Picking the right lighting for your planted aquarium

Picking the right lighting for your planted aquarium can be intimidating and confusing. There are so many options to choose from, and so many ways to measure these options. The first step to understanding full spectrum aquarium lighting is to understand what type light your plants need, and what the measurements mean.

Color temperature, measured in Kelvins, is often the easiest measure to find, after wattage. It is a measure of the overall color of the light as it appears to the human eye. Lower color temperatures appear reddish while higher temperatures appear bluish with white in the middle of the range. Often, a temperature between 5000K and 10,000K is recommended for a planted aquarium. However, two bulbs with the same color temperature may in fact be emitting very different light, some more useful to plants than others. This has to do with the different wavelengths of light, and explains why relying on color temperature alone can be misleading.

Visible light is made up of many different wavelengths, mixed together. It’s the absorption or reflection of particular wavelengths that produce colors. Plants require certain wavelengths of light to carry out photosynthesis using chlorophyll. The light that chlorophyll absorbs is used to power photosynthesis. By examining the wavelengths of light absorbed by chlorophyll, we can begin to understand the needs of our aquatic plants.

As shown above, plants need the majority of the light to be around 400-450nm and 650-675nm (or blue and red light). The blue light is used for leaf growth, and promotes bushy, compact growth, while red light is mainly used for flowering and strong stems. They reflect most green light, thus explaining why leaves are green.

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Armed with this information, we know that any aquarium light will need to produce large amounts of blue and red light. Most bulb manufacturers include the spectral output graph of their products on or in the packaging. Examine this output graph and try to find a bulb that matches up with the spectral absorption graph for chlorophyll. The closer the match, the better the bulb will be for your plants. For example, the following graph is for a GE 9325K bulb.

The bulb matches up fairly well, although the spike at 600nm is not really red enough (650-675nm) for a plant to fully benefit. The blue light spike is however beneficial, and the spike in greenish-yellow light will make the bulb look bright to the human eye.

Although you may not notice a major difference between bulbs, a mix between a color temperature that you like and a spectral output that your plants like will help create healthier plants and a healthier aquarium.

How to Keep Fish Healthy

There are actually relatively few things you need to keep a fish healthy. However, any fish will need these things, so keep them in mind when you are getting prepared for your new friends:

You will need a tank.
Your tank will need to be large enough for the fish to swim round freely and large enough to disperse the fish’s waste until the filter can process the waste.
You will need a filter to process the fish’s waste into less harmful forms between your water changes.
You will also need to provide hiding places for the fish, so that the fish will feel comfortable and will not feel exposed and vulnerable.
For any tropical fish you will need a heater to keep the water warm to mimic the tropical conditions these fish are from.
When you first set up your tank, you will need to prepare it for your new pets, before you get any!

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Dechlorinate the water.

Make sure all the equipment is running.
Get the temperature adjusted and stable (if you’re getting tropical fish).
When you first get your fish, you will need to then get the tank established and stabilized. Primarily, this is going through the cycling process to avoid “new tank syndrome.”

Once you have the tank set up and cycled, you will need to care for the fish. Caring for the fish will include these tasks:

Provide regular aquarium cleanings and water changes.
Provide regular filter maintenance.
Provide regular feedings using a variety of healthy foods.
Observe your fish regularly to recognize any odd behavior.

Inspect your equipment regularly to make sure everything is functioning correctly and that nothing is in need of repair or replacement.

So, you can see, caring for your aquarium and your fish to keep them healthy is really very simple, and though patience is absolutely necessary when you first get started (in order to get through the cycling process with minimal stress and minimal loss), just getting into a routine with your fish will make them more enjoyable and less stressful in the long run.

Natural Algae Control

Algae control in a saltwater aquarium is important.

Having algae in your tank doesn’t mean anything is necessarily wrong, in fact, sometimes it will only grow under healthy conditions!

Algae need two things to grow, light and nutrients, two things that the much more desirable corals also require.

Outside of keeping the aquarium dark and not feeding the fish, there is not much the home aquarist can do to keep algae from growing.

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Luckily, algae is also an excellent food for many aquarium inhabitants. In fact, algae is almost a necessity for many herbivorous fish and inverts.

Many people are familiar with the many chemical means of algae control.

Unfortunately, most of these chemicals are copper based and harmful to not only corals, but also invertebrates and even some fish.

The other alternative is the labor-intensive manual removal method.

This involves scraping or pulling algae from the glass, rocks, and every other aquarium surface, taking up the aquarist’s valuable time, and giving reef aquarium maintenance a bad reputation.

There are many creatures that would gladly do the work for you! These are called “Reef Janitors,”and come in many shapes and sizes.

The most well known are the Hermit Crabs and snails seen commonly in local pet shops. The general rule of thumb for keeping reef janitors is 1 janitor per gallon of water.

This may seem like a lot in the beginning, but you’ll soon realize it may not be enough! In addition to snails and hermits, Sand Starfish and Sea Cucumbers are very important members of the crew.

They spend almost all of their time in the sand bed, and although not often seen, they are performing a very important duty. They keep the sand moving, thereby keeping it well oxygenated and free from debris.

There are many choices for inhabitants in a reef aquarium, but Reef Janitors are a very important and often neglected choice.

So before you fill up your tank with decorative animals, keep in mind the janitors.

Tangs, like the yellow tang and kole tang, will eat many types of algae.

Crabs, like the emerald crab, help to eat the hair algae most of the hermits won’t.

Hermit Crabs and Snails will eat most everything else, including left over food!

Just make sure you give those hermits extra shells to grow, otherwise you may end up missing your snails!

We all know that algae is inevitable in an aquarium, but with the right clean-up crew and a few guidelines to follow, algae control doesn’t have to be a problem.

In fact, you might not even know it’s even there!

What You Should Know Before Purchasing an LED Aquarium Light

The following musings began as a simple post on 3reef and ended up being quite long. However, I think the info is valuable to anyone in the market for LED aquarium lighting.

There is much, much more that goes into an LED unit besides the diodes used. Top quality emitters can be used, but if you have supbar electronics, drivers, etc on the inside, then you have a subpar light. Sure, the diode might be rated to last 50k hours with a 30% output loss over that period, but what if the drivers used are only rated for 10k hours (plus, what are the specs of said driver: is it constant-current, constant voltage, what is the tolerance, variance range, etc?).

Just because you have a spectrograph for a particular emitter doesn’t mean that range is actually being emitted. What a diode produces depends entirely on the power being received, which depends entirely on…you guessed it…the quality of the power supply and drivers! So, just because you are buying a fixture with the latest-and-greatest insert-fad-diode-here, (a debatable subject all on its own) if you don’t know what’s attached to it, you have no idea if it’s actually producing the spectral curve it’s advertised to produce! This is all aside from the fact that the spectral curve of the vast majority of emitters leaves a lot to be desired…

I repeat: there is much, much more to LED lights than there are to the relatively simplistic fluorescent and MH fixtures we’re all used to, and at the moment, unfortunately, you practically have to be an amateur electronics guru AND a lighting guru to be able to make effective comparisons in this (temporarily) flooded market.

Most LED fixtures contain mediocre internal electronics. Why is this? Both for cost savings and because manufacturers know that the vast majority of consumers know nothing about the workings of LED lighting, and those that are not as ignorant concentrate solely on the type of diode being used without realizing that the other associated electronics have a large impact on the light emitted.

Over the next 2-4 years there is likely going to be a serious market contraction as most of the internal electronics of most LED fixtures will begin to fail. A few brands will begin to become the norm in each price point, and consumers won’t have to spend days researching electronics AND lighting to be able to make a decision on what to purchase. Right now is a tough time to be looking for LEDs, because the average consumer simply doesn’t know enough to make a comparison, and really, they shouldn’t have to. The LED market hasn’t reached the point where the average consumer has a good idea as to what they are purchasing, however. For a market contraction to occur, consumers will have to stop buying the bad products, and this process will take a few years.

All I can recommend in the meantime is to purchase from companies that offer as much info about their product as possible. The more info they’re willing to offer about every aspect of the light (and the longer the warranty – ever wondered why most LED products are warranted for 1 year, when they’re advertised to last for 10? The *diode* can *potentially* emit for 10 years, but what about everything else?), the higher the likelihood they produce a quality product.

I wouldn’t purchase a light if the manufacturer did not provide a spectrograph of the actual light (not just the diode) and brand of drivers being used, as well whether or not the driver is constant-current or constant-voltage. I’m probably pickier than most (as these requirements drastically limit the number of fixtures I’d consider spending money on, down to probably two or three), but I advise others to begin to demand more info, lest we be stuck with inferior products in a field that offers so much potential.

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