Fish Friday #1 Hamburg Matten Filter

I used to keep a lot of aquarium fish. I kept both freshwater and marine aquariums. My dad did, too. In fact, most of my fish keeping interest comes from him. In the past, I’ve been able to set up a tank and have it flourish within days. Because I knew marine tanks are far more involved, I took six months setting up my first and only salt water tank. Marine tanks are quite involved and if you are taking a low tech approach, then you have to take a lot of time. After a year and a lot of money, the tank pretty much took care of itself, only requiring the odd water change, top off, feeding and regular filter maintenance. That tank lasted seven years and only crashed when one of the heaters exploded while I was away at a conference, cooking all the fish, corals, live rock and invertebrates.

With freshwater fish, I never had a problem with a tank until recently.

dirted tank planted aquarium neon tetras

This is not my aquarium, just a nice image I found through google. This is, however, a successful “dirted tank” that is also dosing CO2.

Last year, I tried to set up a new type of planted aquarium called a “dirted tank” and failed miserably. The little plants never got going because I could never get the water from being as dark as black coffee. I think I know why I failed as badly as I did at that aquarium, but I’m just not in a position to dedicate the time required to get it going properly.

So I decided to do a small desk-top aquarium with a couple of plants, a betta, a snail and three cherry red shrimp (Neocaridina davidi var. red). The girl at the local fish store said bettas and shrimp would work out fine together. It turns out she was filled with complete crap. Bettas love shrimp. They love shrimp for dinner, that is.

So within two weeks, the shrimp were dead. I decided then to add a couple of pygmy cory cats (Corydoras pygmaeus) to the aquarium, but they soon died, too. As the cory cats started dying, I noticed my aquarium was going through a cyanobacteria invasion. Eventually everything in aquarium died, except the small plants and the snail. I wasn’t doing anything odd and I had kept smaller aquariums before. I was very frustrated. I have never had so much trouble with a small, simple aquarium.

I decided to pull down the tank. I removed everything. I hand scrubbed each plant and got rid of half the gravel. Once I was satisfied, I reassembled the aquarium. A week later, I was having trouble again. This time I stuck a giant, hang on the back filter (HOB) meant for thirty gallon aquariums and blasted the system. That is when I noticed my tank was not getting circulation to several parts of the aquarium. The dead zones were the parts of the tank where the cyanobacteria was thickest.

The HOB didn’t have any filter material in it, except some poly filling I bought at Walmart. It’s the same stuff used to stuff plush animals and toys. Poly filling works as a great mechanical filter. Everything gets caught in it. After running the HOB for three hours, the cyanobacteria was gone as well as any detritus, dead-leaves and extraneous junk. It hasn’t come back. This still has not solved the problem. The only thing living in the aquarium is a red, rams horn snail. I would like some fish.

I think the problem is the aquarium. It is tall and narrow. It looks very pretty, but after some research, I’ve found out that tall and pretty doesn’t work well for aquariums. I have a bubbler-filter in it, but the bubbles are not where the oxygen cycle is happening. That happens at the surface in a tiny space fourteen inches from the bottom of the tank and those dead zones. Click here to see a video I made of the old tank.

To solve my problems (deadly aquarium and the need to keep more than four small plants and a snail), I got out the aquarium I tried to do the dirted tank in and I’ve started to do a new type of aquarium. A simple planted shrimp aquarium with the snail, the plants I already have, a school of ember tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae) and the most effective filter in the shrimp aquarium hobby: the Hamburg Matten Filter (HMF). Click here to see the video I made about my HMF.

The HMF is a thick sheet of poret foam at one end of the aquarium with a pump or bubbler pulling water out from behind the foam sheet and back into the main water column.

hamburg matten filter poret foam planted aquarium

Also, not my aquarium, but I hope mine will work as well as this one seems to be.

The foam acts as both a mechanical and bacteriological filter. It has a life span of ten years or more and is extremely idiot proof. There is only one poret foam supplier in the United States: Swiss Tropicals. The total cost was less than thirty dollars, including shipping. That’s fine. The cost is lower than the HOB or any other filter I’ve ever used except the DIY bubbler filter I have now in the desktop aquarium. The filter is kinda ugly, but right now, I don’t care. I only want success.

I will be taking a slightly different approach this time around: I am going to go very slowly. I set up the HMF in the aquarium today. In two days, I am going to seed the new aquarium with some water from a recent water change and a marimo ball (Aegagropila linnaei). Two weeks from today, I am going to add some substrate (hopefully Seachem Flourite Black Dark Gravel) and a chunk of drift wood. A week after that, I’m going to add everything from the desk top aquarium into this aquarium and a month after that, I hope to add some fish and some shrimp.

Longer than I have ever taken with a fresh water aquarium by well over a month, but not as long as with a marine tank. I really hope everything works out this time.

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