Compared with decades back, aquarium manufacturers these days are really cranking out some fabulous small-sized all-in-one specialty systems. Our example this installation is the Hagen/Fluval 7.9 gallon Flora. This system comes 'in the box' with tank, lighting and filtration; but as they say on late night TV ads, 'Wait, there's much more!' The kit also includes a very nice work-able 'bell type' carbon dioxide system, plant substrate, planting tongs ('thongs' according to Fluval's blog site!), a plant grow supplement, aquatic plant care guide, even a gorgeous integral three dimensional 'rock' background! You do have to invest in an aquarium heater, but the set-up comes with an alcohol based thermometer. All this gear for a very reasonable price; at some places online and in stores for $100-150.
Aquarium plants (though not mis-sold terrestrial ones) aren't hard to keep; it's just that it's quite easy to leave out an essential element of their necessary needs. Fluval has done an excellent job here of providing for all the essentials, at an attractively low price.
This particular set-up is at Aquatic Warehouse in San Diego, CA; a mighty fine LFS that we've had occasion to visit a few times before. Their intent w/ this kit is to show an archetypical Dutch Planted System'¦ this one of about a month's age, to show prodigious growth.
Tank: The aquarium is constructed of glass, with the front panel being heat bent. Its overall dimensions are 11.8 inches long, 11.8 inches wide, 13.75 inches high. There is an included glass cover as well; to limit evaporation, keep CO2 in, to keep dust et al. from falling in, and prevent livestock 'jumping' out.
Filtration and Circulation: Are provided by the Fluval Flora internal power filter. This is really a nice unit, with a spray bar discharge that greatly reduces carbon dioxide loss through surface disruption and provides for overall turnover of the system water.
Carbon Dioxide System: CO2 is generally a or the rate-limiting aspect of photosynthesis, slowing the uptake of other, at times, algal-feeding nutrients. ALL commercial aquatic plant growers utilize carbon dioxide infusion systems; so their importance shouldn't be slighted. The Fluval Flora system includes a pressurized source of CO2 gas, tubing, adjusting valve, and a 'bell type' diffusion apparatus. This last is olde timey, but excellent in its application. Carbon dioxide is fed manually into an inverted hopper, and as it is needed, the gas goes into solution as carbonic acid. This approach to feeding CO2, as opposed to bubbler types of infusion, provides enough CO2 without the expense of controllers and monitors. During the dark phase (lights out) of photosynthesis, there's no need or desire to add carbonic acid (possibly driving down pH dangerously). The system here will not do this.
Lighting: The provided fixture is a compact fluorescent of 13 watts; sufficient for lighting up to most 'medium intensity' plant species. This fixture, actually its CF lamps, has had troubles w/ early burn out.
Livestock: This Fluval Flora unit is very nicely stocked in the example tank with an outstanding cross twixt Endler's and the Guppy called King Tiger, a trio of Corydoras adolfoi, a nice male triple red Apistogramma cacatuoides dwarf south American cichlid, and a lone pit bull Otocinclus, Parotocinclus jumbo; and let's not forget to mention the captive-produced Golden Rabbit Snails here.
The King Tiger Endler's X Guppy cross is of course only one of dozens available on the market currently. These have proven to be very sturdy crosses; much hardier than commercially produced 'pure strain' guppies.
Adolfo's Corydoras hail originally from the Rio Negro in Brazil and now have been successively bred in captivity for several generations. Like many hobbyist-popular Corys, they prefer lower temperatures, in the mid-to upper 70's F. Due to being cultured, this species no longer has such a restricted range of lower pH and water hardness. Still Adolfo's Catfish is not as tough nor prolific a breeder as the Bronze/Aeneus or other common Cory spp. used by aquarists.
The Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid, Apistogramma cacatuoides, continues to become more popular than the mainstay Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, the 'Ram' Dwarf Cichlid; both of South America. As with the comments above concerning the Adolfo's Cory, the Cockatoo has become more and more facile in adapting to captive conditions, now readily breeding in many places' 'municipal' water and being kept just fine w/o resorting to mixing, making very soft and acidic water conditions. Because there's so little space here, only a solo male (no female/s) are present. To really keep together, breed these fish, calls for a twenty gallon, cut flower pot'¦
Pit bull Otocinclus, O. jumbo, is not a bully like its canine co-nomen, but does have its eyes mounted up higher on the head like the dog breed. This member of the genus Otocinclus has proven to be better suited to aquarium conditions and a more productive algae eater. What's more, it does fine just being kept singly.
Other Possibilities Stocking-wise: Of a certainty, this small system could be made into a mini-reef, or stocked w/ any number of small freshwater species along w/ or w/o plants.
Decor: Some folks/reviews have stated problems with the polystyrene-based background. As this is mounted inside the tank, and is of very low density'¦ it can float free, causing real trouble to the glass top and even light fixture. I strongly encourage the use of aquarium-intended Silicone/Silastic to permanently mount the background to the inside rear glass.
The included (4.4 Kg.s) of Fluval Stratum substrate also has its share of detractors. The material itself is decorative/attractive and functional, but has a tendency to not hold rooted plants down, calling for use of some sort of weighting system, or a strategy to pre-pot your plants and situate these pots below and amongst the substrate. Whatever you settle on, DO thoroughly rinse the provided substrate and leave soaking a good day ahead of placing any live plants in it. Should you dislike the looks and problems with anchoring with this substrate, there are other alternatives. I use SeaChem's Fluorite for my planted tanks.
Other Suggested Gear: Unless you're in a setting w/ unusually stable temperature year round, you'll need to procure a thermostatic heater; 50 watts will do.
As mentioned above, the included substrate may well not be enough to anchor rooted plants; thankfully this product is sold separately as well.
you plan on rapidly growing aquatic plants for any period of time,
I'd invest in more CO2 cartridges. Hagen Fluval pressurized
disposable cartridges, CO2 20 and 88 gram ones are sold in three packs,
and there are alternative sources. As with hard drive capacity, larger
is better in CO2 storage availability.
Maintenance: Cleaning lid/top is done during most days, as this set-up is in a working fish store. Water that has been preconditioned from Reverse Osmosis made on-site and rendered to a pH of 6.8 is half changed out on a weekly basis. The livestock is fed twice daily with flake foods in the AM and a mix of frozen/defrosted meaty mix of foods in the afternoon.
The 7.9 Hagen Flora kit comes with a one ounce bottle of their liquid plant food (Nutrafin Plant Gro) supplement. I'd like to insert a plug for SeaChem's Fluorish, my fave product for making sure aquarium plants receive all the nutrient they need to grow lush and beautiful.
Cloze: This kit is very similar to another winner by Fluval, their Ebi Nano Dwarf Shrimp system; both are well-thought out and mostly complete, ready to go, out of the box arrangements. For a retail some places of about a hundred dollars U.S., this unit is a good value IMO. My misgivings re the inclusive lighting and background have been mentioned. One last item is the easily-damaged boxing that encloses this product. IF buying from a distal (etailer, catalog co.) do make sure that they enclose/re-pack yours sufficiently to make the trip.