Aquascaping, nutritive elements,…

Q. You collaborated or collaborate with AGA, Aquatic Gardeners Association, in which the aquariums are usually set up just for the time of a picture.

A. You have to understand that the AGA has changed over the years.  In the 1990s when I was writing articles for the AGA, there were no aquascaping contests or color pictures.  The editor (Neil Frank) published mainly «low-tech» articles.  One of my favorites was a 1992 article on keeping a «cage» of daphnia in tanks to get rid of green water algae.  After 2000, the AGA began a greater focus on aquascaping contests, but the magazine also has good articles on other subjects.

Q. How does this experience match with the natural aquarium you have always been inspired by?

A. Well, I view an aquarium as a window into the natural world. I like to breed and raise fish.  The plants are not just decorative but keep the fish healthy.  Most aquascapers use plants to achieve an artistic goal; the fish, usually some kind of schooling Tetra, are an afterthought. I do not see a conflict between my method and aquascaping. Aquascaping generates an interest in keeping aquarium plants. That’s not a bad thing.

Q. You have strongly emphasized the importance of plants in managing a balanced aquarium.

CO2, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and various microelements are the foundations of the vital functions of the plant. Can you quickly explain us which is the function of each element? How do you recognize deficiencies or excesses of an element?

A. I will let others explain the function of elements and nutrient deficiencies. Your own website has an excellent article on this (Macro and micro elements for the plants of our aquaria). Most deficiencies are due to hobbyists using CO2 injection and  trying to grow «high-maintenace» aquatic plants (e.g., «Monte Carlo»). In a natural planted tank, nutrient deficiencies are less of an issue. Soil, reasonably hardwater (GH greater than 4), and adequate fishfood will provide all the nutrients that plants require. Plants may grow slower and non-competitive species may die out, but I accept that as a part of a tank’s natural development.

I prefer to deal with nutrient deficiencies in general terms. Most nutrient deficiencies that I hear about are Amazon Swordplants decomposing in softwater tanks. Adding oyster shells (source of calcium, etc) to the tank’s filter solves this problem. For a long time, I was frustrated by the fact that floating plants died out in my older tanks (1-2 years after setup). To cure this iron deficiency, I now add a plant potted in fresh clay soil to the tank. Other hobbyists have gotten success by inserting frozen cubes of soil into their substrates. A freshly submerged soil releases iron into the water to help out floating plants.