What sparked yesterday's burst of activity was the arrival of the aquatic planting tweezers and scissors, (http://www.ukaquatics.co.uk/ are obviously the business when it comes to swift order fulfilment) and the fact that several more bunches of plants had swum to the surface of the tank during the night. Also the high pH level was gnawing at my conscience, a tiny part of me couldn't shake the feeling that I was guilty of callous disregard for the suffering of tortured plants. If I lowered the water level to replant the floaters then replacing it afterwards with pH7 tap water should lower the alkalinity a bit. Also, the small gravel cleaner had arrived, and I anticipated being able to use it to save myself having to faff about filling the tank with a jug.
This time I spread a large bath towel on the floor in front of the fish tank. Congratulating myself on having already learnt one lesson from experience. Starting the siphon in the large gravel cleaner was quite simple, with the tank being so high up, and so deep. Luckily it didn't start too quickly for me to notice that the pipe had curled out of the bucket and was poised so as to send the water gushing underneath the dining table, so I was able to pause for long enough to find the complementary bucket clip, and put it to use. The bucket clip also came in handy for throttling the water flow when moving the outflow pipe between buckets, so that I could waddle off to empty the full bucket without worrying that the next bucket would overflow before I got back. It wasn't really all that difficult to empty 50 litres of water from the tank, though it did occur to me that if I was going to carry 5 buckets of dirty water from the living room to the kitchen every week, and then five buckets of clean water from the kitchen to the living room that was going to be 520 annual opportunities to trip up and throw a bucket of water onto the floor. How do you like those odds?
I fished out the floating plants, and rescued the ones that were being crushed into place by a rock. Then I picked up the tree root to move it back into it's original intended position and noticed that it was already covered with an invisible gel of slime algae, inevitable I suppose, but I still took it to the kitchen sink for a bit of against common sense scrubbing. Upon examination most of the floaters had damaged stems, caused by being jammed into hard gravel by impatient stubby fingers. Fortunately most of them will sprout roots from any point along the stem, so chopping off the damaged bits and replanting the remainder with the magic tweezers worked a treat. Most of the plants are a few inches shorter than they were originally, but if they survive they should soon start to bush out.
If they survive. It really is going to be a neck and neck race between the spread of the algae and the death of some of these poor plants. The Hydrocotyle leucocephala and Hygrophila difformis have got some nasty bruises, and the Rotala wallichii and Cabomba furcáta are in obvious decline (hardly surprising when they both need a pH below 7 to thrive).
Having replanted the floating stem plants with such ease it seemed a good idea to have another go at planting the tiny foreground plants. I bought them ready grown inside squares of mesh, thinking I could snip the mesh into segments and plant them in strips. Only the mesh turned out to be plastic covered steel, not easy to cut even with my nifty chicken wire snippers. I did cut one strip, but the plants inside it started coming loose straight away, and planting individual tiny plants was too fiddly a job, even with the magic tweezers they still popped straight back up out of the substrate and floated away. It dawned on me that the heavy metal wire was probably intended to weigh them to the bottom of the tank, and all my grabbing at them was only damaging their leaves. By that time I was already getting a bit wobbly, so I gave up and dumped them back on top of the gravel, persuading myself that they needed a while to settle in before I subjected them to further torment.
Now all I had to do was replace the five buckets of water I'd taken out with five buckets of fresh water of the correct temperature that had been treated with the potion that removes chlorine and heavy metals. I thought that standing a chair on top of the table, and the bucket on top of the chair would give enough height difference to keep the siphon going. It worked quite well for the first bucket, the second bucket was a bit trickier, and a lot harder to get going on third, almost impossible on the fourth and the fifth buckets were more or less hand pumped by me pounding the gravel cleaner up and down on the water in the bucket. I was so taken up with bouncing away with the gravel cleaner in the bucket that I failed to notice the hose coming free from the filter casing in the tank and snaking it's way around the bottom of the tank uprooting a load of the stems I had replanted earlier with so much care. Oh and don't let me forget that I also managed to slosh a goodly portion of the final bucket over myself, soaking my t-shirt and then seeping into my trousers so that I gradually became sopping wet from neckline to below the knee, though luckily none of it went on the floor. Exchanging the water in the tank for freshly treated tap water got rid of some of the bacteria, and quite a bit of the ammonia I was feeding them with, so I remembered to add a couple of mls of ammonia, and another serving of stress zyme to top up the levels.
After replacing the lid and turning on the pump, heater and lights I hung up the damp bath towel, changed into dry clothes, made a huge mug of tea, and went to flop into the rocking chair to admire my handiwork. En route I knocked into the chairside table, the pint glass of water I'd left there went flying creating a quite impressive indoor lake which had to be mopped up before I could finally change my socks, sit down and put my feet up. After a short rest it struck me that I should take a photo of the tank as it is now, before the algae spreads further and the acid loving plants melt away in the horrid hard water. Can you tell where the real tank ends and the fake background picture begins? That background is unspeakably naff, and it is also peeling away at the edges again, having managed to persuade the masking tape to let go of it's hold on the glass. I wish I'd just painted it black instead, it would have made a much better contrast, but once all the background plants start to grow it should soon be completely hidden.
Good news, yesterday's water change has brought the pH of the aquarium water down to 7.2 from the murderously alkaline 8.8 that was dissolving the plants. I can stop feeling guilty about being a hardened plant torturer and start enjoying watching what I hope will be their recovery. I have also dosed the tank with a potion that is supposed to increase the CO2 available to the plants, giving them an edge in the battle against algae. Watch this space for updates on how it goes.