31 December 2013

new setup

I've finally got my aquarium set up again and replanted. It's in a new location off the side of my kitchen- better for viewing the fish, closer to my water source, less foot traffic past it, and a few other reasons. This is an older aquarium and I really like the appearance of wood trim on the old wooden dresser (very sturdy, the furniture piece has a steel frame).
It's hard to get good photos because of the reflection in from windows. This will be an image-heavy post as I'm experimenting with the camera and lighting (window blinds open/shut, aquarium light on or off) to learn how to take better pictures. In general, I find the colors come out more true to life with the aquarium light off, but I get lots of glare and reflections unless it's on. It will be even harder to get nice photos of the future inhabitants, as they move!
As you can tell from these first few pictures, I've added a background (blue), a few more plants, and some driftwood pieces. The driftwood thing almost requires an entire post by itself, but I'll deal with it briefly here. I wanted driftwood to soften my water, lower the pH, and add a natural look. I'm pleased with the results so far, but it took a lot of preparation! I bought the wood from pet store, it's purported to be safe for use (no chemicals) but needed to be soaked. This helps release the tannins so it doesn't stain the water brown/yellow, also makes the wood sink. Boiling the wood releases the tannins faster. So over the past two weeks I've had large pots of water on my stove merrily simmering chunks of dead trees. I reluctantly cut the largest driftwood piece in half because it wouldn't fit in any container I had for soaking. The larger half still didn't fit in any pot, so for that piece I put it in one of my fish buckets, poured boiling hot water over, covered with a lid.
The goal is to get the water from being brown to clear, by frequently changing the water out until it's no longer stained. When I started this process, the water stained so dark you could hardly see the wood in there. It was still a bit tinted when I decided to be done with it, but if I'd gone on longer (weeks into months) could have probably got it perfectly clear.
I've had the wood in the tank for a day and half now, and it's not staining the water much so I'm satisfied.
Now the plants! My old and new plants alike seem to have survived the changes over the past week just fine, even spending four days in a bucket. They all have new roots growing, and most show signs of growing new leaves as well. Here are the Water Sprite
and Rotala, replanted. You can see this one has grown quite a bit!
I've got the Vallisneria all across the background, like before.
New plants include two Amazon Sword
and three Anubias (two varieties) which I've attached to the driftwood. One is tied down with thread, the other two simply wedged into crevices in the wood. There are little shoots of new baby leaves growing!
On the other side of the tank I have two specimens of Java Fern tied onto another driftwood piece.
If you look close, you can see new leaves unfurling like a fern fiddlehead.
Overall it looks rather spread out and sparse, but I hope again that the plants will fill in eventually. Here's a few more pictures, just because I enjoyed taking them!
Oh, and here's the Snaily. He doesn't seem perturbed at all by the move.
A note for myself on the lighting: I've cut the aquarium light hours down to 10, and shifted them later in the day. The new location gets plenty of ambient light during the day for viewing (and no direct sunlight a long as I keep the blinds partly closed around middday) so I'm going to have the lights on from 1 to 11pm and see how that works. It's a tricky balance- enough light for the plants to thrive, but no excess that algae can use. As far as I understand, when the plants grow bigger it won't be as much of a problem as they will use up nutrients and leave less for the algae. Plus I might get an algae-eating fish as well...

30 December 2013

a blue bin

I am making preparations for new "pets" so to speak- or maybe they should be referred to as livestock? My youngest, I'm sure, is going to name them all "Wormy Worm". I'm getting red wigglers!

This is their home:
It's made out of two plastic totes, eight or ten gallons capacity, don't remember exactly now. Not all parts are shown- There's another tote and lid to this setup. I followed directions like those found here. Basically, each tote has holes drilled on the bottom and around the top edge for aeration. One lid goes underneath to catch any drips, and it's raised on bricks for more air circulation. The other lid has holes in it, and will cover the bin. I'll also put a sheet of cardboard over the bedding, to keep moisture in. I've shredded newspaper into strips for the bedding (color is ok, as long as it's soy-based inks) but still have to soak and wring out the bedding, the day before the worms arrive. (The bin should be only about half full of bedding- I'll probably remove some of this and save it for later).

The second tote is used when it's time to harvest the compost. Supposed to place the second tote with new bedding and food, over the bare compost surface of the full tote. The worms will crawl up through the holes in the bottom of the new tote, to reach the food, and then you just remove the bottom tote full of compost, and put the new tote on the base to start over. Sounds easy enough!

I actually made this worm bin about six months ago, but then never got around to acquiring inhabitants. Now that my garden space is nonexistent, I didn't think much about composting but miss it in a way. Every time I throw food scraps in the trash it feels wasteful. So I decided to make a small bin that will hopefully generate just enough compost to feed my houseplants and little balcony garden. It doesn't quite fit under my kitchen sink, so is placed in a corner of the adjoining room near washing machine. I plan to put it outside in warmer months.

It pleases me that soon my small sphere of living things will be nearly full-circle. My kitchen waste will feed the worms, who will create rich food for my plants, and a few of the plants feed me (herbs, mostly). In a way there's even another part to this cycle, unexpected but welcomed. I regularly use the fish waste water for my plants, but now perhaps the plants will indirectly give a treat back to my fish! I tend to have a seasonal problem with fungus gnats that hatch out of commercial potting soil (more of an irritant than anything else). They like dampness and warmth. And are now attracted to the surface of the aquarium. There are not many gaps in the lid, but I've already seen a few floating in there, dead. And none bothering me! I'm glad of that. Soon there will be fish in there, and I'm guessing the drowning gnats will provide a little protein-rich snack for my fish!

27 December 2013

please don't ask

why it was necessary for me to do this, unless you want one big rant about all the things that have thwarted my aquarium setup. One more thing gone wrong today. Now I've got all my plants and snail in a bucket on a chair in the kitchen. With a mini heater and airstone running. For a day or two probably.
It does look kind of cool, a small underwater garden.
But I hope this doesn't last.
The good thing is that, well, I was almost ready to do a big water change anyways. And now I can remove the cyanobacteria and algae that are encroaching on my unstable water habitat. But this is really starting to get beyond frustrating. Blarg.

21 December 2013

hurt again

Flash has a new injury. This time I know exactly when it happened. I look at the fish closely every feeding time, and he was fine yesterday morning. Then I removed the visual barrier a few minutes before lifting the bowls down for cleaning, and the bettas at once darted around displaying at each other through the glass. I'm certain that Flash scraped himself against something in his bowl while dashing around, because now he has a small wound in the center of his right side, missing one scale. You can see it here where held in the baggie before I floated him back in his bowl. Just when the old wound (near the caudal fin) was beginning to heal up!
I don't think it's from the plant roots, they don't seem that sharp-edged to me, although he does push through them sometimes to reach food at the surface, I keep them thinned out and it never seems to hinder him. I think there must be a rough or sharp edge on his decor, the fake bridge he shelters under.

So I lifted his bowl down to the table
Elusive from the camera again ↓
took the bridge out, and smoothed all the edges with a nail file. It has texture to look like small bricks on it, lots of small edges. I've read that you ought to pull a piece of pantyhose across any decorations or fake plants, and if the pantyhose snags, the object could tear delicate fish fins.
To keep from stressing the fish too much, I left him in his bowl with the plant lid returned, just removed one cup of water so I could reach in to remove/replace the bridge without sloshing water over the top. He seemed quite curious to be in a new location, or to be close to me. The fish definitely recognize when a person approaches the bowl, they always swim up to the edge to look at you- and some say they can recognize their keeper.
I dosed his water with a quarter teaspoon of dissolved aquarium salts again, and will be more careful to avoid the excitement of seeing his neighbor for a good long while this time. Maybe permanently.

the good side of Flash:
his bad side (for now):

20 December 2013


A few weeks ago I cut my Cyclamen down to the soil level. Think it was a good decision- the new growth is much straighter. I am hopeful of more nutmeg-scented blooms in a few months!
Noticed that it appears there are six crowns growing in the planter, so I might divide it up come spring, or perhaps better after it's done flowering, at start of next growing season for this plant.

19 December 2013

cold and dim

I rearrange some of my plants with the change of seasons; my palms and avocado have to be kept from drafts near the large windows, for example. I move the little schefflera away from the window at night, and put cardboard sheets between other plants and the glass panes after dark, to protect from the chill. But they also suffer from lower light levels, and I forget sometimes what leggy plants look like in different species.

This is my pink rex Begonia Coleus, which has some nice new leaves, but it's awfully scrawny in growth habit, and the color just got vivid again when I moved it to a spot that gets more sunlight.
My nice large Aloe is suffering. I think partly from overwatering; I mistakenly thought the wilt was from not enough water. (They are not actually cacti but succulents so need more watering than a real cactus would). Looked up its symptoms and realized that the long, drooping leaves are also due to not enough light- the plant spreads itself out to get more sun on its surface area. So I've moved that one, too, where it gets direct light during the day.
The winter sun is weaker, thus the plants need more exposure in my little apartment.

10 December 2013


Spontaneously decided to trim my two smaller Geraniums. One I cut down the stems to promote branching, the other I cleared the lower foliage. Both have been spread with bits of eraser.
The "mother" Geranium plant is nice and full, I've left that one alone for the time.
(Outside Geraniums have died back).

09 December 2013


Good thing I looked closer at my Croton today, which I've been thinking looks gorgeous.
But there's small yellow spots on the leaves, and underneath small white and red dots- mites, ugh. I wiped it all down and will be keeping a close eye, it might need spraying. The smaller piece that had roots but no new leaves yet was in worse shape, so I threw that one out and cleaned its SIP container.
I have looked carefully at all the other plants in the house but find no more sign of mites.

08 December 2013

water plants

Messing with them again. The tall Rotala I thought the leaves were reddish as a color variation, but they have been getting paler and paler, looking positively anemic while the new, top leaves bright green. I wonder if the lower leaves are dying back from initial shock, or if not enough light reaches them? I stripped them off, pruned and replanted the tops hoping to promote more growth but if it's the light issue then I've probably killed them!
The water Wisteria and Val are looking very nice, on the other hand.
I took out the large fake coral piece. It looks very sparse now. I need more plants, and want to put in a piece of driftwood or bogwood to help lower the pH. Lots more to plan while I continue to wait for my cycle to finish...

07 December 2013


The kids have named him Snaily Snail
and are delighted that there's something alive in there to look for. It's hard to get a photo, because my camera doesn't want to focus on something small in the foreground. I'm still practicing with the settings on that. Took thirty shots to get this decent handful.
He seems to like hanging out under the bridge. Maybe the filter current is a bit strong for him.
My youngest is delighted that when he's crawling across the front of the glass, she can now easily see him without someone lifting her up.

06 December 2013

hidden fishies

You might think that in a bowl that's just a over a gallon the fish have no place to hide, but usually when I try to take a photo of Pinkie and Flash together I get this over and over:
It's so hard to get them in one shot! Takes lots of patience.
(Part of their hiding is just from the curve of the glass bowl- sometimes you can't see them for the bend. Also, I took these photos a few weeks ago, when Pinkie didn't have his skull decor yet, and Flash still had medicated water. His scratch seems to be healing- it looks smaller now).