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How to Grow Phytoplankton At Home

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Last updated on November 17th, 2023


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What is Phytoplankton?

Phytoplankton is a small, photosynthetic, microalgae that feed the smallest of filter feeders. Common creatures that eat phytoplankton include clams, sponges, copepods, coral, and a variety of other filter feeders! Phytoplankton are a floating algae organism, as opposed to larger algae that grow on rocks and glass.

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For more about the benefits and general information about phytoplankton Read Everything You Need To Know About Phytoplankton.

What You Need to Grow Phytoplankton

Growing phytoplankton is easier than it sounds. You essentially need to simply provide a clean environment for the phytoplankton to grow, some air to keep the water moving and oxygenated, a light source, some food, and a starter culture. Most of this can be found at a combination of local stores, aquarium shops, and Amazon. I have some suggested items below.

How to Grow Phytoplankton at Home

Setting Up the Growing Vessel

Setting up the vessel itself is really simple. First you will want to sterilize the container with either rubbing alcohol or hot water. This ensures the container is clean and ready for growing phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton Lighting

After sterilizing, you will want to wrap the container with the strip light above. If you decide not to use the strip lights, you can use a simple shop light, or small 5w LED would work as well.

Filling it up with Water

Next, you will want to fill the container with FRESHLY MIXED Salt Water. DO NOT use water from your tank! The water in your tank may contain small organisms that may eat phytoplankton or add bacteria or other contaminates that make it difficult for phytoplankton to grow.

Air to Grow Phytoplankton

Now you will add some air. You will want a dual output air pump because they tend to be a bit stronger. When "plumbing" this to the container, you will want to drill a hole in the lid of the container for the airline. Some people encourage using a rigid acrylic tube and connect the airline tube to the top. This will force the air to stay at the bottom of the container. Another option is to use a suction cup to hold the tube to the bottom of the container.

The air servers 2 purposes. The first is to keep the water moving. If the phytoplankton settles on the bottom of the container, the cells will likely crush each other to death. This water movement will keep the cells suspended. The second reason is to provide oxygen to the water.

When plumbing, you will want to add a check valve, and an adjustment valve to the airline hose. This will prevent backflow flooding and let you change the airflow. Though you will naturally think about using an air stone, DON'T! The small bubbles from the air stones will act like a protein skimmer and skim the phytoplankton out of the water and trap them in bubbles. You will just use the tube itself and aim for 1/4" to 1/2" bubbles.

Growing Phytoplankton at Home with Fertilizer

Now we add the fertilizer. Being an algae, phytoplankton needs food to grow. All you should need is about 1.5 mL of Guillard F/2 Phytoplankton Fertilizer per gallon of water. I have heard that you can add up to 3mL per gallon if you NEED more growth, but anything above this tends to have adverse effects. If you use a different fertilizer, be very careful to research an amount, and start low. You can always add more.

Adding a Starter Culture of Phytoplankton

Now simply add the phytoplankton starter culture and let them grow!

Splitting and Storing Phytoplankton

You will want to split about half of the phytoplankton every week. Add this half to storage containers, bottles, bags, or whatever else you would like to use to store them. You will need to store the phytoplankton in your refrigerator in order to keep them alive. You will also need to shake the containers on occasion to prevent the cells from settling and dying.

For information about dosing phytoplankton, check out Everything you Need to Know about Phytoplankton.

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It really is that simple to grow phytoplankton at home! Being a simple algae, phytoplankton does not need much attention. Just a bit of setup and let it grow. This simple way to grow live coral food and live copepod food seems to really provide a lot of benefits with very little setup!

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About the Author

Reef Stable Founder John Krenzer

John is a Software Engineer with a passion for saltwater aquariums, as well as the founder and president of Reef Stable. He started in the aquarium hobby as a child with a 20 gallon freshwater aquarium. His interest in aquarium life grew and in 2008, John set up his first saltwater aquarium.

Today, John maintains an over 300 gallon reef tank system, consisting of a 120g reef and a 210g reef. These large tanks are contained within the same system, sharing a sump as a means to reduce total maintenance and increase total water volume.

John writes articles for the blog as a means to learn about more reef aquarium topics. These articles act as a reference for the readers as well as himself. John updates these articles frequently to provide additional information or make corrections as new information becomes available.

If you would like to request an article, tank tour article, or to collaborate, let me know via the Contact Me Page!

About Reef Stable

Reef Stable was initially founded in 2019 as a reef tank parameter log to fill a need. Reef Stable quickly grew, becoming a location to solve all of your reef tank problems as well as a place to learn.

Reef Stable now provides a Reef Blog, Reef Aquarium Guides, Coral Care Guides, Identification and Solutions for Pests and Algae, and Reef Dosing Calculators, in addition to the original Reef Parameter Log.

Reef Stable continues to grow, striving to provide a single location for all your reef tank needs!

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