In the post “ The Master School of Aquarium Design 2019: A Workshop With Six Experts “ our outline showing all 6 aquariums has already given you the basics about this popular event. Now, by popular request from the myJBL community, we would like to go into more detail about each of the six masters’ aquariums. We asked each master the same set of questions and have summarised their answers in the post here, along with the corresponding pictures. Use the comments function for your questions about the aquariums or for any further information you need.
Let’s look at the aquarium created by Tobias Gawrisch with his apprentices Nathali Strauch and Ulrike Kramm.
About Master Tobias Gawrisch, the AquaOwner
The "AquaOwner", as Tobias Gawrisch calls himself on Youtube and his social media channels, hosts one of the largest channels in Germany with 40,000 subscribers. The photographer and aquascaper also fronts my-fish TV and explains simply and understandably important and up to date aquaristics topics. He has been successfully running his own aquascapes for 8 years and loves sharing his expertise.
What is the basic idea of the layout and what does it represent?
The original idea behind my layout was a massive rock face, completely filled and raised from behind with soil substrate, so that it covers the background completely. You can use small plants and even ground-covers at the top and back of the layout. They are still visible and the use of the smallest possible plants thus creates an effect of great depth, even in the background.
Name of the layout
In a nutshell: Rock Face
What material was used in the hardscape?
This year I chose the dragon stone (Ohko Stone) for the hardscape. It has to be one of the best known stones in aquascaping and it always looks quite "aggressive" and rugged due to its fissured surface and therefore suits massive structures and very dramatic scapes very well. Altogether we used approx. 17 kg of this rock in the tank.
Since the whole layout had to stand like a wall in the front part of the aquarium, the stones were also glued together. We used superglue ( JBL PROHARU RAPID ) for this. When applied directly to the stone the adhesive does not cover a large surface and therefore doesn’t bond strongly, so we used cigarette filters. The dense cellulose of the filters absorbs the adhesive and reacts with it. On the one hand this creates a larger contact surface for the stone and on the other hand the filter hardens completely, which creates a very strong bond that can hold even heavy stones without any problems.
Which plants were used?
The planting is basically divided into two parts: On the rock face and in the foreground are mainly epiphytic plants, mosses and Cryptocoryne parva. All these plants are very frugal and grow slowly, but above all epiphytically. They do not have to be planted into the ground, but can adhere to the rocks with roots. We used these plants to green the wall and cover the various glue spots which were still visible until then.
The planting behind the stone wall on the heaped soil consisted of 3 different stem plants, which differed in size, growth speed and colour. The front row (close to the stone wall) consists of Gratiola viscidula, a green, slow-growing stem plant with small, pointed leaves.
Behind it, we planted a row of Rolata Bonsai, which grows slightly faster and has a beautiful orange colour on its uppermost leaves when exposed to enough light. Since the plants are located very close below the lighting, this is no problem in this layout.
And the last row consisted of the Rotala H'Ra, a fast-growing stem plant which, under the right conditions, can become very deep red and has a slightly overhanging growth. This resulted in a "comb" of stem plants above the stone wall, which grows higher and higher from the front to the back and at the same time will have a colour gradient from green to orange to red. Of course, none of this can be seen directly after planting, but due to the proximity to the light and the huge soil mountain, the plants will develop quickly there.
On the right a combination of Marsilea crenata and Marsilea hirsuta was planted in the foreground, which will grow slowly around the rock face and towards the sandy foreground as ground cover, thus hiding the transition between soil and sand.
Here again the complete plant list for the tank:
- Marsilea hirsuta
- Marsilea crenata
- Anubias barteri var. nana
- Bucephalandra Wavy Green
- Bucephalandra sp. Red
- Weeping Moss
- Cryptocoryne parva
- Rotala Bonsai
- Rotala H'Ra
- Gratiola viscidula
What are the special features of the layout?
Despite the bonding and use of different stone sizes, it is often not possible to create a truly closed, dense rock face. For this purpose, filter floss is used to block the remaining gaps from behind. Here we had a huge stock of the JBL Symec Filter Floss at our disposal, which we divided into small tufts and stuffed into the gaps between the rocks.
Why was that important in the first place? Because in the background, behind the rock face, we had really piled up the substrate up to the upper edge of the rock face itself and obviously didn’t want the soil to trickle away ( JBL ProScape Plant Soil BROWN ) to the sand surface. In order to make such a construction more economical, you first need to insert a substructure made of JBL ProScape Volcano Mineral . This material fulfils 3 purposes:
- Because of its porous structure it improves the water flow through the soil
- It promotes the colonisation of bacteria thanks to its large surface
- Its angular structure allows higher fills (it remains more stable with higher structures)
JBL ProScape Volcano Mineral ((or any other porous rock) should, in my opinion, always form the lowest layer of the foundation in any aquascape for the reasons given.
Which other products were used?
What maintenance do you recommend for this layout in the start phase and as a routine afterwards? What needs to be considered?
A bit of dexterity is required when maintaining the layout and the fertilising, as some of the plants can also manage without any additional fertiliser, while others can’t. The stem plants on the crest of the wall especially need a lot of light and consume a lot of nutrients. This behaviour is increased by their proximity to the light, while at the same time, the soil substrate also forms a longer-term nutrient storage to supply these plants for quite a long time. Additional fertilisation is thus not yet necessary at the beginning, although CO2 ( JBL ProFlora u504 ) should be added immediately.
Sooner or later, however, fertilisation with potassium ( JBL ProScape K Macroelements ), iron ( JBL ProScape Fe +Microelements ) and possibly nitrate ( JBL ProScape N Macroelements ) will be needed. Phosphate ( JBL ProScape P Macroelements ) may not be required, depending on the fish stock.
Tell us some anecdotes about the event day with the apprentices - where did you see them making progress, how did you work together, and what was especially fun?
I really enjoyed my day in the role of master and I think that my two apprentices, Nathali and Ulrike, also had a great time. At the end of the day Ulrike took the tank home and will continue to run it there.
Critical steps definitely included gluing the hardscape, an activity that is not necessary in every tank, but is essential for the long-term stability of the layout. In addition, the use of filter floss as a barrier between the soil layers was an interesting experience for my apprentices. The filter floss can permanently remain in the tank without any problems and can even be greened over with plants. In the course of time it becomes completely invisible, although it still fulfils its task.
I’ve come to view the Meisterschule (master school) as one of the most important aspects of the exhibition in Magdeburg, because there I can introduce aquascaping directly, live to the people. Often it's the little things that interest and captivate the audience, because even I haven't shown many of them in detail in one of my YouTube videos yet. I also think it is important and right to set up a scape in a "normal" aquarium in order to make it clear to the spectators and visitors that there is no big entry hurdle for aquascaping. Basically, a beautiful scape can be built in any aquarium.