JOHN'S TROPICAL IDAHO - visit a coral farm
LOWER ROOM OF CORAL FARM - The original hatchery

Reef Aquarium Farming News
Online Newsletter for Reef Aquarium Propagation Research

ISSUE # 22 page 2 DECEMBER 1998


We have been watching a new coral farm develop here in Boise for the past three years. John has been conducting research with the help of GARF and now the new greenhouse is almost complete. John's basement propagation has been featured in many of the past issues. The original corals propagation tanks are in the basement of John's home on Warm Springs Ave. just two houses east of the Foundation office.

Part of the research here at GARF is geared to finding out how small of a space can be used for a viable commercial coral farm. We are still convinced that this type of aquaculture will be best done on the small scale, local level. Many types of other aquaculture such food fish production, lend themselves to mass production techniques better than corals. Often the production from these farms can be frozen and marketed worldwide. Most large aquaculture projects work with a very limited number of species so training workers is less of a problem. Coral farms may need to produce over 100 types of organisms in order to have a good product base for marketing.

The greenhouse is very fancy. The top is made from 3/8 inch tempered plate glass, and the south upper edge of the glass has no wooden frame. The rest of the greenhouse is made from the finest straight grain clear Red Wood.

The floor of the green house is finished in red bricks. The bricks were placed over a bed of fine sand that has several hundred feet of 3/4 inch black hose in it. The Geothermal water circulates through this hose to heat the floor. The cooled Geothermal water then heats a round tropical fish pool below the greenhouse.

This side of the greenhouse face south. The Property has many giant old Locust trees that have thick leaves in the summer. John has designed this greenhouse to take advantage of the trees shade in the summer and lack of leaves in winter.

This system is designed to be both an expanded hobby and a small business. The system is built so that one half of the tanks are in a basement and one half of the tanks are in the greenhouse. John has the greenhouse lights come on at night. This provides several benefits. The use of electricity is less during both periods so there is never too much load for the electrical system to handle. The pH. of the water will stay more even because part of the system has light at all times.

There is a new Redwood deck that has many levels that allow you to view the outside ponds. Geothermal water that is used to heat the saltwater systems is reused to heat each of these pools. John has researched many ways to use small volumes of Geothermal water most effectively.

This system has been operating for over three years in the basement. During that period we have helped John develop several simple new ways to mass culture corals. I will describe the systems first and then I will show you how we now grow corals for the market.

Reef Aquarium Farming News
The round tank in the floor is four foot wide and two feet deep. It has over one hundred feet of one inch black pipe around the outside of it that is heated with Geothermal water. Plastic sheeting is wrapped around the pipe and a layer of sand is between the tank and the ground.

A round plenum two feet wide and seven inches deep is in the center of this tank. The tank has a layer of Carib Sea Sea Flor aragonite gravel five inches deep. John has plumbed the tank with high quality hot tub fixtures and magnetic drive pumps. These fixtures allow the water to enter and exit the tank without slowing the circular movement of the water.

The brick floor of the greenhouse and the outer walls of the tank have over two hundred feet of pipe buried in several tons of fine grained builders sand. When the geothermal water is turned on the floor is warm to the touch. The water in the tank is very stable even when the outside temperature is below zero.

This greenhouse is already a very nice place to visit on cold winters morning. We enjoy sitting by the back window with the sun shining in while we wait for the coffee to perk. It is easy to remember why we enjoy keeping marine aquariums when the snow is frozen in the streets, and the wind is howling in the tops of the trees outside.

These first pictures were taken in December of last year. This is Tony and he helped John stock the system with aquarium grown live rock from the lab at GARF. Tony started working for GARF during his last year in High School. He is the first of many interns we hope to be able to hire. As we build the Idaho Geothermal Public Aquarium we will need many trained people.

Our intern project is the only way to find young people who are trained in the many uses of Geothermal water. We do not believe that anyplace else uses this resource in as many ways as we do here at GARF.

This lower tank has two 400 watt Metal Halide lights. Tony is putting the rock in the deeper parts of tank so they can adjust to the brighter lights. These tanks also receive natural sun light.

This is the upper grow-out tank in the greenhouse. This tank is sixty inch long and forty three inches wide. The tank holds eight inches of water when the system is turned on. When the pump is turned off the system looses one inch of water as ten gallons drain into the lower tank.

The upper tank has a very well designed light rack. John made two I beam shaped bars that is long enough to hold eight - four foot long tubes. He drilled holes large enough for the bulbs to slip through but not large enough for end caps. When he slides a new bulb in the end caps hold it in place. This rack has plastic braces that hold it together. John can lift the entire light rack up out of the way.

We have been able to grow many fine corals under 40 watt bulbs. This system uses natural light to grow corals in the front half of the upper tank. During the day the light can be lifted to allow the sunlight to enter the tank. One of the reasons John lights the basement half of this system at night is because he often works on coral propagation late into the night. When the systems were both on the same cycle he was limited by the timers.

This picture shows the detail you need to make this type of light rack. John used three eight inch plastic so the rack would be very strong. Note the piece of plastic that he uses to hold the rack in the up position. This support is like the one on many automobile hoods. We have used the rubber end caps form Aquarium Products for four years and they do a very good job. These end caps do not work on VHO bulbs because they get hard because of the heat.

All of the ballasts are mounted on the wall behind the system so they do not get wet. We learn so much from John because he is a professional builder. All of his projects are elegant in their use of materials.

You can see the trays in this tank that John uses to hold his cuttings. The final set of pictures of this upper system will show how much the corals grew in just four weeks. Many of the corals were grown in the lower hatchery so they could be used as brood stock in the new hatchery. The next set of pictures show how we grew the brood stock.

Michael Holcomb GARF'S 1998 volunteer of the year

This picture shows the light when it is in the lowered position. Michael Holcomb is looking at some of the new corals Garf has just moved from the lab at 1321 Warm Springs.

We will soon be moving at least one of each species to this new system. Garf is doing everything we can to protect our Unconnected Genetic Bank. We have had several examples of how important it is to share rare corals so you can get one back if something happens.

Many of the corals that John will use for commercial production have been in the lower system for three years. It is hard to explain how important it is for production that the brood stock corals be acclimated to your system. When we purchase wild corals we plan to wait one full year for them to be ready to start propagation. Anytime you can purchase captive grown stock you will save valuable time in the production of cuttings.

LOWER ROOM OF CORAL FARM - The original hatchery

John started this coral farm project three years ago in the basement of his home two houses east of the foundations office. We used a five foot wide LerioTM tree pot for the bottom pool. These round plastic tree pots are used for our Geothermal tropical fish research. The upper tank is a six foot long acrylic tank that is four feet wide. We have grown over one thousand pounds of tank raised live rock in this system during our research. Much of the brood stock that John is using in phase two of this project was grown in these original tanks.

The tank is wrapped with black pipe and the Geothermal water is circulated around the outside under a layer of insulation. John was able to keep both the lower and upper tanks warm and stable during the past two winters.

The fifty gallon plastic barrel on the right of this picture has been wrapped with the pipe and covered with clear plastic. The barrel will be insulated next. This barrel will be John's heated tank for making up new Ocean Pure.

The upper tank is made from white plastic and this has worked very well. Light reflects from the bottom and sides of the tank. This was our first wide shallow grow-out tank. The light rack that is now on the upper tank was used on this system for two years. We were able to grow out hundreds of corals with eight - 40 watt bulbs.

John is interested in producing large numbers of valuable Zoanthids so he can expand his production of live rocks. Colored SEA MAT ROCKS are very popular. Rocks with several bright colored Zoanthids can be sold to wholesalers in regular shipments. This type of product is one of the things that will make the next expansion of this project possible. Each stage of the coral farming adventure leads to the next step, and if you plan ahead you can build a company that allows you to enjoy the life style you would love to enjoy.

John was able to produce thousands of Zoanthids and Palythoa by starting small and waiting for nature to do her part. By getting started several years ago John has learned how to produce hundreds of Zoanthid plugs with out having to cut and glue any of his stock.

This is picture of the front of the tank. The Zoanthids have grown over the plastic rack. We can remove the plugs and replace them with new ones. In several weeks them new plugs are covered with Zoanthids.

You can see several holes where we removed the finished plugs. These plugs are now being used to start rings of other plugs in the tanks in the upper greenhouse. We use one planted plug in the center of several new plugs that are held in plastic rings.

The Chelmon in this picture is the oldest one we have in our research project. John now brings it Aiptasia rocks from the GARF lab. There are several pieces of Montipora on the racks that we have moved because they were being crowded out by the Zoanthids.

The Plastic tray on the right of this picture is able to hold over 100 plugs. Note how the Zoanthids have grown down onto the frame. The coral in the bottom of the picture is an encrusting Gorgonian from Florida. Any type of coral that spreads can be used in this type of propagation. If you keep the tank algae free the racks and frames can be used for years.

Coralline algae will cover the tank walls and the frames. The new plugs will grow coralline much faster when the tank walls are covered with coralline.


Algae control is one of the most important things to have if you are producing corals for sale. John has had many of the original Reef Janitors in the system for three years. The snails and hermit crabs do a great job on most of the algae, and the Emerald crabs keep the problem hair algae under control.

This is a close up of the Zoanthid potopalythoa mix that is growing on one of the plastic racks. You can just see the edge of some of the holes that do not have plugs. When John removes the covered plugs he will use them to start more rings of these corals.

Many species of soft corals can be grown together on the same rocks. We often receive this type of colony when we purchase new imported corals. Zoanthids and Protopalythoa can grow together for years.

Customers are very pleased when they receive an extra colored Zoanthid. We are grouping several other soft corals on the same reef plug, and we will report the best combinations.

During the next two semesters GARF is going to be collecting as many new brood stock corals as possible. Many of the established brood stock corals will be sold to new farmers such as John. It is hard to explain all of the reasons that captive raised corals grow so much better in closed systems. When we start propagation of a new product using corals that we purchase from aquarium grown stock we are able to save an entire year of acclimating the coral to captivity.

When we move corals from the GARF lab to John's they often resume rapid growth in less than one week. When we purchase wild stock we often wait over a year before we make the first cuttings.

This picture shows one of the first SPS corals we moved into this system. Note the polyp extension. Cuttings from this coral will be sold for years.

The plastic box with the grid is a nursery tray that is used to hold four inch square pots. We use these trays to hold reef plugs. This tray has many Zoanthids growing on the plastic. We are able to remove finished plugs and then insert new plugs in same holes. The new plugs soon become covered with Zoanthids.

As your farm grows it is important that you develop ways to save labor. The cost of each part of your propagation will take away from the profit. GARF will continue to visit coral farms so we can share new ideas with you as we all grow our own farms.

This is the tray before John removed some of the reef plugs. As these trays become coralline covered it becomes less and less likely that green algae will grow on them. John uses one and a half Janitors per gallon so the hair algae is not a problem. The Chelmon (Copperband) has kept all of the Aiptasia from growing so this tray produces clean stock for the new system.

Learning to control pests with natural methods is one of things you can do while you are starting your home coral farm in the aquariums you already keep. Several people have tried to expand their propagation systems too fast and the pest algae ruined the systems. Remember it is good to grow slow, the hobby will still be here. If you out grow your experience or management ability you will have problems. If you grow slow and learn about problems while they are small you will build a company that is both exciting to own and profitable.


You can use every space in your trays to produce products. This tray in the basement is just over five feet long and the lights are four feet long. John left the right end of the tank not covered with bulbs and many low light animals such as sponges and tube worms thrived.

Coralline algae grew in this low light area. Now John lights the basement at night so her can work on this part of the hatchery after the lights have gone out in the upstairs tanks. Notice how the mushrooms are growing on the stand pipe. John learned that it is better to have more than one stand pipe in each tank. If one pipe is blocked the other one can drain the water.

We will have an update on this coral farm next month.



One of the questions that we are asked most often is about propagating mushrooms. People want to find out if the stalk they leave on the rock will grow another mushroom. Yes, it often does, and many times it will grow several new mushrooms. This method can be used to produce Ricordia and many other types of mushrooms.

This is Sally Jo's favorite Ricordia. This coral is in her oldest aquarium, and it is starting to make babies. We many more of the blue and green ones, and Matt often sells some captive raised ones.




This is a group of mushrooms growing in the front of Sally Jo's reef. We are now buying and trading for all of blue and purple mushrooms we can get. If you have too many mushrooms call Matt at 1-800-600-6163 and see what he will trade for them.

When we make mushroom rocks we always try to include at least two colors of MUSHROOMS.



Place cuttings on rock so that they will be on top when rock is placed in reef. Secure the netting over the cuttings with several rubber bands.

The netting should be tight so that it holds the the cuttings on the rock until they attach.

Glue the coralline rocks to the top of the rock with the coralline touching the lava. WE OFTEN SCRAPE CORALLINE ON TO THE ROCKS. You can get good coralline from the front glass with a razor blade. Coralline algae is a plant and it grows from very small pieces, but it can not grow if you do not put it in the tank. Place the rock in the bottom of a grow out tank so that the mushrooms get light. This rock will grow best if it does not get strong current. We use SeaChem Reef Plus at four times the regular dose on all MUSHROOM S


corals for sale

Use this site to solve your reef aquarium algae problems, and help support our research!!!

corals for sale

THIS SEMESTER - we set up our long needed merchants account
so we can take credit cards at 1-800-600-6163



Many of the rare corals are offered to our members for 2 years before they are put on sale. We will soon have an E-mail list that will list the rarest color forms of sps corals and soft corals such as Xenia and Mushrooms.

You can support our research and learn more about reef aquariums and wetlands
1726 Merrill St.
Boise Idaho 83705





JOHN'S TROPICAL IDAHO - visit a coral farm
LOWER ROOM OF CORAL FARM - The original hatchery

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