4 Important Tips for a Successful Aquascape - Part 1

4 Important Tips for a Successful Aquascape - Part 1

Video in Cantonese with Malay subtitle

As We all want a healthy and beautiful aquascape but unfortunately many of us stubble upon failure after failure. Let's face it, aquascape is not easy but the reward make it worth it. If you're having no luck with your aquascape even with all the necessary equipment with proper maintenance, here's some tips that might help you out.

Temperature

Each life is built to live in a certain temperature therefore if the temperature gets too cold or too warm, it will harm they won't survive. For instant a polar bear will never survive in a warm climate while a desert tortoise will die in a cold place. Ideally 23-26ºc is preferred by most aquascape plants. 27ºc is fine, 28ºc is some what of a scratch. 

So how do we achieve said temperature? As we all know here in Malaysia our temperature is constantly above 28ºc. Usually there's 2 options. The first option is by using a cooling fan. The cooling fan doesn't really reduce the temperature just like out ceiling fan is to blow away our body heat only. But in aquascape we use the fan to induce rapid water evaporation. When water evaporate temperature will drop. By encouraging rapid water evaporation we could further drop the water temperature of our aquarium. But such system can't be utilize in an aquarium with a close top as when the escape and return liquid reached equilibrium not more evaporation can occur. 

The second option is to use a water chiller. However, water chiller may not be suitable in a nano tank due to size and cost.

Lighting

 As we all know plant needs light. Without light they can't photosynthesis and without photosynthesis they can't produce food for them self. But not just any light is suitable for use in an aquascape aquarium. First thing your aquarium light should be supplying enough light for the plants for the photosynthesis process and that means bright light. Human eyes can't really tell the brightness of the light if it's not compare to others. That is because our eye's pupil constantly changing size to make sure we gets just enough light as possible to see well. 

But brightness is just not all there is. The type of wavelength of light also have to be right. Plants adsorb certain color / wavelength of light better then another. This was not a problem when fluorescent lights were use for aquarium lights. But as now is the age of LEDs, and getting proper wavelength lights for aquascape is becoming a problem. This is because unlike fluorescent light which produce a more even spectrum of light, a full spectrum LEDs light normally is lacking in certain wavelength while excel in others. 

What is spectrum and what is wavelength 

" You can skip this part if you're not interested as it doesn't really matter much for aquascape but if you're interested you can continue reading below: "

In short the white light that you see is full spectrum. It can be white with little bit of yellow or white with some what blue hue to it. The shift in color is just the color temperature different and what causes the change in in the temperature is the wavelength. Wavelength is individual color of light that made a full spectrum of light. Wavelength is measure by nanometer / nm. 380nm - 700nm is the wavelength of visible light to human. It shift from violet in the lower wavelength to blue, cyan, green, yellow, orange and red in the higher wavelength. 

The most effective wavelength to be use by plants to use for photosynthesis are 450nm, 600nm and 640nm or anywhere near it. Basically it's blue, orange red and red. As you can see green is not what they use and instead it's being reflected which is also why most leaves appear green. 

Most full spectrum LEDs contain high amount of green lights and somewhat lacking of blue or red wavelength depending if it's warm or cool daylight. Which mean if you're using full spectrum LEDs for your aquascape, you're throwing bunch of light that is not absorb by your plants. Algae that is not that particular with the wavelength will benefit of it causing slow growing plants and algae infestation. 

Algae and plants is constantly competing in an aquascape. The more robust algae will always have the advantage not to mention that most of the plants that is use in aquascape are actually terrestrial plants. Which is why we create the most ideal condition for the plants to over takes the algae. 

So, how can we tell which aquascape light is good which is not. Actually is very difficult to tell. You can measure the amount of light that is produce by the light that can be use for photosynthesis with a PAR (Photosynthesis Active Radiation) meter but they are expensive. Usually cost more then RM1000 a unit and it's not water resistant. And even with a unit that could produce high PAR value, the LED quality it self is hard to tell. A good quality one will last for 5 years while lower quality would reduce in brightness within a year of usage. A good quality LED that doesn't have a good heat control will also effect it lifespan. This pose a problem as human eyes can't really tell if their light have lost it's power or not unless being compare to a new one.

Light for aquascape

But even without a PAR meter there's a few methods that we can use to try a judge if the light is good or not:

PRICE
An expensive light doesn't mean it's good but a cheap one is definitely not good. In the time I'm writing this article, a good light should cost somewhat around RM300 for a 35L or smaller, RM500 for a 60L, RM1000 for a 150L and so on. 
WAVELENGTH
As mentioned, full spectrum LEDs doesn't emit proper wavelength for photosynthesis. Fortunately LEDs is able to produce certain wavelength only and therefore manufacturer will built a system that houses optimum photosynthesis radiation wavelength while adding full spectrum one to color correct the light. As such, having blue and red LEDs in a system would normally indicated a good light.
CO2  
A good light will feeds your plants with all the lights they needs for photosynthesis and plants uses CO2 for photosynthesis. Which mean if you're tank is using bunch of CO2, your light is doing the right thing. But of cause this means only if you have a proper nutrients in your aquarium as without proper nutrients the plants won't grow well and thus not doing much photosynthesis even with proper lighting. 
We highly recommend our NemoLight II 24W for nano tank or the NemoLight s72 for 60L and above with the height of less then 20". 

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide or CO2 is part of the macronutrients that is needed for plants to grow. CO2 is absorb during photosynthesis and carbon is extracted to convert to carbohydrates. Because most if not all of the plants we use in aquascape are actuallt terrestrial plants, they needs higher then normal CO2 saturation in water to survive. 

There are several products in market that claim to provide CO2 for aquatic plants such as liquid CO2 and CO2 tablet but unfortunately non of them work in an aquascape. The only 2 effective method of introducing enough CO2 for aquascape use are CO2 injection which slow releases CO2 gas store in a high pressure cylinder into a diffuser or create CO2 by feeding yeast with sugar and release them slowing in the aquarium. 

This is because we actually needs to maintain a 20-35mg/l of CO2 saturation in water in order for aquascape plants to be able to make use of them. To do this we needs to slowly and constantly diffuse the gas in the aquarium. This is because over saturated gas will naturally release back in to air which is why we needs to constantly saturate the water with CO2. 

So how do we know if we have the proper CO2 saturation in the aquarium? We can use a drop checker or a CO2 tester. A drop checker will collect and read the pH of gas that is release from the water and since CO2 is acidic it is able to interpret if you have enough CO2 in your aquarium. CO2 tester will measure the amount of CO2 that is in your water and gives you a proper value of dissolved CO2. The advantage of a drop checker is that once it's setup in your tank it will constantly tell you if you have enough CO2 in your tank for several months but the downside is that it can't give you an exact value of CO2. A tester advantage is that it can give you proper reading of dissolve CO2 in mg/l but the downside is that you have to collect sample water each time you want to know the value. Normally I use both. A drop checker to monitor it while a tester once a month to check just incase. 

As part of Macronutrients for aquatic plants it is VERY important to maintain it in a proper value in order to have a successful aquascape. Which is why the next part of this article that will be available soon will be dedicated to micro and macro nutrients and majority of it is about macronutrients.