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Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research

ISSUE # 17 page 2 MAY 1998


Yaacov Y Levi

Last month I began a discussion on planning for the size of the Reef Farming Enterprise and the facilities needed to give a beginning modest production with a suggested array of equipment and layout of the equipment. As with a number of articles this one has generated some interesting email and it is from two of these that this alternative array and layout is also suggested.

I had discussed the use of vats for growing out the corals, made from plywood and stacked three high in a rack with much of the filtration happening with a recirculating system operating from a large refugium.

For the record, I too do not relish working much of the time from a step stool.
In Vietnam I did make the 13 jumps,
but I screamed all of the way down every time!

So, the following design of a growout rack for vats
is an alternative to the 3-high described last month

Two respondants replied that 'being altitudinally challenged' they did not look forward to working in a vat the top edge of which is 6'6'' off of the floor. So, back to the drawing board, and hand calculator, and I have come up with the following who wish for a lower working height, myself included. For the record, I too do not relish working much of the time from a step stool or step ladder even though I am 5'11''. In Vietnam when my recon platoon was volunteered by the Asst Div CO to go to Thailand to a jump school there, I did make the 13 jumps, but I screamed all of the way down every time! So, the following design of a growout rack for vats is an alternative to the 3-high described last month. And, having build one of the 3-highs it IS high up there to work well in.

The alternative is longer as with just two vats the weight is less and can be more readily distributed. The prototype vats are 8' long by 2' wide and 18'' deep and made from 3/4'' plywood with a plywood strap in the middle across the top to hold the sides in and keep them from bulging.


The bottom vat is 9'' from the floor, and there is an 18'' space between the top of the vat and the bottom of the top vat which puts the top of that one at 5'3'', which I can manage to work in without a step stool. Raising the bottom vat gets it high enough for the drain line to gravity feed into a 2' deep sump. This design vat holds 157 gallons, give or take a gallon or two depending on whether ornot you use arragonite and plenums or bare bottoms. As with the other style, I drilled one end, 1'' down from the top and centered for a bulkhead fitting. This is installed AFTER the vat is lined with heavy plastic which holds the plastic tight in the hole.

There is a pvc pipe going from the hole to a drain line that goes down to a refugium/sump. Water comes into these from an overhead pipe from the sump down a 1'' pvc line to one end and dumps into the vat and flows to the other end and out the drain. This vat takes four shop lite fixtures with electronic ballasts replacing the ballast and uses 8 each 40 watt triton and blue moon lamps. I strongly recommend using the electronic ballasts as the small ones that come with a shop lite will soon burn out lamps.

I am looking at this configuration very seriously
instead of the 3 high
vats as it is much easier to monitor the
livestock in these, and I can
take things out and replace them much easier
on my rollcart than in the 3 high.

I am looking at this configuration very seriously instead of the 3 high vats as it is much easier to monitor the livestock in these, and I can take things out and replace them much easier on my rollcart than in the 3 high. I am planning on making more of the two high vats, but will also use the one 3 high. Nothing goes to waste. I am looking at very seriously not using plenums in the vats but a high turnover of water into the sump with a heavy caulerpa growth plus a strong undergravel filter for denitrification and pulling water through a deep arragonite bed, and, additionally trickle flowing water through a barrel of arragonite into the sump for further dissoultion of the calcium to buffer the system water. This is all subject to revision as I go along.

So, how many of these is needed? The $64,000 question! As these vats have an inside length of 96'' that means that roughly 19 each 5'' rocks can be lined up in a row just touching one another. I find that a 5'' rock is the best selling size as it is the easiest size for the shops to sell. The vat is 24'' wide inside, so I can get just five rows of the rocks if they are about 4'' wide, or less, many are less being what I call 'finger cookies', about 3'' wide and about 5 '' long. When making these I try to use approximately the same amount of mix to each rock whatever its shape. So, 19 in a row and five rows comes out to about 95 rocks in one vat. That is approximately 6 boxes of corals with 15 pieces to a box, which I list at $ 100 to a box, delivered to the shop. My sales goal is to average 7 boxes a week which will give me a net, I figure, after expenses , of $400 a week. Seven boxes a week comes to about 364 boxes a year of corals needed.

Now that is of this one size coral, and the shops also need other sizes, so I am planning on ten of these racks, with two vats per rack to produce 350 plus boxes of the 5'' rocks a year, and an additional five racks with ten more vats to grow out the bigger rocks, the 7'' dia swim-thru rocks, the 10'' caves and a couple of other designs that I am now working on. Additionally there is the same need for 15 to 25 each 75 gallon tanks for the maintenence of the broodstock colonys, and laying out floorplan configurations this requires about 1400 sq ft of floor space, with some space used as packing bench, artemia and rotifer and green water culture and a sink and cleanup area.

In addition to the main production area additional space is needed for storage(salt, supplies etc), box storage, and maintenence and utility area, and I am allocating about 200 sq ft of area for that. And, lastly, a small ofice area, which is basically a cubicle, and looking at my job ofice and the cubicles there I think about 20 sq ft is adequate for that. All told we are looking at about 1620 sq ft of light industrial floor space which in this area of upstate NY can be had for about $2-3.00 a ft or less if you shop around. This needs to be looked at very closely as this can make or break you.

Also, keep in mind, that from the time the first vat is stocked
with cuttings for growout tht you are in all probability looking at four
months before those cuttings are grown into a nice filled out coral that
a shop can sell and make a satisfied customer

And, there is no room in these figures for great wasted space areas, tanks need to be double racked and aisles kept to no more then 3' wide between racks. This will also help in heating costs. Also, keep in mind, that from the time the first vat is stocked with cuttings for growout tht you are in all probability looking at four months before those cuttings are grown into a nice filled out coral that a shop can sell and make a satisfied customer with, and some will take a few weeks longer. But, you will be selling a superior product to what that shop can bring in from the far east.

So, you can shop around for industrial space, or, build your own space. This has to be after you do a lot of pencil pushing and shopping around for space. But, the 16-1700 sq ft size seems to be a realistic assessment of what you will need to have a fulltime facility for growing out corals to sell to pet shops. As you can see from previous articles I am planning this sample layout for a net after expenses and pretaxes of $25,000 for the first year. This is modest, but attainable. And certainly after a years operation can be increased, I would expect by about 10% a year safely.

I am presently shopping around now and have already found out that you need to 'get off of the beaten path' a little, maybe into outlying areas. There is space to be had, but, you sure wont find it in the high rent districts, and, once you sign the lease , or mortgage you had best be ready to get into production. That is why right now that the bulk of my production is geared towards producing more broodstock with just about 10% available for sales or swapping and some 'sample boxes.' I have been dropping in on shops I havenot met the owners of before with a box of some samples of what is being produced and a breakdown on the box prices and how I am offering them. To date I have a longer list of shops to call on then I have time to put boxes together and make the visits.

In later installments of this I will go into a bit more detail of the racks themselves and the costs etc of this system. I think that it is a good system to be looking at and to make whatever modifications that you need to for your own useages. I think that realistically, for most hobbyists that you should be looking at 2-3 years from beginning to propagate corals until you are looking at a serious involvement in production. use the time in between to gain expertiese in making the cuttings and growing them out, learning your market area and the shop owners and slowly accumulating the basic equipment. let each level build on the previous and you can grow into this without heavy debt or even any debt. There are also other additions to the operation that you can add including making and growing out your own live rock in stock tanks, or making and selling cured cement rocks for the shops to sell dry for reef building. Another possible area is to wholesale tank raised fish from either hobbyists or C-Quest. There are any number of variations on what you can sell, it depends on your interests and skills and willingness to put in the required effort.

Any questions at all dont hesitate to email me, or LeRoy . We would like to hear what you are doing. Enjoy, remember, its a hobby, and you CAN make money at it, but first, and always, enjoy what you are doing!

Take care and... "Save a reef... Grow your own!"


> Hi to the GARF Gang:

> I just want to thank you for all you fine research and work in
> the area of reef keeping. The absolute best investment I have made in
> the health and maintenance of my 55 gallon reef tank has been the fine
> collection of snails and hermit crabs. No hair algae, cyanobacteria,
> diatom bloom or significant green algae problems. The Janitors are on
> the Job! My corals and fish are disease free and
> are growing at an astonishing rate.
> I thought you might like to see a couple of snapshots of my 3
> month old tank so I'm enclosing a couple of jpg files.
> Best Regards Jerry Douglas

Jerry, Thank you so much for the support and the great photos.

great reef

great reef     great reef

-----Original Message-----

Date: Sunday, April 19, 1998 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: Green Star Polyps

>>Hello GARF,
>> >>I have purchased a fist-size rock full of Green Star Polyps just
>>recently. Not only to have them as display, since they are really
>>pretty, but also, to propagate them. Could you please give me the
>>procedure on how to do same so I could get them growing everywhere.
>> >>Thank you in advance and keep up the great work!
>> >>Errol

>Dear Errol,
>This is a great animal. It is becoming harder and harder to find true green
>star polyps. We use a chisel and scrape off the purple base that the polyp
>comes out of. We even sometimes take a piece of the rock it is attached to
>this way we make sure we have the whole animal. We then glue the scraped
>animal to another rock we do this be placing a drop of glue on the back
>side of the newly propagated animal and attach him where you want in your
>reef system. Hold him in place for about 50 seconds. This animal will
>keep it's polyps in for about two days and then should come back out full force. Please
>let us know how your success is and thanks for joining the propagation network.
>Sally Jo Headlee
>Pres. & Executive Dir.
>Involved with acting
>locally thinking globally

green star

Hello GARF,

I did my first propagation on the Green Star Polyps last week and I'm happy
to say, it was a success. I carefully took a very sharp pair of sissors
land cut out the pieces that was growing on top and around the main colony.
Using "SuperGlue GEL" I placed a glob at the base and quickly placed them
where I wanted them, as indicated with the picture I provided. They ALL
opened up within 24 hours and still growing each day.

As you can tell with the picture, I have mushrooms. I've heard of ways of
propagating mushrooms, however, the instructions was not realy detailed.
Could you please send me your version of "Mushroom Propagation"? :-)
God Bless and thank you for your support!


>>Dear Errol,
A huge congratulations is in order and a strong pat on the back!!!!! We really know it works but it is so hard to
get people to do this. It makes no sense to keep taking things from the ocean, but its one step at a time. We
thank you so much for helping to make a difference.

With the mushrooms, after doing this for so long, I am convienced that they propagate better when you just leave
them alone. They grow many babies by themselves and spread from rock to rock however if you want to
propagate to move them to another spot or share one with a friend this is how we do that process.

No glue this time:)  We go to the store and buy bridal veil netting, rubberbands and a clean sissors. You can cut
the mushroom almost anywhere from the base. Leave some of the mushroom on the rock and it will grow back.
With the cutting in a bowl with fresh salt water find a small rock. Place the new cutting on this rock cover it with the bridal veil netting and secure it the netting in place with a rubber band. Make sure not to place the rubber band on the cutting. Just hold the mushroom in place. Within two weeks time the mushroom will be attached all on this own.
Please let us know how this goes.
>Sally Jo Headlee

Errol here is some new data on Mushroom propagation, thank you for your support!!


Order: Corallimorpharia ( Mushroom false coral )
Family: Actinodiscidae
Actinodiscus ( disk anemones - false coral )

Mushroom anemones can be cut and grafted onto base rock. When a colony of mushroom anemones is thriving in a tank, starts can be removed with a pair of sharp scissors.
mushroom culture

Reef picture

Several methods are often used to attach the cuttings to base rock.

The easiest way to start new mushroom rocks is to cut the top off of a healthy anemone and attach it to a fresh base rock. This is done by holding the mushroom up with the heads hanging down. Hold the mushroom rock above a bowl of reef water and cut several pieces off. The cuttings will fall into the bowl.

  • SMOOTH MUSHROOMS - Actinodiscus sp
    Most of the best colors are in this group. We have been collecting as many types of these mushrooms as possible. They are very easy to propagate. You can put several colors on one rock.
    These mushrooms are great hosts for many types of clown fish. We are collecting these types so we can propagate them as hosts for captive raised clown fish so the hobby does not need to harvest as many anemonies in the future.
  • RICORDIA - Ricordia
    These American mushrooms can be cut and attached very well using the netting. The stem grows a new head and the head can be split several times. This is the most needed mushroom for our future research and we are very interested in trading for any that you have.
  • GIANT MUSHROOMS -Rhodactus sp
    These mushrooms are easy to propagate using the netting.
  • mushroom culture

    mushroom culture


    The hardest part of mushroom propagation is getting the nerve to make that first cut. Use a pair of sharp scissors and just snip off one of the mushrooms heads. This will not damage the other mushrooms and it is easy to make the cutting attach to the place you want it.

    One of the best ways to make cuttings is by removing the rock and hanging the mushrooms upside down. The mushrooms will droop until they can expel the extra water. We hold the rock over a bowl of reef water and drop the polyps into the water.

    We often remove one half of the polyps and then we return the mother colony to the reef so it can grow again.


    mushroom culture beforeThese two photos show how the netting can be attached with super reef glue under water. The netting is glued around the edge of the mushroom to hold it in place until it attaches. This method works well if you want to attach a mushroom next to a colony of mushrooms that are a different color. The netting can be removed after the mushroom attaches. The glue will grow coralline algae very fast. mushroom culture
    This type of mesh netting is sold in fabric stores in wedding dress section

    The method that we use to attach mushrooms is with a 1/16 inch mesh net. Several cuttings are placed on the base rock and the group is held in place with a 2" x 4" square of mesh.

    Rubber bands or super glue can be used to hold the cutting until the anemone attaches.

    Reef picture


    Mushrooms of several colors can be attached to different parts of the same rock. These rocks are then placed in a tank with bright lights and medium current.

    We have been sewing mushroom cuttings onto base rocks. Several small cuttings can be threaded onto a two pound test fishing line. Wrap the thread around the rock with the mushrooms on the top. The thread can be cut and removed after the mushrooms attach.

    The mushroom cutting can be placed in a 1/2 " deep hole that is drilled in the aragonite. The current from the power heads is directed away from the new cuttings. Several colors of cuttings can be placed in each hole.

    Mushroom rock production in closed systems

    MUSHROOM ROCK PRODUCTION TANKS ( Standard 55 gallon )

    Learn to start an inexpensive mushroom aquarium

    1. The best tanks for production of mushroom rocks are deep tanks with good water quality and medium water flow. We use two Maxi - Jet 1000 power heads in each tank.

    2. The best lighting has been florescent bulbs. We have had good production using three 40 watt 4' foot bulbs - two Tritons and one Blue Moon.

    3. We use SeaChem Reef Plus at twice the regular dose for good growth and fast attachment.

    Reef picture

    This type of mushroom is very easy to cut because it has a long stalk. We have noticed that mushrooms can take several months before they become settled in a new system. After the mushroom is growing it often spreads to other rocks that are near it. We grow our mushroom rocks in the bottom of most of our reefs. They thrive in low light areas and we have many of them growing inside of our cave rocks.

    If you have any that you are producing we would be very interested in buying or trading for them. It is our opinion that colored mushrooms and GREEN green stars are one of the best coral farm investments. We have seen so many shades and colors of both of these that we do not think that anyone will be able to collect them all.

    mushroom culture


    mushroom culture


    We are happy to announce that Tim L. Weidauer has purchased the famous GREEN WATER AND ROTIFER SOURCE Wasatch Aquaculture in Salt Lake City. His green water may be the most hardy culture in the hobby. We froze and thawed these cultures over 30 times during the past winter, and the green water is still thriving. We have just thawed his Rotifer cultures and they are now producing strong populations. These strains allow us to freeze 1/2 of the orders we receive every two weeks. Please visit Tim's web sites.

    Tim L. Weidauer OWNER- Wasatch Aquaculture -http://www.rotifer.com - "Live Plankton!"

    President - Wasatch Marine Aquarium Society - Salt Lake, Utah


    Yaacov Y Levi

    On March 23rd I was making cuttings and set aside three new cuttings to check the growth rate of the cuttings that I had made. They are color morphs of Clavularia, 'green and brown star polyps'.

    In the articles that are around today, many are on the growth rates of various species of corals and the ability of these corals to regenerate growth when cut into smaller parts of the parent. It is this ability that has led to the growing of new coral colonys from parent colonies beyond the ability of the colonies to reproduce in other ways, and this has also been the means by which we have been able to stock out tanks with tank raised strains of corals several generations removed from the ocean.

    GREEN STARS I have read a number of different reports of fantastic growth of some species in others tanks, and while my growth rates for various species has been good, it has often been less then what I had heard 'elsewhere' on possible growth rates, and, also, I have had no way to verify other growth rates in others conditions. There is very apt to be some variation on growth rates of various species due to the water conditions that they are maintained in, and the available lighting and feeding if any.

    To make a long story short, there is very little information around on growth rates of our corals in captive conditions, and what we can expect in growth when we make cuttings. I have seen talk of making saleable coral rocks two months after a cutting is made. Well, maybe, depending on the size of the cutting.

    So, for my own information, and to add some degree of a standard to what information that there is I have begun to track the growth rates of various cuttings that I have been making.

    I maintain my cutting rocks on racks in a 75 gallon tank with 4 each 40 watt flo lamps, 1 Blue Moon and 3 Tritons gives me what I consider to be good results with 14 hours of lighting a day. I do 10% water changes a month, or more, of Ocean Pure marine salts, and the tanks have plenums with 3-4" of aragonite gravel from CaribSea and I try to maintain the tanks at 78 degrees F at a salinity of 1.024. Each tank has 1-2 powerheads operating 24 hours a day and each day gets a skilter for 1-2 days a week of skimming with low removals . I use tap water for salt water makeup which has a high level of calcium and comes out of the tap at a pH of 8.1. I only have VHO's on my Xenia and sps corals, the Tritons and Blue Moons are my lighting of choice for the others.

    I am maintaining over a dozen such tanks right now and try to keep them all at these standards. There is daily variation in salinity etc but by and large my conditions are fairly uniform consistent with also living a life and working an offsite job.

    I place my cuttings on rocks that I have made as per the articles posted here on the GARF newsletter site, primarily of #3 portland cement and oyster shell. These are cured for approx six weeks in fresh water and another two weeks in saltwater before going into holding vats with salt water until needed.

    The three cuttings that I set aside for tracking the growth rates were from colonies I had purchased from a local fish store that they had received from Jakarta. They were two white-starred brown polyps and one flourescent green polyp stars. The parent colonys have been 'trimmed' many times for new starts and have many colonys now from them that are larger then they were when I purchased them. I try not to take cuttings from a colony more often then every six weeks and preferably give them a two month rest between making cuttings from them.


    I make the cuttings on a small rolling cart that I push next to the tank I am working in and make the cuttings from the rock into a bowl of water with sharp surgical scissors. Once the number of cuttings have been taken that I want from that colony it goes back into its tank. Depending on the number of cuttings that I have I decide how many will go on a rock and the size of the rock to mount it on. My customers prefer a lot of smaller rocks, which I call 'cookies' either in rounded 3-5" dia rocks or 'finger-length' cookies with the same amount of material. All the small rocks use the same amount of mix but I vary the appearance with some longer, others 'humped' or iregular shaped. I also make caves as LeRoy has described plus 'swim-thru' rocks built up over mounds of damp oyster shell with 2-3" holes in the sides for a clown or damsel to swim through. other rocks are plates or ledges for stacking. I am also now working on a couple of different styles to try. The different sized rocks get different amounts of cuttings mounted to them, with the caves often getting 5-6 cuttings and the 'cookies' 1-2 cuttings.

    On the star cuttings I make the cuttings with as many polyps on the cutting as I can, without denuding the parent colony. I like on average about 6-8 polyps on the stars, depending on the actual part of the colony that is being trimmed. I have found without fail in corals that are made with cuttings that the more polyps or larger the cutting the faster that it will grow and recover. Stars do very well for me with 6-8 polyps per cutting.

    I mount the star cuttings on the rocks with superglue, after patting the rock dry if removed from a tank or vat, place a drop of superglue on the rock , pat the base of the cutting dry with a rag, and press gently onto the glue, lightly blow on it and place in the tank on the rack, usually about halfway down on the racks, there are 4 layers or shelves to each rack. After a week or two I move the new cutting up higher, and when it has grown enough to be sold it goes to a lower level on the rack until sold. I have developed a 'kind of feel' to making the cuttings, but have never timed them before under the philosophy of 'it takes as long as it takes'. Which is true, but not too good for planning production. That is why this tracking, to get some real info as to how long cuttings will take to become aquarium store sellable rocks.

    The three cuttings were each placed separately in a well lit part of a reef in my Sinularia tank so as not to get mixed up with other sale rocks and they are the only stars in this tank. It is lit the same as the other tanks and handled the same as the others, it just contains Sinularia and a few Zooanthids. The three cuttings were placed about halfway up the reef to correspond with the height of the other cuttings in the other tanks.

    The three were numbered and measured in size and number of polyps. They are:

    1. brown star -8 polyps and 3/8" wide and 1/2" long when made on 3/23/98
    2. green star-13 polyps of a thick clump that I didnt want to divide because of its configuration, about 3/4" long by 3/8" wide
    3. brown star- 6 polyps 3/8" almost square
    On 5/11/98 the cuttings had increased in size as follows:

    1. brown star-23 polyps, 1" long and 1/2" wide
    2. green star-42 polyps, 1" X 3"
    3. brown star-34 polyps, 1" by 3"

    Both #2 and # 3 are growing flatter over the rocks while #1 has also grown upwards before probably spreading out more. Cuttings almost never show the exact same growth patterns, each one is its own individual.

    Each rock has been kept in the same positions on the reef and I will continue to track their growth for the next several months. To date it has been approximately 6 weeks since the cuttings were made and they have increased by roughly three times in number of polyps and area.

    I have also begun to track the growth times of other species such as Xenia and Anthelia and a variety of Zooanthids. As my former Cost Accounting professor once said," if you dont know where you are at you have no chance of getting anywhere." Tracking time in growing of corals on the reef enterprise is one thing that we need to know to be able to plan production.

    As always, questions are welcome, email me or Leroy and share your stories with us.



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