George Farmer re-uses an existing rock layout to create an even more impressive aquascape with some state-of-the-art equipment.
It’s a shame to break down an aquascape when you’re really happy with the design. Even after many set-ups I have created and stripped for similar step-by-step features, it can still pain me to do so.
The rock-based iwagumi featured in PFK in 2010 was one of my strongest and, rather that destroy it, I used the opportunity to try out some creative plant re-arrangement — a technique known in Japan as Sozo Haishoku.
The principle is to keep the same rocks, but rearrange and replace the plants. By also changing the background and fish it’s possible to create a completely different look without the effort and expense of changing décor.
The original design (pictured above) was minimal, with just Eleocharis acicularis (Hairgrass) dotted around the rocks.
I wanted to retain some, as it’s an excellent choice in a small aquarium, being easy to grow and maintain. Sprigs poking up between rocks look really natural. I re-planted plenty of spare from the rear of the tank to along the sides.
Mixed with it I planted some donated Echinodorus tennelus to give added texture.
Towards the centre I planted a mix of crypts taken from my other planted aquariums — including C. wendtii ‘green’, C. wendtii ‘brown’, C. parva and C. willisii. The broader leaves and different colours add further interest.
Small portions of the new Hygrophila pinnatifida were added to the foreground. Among the crypts some Microsorum pteropus ‘needle’ was attached to the rocks. This is slow growing, along with the crypts, and complements their leaf shape.
A background plant was needed to achieve a different look. A stem was the obvious choice, so I tried Rotala sp. ‘green’, again donated. This was intended to grow up, forward, and drape across the rocks. Unfortunately it grew straight up.
I therefore replaced it with Ludwigia arcuata and hoped for the orange/red effect it can produce. The colour transition was not to happen, but the plant still looks great when green.
Some Hydrocotyle sp. ‘Japan’ was added to the foreground edges. This is new to the UK and has lots of potential.
When I saw PFK editor Jeremy Gay’s super shallow rimless planted tank lit with the TMC 1000ND LED tiles I wanted to try them for myself. He successfully grew a carpet of Glossostigma in weeks, so I was confident I wouldn’t have any issues either.
I hadn’t used suspended lighting before and was thankful that the joists in my kitchen ceiling were positioned appropriately above the aquarium. The units looked great— perfectly suiting the effect I strived for.
Maintenance is so much simpler without having to tilt a luminaire or remove a hood.
I swapped the filter outlet lily pipe for a ‘poppy’ type that deliberately agitates the surface. This, combined with the point source effect of the LEDs, produces brilliant glitter lines.
CO2 consumption is slightly higher due to the agitation, but the trade-off is worth it. Due to the high PAR produced by the LED units I was concerned about having too much light, potentially resulting in an algae bloom.
The LEDs are adjustable from 0 to 100% in 1% increments, so by measuring the lighting with a PAR meter I could find out what height above the water and what power I needed to set. A level of 30μmol at the substrate is enough light to grow all the plants in my aquarium, which equated to 65% output with the units suspended 30cm/12” from the surface.
I set the photoperiod to seven hours with a ten-minute ramp up and down at each end to avoid startling the fish. Controller units remember all the settings and time, even after power has been disconnected for some time.
The colour rendition of the LEDs is less saturated and vibrant than some T5 fluorescents, but the glitter lines and natural appearance more than compensate. I also like the fact that there’s relatively little light spill compared with something like a metal halide, so there’s less glare and algae build-up on the glass.
In the cabinet
The 60cm/24” cabinet is packed with technology. Not only are there LED controllers but I’m now using a Fluval G6. This is the easiest to maintain filter I’ve used and I’ve only had to clean the main biological media once in six months.
I clean the mechanical pre-filter every week to ensure flow rate is maximised — a job that takes seconds and I don’t need to turn off the filter. The conductivity meter has also proved useful as I know that the mini landscape rock considerably increases water hardness.
Over a seven-day period it will rise from 750μS after a large water change to almost 900. The CO2 unit consists of a 2kg fire extinguisher, solenoid, bubble counter and Boyu inline gas diffuser. There’s also a Hydor external inline heater.
All this kit in the cabinet means there’s none in the aquarium and only the glass lily pipe inlet and outlets are displayed, resulting in minimal impact on the aquascape.
I’m also using new fertilisers from Aqua Rebel in Germany. Its most interesting product is called Spezial-N, containing lots of different nitrogen compounds and over the last three months the results have been impressive.
Time to replant and refresh
1. Getting things moving
The original aquascape is due an overhaul. Rather than replacing the rocks and substrate, they’re kept in place and the plants, fish and background are changed.
2. Goodbye to the hairgrass
The hairgrass is removed from the rear and sides. Pulling it up tends to bring it all up at once, due to tangled roots. The plants are either saved for re-planting later or sent to colleagues.
3. Hello to the crypts!
The crypts are planted in between the rocks in the midground. These were removed from my other two planted tanks at home. All the plants in the new aquascape are from existing planted tanks.
4. Final touches are under way
More hairgrass and some stem plants are to be added. Soon lighting is changed to LED and a new filter added. The Neon tetras are added to another planted tank, and replaced by Pretty tetras.
What plants are in there?
Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘green’
Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘brown’
Microsorum pteropus ‘needle’
Hydrocotyle sp. ‘Japan’
Common name: Pretty tetra
Scientific name: Hemigrammus pulcher
Origin: Upper Amazon Basin
Water: pH 5 to 7, preferably soft, temperature 22-28°C/72-82°F
Notes: This lovely tetra is often kept in community tanks, but to do it justice needs to be kept in large shoals. A heavily planted tank with lots of cover and a good diet will promote good colours.
Price: Around £2 each
Clean your rocks
After time, algae will cover your rocks. Some will find them desirable, as they provide grazing for some fish and inverts. If you want clean rocks here’s what to do:
- Turn off your filter and remove a third of the aquarium water.
- Using an old toothbrush or metal-wired brush for more stubborn algae, scrub the rocks until clean.
- Remove another third of the aquarium water.
- Top up with fresh dechlorinated water, ensuring it’s the right temperature.
- Turn on filter
- Nerite snails are effective algae eaters and should help to keep your rocks clean. However, they can lay hard to remove eggs, so consider this before purchase.
Are you sick of Iwagumi?
Iwagumi aquascapes are still very popular — I think for a couple of reasons. Some enthusiasts love them for their simplicity. They can add a few rocks, one or two species of plants and have an easy aquascape.
However, perhaps these are not the most fish-friendly of aquariums. Usually there’s little plant cover, few hiding spaces and bright lights.
Why not try something different?
Add tall plants to the background to provide some security. Floating plants could even be used. As the rocks become more hidden by the plants, the aquascape softens and looks even more natural. Attach some moss or ferns to the rocks too.
The more plants there are, the more oxygen is produced and the more efficient the nutrient removal and algae prevention.
Daily: Feed fish, add fertilisers, check filter function, check CO2 bubble rate
Weekly: 50% water change, prune plants, clean aquarium glass, clean pre-filter
Monthly: Clean rocks and remove excess plants from substrate
Cost at a glance
Tank and cabinet: 60 x 30 x 36cm/ 24 x 12 x 14” Optiwhite, custom cabinet – £300
Lighting: Two TMC GroBeam 1000ND LED tiles with controllers – £500
Filter: Fluval G6 – £350
Heater: External inline – £30
CO2: 2Kg pressurised with solenoid and inline diffuser – £150
Substrate: Unipac Maui Sand – £15
Fertilisers: Aqua Rebel Flowgrow and Spezial-N – £20
Fish: 12 Pretty tetras, £20
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