Emerald Eye rasbora and Boraras maculatus, both of which shoal excellently and stay nice and small.
The Otos and shrimps comprise my clean-up crew and they graze constantly.
Then there’s my favourite — the Stiphodon sp. These are stunning freshwater gobies and fairly rare in the UK. They are great algae eaters, so are at home in the planted tank.
Although this is a planted tank I still love keeping fish.
What other set-ups have you run? What’s been your favourite and why?
I have had lots of different set-ups and fish. These have included many community tanks, specialist catfish tanks and a marine tank.
That marine set-up was a favourite. It was so spectacular, mainly because of the variety of beautiful fish — especially the Achilles tang and colourful corals. However, I am now hooked on planted tanks. I like the detail that goes into these tanks, combined with the lush green plants I can choose.
I get more comments about my kitchen tank than any other I have set up and I’m already planning my next.
How much did your set-up cost?
I already had a lot of the equipment, but the entire set-up would, from scratch, cost just over £700 — the CO2 and the OptiWhite tank being the most expensive parts.
Name: Andy Hart.
Years of experience: Twenty years of fishkeeping, but this is my first planted tank.
Occupation: Sales manager.
Number of tanks: Three.
Favourite fish/inverts: Marine, Red-toothed trigger/Crystal Red shrimp.
Favourite plant: Hydrocotyle verticillata.
Pet hate: When shops don’t know about the fish they have in stock.
Size: Custom-built OptiWhite tank 60 x 33 x 27cm/24 x 13 x 11”.
Volume: 53l/11.7 gal
Fish: Emerald eye rasbora, Boraras maculatus, Otocinclus, Stiphodon sp., Neocaridina heteropoda (Red Cherry shrimp) and Caridina cantonensis (Crystal Red shrimp).
Plants: Cryptocoryne parva, Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’, Echinodorus tenellus, Staurogyne sp., Rotala rotundifolia, Hydrocotyle verticillata, Vesicularia dubyana ‘Christmas Moss’ and Fissidens.
Hardscape: Dragon stone
Filtration: Eheim 2324 (750 lph) external filter with built-in heater and a Hydor Koralia Nano powerhead (900 lph).
Lighting: Arcadia luminaire four 24w T5HO (two tubes eight hours a day, one hour peak with all four).
Substrate: ADA Power Sand, ADA Aquasoil Amazonia, ADA Sarawak Sand.
CO2 and fertilisers: CO2, JBL pressurised system with solenoid/timer, using ceramic glass diffuser and bubble counter.
Fertilisers: Dosed daily with ADA Brighty K, ADA Green Brighty STEP1 and Easycarbo.
Background: Bonded black background.
This item first appeared in the January 2010 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.