Personal & Lifestyle
piece written on the 23rd October 2013 by  

Many years ago I found a big interest for tropical fish and I kept a number of fish tanks. I’ve had the pleasure of breeding a number of fish including angel fish and some chiclids. There’s something about creating an under water environment that inspires me; watching the PH, Ammonia and Nitrate levels is incredibly interesting, ensuring that Co2 and light are sufficient to inspire plant growth so oxygen levels are correct for the fish and that ammonia levels are at a minimum due to the plant growth. It’s a challenge and I love a challenge – introducing your first fish after several weeks of carefully getting the tank correct is an amazing feeling, and even better is watching them thrive.

Over the years I lived in a number of places that didn’t provide the right environment for a fish tank. You need sufficient space, you need minimal sunlight and you need a stable floor. It was only until a few months ago that my fiance and I bought a new house which would provide the requirements for me to unleash my passion and that’s exactly what I did. About 2 months ago I set forth on the journey of creating a planted aquarium. Back when I started keep tropical fish the hobby involved some gravel, a heater, a filtration system and that was about it, nowadays everything has changed – Co2 canisters, soil instead of gravel and an assortment of other complexities. I spent a great deal of time reading and researching, and planted aquariums appeared to be the in thing. With aquariums I’m not one to usually follow the trends, but the challenge intrigued me. A planted aquarium is an aquarium that has an incredibly strong focus on plants – when I say this, I mean lots of plants, Co2 injectors, soil, fertilisers and so forth – like an underwater garden.

Here are some examples, but please understand that these are by some of the world famous aquascapers:


Quite incredible aren’t they? If you’re interested in watching tanks like this being set up, you should look up Takashi Amano and James Findley. Here’s an example:

So that gives you a bit of an idea of what’s possible and who the experts are. A magnificent form of art if you ask me.

After watching literally hundreds of videos by Jacobs Aquarium, cloud9aquariums, Dustinsfishtanks and TheGreenMachineLtd I decided on a direction I wanted to go in and I’ve been working on it ever since.

Here are my photographs:

It hasn’t been the easiest journey and it was more of a challenge than I expected it to be. I run into quite a few difficulties along the way, here are some of them:

  • ADA Aquasoil is difficult to work with initially, your ammonia levels get boosted and the only way to rectify is to follow a rigid water change schedule. Well, that and introducing lots of plants from the get go. Literally place the aquasoil in the tank, put all your plants in and then fill it up for the first time (pouring water into a bowl to avoid clouding).
  • Planting of plants is tricky, you need pincettes, take my word for that and believe me when I say the videos make it look easy!
  • One of the most difficult things you face is patience, you do need to wait at least 30 days before introducing fish. If you introduce them earlier they more than likely won’t survive due to chemical levels.
  • Tap water may contain chloromine, a chemical that consists of chlorine and ammonia. The idea with tap water (from what I understand) is that chlorine is added to kill the ammonia, thus leaving us just with chlorine. Then other chemicals are used to reduce the chlorine. Either way, when introducing new water to a fish tank, you need to use an agent to reduce the chlorine – this is critical in my opinion. The Seachem products are really great and I would advise using those.
  • Another word of advise is to no rush into buying all your plants from one place, there are a number of aquariums around Cape Town that are worth visiting. From Claremont to Kenilworth to Tokia to an assortment in the Northern Suburbs and even in Stellenbosch. Shop around, see what’s available and ask questions. Without a knowledge of how certain plants grow, you might place plants that grow really tall in the front of your tank and they’ll grow up to the top in a month and you won’t see anything, and moving around the plants with aquasoil is quite a messy job. I fortunately didn’t make this mistake, but I’ve seen a lot of people do it.

I think I’ve done a decent job, the plants are thriving, the fish are healthy and everything appears stable. It’s early days though and it requires continuous work so we’ll see how it is in a few months time!

Any readers out there who keep fish?

Update 14/04/2014 – My tank is now a cichlid tank.