What Time Is It?!?

Can you believe how pretty 6AM can look?As I start this post, it’s 0635AM, also known as, literally, 0-dark-thirty. (I took this picture through a window, so no, we aren’t on a planet with three moons, but it’s too cold to go outside).

I’ve already fed Ainsley, unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen, washed and folded three loads of laundry, started working on a project for work, and, yes, all of this was made possible by my first task: I made a pot of coffee.

It doesn’t hurt that I went to bed at ten. On a Friday! In years past that would have meant I had a migraine or something. But I’m so behind on work that I must do chores and business stuff while Ainsley sleeps or we’ll have no quality or quantity time at all this weekend.

Yesterday was awful from a work perspective. I started early- 0530AM- so I could finish early. At 0620PM, I stopped for the day. I was interrupted by twenty different things, all spurred by the phone call of my Montessori school’s teacher calling to say she would be late (don’t get me started). She had a sick kid so I didn’t want to chance her bringing the flu to the student! Add to that stress that I realized that I forgot my computer keycard at work, thus could not connect to work. I worked on offline documents for as long as I could but had to drive to work to find the card so I could drive back home to work from home. It felt as dumb as using a wet towel to dry off.

I could keep griping, but I’m choosing the other road. My husband had a planned vacation day to work on household projects. Due to the lack of a teacher for Ainsley, he and I had to switch our schedules and decide who would do what all day. I’m so behind on work that I basically demanded he drop everything (wow, what a nasty attitude).

Feeding the hungry fish together- my crewHe didn’t complain. He spent almost all day with Ainsley, and not begrudgingly. I would take work breaks and walk through to see wonderful moments. He played with her, he read her books, he worked on physical development with her. I heard him talking to her about which organic fruits and vegetables had just arrived at our front door. He even made a delicious pasta primavera for us, stirring the pots at arm’s length to keep the heat away from Ainsley.

After her bedtime, we gave Mr. Kitty (Baja) his fluids, let Mini out for some play time, I brushed Sunny’s teeth and gave Silo fresh carrot tops, and we watched a show together. Our house is developing a good rhythm. Finally.

Well anyway. I have less than an hour left before most of the house’s sleeping creatures stir. Off to do some work projects.

Setup Phase I: Equipment

As usual, I’m horribly late in posting. Aren’t blogs supposed to be real time? A-hem.

I have had an aquarium in my kitchen several times. I always loved it because I could enjoy my hobbies of cooking and aquatics at the same time. Not cooking my aquatics though…

However, the latest iteration was a u-g-l-y 15 gallon tank with bare glass bottom and live plants in pots or rooted to driftwood. It housed four female bettas and had no filtration and 13 watts of light. The plants- even the Java fern (Microsorum pteropus)- struggled with less than one watt per gallon. As the kitchen is such a central room of my home, I wanted to upgrade.

I have researched this aquarium for over a year. I used web resources such as the krib and also trolled for the right online retailer. I’ve become completely disillusioned by my local fish store (LFS) and its poor treatment of fish and total lack of knowledge about live plants. I used to work in an aquarium store and underwater gardening was my specialty. It was time for me to design a beautiful, yet easy to maintain aquarium.

Part of my integrated approach was to purchase high quality equipment at the most reasonable prices. I needed:

aquarium_empty.JPGThe water box. While Oceanic is the best quality brand, none of their standard sizes would fit in the kitchen location. With a clearance of just 18 inches, a “show” style aquarium would not work. I started looking at custom aquariums…groan. The quotes ranged from $350-$480, with custom crating and shipping driving the total to over $800. No thank you. I started looking into breeder style non-custom tanks immediately. Luckily, I found the perfect solution: an All-Glass 30 gallon breeder. Breeder style tanks not only have a low profile, the dimensions provide more surface area for oxygen exchange and more substrate area for the plants I wanted and the added benefit of more area for fish territories. Add to those benefits that the lighting would not have to penetrate as deeply, and quickly this setup is more and more attractive. Total cost (ordered through LFS): $75.

back_stripping.JPGThe canopy. A standard canopy would not work for me. I wanted more work surface area and more customization. A standard canopy seam would be right in the middle of my light fixture and would be unopenable for feeding/maintenance without removing the entire light hood. I ordered plastic back stripping from an online aquarium supply house and two custom glass pieces from a local hardware store. Custom glass is often cheaper than the standard canopy, and in this case allowed me to decide the width of each piece. This picture shows the back stripping with CO2 tubing and filter inlet/outlet. Scrap plastic was fitted around the filter inlet/outlet to ensure no fish could jump through the small opening (it happens!). Plastic parts: $19; glass: $14.

lighting_installation.JPGThe lighting system. Most aquatic plants demand high lighting. But lighting systems lighting_ballast.JPGcost hundreds; the canopies, hundreds more. A typical online retailer sells the combo for $350-$490 for a setup of my size. The internet came to my rescue by way of ahsupply.com. They sell hoods for a fraction of the cost of brand-name enclosures. I also ordered a 96-watt bright kit to provide the three watts per gallon my plants demanded. For about $100 and a little electrical work, I had a nice looking lighting system. Special thanks to Carlton who did the electrical while I completed the lighting/cord/hood installation itself.

hood_problem.JPGTo the right, you can see the quality of the hood construction…and the fact that despite all my planning, the aquarium was 1/16 inch too tall!! Special thanks to my Dad for planing it to the right height. It’s a family project by now…..




co2_in_cabinet.JPGCarbon dioxide (CO2) injection. Except for slow growers like Anubias spp. in low light situations, CO2 can be the limiting reagent for healthy plant growth. The most accurate way to dose CO2 is with co2_into_tank.JPGcompressed gas and a bubble counter/timer system. These systems run about $250 for the cheapest. Even the unproven carbon-block systems run about $150. For smaller tanks like mine, a yeast reactor would do fine. Basically, the yeast converts sugar to alcohol and CO2 and the gas is held underwater for maximum saturation. I decided to use two reactors because DIY co2_bubble_counters.JPGsystems have a spike of effectiveness; two smaller systems help control variability. I purchased two $10 CO2 traps to hold the gas underwater (shown at right). Everything else, such as the yeast culture jars, yeast starters, corn sugar, and stoppers, I filched from my brewing hobby. (side note: see, Oz, I actually am brewing beer in my aquarium!)



Heater. This is the part of the setup I woefully ignored as easy. Substrate heating was immediately discarded as an option. They are expensive (and cheaper DIY types are a huge pain to assemble) and if they malfunction in an established aquarium, I’d be left with having to use a submersible heater anyway. I now have two 50 watt titanium heaters with auto shutoff if they malfunction. $39 and well worth it. Don’t learn this the hard way: buy two smaller heaters so if one malfunctions, consequences are not so dire.

Filter. Here I knew I wanted to spare no expense. I actually looked for less expensive options and found online reviews balking at the lack of reliability of most brands. I looked at hang-on-tank models but disliked the low water movement and high filter cost. My experience in the aquatic store had shown that for me, a canister Fluval was the best combination of quality and reliability. Drs. Foster and Smith was my choice of online retailer; not only were prices comparable, they have reviews of each filter by customers and a very nice grid to aid with filter selection. Cost: $95 (groan). When choosing a filter of any type, be sure to calculate annual filter media costs to see if the filter is really a bargain.

lighting_in_place.JPGTotal equipment cost: $354 plus shipping costs of $25 total $379. Average annual upkeep for lighting (bulb), CO2(sugar), filter(carbon only, wash other media): $117.

I was happy with the total cost, made my purchases, and moved to Phase II.