My First Aquariums
Having decided to write blogs about my experience with planted aquariums, I felt the first one should be a look back to my initial years of fish keeping and how I found the passion of my life – Nature Aquariums. I hope my readers will find something useful from the many failures that I had experienced and also the positives that makes me to pursue this fantastic hobby even now.
It’s the local waterbodies with Panchax moving in the jungle of Vallisneria that first introduced me to the wonders of the aquatic world. Invariably after returning from the school, I used to get drawn to the local ponds. Panchax were difficult to catch but then getting the “Channas” was a lot easier. You needed to just spot an overturned pot or an empty coconut shell and almost certainly you would get a channa.
My mother though was not at all pleased with my adventures. It seems my horoscope predicted that I might encounter with an accident related to water. Those who know me will definitely vouch for the fact that once I decide to do something, I try all means to achieve it. So as a kid it was no different. And hence despite multiple rebukes, scolding, loving explanations of dangers of going to water bodies could not prevent me from going to the ponds. That’s when my father stepped in. A logical man that he was, he figured out that the best way to keep from going to home will be to give me my own pond. So it was, I guess, the year 1979- 80 while studying in class one, I got my first aquarium. Frankly that did not prevent me from going to the ponds but the frequency definitely reduced.
So with the first iron framed aquarium with glasses fixed with tar, the journey started for a dedicated hobbyist almost 40 years back. I am a poor record keeper. I searched a lot for some old aquarium photos but could not get any. So you need to take my claim of being keeping fish for more than 40 years on the face value.
My father definitely had many influences on the man that I have grown to be. He also had introduced me to the world of books. I am an avid reader till date. I had many aquaria related books as well. I used to wonder at the photos of planted aquariums in those books. But unfortunately the pictures did not give any clue about how to grow plants under water successfully. Internet was not there in those days and I had to experiment a lot. I tried my hand, first with Vallisneria and then with Echinodorus (the ever popular Amazon Swords as we call them even now) but then could never grow them in sand or gravels that we used to use as substrate those days.
I somehow always felt that the plants will need a nutrient rich substrate to grow but then it took me some years to experiment with soil. So one fine day in late 90s, I had set up an aquarium with potting soil with a layer of gravel topping it. I bought a new Eheim filter for the tank and obviously I was not aware about CO2 systems. I put water and then for couple of days it was playing cat and mouse with my mother. The house was stinking with rotten smell. The first batch of plants died. I did not lose heart but kept on changing water. Finally, the smell reduced and the water was clear. With the second set of plant, I got my success. The Lilies even flourished. The fish were visibly happy. But unfortunately the live worms that I used to feed my fish those days (we did not have good quality packaged fish food those days) started digging into the soil. The dust started coming out of the gravel layer and started settling on the leaves and clogged the filter. The aquarium collapsed but not giving few months of joy for me. I was a hero in the eyes of fellow hobbyists. I did enjoy that!!
The first failure renewed my conviction of growing plants under water. I knew I was in the right direction. I managed to get my copy of book written by Ms. Diana Walstad – “Ecology of the Planted aquarium”. I think every serious planted aquarium hobbyist should read the book. It’s a treasure trove of knowledge. You can read her blogs here.
With tips that I got from Ms. Walstad’s book and the PMDD knowledge, I went for my second attempt using laterites. By the way I still do not know whether PMDD actually means “Poor Man’s Daily Drop” or “Poor Man’s Dupla Drop”. For those who would like to study history of planted aquarium should know about this company – Dupla. They are the ones who first brought out commercially successful planted aquarium products.
Coming back to my story, the search for good laterite got me in touch with this man – Mr. Nitish Patel from Mumbai. I believe Nitish is one of the pioneers of planted aquariums in India and I have lots of respect for him. I still remember the massive laterite based planted aquarium at his shop Affable Aquatics.
Armed with the laterite purchased from Nitish, I went full steam and this time the success was much better as would be apparent from this picture. This is my second planted aquarium, the year I guess was 2005 and I am still proud of it.
I remember the joy of growing Java Fern successfully (the clump on the right) and also the Java Moss (on the left corner). A strand of Riccia came along with the moss. I was surprised to see a strange plant growing out of the moss. You can see the strand of Riccia on the top left hand corner of the picture. I took some time to identify that the stranger in the moss clump is Riccia. You know many of the then planted aquarium hobbyists of Calcutta got their first Riccias from this single strand. This aquarium also made me understand the importance of cold water in growing Mosses and Ferns. This tank was set in the winter month, so come summer most of my mosses and ferns lost their glory.
Internet was slowly becoming prevalent. So with my successes I started doing further research on planted aquariums. My Internet researches soon revealed some unbelievable pictures of planted aquariums. I came to know about the Japanese photographer, cyclist and nature aquarium creator Mr. Takashi Amano . I managed to get hold of his book – Nature Aquarium Lover and my own world changed for ever.
Even though I managed to get the book that has inspired countless aquarium hobbyists around the world, I could not manage to get the product of his famous aquarium company Aqua Design Amano (ADA). It was year 2006 and it was difficult to get even a single decent planted aquarium product, forget about ADA. So I thought of trying out some of his rock arrangement styles in my subsequent planted 5ft by 2ft by 2ft planted aquarium. You can see my feeble attempt at Iwagumi at the bottom left hand corner of this picture. Incidentally, I again used a mixture of laterite and little bit of Azoo brand aqua soil and some Chinese make “Root Tabs”. This aquarium was also special as I used Glossostigma and Anubias for the first time.
This blog can continue but then I think it would be appropriate to close this post with the last story of how I got hold of my first ADA product. It was the year 2007 and I was in Bangalore in connection with some office work. A colleague of mine and a planted aquarium hobbyist himself, Jaydip, informed me about a place in Bangalore where one can get a very good collection of aquarium plants. So me and Jaydip reached Bannerghatta Main Road and went to meet Mr. Adip Sajjan Raj at his residence behind the IIM Bangalore. Yes we picked a lot of aquarium plants from Adip. But then availability of ADA products with Adip made us even more happier. While Jaydip picked the last remaining bags of ADA Africana, I satisfied myself with some 4ft ADA NA Tube lights. It is with great difficulty I got the lights to Calcutta (with some breaking in transit !!) and straight away used the lights in the same 5ft aquarium that I had mentioned earlier. The results amazed me and I realized the benefits of using special plant growing lights and the product quality that is so distinctive of ADA. The vibrant colours of Ludwigia Inclinant and flower of bacopa in the following pictures were definitely due to ADA lights.
Adip since has gone ahead and made a mark for himself by establishing his company Still Water Aquatics which handles marketing of ADA products in India. I am fortunate to have him as my friend. I think if not for Adip, planted aquariums would never have gained popularity in India.
I felt good sharing these memories and I hope y readers enjoyed this too. A hobby that I had picked up way back in class one, actually helped me in a major way by giving me a fresh lease of life during life's many ups and downs and a also a reason to look forward. I hope to continue sharing my experiences both past and present. Any feedback from even one of my potential readers in the cyber world would definitely encourage me.