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How to make cheap custom DIY aquarium lids using twinwall polycarbonate greenhouse panels.
DIY Polycarbonate Aquarium Lid
DIY Polycarbonate Aquarium Lid

Why Use Polycarbonate for DIY Aquarium Lids

I've previously covered how to make DIY Aquarium Lids out of glass, but glass lids are less practical for larger tanks or configurations where you want a lid that has multiple cutouts for your equipment. I used a panel of twin-wall polycarbonate to make a custom lid for my 40 gallon breeder aquarium (shown above).

Twin-wall polycarbonate is used for roofing panels on greenhouses, so it is designed to allow good light penetration. It is also far more durable than glass. Polycarbonate sheets won't crack or shatter if they are dropped or bumped. They also will not bow or bend like sheets of acrylic, which makes them an ideal material for covering larger aquariums.

Constructing the DIY Aquarium Lids

Hacksaw
Hacksaw

I started with a 2' x 4' sheet of polycarbonate, and used a table saw to cut it down to the dimensions of the top lip of my 40 breeder aquarium: 35" x 17". Then I used a handheld hacksaw to make the cutouts for my incoming water line and my Aquaclear 70 HOB filter. Finally, I added "handles" to the front edge using clear Command hooks. The hooks allow the lid to be lifted off the tank easily for maintenance.

This video by Jadren Aquatics has more good information about making DIY aquarium lids out of polycarbonate panels:

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Why Feed Live Baby Brine Shrimp?

Fish thrive when fed live foods often, especially when they are young. Live baby brine shrimp are a highly nutritious food for fish fry; full of protein and nutrients that dry flake food just doesn't offer. Newly hatched brine shrimp are very small, measuring less than 1 mm. Fish of most species are able to eat them within their first week of life. Additionally, fish love brine shrimp. Almost any fish will eat them live or frozen.

The photo below shows a newly hatched and strained batch of baby brine shrimp.

Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter
Baby Brine Shrimp in Coffee Filter

Hatching Brine Shrimp

Brine shrimp eggs are actually dormant cysts. They can stay viable for years if they are stored in a cool, dry container. When exposed to warm salty water, they re-hydrate and begin to hatch. Hatching baby brine shrimp is pretty simple. Below is a list of the materials you'll need to start your own hatchery.

1. Container

The optimal container for hatching brine shrimp has a tapered or conical shape. A very cheap and reliable option is to use an inverted plastic soda bottle. A 1 Liter bottle will work for small batches but a 2 Liter is more efficient. The photo below shows a 1 liter water bottle being used to hatch brine shrimp.

1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery
1L bottle brine shrimp hatchery

Another option is to purchase a specially designed brine shrimp hatchery like this one. This may be a good option if you want something sturdy that can be used for a long time.

2. Aquarium Salt

Brine shrimp, as the name implies, require a brine solution to hatch. The typical solution is about 1.5 tablespoons of salt per quart of water, or 25 parts per thousand of salt. Although you don't have to use aquarium salt, I like to use it because the large crystals are easier to work with without making a big mess. A large container is not very expensive, and will last a long time if you are just using it for this purpose.

Aquarium Salt
Aquarium Salt

3. Air

Hatching brine shrimp requires an air pump to tumble the cysts in the water and keep the solution oxygenated. You don't need an air stone. Just position the airline tubing so that the bubbles are coming out at the very bottom of the container.

4. Brine Shrimp Eggs (Cysts)

There are several different brands of brine shrimp eggs available. For the most part any brand that advertises a high hatch rate (80-90%) will work. The San Francisco Bay brand is popular and a good choice if you are just trying to hatch them for the first time. However, its more economical to buy a large container, like this one.

Brine Shrimp Eggs
Brine Shrimp Eggs

Hatching

Once you have all the materials, you can set up your hatchery and mix up the water, salt, and brine shrimp cysts. There are many different DIY brine shrimp hatchery designs out there. This one by Solid Gold Aquatics is a good beginner tutorial.

In my experience you don't need to add anything to the water besides salt. This includes dechlorinator. The cysts are completely encapsulated and chlorine in normal tap water concentrations shouldn't affect your hatch rate.

The optimal temperature for hatching is 77-80F. Since brine shrimp are attracted to light sources, you can use a lamp with a CFL or incandescent bulb to keep the solution warm, or submerge the bottle in an aquarium that is already at a nice warm temperature. I have found that temperature is more important than constant light for high hatch rates.

Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest
Hatched Baby Brine Ready to Harvest

Harvesting Brine Shrimp

When you are ready to harvest your newly hatched brine shrimp, you should remove the air line and allow the solution to settle for 5-10 minutes. The unhatched cysts will sink to the bottom of the container, and the empty shells will float to the surface. This will leave the live baby brine shrimp swimming in the middle of the solution. Then use a pipette or turkey baster to suck up the wriggling orange cloud.

At this point you can squirt the salty brine shrimp solution directly into your aquarium, but it is better to strain the shrimp out of the salt water using a coffee filter first. You can use either a fine metal mesh or a paper filter for this purpose.

Straining Brine Shrimp
Straining Brine Shrimp

Once you have strained the shrimp into a filter, you can transfer them to some dechlorinated tap water or aged aquarium water before feeding them to your fish. Any leftover baby brine shrimp can be frozen into cubes and fed over the next few days.

Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine
Using a Pipette to Suck up Baby Brine Shrimp

The video below shows live baby brine shrimp being fed to my celestial pearl danio tank. You can see just how quickly the fish devour them.


Seachem Purigen is a synthetic absorbent that captures organic waste in the water column. It can absorb and trap nitrogenous organic wastes that would otherwise release ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. Tannins from driftwood and other natural decor in the aquarium are also captured. Eventually, Purigen will turn dark brown to black, as shown in the photos below. But you don't have to discard it and buy more at this point, because Purigen can be regenerated and reused!

Used Purigen Bags
Used Purigen Bags

The Purigen packet on the left in the above photo was used for just a few weeks in an aquarium with some large pieces of driftwood. The brown color is due to it absorbing tannins from the wood in the water. The packet on the right was used in a different aquarium for several months.

 

Recharging Seachem Purigen

Basic directions for re-charging Purigen are available on Seachem's website. A screenshot of their instructions is included below:

Seachem Purigen Regeneration Instructions
Seachem Purigen Regeneration Instructions

Bleaching Purigen

I recharged two 100 ml bags of purigen using a solution of 2 cups Clorox bleach and 2 cups water in a plastic container. The bleach burns off organic material that has been captured by the Purigen. You can see the brown and green coloration was completely removed from these two bags after 24 hours.

Bleached Purigen Bags
Bleached Purigen Bags

Dechlorinating Purigen

After soaking for 24 hours in the bleach solution, I mix a solution of 2 cups tap water and 1 TSP of Seachem Safe. Safe is the same thing as Prime, but it comes in a dry powder form and 250 grams treats up to 60,000 gallons. Compare that to a 500ml bottle of Prime, which treats only 5,000 gallons. Per Seachem's instructions, you can use any equivalent dechlorinator, just be sure to use a large enough dose to remove all chlorine.

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This is the first time the packets shown have been regenerated. After multiple uses, Purigen will begin to show staining or discoloration. I don't recommend re-using it more than 3 or 4 times.