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Driftwood in the home aquarium

Discussion in 'Freshwater' started by J double R, Feb 28, 2007.

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  1. J double R

    J double R The Devil

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    Most aquarists call driftwood the most sophisticated and natural addition to an aquarium. Indeed, it can make the most ‘drab’ looking tank look vibrant and ‘ultra-natural’. In fact, some fish in the wild rely on driftwood to survive. You will often find that your Pleco will rasp on the piece, eating small fibers. There are even some species of Pleco that REQUIRE wood in their diet. Other fish will find this an ideal hiding spot, and in the wild it can harbor underwater organisms that fish will find very appetizing. Overall, if you have the time and patience, Driftwood is a positive addition to almost every tank, and it can be found in massive logs and stumps all the way to tiny twigs and chips that would fit in a 1g tank.

    The first step is taking a measurement of your tank. Measure length, width, and depth. Ensure you take into account any decorations that will remain in the tank after placement, as well as plants, and the size of your fish, as you wouldn’t want to get a piece of driftwood that is so large as to inhibit the swimming room that your fish has!

    Next, find a reputable source of driftwood. If you live near a beach or river, this could be very easy, or if you live in the middle of frozen nowhere, it can be difficult as well.

    Once you have matched your driftwood to the correct size and look for your tank, inspect it closely. Does it look like it’s cracking, or falling apart? Press your thumbnail into the grain. Is it soft? It may be rotting, and that could have disastrous consequences for your tank. If the piece you have was found in the outdoors and not bought, cut a small piece off the end, and see if it is green or wet inside. If the wood is still alive, it will leach sap into the water, and that as well will have bad consequences. In summary, the list of things you want to check for when you select a piece is:

    -tank fit
    -structural integrity
    -live wood
    -chemical contamination

    Some Local Fish Stores will sell grapevine twists advertised as ‘driftwood’. Do not buy this, as grape wood WILL develop an unsightly fungus that will never subside, and can be harmful to your fish. I have found that the best type of driftwood for aquarium use is advertised as ‘Malaysian Driftwood’. This wood is optimum because most likely it will sink on its own without soaking, therefore negating the soaking process for those who wish to quickly introduce driftwood to their tank. There are all sorts of driftwood around the world, pick and choose between what suits your taste and more importantly, what will be compatible with your aquarium.

    Selecting a piece of wood from the outdoors on your own can be fulfilling, sometimes allowing you to find that ‘perfect’ piece that you’ve always wanted, or causing you to give up and purchase a piece. If you DO elect to find your piece outside, be careful that the area you look hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, or has pollutant-contaminated water sitting near the wood, as it will have soaked up a large amount of toxins, and will be virtually impossible to make safe for home aquarium use, and depending on the pollutant, may even be dangerous for you to touch or work with.

    After you get your piece home, take it to the biggest sink in the house. Get yourself a nice stiff brush, and sprayer, and wet the piece down and scrub it WELL. This will remove a lot of dirt and loose chunks that you might not notice. After the scrub, set the piece in a bucket or bin, and fill it with dechlorinated hot water, letting it soak overnight. This will kill any aquatic hitchhikers, bugs, aerobic bacteria, etc..When you initially soak the piece, it may float. This is not cause for concern, and will subside after soaking for a good amount of time. Weigh the piece down with rocks or weights, anything to keep it completely submerged. Notice how the water in the container is light to dark brown the next day? That is called tannic acid, and while this is harmless for your tank, and actually beneficial to some species of fish, most people find the tinted water unsightly. If you find that the driftwood in your tank is indeed leaching tannins into your water, and you would like to clear it up without removing the driftwood, add some carbon to your filter. This will clear it right up, just make sure you change the carbon weekly until the wood has leached completely.

    You have a couple of options to remove the tannins from the wood before you put it in your aquarium. You can continue soaking it, changing the water in the bucket daily, which can take anywhere from 1 week to years, depending on the size of the wood, the age, and how much tannic acid is left in the grain of the piece. Your other option is to boil the piece. This is as simple as submerging the piece in a pot of water, and set it on the stove to boil, replenishing water as necessary to keep the piece submerged. I found that with larger pieces, a big baking dish that is deep enough to submerge the piece in the oven at 500 degrees is sufficient. Boil the piece for as long as possible continuously and SAFELY, you don’t want to let it boil away and burn your house while you’re sleeping or away. After each session of boiling, continue the soaking overnight. You will find that after a week, give or take of course, that the water will be less and less brown at the end of each boiling session. After the water is a very light brown, the wood will usually not leach enough tannins into the water to tint it. Remember, if you don’t mind the tannins tinting your aquarium water, or you are looking to create a true ‘blackwater’ biotope, you can always just soak the piece in some saltwater for a week to sterilize it and waterlog it, and put it directly in your tank. (make sure that you soak in freshwater for a few days afterwards to get the salt out of the wood)

    Once the piece is waterlogged and leached of all tannins (if you so choose to leach it before insertion), you can put it in your tank. I advise scrubbing it one more time before doing so, to remove any pieces and chips that have further loosened in the curing process. If the piece still floats, despite long weeks of soaking, you can use stainless steel bolts and bolt it to a piece of slate, or if it is small enough, you can adhere it to the slate using regular aquarium silicone sealant.

    Patience is the key in this whole process, driftwood is DEFINITELY not an overnight addition, and you will find that it is, more often than not, worth the work.

    Saltwater soak recipe: 1 cup of salt per 5 gallons of water.
  2. msjinkzd

    msjinkzd AC Members

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    Feb 11, 2007
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