More New Friends

We’ve got a few new additions for the 10 gallon betta tank to fully stock it. Four new Bronze Corys now populate the lower levels of the tank, and they absolutly love to sift through the sand stiring up a cloud of dirt. Hopefully, after numerous partial water changes, the cloudlyness will subside. You can see them in the picture below, they are the blurs as they zip around the tank. I’m sure as they get settled they’ll calm down. The betta has not cared at all, he seams more interested in trying to eat the Malaysian Trumpet Snails, which are smart enough to stay under the sand while the light is on.

New Corys

New Corys

This has convinced me though that when we go to a 120 or 125 gallon that we will not use play sand. While it works, and looks good, it is VERY dirty and takes forever to clean. I spent a good hour outside with the hose and a bucket stiring it up to kick up dirt, and dumping, yet it still clouds up the tank if disturbed. You can see in the front left that they have moved the sand back a little making a little dune.

In the 20 gallon there isn’t anything new going on, life as normal. Here is a picture of the blue mystery snail crusing the plants.


Snail Crusing Plants

We’ve got snails!

We’ve proudly added some new inhabitants to both of our tanks, and yes you heard correctly. Snails! Most people consider these guys to be pests as they multiply like rabbits and overrun their tanks. However, that only occurs if you over feed your fish. Snails will only replicate up to a population that can be supported. These often go by the names Pond, Ramshorn, and Malaysian Trumpet Snails. Each are very distinct in appearance.

Of course, you can also get mystery snails, also known as Apple snails, which are not asexual and require both a male and a female to reproduce. We got one each, a blue for the 20 gallon and a yellow for the 10 gallon. In addition to those two we got a handful of MTS, 18 to be exact.

The MTS also offer the benefit of burrowing into the substrate which really helps in keeping a sand substrate aerated. For food all these snails will happily eat dead and decaying plant mater, they will also consume any left over food from the fish (remember, over feeding means food for snails which means they’ll replicate to consume it all). They are the vacuum cleaners of the fish tank! Snails will also eat some forms of algae, but it is not their preferred form of food so don’t rush out to buy a mystery snail or two to fix an algae problem. I’ll have to write an article later about algae outbreaks, what causes them, and how to solve it. Suffice it to say it does not involve buying any invertebrates, or fish.


Ich Treatment Completed

Today marks the 1 week mark since we started the Ich treatment, and it has been 5 days since any spots were visible. Over the next two days we’ll lower the temperature naturally from 86 to 78. We’ll also do a 50% water change now, with another over the weekend with the goal of removing the copper medication.

Here is a photo of the Betta and his bubble nest, he really was a happy guy throughout the process and thankfully we caught the Ich early on so he was never heavily infected by it.

Bettas Bubble Nest

Betta's Bubble Nest

This weekend, provided there are no signs of a recurrence, we will be looking at additional plants. We never were able to fully plant the tank as the Ich struck right after getting the Betta and we didn’t want to add any additional plants until that was resolved. Hopefully we can also find some Malaysian Trumpet Snails, known as MTS for short, to help aerate the sand and consume dead/dying plant mater. In addition we may get our school of four cory catfish to complete the tank.

Custom DIY Aquarium LED Project

I’ve started a prototype DIY LED project which is basically just a proof of concept to see if the idea is even feasible and if I like the end result.

So here is some background, when I started my 20g aquarium I put in some plants, mostly of the low light variety. The tank only has a single 18″ T8 florescent tube for a light which is most certainly low light. My wisteria, which is suppose to be a fast growing plant, is actually growing quite slowly. In the future I plan on having a 120g aquarium that wouldn’t be much better off for light, so I was worried I’d have to upgrade if I wanted to do anything spectacular with my tank. The problem though is a 48″ dual tube T8 fixture is quite expensive, over $100 expensive. Yuck!

As an Electrical Engineer by day, I began to think, you know, I could make my own LED light fixture! I cost the project out, and it’s reasonable. Cheaper than any commercially bought LED fixture for sure. The LEDs themselves are only $5 each and each one produces the same lumen rating as an 18″ T8 bulb. Now, before you go running off to buy out the store of these super cheap $5 LEDs know that there is a lot of other stuff you have to buy in addition to the LEDs to get them to work!

You need a heatsink (these high power LEDs get HOT!), thermal paste, an AC/DC power supply, a constant current source, something to mount all this to, a pcb to assemble your circuit on, a power switch, a power connector, and all the various mounting hardware. And when you’re done, it will not look pretty unless you spend a lot more on a nice looking enclosure (or are handy with woodworking/metalworking and can make one yourself). Now, me personally I don’t care about aesthetics, at least not on my prototype project.

So, without further blabbing I’ll show some photos of the project so far. It is still a work in progress. This first photo shows you the LED itself mounted onto a blank anodized aluminum heat sink. Ignore the screws with their heads broken off. Pretend they don’t exists… and ignore the bad solder job, I learned the hard way to solder before attaching to the heat sink next time ;) If you don’t understand why, it’s because you need high heat to melt the solder, which comes from the soldering iron. But if you have a huge heat sink attached … you guessed it, it is much harder to get it hot enough to melt the solder! Lesson learned, I’m an engineer, I work on theory and paper, not a tech who actually builds the stuff I design =)


Closeup of LED

The brightness of an LED is a function of the amount of current going through it. The higher the current, the brighter it is. However, the higher the current, the hotter it gets and the hotter it gets, the lower its lifespan. For this particular LED a current of 350 mA will produce an output of 685 lumens at a color temperature of 5665K, for comparison an 18″ T8 6500K fluorescent tube is 700 lumens.

The current however is variable on many things, it depends on the input voltage, it depends on the value of a current limiting resistor, and it depends on the temperature of everything. In short if you just used a current limiting resistor with a DC power supply you would not have a constant, predictable current and thus brightness among all your LED elements. To solve that, you need what is called a constant current source, and if you can’t guess what that does I can’t help you ;) Below is a picture of the circuit I build following directions online (why reinvent the wheel?). It is simple and fairly inexpensive to build, but is not all that efficient. I plan in the future to try making a much more efficient design, but it would require a custom PCB which is very expensive to do.

LED Driver

LED Constant Current Source

See, pretty simple, just two resistors, two transistors, and a zener diode.

Okay, enough talking, here it is in action. The first photo is a picture under the 8000K fluorescent light I have, and the second is the 5665K LED (only a single LED, I plan to have 2-3 of them). You can clearly see the difference in color spectrum, but brightness wise I’m impressed on what that single LED can do!

Normal Light

Normal 8000K 18" T8 Fluorescent

Single LED

Single 5665K LED

Feel free to leave comments with any questions! I know the number one thing people will want is a schematic… I’ll think about it, but that would require me to draw it up and I’m quite lazy ;)

Day Two of Ich Treatment

We are on day 2 of our Ich treatment and all is progressing well. After day 1 the number of visible spots dropped from ~30 to ~5 which is a great improvement. Now on day 2 we no longer have any visible spots on the Betta.

We are leaving the tank as-is for a full week to ensure all the Ich parasites are long gone and dead before we lower the water temperature back to the usual 78 degrees and do a 50% water change to remove half the Coppersafe. We will then probably wait another week before doing another water change, and then restart the plant fertilizer.

Remember, this is because excess levels of copper is toxic, and plant fertilizer contains a small amount of copper.

The Betta is doing very well, he’s made a bubble nest and is giving displays to anyone who will look at him. With no visual signs of stress he appears to be making a full recovery.