Goddard Plant-Balanced Aquarium

Startup cropped 2013 Jan +

The picture above is the startup of our 150 gallon plant-balanced aquarium. The actual beginning of this ecosystem was in May 2012 to establish the water before bringing in specimen from the neighboring 40 gallon quarantine tank that also served to grow and propagate plants in an experimental environment. As of 13 January 2013, the inhabitants of our tank are listed below. None of these fish are invasive species.

# Common Name Latin Name
6 Agizzizi dwarf cichlids Apistogramma agizzizi
8 Black Phantom Tetras Hyphessobrycon megalopterus
9 Neon Cardinal Tetras Paracheirodon axelrodi
12 Hatchet Fish Gasteropelecus sternicla
6 Honey Gouramis Trichogaster chuna
5 Mollies Poecilia sphenops
9 Otocinclus Otocinclus macrospilus
3 Bushy nosed Plecostomus Ancistrus (tribe)
6 Rams (Dwarf cichlids) Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
1 Red Tailed Black Shark Epalzeorhynchos bicolor

The configuration of this aquarium uses one canister Fluval G6 biological filter beneath the tank, an internal UV filter, two 200 W heaters, and three fluorescent bulbs. The basic specifications for the filtration and lighting devices are listed below.

Fluval G6

Filter Dimensions (L x W x H): 9.8″ x 9.8″ x 12.8″
Aquarium Capacity: 80-160gal.
Biological Volume: 1.05 gal.
Filter Circulation: 265 g/h
Wattage: 27W

Aquatop UV Sterilizing Pump

Flow Rate: 210 gallons per hour
Dimensions (HxWxD): 12″ x 3.3″ x 3.75″
UV Wattage: 13W
Pump Wattage: 8W

Light Fixtures

1 x Fluorescent T8 Tube: 32W, 6500 Kelvin
2 x Fluorescent SHO Bulbs: 105W, 6500 Kelvin

The light fixtures are positioned with the tube covering the back wall of the aquarium and the two SHO bulbs are centered in the left and right halves of the aquarium. The plants originally started in the 40 gallon tank had two 17W 6500 Kelvin T8 24″ fluorescent bulbs. After two weeks of researching plant growth, it appears to be four times as much cell production and propagation has actually commenced. More about this later.

Quarantine Tank – The Beginning

After moving the small tilapia out of the 40 gallon tank, I cleaned it up to convert it to a planted aquarium. Since tilapia are voracious consumer producing massive amounts of excrement, it was the ideal harvesting nutrients to supply to plants. Unfortunately, I was not focused sufficiently enough to make the right decisions and by slacking off on some purchases ended up with some problems that even the best fish cannot fix.

That is, I restarted the tank but did not replace the old 20W fluorescent bulb. After populating it with new plants, otocinclus, and bushy nosed plecostomus, there was little plant growth but a lot of cyanobacteria (black algae) that propagated and grew in grassy waves. I was also working with my CO2 filtration system at the time but still resulted in little plant growth while the algae persisted. This prompted me to research other solutions. When I read American Aquarium’s Fact and Information web page, I learned that the ideal light spectrum for freshwater plants (and saltwater reefs as well) is 6500 Kelvin and the higher the wattage, the better.

So, to fix my problems and move forward with growth and increased production, I installed a UV water sterilization filter, two 17W 6500K fluorescent bulbs, and kept working to get the CO2 to not exhaust itself in two weeks. At $17 for 5 gallon CO2 refills, that would be an expensive solution per month. By September, the aquarium looked like the picture below.

cropped test tank 27 sept resized

From this point on, the plants continued to grow at a slow but steady pace. I added a few additional species, like wisteria, another hygrophila , and another java fern variety (need specific name). Obviously, those closes to the source of the light grew the best.

After populating the 40 gallon with 6 Blue Ram, 14 Cardinals, 7 Mollies, 6 Honey Gouramis, and a Rubber Plecostomus, I treated the tank with a dose of Metronidazole twice. This treatment eradicates any protozoan and anaerobic bacterial diseases such as Cryptocaryon, Hexamita, and Ichthyophthirius.

Migrating to the 150

By the time November came around, the 150 gallon tank had been populated for several months with about 20 goldfish to balance the ecosystem biological system. After removing the goldfish and populating the aquarium with fish ordered online and purchased locally, I treated the tank with a dose of Metronidazole twice. We lost two Cardinals and one Otocinclus following this treatment. This caused me to pause before moving the last 10 Cardinals from the 40 gallon until the last 9 proved to be healthy. Cardinal tetra disease is not curable. I did not want to risk the first batch until the second batch survived at least a month with no deaths or disease.

I had installed all the substrate and sand was ready for plantings and put prop decor in different places to design the final layout. I wanted to make a terraced landscape and considered using netting to build up the layers but in the end I realized I really needed to use separate containers or the net terraces would erode into one flat layer. Future configurations will include jardinières to create terraces.

That then made it easier to plan the landscape using higher and lower growing specimens. I was able to create a planter for a slightly elevated terrace to house a sword plant or two using a “moon-rock” with deep pockets where I could plant a fertilizer tablet and fill with gravel. I had several fine pieces of driftwood that I’ve collected over the years and used in this tank previously for the Peacock Bass. The final floor-plan resulted as below.

Floor plan

With the front of the aquarium being the bottom of the picture, the back side is open where I’ve planted the tall bunch and cryptocornye specimens. In the front and throughout the small branch driftwood, I planted micro swords and low growing cryptocornye specimen. In the Moon-rock planter, I planted four Amazon sword plants.

Java Fern and Moss

On both of the larger driftwood pieces, I’ve secured several pieces of java fern to start their propagation. On the low long driftwood on the left side of the tank, the picture below shows the java fern nestled in the trough where it will grow larger and extend beyond the current cavity.

java fern

In the center of the tank between the large driftwood and the small pieces, one of the java fern specimen started growing roots under the leaves and a pup at the end of the leaf. I inserted that pup into the lower driftwood branches in hopes it will start populating the lower branches, as illustrated in the picture below.

java fern pup

In the picture above, you can see the curved java fern leaf bending against the driftwood. At the end of the leaf, there is a small pup starting to grow up out of the driftwood and all around it are roots growing from beneath the leaf.

In the large tall driftwood, I’ve secured a java fern variety with a deviated leaf structure in one of the openings where it is now propagating several new pups, like the one pictured below in the center of the photo.

java fern variety pup

You can also see half of a moss ball on the top left side of the picture that I’ve secured in the same piece of driftwood. All of these plants will grow out to cover the top of this piece of driftwood.

Work in Process

As of this publication, the remaining areas around the driftwood have been populated with different specimen to establish their roots to begin growth and propagation. Behind the large tall driftwood, the picture below shows two cryptocornye long spiraling plants with the rightmost’s pup just starting out of the sand. To the left of the cryptocornye are two echinodorus amazona, or Amazon Sword plants, that were more than what I had expected in my order for two plants.

Right end bottom

Then the bright colored plant behind the driftwood and cryptocornye are hygrophia wisteria that will fill out the void and provide a backdrop to the centerpiece specimen, cryptocornye wendtii.

Centerpiece Specimen

cryptocoryne large center

In this picture, you can see the large dark bronze cryptocornye wendtii surrounded on the left by hygrophila polysperma, which is a Florida invasive species I collected during an ECO-Action canoe cleanup trip. Since I use this plant as a “canary in the cave” specimen and specifically used it in this 150 aquarium during biological balancing because of the quantity and lack of care for its survival, I have learned why this plant is so invasive and detrimental to local wildlife by clogging up streams, eroding shorelines, trapping debris, and depleting oxygen.

If you look on the left side of the picture just below center, there is a fuzzy patch of roots. It is these roots that become a tight web to capture nutrients or other floating particles. This also acts as a sail when the plant becomes waterborne and free from the ground. Then as they grow into larger wads of plants, they start spreading apart until they find the next narrow stream to lock into place and block water-flow.

Then the flip-side of the roots is when they are growing in the substrate. This is where they spread unnoticed the most and will grow sideways to expand across the ground. After our final batch of plants arrive this week, I will remove the lower center piece hygrophila. Once the background plants have grown high enough for the honey gourami to manage their bubble nests (see picture below), I will remove the remaining hygrophila polysperma from this tank.

Honey gourami bubble nest

The Plant-Balanced Aquarium

Center Left

There are several types of balanced aquariums or eco-systems. In ours, I am attempting to balance the CO2 levels to maximize plant fertilization, in addition to the fish emulsion and excrement. In the long term, after the plants have fully propagated across the bottom and the fish have grown large enough to reproduce enough spawn to regenerate enough protein from their babies as food, this tank could possibly become a fully balanced food and plant aquarium. That is not my objective but because this is a natural environment, it has the potential of doing that without my assistance.

As of 13 January, the aquarium housed the following plants.

Not Applicable Cryptocoryne crispatula var. Balansae
Not Applicable Cryptocoryne retrospiralis
Not Applicable Cryptocoryne spiralis
Not Applicable Cryptocoryne wendtii, Bronze
Amazon Sword Echinodorus amazonicus
Not Applicable Hygrophila corymbosa
Not Applicable Hygrophila polysperma
Not Applicable Hygrophila wisteria
Java fern Microsorium pteropus
Java fern variety Microsorium pteropus, Windelov
Micro-Sword Lilaeopsis brasiliensis