Ed Gercog has more than just an aquascaping pedigree, he has a thing for quality shrimps too. So it stands to reason that he'd eventually be making a business out of both. Nathan Hill explains more.
Walking into Eduard Gercog’s aquascape and shrimp boutique is an unusual experience for someone like me, more used to the buckets, bubbles and splashes of the hobby, for Ed has found his own niche and style, and a unique feel flows from both his retail premises and his aquascapes.
The founder of the company Freshwatershrimp, Ed is well known in aquascaping circuits, simply by his distinctive surname. A member of UKAPS, he entered his first design in the IAPLC aquascaping contest only last year and gained a more than respectable 150th place from the thousands of entries.
The largest of his current designs is a project for Danish planting company Tropica. Atop a cabinet of shocking white, and framed in brushed metal pipeworks, the tank cuts an imposing display when you enter the premises. Yet, on closer inspection, much of what sits inside it is incredibly basic — basic but beautifully used.
This 'untitled' tank may be decked out with Tropica plants, but the idea and concept remain Ed’s. He wanted a set-up based solely around Tropica’s 'easy plant' category, a range unchallenging for the newer aquascaper. Here, his emphasis was on natural looks from stems and leaves rather than prominent roots.
The tank, as we photographed it, had been in position for just five weeks and there’s still much more growing in to do. Even at this stage, though, it’s enough to make most home aquarists cringe with envy.
The plant selection is as simple as can be. There are two varieties of Anubias on show: petite and nana, Then there’s Bolbitis heudelotii, Microsorum sp. Trident, Ludwigia repens ‘rubin’, Eleocharis parvula sp. Mini, standard Java moss, and some of the richest Monoselenium tenerum around.
You’ll spot other favourites too, like the Vallisneria nana, Hottonia palustris, Lindernia rotundifolia, Hygrophila sp. rosenvig, and the three Cryptocoryne species: balansae, willisii and becketii.
He hasn’t drawn attention to garish fish either. As well as the one species of shrimp keeping algae growth negligible, there are Bentosi tetras, and a handful of bloodfins.
The livestock is subtle, but contrasts well against the ever-present green leaves. If prepared to sit long enough — and the comfortable environment certainly encourages you — you’ll eventually glance a few young Otocinclus on the make as well.
In the set-up
Ed’s unnamed aquascape is designed within a Natural Aquario 90cm/36" model aquarium, sat on an Elite cabinet. Illumination comes from Sun Lumen lighting, involving four 36w bulbs. He can raise or lower these lights according to the intensity needed.
Carbon dioxide is kept at 30mg/l and is supplied by a large pressurised CO2 bottle hooked up to a solenoid and gang valve. The gas from this also supplies the other tanks in the room.
Filtration comes in the form of an Eheim model 2076e, the hosing of which has been incorporated with an inline CO2 diffuser to supply the gas direct to inflow. The hosing melds with Natural Aquario steel piping to give a fresh, clean effect. Heating sits inline and hidden away too, with a single Hydor 300w inline heater providing warmth.
The substrate is a mixture of Tropica’s planting soil topped with Unipac’s Maui gravel to give the tank it’s light feel. Tropica ferts are also used, with Specialised fertilizer added at eight pumps, approximately 40ml, per day.
This tank marks the first time Ed used exclusively RO water, remineralised with Salty shrimp minerals, giving a TDS reading of around 160 to 180. This RO endeavour surprised Ed as he discovered just how much hungrier for fertilisers the tank became and the first stages of setting up involved trying to find the right amounts to use.
Another early issue was Cryptocoryne melt, though Ed puts this down to an unusual photoperiod at the time — some five hours daily with the lighting set very high above the tank.
The only other issue was an early incidence of diatomaceous algae which kicked in some ten days after set-up. Adding those reclusive Otocinclus soon had the desired effect and now not a spot of unwanted green is visible.
Ed has been a UKAPS follower since moving to the UK from his Lithuanian heritage. He touched down some four years back, witnessed an array of tanks from aquascaping’s founding father Takashi Amano online, and was immediately hooked.
He started with limited resources, and his first tank was pieced together on a budget of under £200. The aged, scratchy 60 x 30 x 30cm/2 x 1x 1’ glass one cost him just £10 on eBay and he flirted with devices like yeast-fuelled CO2 injectors. Needless to say the first efforts fell flat, teaching Ed much about the necessity of a quality gas supply and correct use of lighting along the way.
About a year after this initial dabbling Ed achieved his first successful aquascape and on his wall he keeps a memento poster of the first tank he entered in a contest. Of the 60 entrants he came about halfway, being told his design was too symmetrical. Such were the learning experiences.
He considers the most important aspect of successful aquascaping to be a good balance of CO2, lighting and fertilisers.
Essentially, he extols the virtues of not using too much light in the early stages of a tank’s life. He notes that many people up the intensity at the offset and without the relevant CO2 and food, not to mention settled plant growth, a tank can become a simmering time bomb of detracting algae growth.
Ed feels aquascapes need not be labour intensive and this untitled tank takes about an hour and a half of his time each month. Similar tanks have been left for up to six weeks between trims, during which he notes the emergence of flowers and formation of terrestrial leaves at the surface.
Provided light levels aren’t left to glow rampant he never experiences any troubles doing this.
Although the plants here are easy for the beginner, Ed knows his way around difficult plants too, but, like many enthusiasts, he also has his nemesis. In his case Glossostigma is the plant to fear and after many attempts he concedes he can never get it dense enough for his liking.
Ed advises any fledgling plant grower that it’s not worth trying to make the layout perfect from the start. Instead he advises the beginner to view it as a growing canvas, with the plants acting as slow spreading paint.
He also notes that aquascapers shouldn’t be scared to add more plants as they see fit, and as the tank slowly develops.
Ed’s a fish man too, keeping a tank full of Metriaclima at home, even if this tank was prompted at the behest of housemates who desperately wanted some fish.
It’s impossible to miss the fact that although Ed’s premises have a very contemporary layout, you’re actually visiting a store!
It’s immediately apparent that the site is based around shrimp and aquascape goods, and some may even recall these lines from the Aquatics Live venue in 2012 where Ed had a stand.
On show is a different approach to selling. There are no abundant tanks sprawling in all directions, rather a handful of immaculate and establishing aquascapes to provide inspiration. The planting stock is stored, for the best part, inside a fridge, at a controlled temperature and in a moist environment.
Other plants are grown out of sight, kept in a hydroponic type of system, bathed in nutrients and showered with intense light.
It’s not a property can you can just saunter in to, rather you need to make an appointment to browse through the lines. There are many pieces you won’t find sat in the high street — such as exotic aquascaping tools, and novel shrimp foods — but to get a real feel of what’s stocked you’ll need to visit here yourself.
The business side of Ed’s hobby has been active for just over 12 months and, further to earlier overhauls, is more than ready to receive visitors.
Ed excels at shrimp breeding and he’s committed much time and money to their care.
His shrimp room hides behind closed doors and represents the Mr Hyde to Ed’s Dr. Jekyl. If the boutique element of the visit is welcoming white, unblemished surfaces and immaculate aquascapes, then the shrimp room is the visual antithesis.
Scattered buckets and hoses litter the floor like some ad hoc game of snakes and ladders, tanks are stacked onto even more tanks and sagging vats of RO teeter perilously at the sides.
However, once accustomed to the diametrically-opposed feel of the room, you realise you’re in a shrimp facility of the highest order.
Every pane of glass is awash with crustaceans, from drab entry-level experiments to hand-picked prizewinners. Ed is quick to point out some of his prize broodstock, including some former Hanover champions for which he flew to Germany to collect personally.
Ed’s shrimp breeding venture involves more than 100 uniform tanks and they all feature active soils, especially for the Caridina species, I’m informed.
This soil, combined with the reverse osmosis water helps to provide the soft and acidic conditions required for both instigating breeding as well as rearing those delicate shrimplets.
Ed assures me that young shrimp are much easier to raise at lower pH values than higher.
All the tanks have the same method of filtration: a large foam ‘wall’ curved in one corner with a small powerhead within. These filters offer a huge surface area to volume ratio, giving little in the way of dangerous suction at the foam’s edge. That way tiny shrimps can avoid being pulled into the pump mechanisms.
All systems are unheated and Ed explains that the common failing among UK shrimp keepers is an insistence on putting them in tanks that are too hot. Many wild species are found in waters of just 18°C/64°F, and even in these tanks he tries to maintain a 20-22°C/68-72°F maximum.
At higher temperatures he notes that metabolism increases, not only shortening life spans but also increasing the pollutants in the water as higher feeding is required, which in turn generates more waste. Ed prefers a slower, leaner growth rather than rushing things.
Buy them small!
Another error Ed highlights is the purchase of stock when it’s too large. He says that many species here are short-lived and to buy a big bruiser of a shrimp is to invest in something near the end of its natural life. Instead, he advises going for shrimps around 1.5-2cm/0.6-0.8."
The foods used on this crustacean harvest tend to be mixed. Ed favours plenty of vegetation, especially leafy foods, with higher protein offerings only once or twice a week. A common theme is almond leaves acting as a grazing source in every aquarium.
Other staples, in the form of blanched spinach, nettles and even cucumber, all appear too.
Ed rears his copious young on a powdered mix of spinach, nettles, pollen, yeasts, walnut and almond leaves, even montmorillonite clay. Given the sheer volume of tiny feet in each tank, this combination clearly works well.
To get them in the right breeding mood, Ed adds a fabulous 'shrimp viagra' liquid to the tanks. This chemical simulates the pheromones released when female shrimps have moulted and are receptive to spawning.
I’m told there was a point over the winter when the shrimps stopped breeding altogether. Whether this was due to a decline in ambient temperature, or the shrimps sensed some additional seasonal circumstance isn’t clear.
The selection here is far more than you can take in over mere minutes and from tank to tank there are Crystal varieties in red and black, Sulawesi shrimps, Blue pearls, Red rili, Cherries and Sakuras, Tigers — including a striking orange eyed variant – Snow whites and even yellow or orange strains.
It doesn’t seem like work any more!
I asked Ed if he’s ever had any second thoughts about aquatic retailing. After a little thought, he hits me with a quote he’d picked up that sums up his sentiments:
"Once you turn your hobby into your job," he tells me, "you never need to work again." It’s evident that Ed loves what he’s got going. He’s got a great set-up, teeming with healthy stock, and a shop layout that’s as smart as any contemporary home. It’s something to be jealous of...
Visit and see for yourself
If you want to see the delights of this boutique, drop an email to [email protected].co.uk, or visit www.freshwatershrimp.co.uk for more details.