Thursday 21 November 2013

The Fish Condominium (A Betta Bowl With Planter)

I seem to be in a fishy frame of mind this week.  lol! Yesterday I wrote about the Vancouver Aquarium.  Today I'm writing about building a new home for Ozzie, our office fish.

Ozzie is a betta, or Siamese fighting fish.  His ancestors hail from the enclosed rice paddies and riverside marshland of southeast Asia so he's well adapted to still water.  Bettas can survive perfectly well in small bowls or tanks and don't require water filters or other fancy equipment to provide conditions in which they can flourish:  Good news for me because I inherited responsibility for his care and I have only a little (mostly unsuccessful) experience in caring for fish.

Ozzie came to the office in a tiny glass bowl, with no gravel and barely a cup of water.  He seemed okay with it, but it was bothering me.  He's such a pretty creature.  It seemed a shame to confine him to such a tiny, uninteresting space.  

My sister-in-law, Leanne is - unlike me - something of a fish whisperer.  She's has an aquarium at home, has raised some amazingly large koi in the tank at her office, and has been known to successfully nurse sick fish back to health: something I can't even imagine doing.  She keeps her bettas in glass vases topped with planters.  The plants' roots reach down into the water, feeding on the nutrients the bettas leave behind and, in the process of doing so, filter the water, helping to keep it clear and oxygenated.  

It looked like a good arrangement to me, and far more appealing than Ozzie's original bowl so I decided to make one for our office. It was an easy project to do and, since it would make a nice decorating accent or even a nice gift, I've decided to show you how to make one too.

Here's what I used:

  • One urn-shaped vase, about 2-1/2 litres in capacity
  • 1 plant (Leanne had a spare plant to share with me and I used it for my project.  I'm not even sure what kind of plant it is - perhaps one of my plant loving readers can help me here - but I know it will work because Leanne has had the same plant in her betta bowls for a long time.  Other plants will work too:  Bamboo and ivy both spring to mind but I'm sure that your local nursery will be able to suggest many others.)
  • 1 clear plastic soda or juice bottle, well washed and rinsed (I scrounged several out of the recycling bin at my apartment building, then tried them all until I found one that would sit top-down into the neck of the vase without tipping over or falling through)
  • a roll of jute twine
  • tacky glue
  • aquarium gravel
  • a pair of scissors
  • a soft craft-sized paint brush

The planter portion of this project will rest in the neck of the vase.  I didn't want the mechanics of it to be visible so I decided to wrap the neck of the vase in twine.  You could use a wide ribbon or even some decorative paper instead if you prefer.

Use tacky glue to adhere your twine (or ribbon, or paper) to the vase.  Pour the glue into a shallow container and apply it  with a paint brush.  

Press the covering material gently into the glue.  If you're using twine, you'll want to hold the ends in place for a couple of minutes to ensure that they're properly adhered. 

Wipe away any excess glue before it dries.

Here's what mine looked like when it was done:

Allow the glue to dry for a couple of hours.  

When the glue is dry, rinse some aquarium gravel and spread it 1-1/2 to 2 inches deep in the bottom of the vase.  Fill the vase with water to an inch or two below where then neck narrows. 

If you're using tap water, you'll need to add a betta water conditioner to the water before pouring it into the vase.  

Leave the filled vase to sit for at least a couple of hours so that the water reaches room temperature and any dust or debris from the gravel has had an opportunity to settle.

Prepare the planter portion of your project.

Cut the screw top portion off of your plastic bottle.  Then make a second cut a little further down.  My bottle narrowed where the label was attached so I used that as my cutting line.

Discard the screw top portion you've removed, and the bottle label. Keep the bottom portion of the bottle.  It'll come in handy later on.

Clean any soil or algae from the roots of your plant.

My plant had been sitting in its container for a long time so there was lots of algae in the water.  When I removed it from the container, I discovered that it had several stems, all of which had roots attached. 

I split the plant into individual stems and rinsed away any algae that was clinging to the roots.  Here's what the prepared plants looked like:

I used two stems for my project and put the remaining pieces in a vase for another time.

Position your plant in the top portion you cut from the soda bottle, feeding the roots through the hole left where the screw top threads were removed.

Carefully fill in aquarium gravel around the plant.

Put the planter portion in the neck of the bottle and check the length of the plant roots.  Trim them if needed.  They should extend into the water but not all the way to the bottom.  Your fish needs room to move around too!

Now you're ready to move your fish into his new home.  This is where the bottom of the soda bottle comes in handy:  

Lift the planter out of the neck of the vase and sit it in the soda bottle while you transfer your fish into the water in the vase, then put the planter back in place.  You'll do the same thing when you remove the plant in order to feed your fish.

That's it.  

Easy, right?  

I really like how this project turned out.  My fella says it's 'way too fancy to be called a fish bowl so he's dubbed it the betta condominium.  I think it's a fine name, don't you?