Underwater garden still not dead yet

The water pH sank steadily, and stabilised at just below 7, which should have been OK for all the plants. Sadly, one of my favourites, the Limnophila aquatica never recovered from the combined shock of my brutal planting technique and the initial alkaline water conditions, and has been gently biodegrading ever since, along with the Glossostigma elatinoides that has no longer got a single leaf, but perhaps something will sprout from the mass of roots?

Meanwhile I decided to combat the growth of grey beard algae on the wooden root by adding a potion to the water that provides carbon in a form that is easily used by aquatic plants. This is supposed to help them suck up the nutrients in the water and out compete the algae. I had read that doubling the recommended dosage has an algaecidel effect. When searching for this magic potion I discovered that it was available at a bargain price in a set alongside a potion the provides basic nutrients for aquarium plants and another one that gives them an iron tonic. So after reading the instructions on the bottle I carefully measured out double the recommended dosage and sat back to await the imminent death of the grey beard algae.

Not that I have anything against grey beard algae. Yet. At this stage it is still a pretty pearlescent growth, beaded with bubbles, nestling sweetly in the nooks and crannies of the tree root. I just don't want to watch it spread to the plants, which are already struggling to recover from being bent and battered by my hamfisted planting. So I dosed the potion, and continued to top up with double doses all week. Measuring the water quality every day. I was surprised to see the nitrate levels rising, but pleased too, since I assumed this was the elusive nitrite processing bacteria on the job a week earlier than expected. Until Saturday, when I wore my glasses to dose the potion and realised that I had been using the wrong bottle. Instead of flourish excell, the carbon supplying potion, I had been dosing plain flourish, the plant nutrient solution. Oops. No wonder it hadn't been doing anything to discourage the algae, I'd been feeding the bloody stuff.

I thought the plants looked a lot happier once they got the extra carbon potion, and breathed a great sigh of relief. I'd lost the limnophilia and probably the glossostigma too, but it looked like everything else was starting to recover and show promise.

Meanwhile the ammonia eating bacteria have been coming along in leaps and bounds. They got through so much of the ammonia originally added to the tank for their delectation that I had to start topping it up. Just a millilitre a day at first, but they were getting through it so quickly that I began to worry they would starve and the colony would collapse, so today I gave them 6ml to bring the level back up to 4ppm. Guess what happened? The pH of the tank water shot up, from 6.8 to 7.6 in a few minutes, and it may well be back around 8 again. Buggrit.

I fear this sudden change in pH has done for the Rotala wallichii , I can almost see the spines along the lower part of it's stems turning pale and loosing the will to live. I expect they will start drifting off into the soup like pine needles in a stormy wood some time soon.

Then there are the amusingly twisted leaves of the vallis plants, I doubt they are supposed to be taking on this transparent look, did I damage them by planting them too deeply? Recommendations were to leave the top part of the root showing above the gravel, but when I tried that they just drifted away so I jammed them down into the substrate and perhaps now they are getting even by expiring slowly while I watch? Bah, see if I care, there are plenty more plants in the shop, amusingly twirled leaves or not! Let the weak die. Bwa ha ha!

Day 3 of the underwater gardening project

It's actually day 4 today, but I was so knackered by the end of day 3 that all I could do was collapse in the rocking chair with a book about catfishes.

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.

Day 4

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.

Gardening under water

Nope, the subject line is not a grumble about the Welsh weather. The weather here is still very clement and garden friendly, despite a somewhat colder than usual spell in early winter. It's a new hobby that is currently keeping me out of mischief.

Take one flat packed fish tank cupboard/stand, and one 125 litre fish tank. Wield enclosed allen key, trusty screwdriver, and spirit level. Use special aquarium background fixative to affix background picture to aquarium. Use credit card to smooth bubbles out from between background and glass. Admire handiwork and watch as background starts to uncurl. Hunt down masking tape, squish background picture onto glass, smooth halfheartedly and then use masking tape to hold in place until special aquarium background fixative can be bothered to set.

Add 3 largish, well soaked and scrubbed rocks, half a bucket of obsessively prewashed gravel , assorted special substrates for shrimp and plants, some supposedly prewashed Dorset pea gravel and a gnarled hunk of tree root that has been gently simmering on the hob for the past week.

Unpack tank filter and eye all assorted sponges and parts warily. Read instructions, wonder what an impeller looks like, wish instructions were written by people who don't expect you to know what the different bits of a pump are called. Find helpful boy on Youtube who has made a short video demystifying the internal tank filter, not the same filter as mine, but still useful, and strangely reminiscent of those youtube videos of young girls giving make up tips and advice. Unpack and rinse filter oojits and insert into filter housing. Set up filter and thermometer but leave switched off while tank is dry.

Pour enough water through the filter to wet the gravel prior to starting to plant the little foreground plants. Start planting teensy tiny plants and realise that the tweezers used by the geezers in the aquascaping videos would be useful even to someone with tiny hands and fingers. Each plant that goes in seems to dig up the ones beside it. Give up on planting tiny plants and go to order long handled tweezers online. Decide to add special scissors for underwater pruning at same time, having realised that nail scissors are not going to be as useful as previously hoped.

Try to use newly purchased gravel cleaner to siphon water from buckets into tank. Realise that because the tank is so high off the ground the bucket would have to be stood on a chair which was stood on a table, and I would need to stand on stepladders to start the siphon. Decide to fill tank using jugs. Pour jugfulls of treated water (stuff to remove chlorine and heavy metals) through the filter until the tank is one third full. Fetch bucket full of aquatic plants. Then take bucket of aquatic plants back into kitchen and hoik them out, one by one onto a tray, so that they can be released from pots and weights, have their roots trimmed, and be sorted into sets of three to five stems ready for planting in dainty groups. Carry dripping tray of neatly arrayed and sorted plants to table next to tank in living room.

Start planting each variety according to previously devised plan. Realise that once again stumpy little fingers are not up to the job, give up attempts at planting in groups of 3 to 5 stems and just jam bunches into the substrate and hurriedly fling on gravel in wild attempts to stop them floating free. Accidentally knock tree root out of kilter, try to shove it back and watch as the surrounding plants float free. Give up trying to get root back into place, ignore floating plants, concentrate on planting final back corner. Now for the middle ground plants. Middle ground plants absolutely refusing to stay put. Lift smallest rock and use it to trap them. Stand back and eye murky chaos with concern.

Fill tank rest of the way up, waddling back and forth to the kitchen sink carrying endless heavy buckets of lukewarm treated water, using a one litre jug to ladle the water into the tank via the filter. When at long last water reaches red line inside tank, remove all plants that have floated free from their moorings. Use little net on stick to catch as much of the free floating leaves and crap as possible. Put escaped plants back onto water surface, promising to do something with them tomorrow and switch on filter and heater. Put lid on tank, turn on tank lighting and watch the currents of swirling particles being drawn towards and pushed from the filter.

Eye water splattered laminate floor around tank with concern. Fetch floor cloths and kick around floor until most of the water has been absorbed and all floor-fallen plant debris has been pushed into a heap. Go to kitchen for refreshing cup of tea and notice moss balls and three tiny moss covered rocks still on windowsill.

Lower mossy rocks and balls into tank. Watch as they roll away from where they are supposed to be. Stick hand into tank to move them and get hems of t-shirt sleeves soaked. Fetch long handled fondue fork and use it to bat them about a bit. Give up and sit watching the tank clear and the pretty plants sway in the gentle current from the filter. Dry floor again.

Day two.

Replant the escapees. Test water in tank. Zilch ammonia, nitrites and nitrates, but the pH comes out at 8.8. This seems highly unlikely, since the tap water is extremely soft. Test tap water. Tap water has pH 7. Test tank water again. Tank water still has pH 8.8. Wonder what on earth is causing it. Could it be the rocks? I soaked them and scrubbed them, and the aquarium shop said they wouldn't have any noticeable effect on water pH. Should I have rinsed the pre-rinsed pea gravel the same way as I rinsed the other gravel that said it needed rinsing? Surely the tree root and shrimp substrate were supposed to lower pH not raise it? This is not good. I chose the plants specifically for an environment on the acid side of neutral, and instead the water is very alkaline.

Suspect that I should probably siphon off a load of the water and replace it with treated tap water, but the prospect of dragging all those buckets back and forth again so soon is too daunting. Decide I'd rather replace any plants that don't survive than have the bother. Just glad I read up enough beforehand to know not to buy any fish yet.

Got to get the water right before any fish can be introduced. Which means getting the right kind of bacteria to colonise the filter and gravel. These bacteria live on ammonia and nitrite, and need to be fed before they can grow. A teaspoon of household ammonia dissolved in a jug of tank water and swished back into the tank was enough to give the bacteria something to work with. Once the ammonia was in the water I unplugged everything, and pulled out the layers of sponge and stuff from inside the filter so that I could squish bacteria gel into them before putting them all back again into the filter. Being a belt and braces kind of lass I also added a dose of stress zyme to the tank water, since that also contains the right kind of bacteria. I have to keep feeding the bacteria with ammonia, and testing the water until it tests clear of both ammonia and nitrite again within 12 hours of being dosed. This normally takes several weeks, so it will be very interesting to see if the addition of two different bacteria cultures speeds up the process.

So, what will come next? The inevitable algae bloom, or the death of the acid loving plants? Watch this space.

Why hens need correctional facilities

Yesterday, an oppressively hot day, I dug over a 1.2 x1.2 meter plot and carefully planted the sweet corn seedlings that had been raised indoors and gradually hardened off to go out. Then I bent my vastitude multiple times to ensure that each individual plant was gently inserted into a prewatered hole, and the earth replaced to hold the plants in place in a slight dip so that they'd each have an individual reservoir when watered.

This afternoon not one single sweet corn plant remains upright. Most of them do not remain at all, the rest are bare stalks with every single leaf pecked off and eaten. The hens must have fluttered over the fence, feasted, and fluttered back in plenty time to practice looking innocent before I was up and about. Beastly beasts.


Elin, Mary and Agda are coming up to their fourth birthday and still going strong. It's hard to photograph them because they don't keep still. Whenever I go out into the garden they come running to check if I've got any tasty for them to scoff.

The only way to keep them gathered together long enough to get a photo is to lure them with food. That means you either get photos of chickens jumping into the air to peck at whatever it is I am tormenting them with, or their heads are down because they are pecking morsels off the ground.

Elin, Mary and blurry Agda already moving out of shot.

Planted dwarf beans (yellow & borlotti), peas (sugarsnap & mangetout), carrots and two varieties of beetroot. Also finally got round to planting five small thyme plants that have been sitting in their pots all winter waiting for me to get round to planting them into the ground, and set up leaky hose around vegetable patch in the hope that it'll make watering under the cloches and netting easier. Might go and get a couple more leaky hoses if Lidl have still got them in and get some kind of automatic watering system set up. I'm pretty sure there's a water timer somewhere in the shed, if only I could get in far enough to reach it.

Happy Hollow Chocolate Symbols of Spring Day!

I dunno what happened to the winter snow and freezing temperatures predicted on the weather forecast. It's a lovely sunny day here in sarf whales, warm enough to sit on a wooden bench in the garden for 20 minutes before any noticeable bum numbness registered.

In celebration of this Happy Egg Day I have made the hens gleeful by lifting the plastic compost bin in their henitentiary yard, giving them access to a 4 foot high treasure trove of semi composted kitchen waste, lovingly seasoned with juicy worms and crunchy woodlice. Other gardeners are reduced to using a spade and the sweat of their own brows to turn the compost, but chickens are just so much more dedicated to the shifting and sifting of protocompost. They'll have pulled it all out into a fine tilth covering the entire henitentiary in a few days time. All I will need to do is go in with a shovel and heave it back inside the compost bin.

I ws going to include a small video clip of happy chickens making blissfully soft and contented clucking noises as they peck gently at the mound, pulling loose little morsels of henny delight, but someone forgot to recharge the camra batteries, so you'll just have to use your imaginations for now.
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Strange goings on in the garden.

The hens stopped laying sometime in November. Agda and Elin are both moulting, little Mary has gone back to being top hen, and pushing them around the way she did when they all arrived, before Agda and Elin grew so much bigger than her.

Since doing all that fox proofing work on Chookingham Palace and the henitentiary yard I have got into the lazy habit of letting them put themselves to bed at night. There didn't seem to be any point in closing the little wooden door on the henhouse at night, and then getting up at the crack of dawn to let them out again. Instead I've left the door open, since nothing else can get into their enclosure, and have allowed them to decide their own bed and breakfast times.

This has the advantage of allowing me to snooze until noon, before stumbling out to feed them. Until very recently they haven't been eating very much at all. I put this down to them taking a rest from producing a large percentage of their body weight each day in eggs. They were picking out the mixed corn and leaving the layers pellets in the feed trough. So I have amused myself by feeding them tasty treats. Porridge with sprouts and cranberries was on their Christmas menu.

Last week I experienced some subsidence in the ground underneath the weed membrane and chipped bark that surrounds Chookingham palace. I stood on the ground and my foot sank down to the ankle. Weird. The ground on either side was firm, but it was as if a little gully had appeared, leading from the foundations of the henhouse and across to the raised bed that stands in front of the wall into nextdoor's garden. I pondered it for a while, wondering if it had been caused by run off from the recent rains, and resolved to watch out not to twist an ankle in it, and to give some consideration to filling it in at a later date when I CBA.

The day before yesterday, when I went out to feed the chooks at lunchtime they were ever so cross and hungry. Their food trough was completely empty, and they were pushing, shoving and grumbling at each other in their hurry to scoff the food I'd brought. I thought it was nice to see them getting their appetites back and wondered if this meant they were nearing the end of their moult.

Yesterday the same thing happened. I came out at lunchtime, the chickens were starving, the trough was empty. So I filled it up extra much. Today it was empty again, the chickens were hungry and cross, and there was a large round hole in the ground in the middle of their favourite dust bathing area.

Go on, tell me you guessed it right back at the first signs of subsidence! Rats! Sneaky cunning rats tunneling away beneath the ground, not coming up for air until they are right next to the chicken food. How do they do that? I've been looking round the outside of the chicken run every day, expecting to see signs of digging if something is trying to get inside. But the first sign of these rats was the magically disappearing food. I think they must have had a hole that came up right behind the trough where I couldn't see it, and now they've probably got so fat from stuffing themselves with organic layers pellets with extra omega 3 that they couldn't squeeze into the old hole and had to dig a socking great huge one right in the middle of dust bath.

Anyone got a Jack Russel they'd consider loaning me? Just for a few nights? I did consider sitting up and waiting for them with night vision goggles and an elephant gun, but decided the neighbours might worry. So now I have shut the food inside with the chickens, closed the pophole door and removed the gangplank, and will have to crawl out of bed at first light to let them out.



In an attempt to hide part of the previous entry behind a cut I accidentally created a second entry, and then deleted the original one, that had your comments. Also, I managed to amputate the tail end off the entry, so that the pretty flower pictures are all gorn.

Please don't anyone feel bad about failing to celebrate my 50th. I wouldn't have been capable of any more celebrations. It took me over a month to recouperate as it was. Any extra excitment could well have proved fatal.
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