How to move a large aquarium

Move a large aquarium - in the new house

Moving a Large Freshwater Fish Tank

(Without killing any fish!)

I have kept tropical fish for most of my life. During that time I have had the occasion to move with a 55 gallon fish tank three different times. The longest move entailed a 3 hour drive to get from my apartment in New York to our new house in Pennsylvania. Employing the same strategy each time, I successfully relocated my aquarium and all of its inhabitants safely to their new location over the course of a few days. Let me tell you how I did it.

Move a large aquarium
Move a large aquarium – before the move

My aquarium setup at the time consisted of a 55 gallon tank with an Aquaclear 110 HOB filter and an Eheim Classic canister filter. I had a standard fluorescent light hood with plant enhancing bulbs. The tank was occupied by 8 Buenos Aires Tetras, 6 Rosy Barbs, 6 Pearl Gouramis, 1 Red-Tail Shark, 1 small pleco and 7 Pepper Cory catfish. A large piece of driftwood, 2 very healthy Amazon Sword plants and several bunches of Anacharis were also in the tank when it was moved.

Planning and Preparation

This key step began a few weeks before the actual move. We had decided on the aquarium’s location in the new house. I used 2 twelve gallon Eclipse tanks that I had for a staging area for when the fish arrived and set them up on the floor close to the tank’s eventual location.

I had been saving and collecting empty 1 gallon water bottles for several months and had 20 of them. Over the course of 10 days I did 3 water changes and saved the water from the tank in my gallon bottles. I took a road trip to the new house 2 days before the move with the water and filed my two eclipse tanks filled with 90% aged water. I topped them off with fresh water, turned on the heaters and filters and the tanks were ready to receive some temporary guests.

One concession that I felt had to be made in the interests of completing this move in one day was to use mostly new substrate in the new location. This saved a lot of gravel washing and some valuable time. So I had 60 pounds of new substrate rinsed and ready to use stored nearby.

plastic storage box
plastic storage box

Many options had been considered for transporting the fish. Choosing against large plastic bags because of the oxygen deprivation factor I finally decided on using an old, solid plastic, picnic cooler. It sealed tightly and could be carried by two people once it was full. It had a capacity of 10 gallons and we wouldn’t need to fill it completely. I drilled 12 holes in the top for airflow. Now we were ready to roll.

Taking Down The Aquarium

On the morning of the move I began by taking down the filters, taking care to keep the filter media wet and in a plastic bag. These will be used at the new location to maintain the biological filtration and not shock the new tank. I am also taking about 5 pounds of the current substrate to get the new base started.

Now, with the help of my trusted assistants, my wife and son, we started emptying the tank. Using my siphon we filled the cooler about 3/4 full and then started filling the gallon bottles again. As the water level dropped in the tank I took out the plants and placed them in the cooler. The driftwood and rocks went in a bucket and now it was time to get the fish.

With the water now in the bottles and cooler the tank was only about half full. This made it easier to capture the fish and I started with the gouramis and got them safely one by one into the cooler. They swam down under the floating plants as I concentrated on the other fish. I started catching anything I can and soon had all the fish in the cooler. We closed it up and taped down the cover and put it into back seat of a car.

Moving quickly we finished emptying the tank and removed as much of the gravel as we could before picking up the tank and taking it outside. We gave it a good rinsing and loaded it into the back of an SUV.

Setting Up The New Aquarium

Move a large aquarium - in the new house
Move a large aquarium – in the new house

We drove to the new house with the fish securely strapped-in on the back seat. We had the water and all the other media and equipment and after a 3 hour drive arrived at our destination.

First I took the cooler and put the fish into their temporary tanks, putting the gouramis and cories on one tank and the rest in the other one. We then placed the aquarium and stand in its new location and filled it with the clean substrate. I mixed in the 5 pounds of older substrate I had gathered, concentrating it where my plants would go.

Now I filled the tank with the 20 bottles and the water that had travelled with the fish in the cooler. I put the filters into place using the old media and had them ready to go for when the tank was full. The tank was now half full and contained substrate so next I put the plants and driftwood piece in place.

Starting with the tank containing the smaller fish I began introducing the fish to their new home, which was the same as their old home. After finishing with the first tank I used its water to continue filing the main aquarium. I followed the same process with the second small tank and after its liquid contents went in we were almost full. A few extra gallons of fresh water were next and then the filters and heater got turned on.

I have had a 100% success rate with this procedure and have never lost a fish during a move. I think the key is to bring as much old water and biological media that you can to quickly ramp up the tank to its former state. This reduces the stress on your fish and leads to a smooth transition. Good luck if you are attempting to move with your tank. Following these basic tips will allow your fish to have a safe journey to their new home.

by AQUARIST GUIDE

 

Live rock and live sand

new live rock

Live Rock and live sand for Your Saltwater Aquarium

new live rock

If you are in the process of setting up a saltwater aquarium in your home and wondering about what live rock and sand are, and how to incorporate it into your tank, you will find all the answers below.

What is Live Rock?

Live rock comes from the ocean and is made up of the aragonite skeletons of corals that have long since died, and other calcareous organisms. When live rock comes from the ocean, it is usually inhabited by a variety of marine life, hence the name “live Rock”. Live rock is harvested from the sea for the aquarium trade and is not only necessary, but also adds to the décor of your tank, making it visually appealing.

Live rock needs to be cured before it is placed in your aquarium. Most of the organisms that did live in the rock before being taken out of the ocean, would have already died, which can pose a risk to a new aquarium. To avoid this problem, the rock gets put into water for a few weeks, making sure that all the dead organisms decompose completely. This process is needed so that the rock can no longer be a threat to the water quality.
There are a variety of different kinds of live rock, which get their names from the area where they came from. Each different type has different qualities that work better in certain kinds of aquariums.

uncured live rock
newly introduced uncured live rock

Types of Live Rock Available for Hobbyists

There are many different types of live rock available. Which type you choose to use is a personal choice. Here are the names of the variety of live rock available for your reference:
Fiji live rock, Totoka live rock, Florida rock, Caribbean rock, Vanuatu rock, Tonga rock, Base rock, Pacific rock, Atlantic rock, Reef rock, Cultured rock, Base rock, Artificial rock, Cured rock, Uncured rock, Eco-rock, Tonga rock and Aqua-Cultured Rock

What is Base Rock?

Base rock is a dry rock that never had any organisms living on or in it. Base rock is generally used as a filler for your aquarium and is much cheaper than live rock. It can also be hand-made from concrete called aragocrete. Hand-made base rock tends to be less attractive and heavier than natural rock that was harvested from the ocean.

How to Cure Live Rock

uncured live rock
uncured live rock

There are a number of different ways to cure live rock, but here are two methods that are recommended. Although it is not necessary for you to do this, as already cured live rock can be bought, if you wish to cure it yourself, here is how to go about it.

Method 1

This is the process to follow for aquariums that already contain corals, fish and other marine life.
Rinse each and every piece in a container of saltwater. This is done to remove debris, sand and other loose matter.
Using a new 30-gallon plastic container, put the live rock into the container and add seawater (gravity 1.021-1.025), making sure the rock is completely submerged.

Use a heater to keep the temperature of the water between 76 and 84 degree F. The warmer the water is, the faster the process will be completed.

Use an air stone or power head to create constant movement in the water.
It is important that you keep the area dimly lit because this prevents algae blooms.
You need to change the water every week – 100%of the water!
The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
After a week, you must periodically check the nitrate and ammonia levels. The rock is considered to be cured when the ammonia level tests reveal zero and when the water has stabilized. Once you reach this stage, your rock is ready to be put into your aquarium. It usually takes between 3 and 5 weeks for rock to be fully cured with this method.

Method 2

This is the process used for curing rock for an aquarium that had NO coral, fish or other marine life.
Live rock can be used in new aquariums. Firstly, you need to follow the directions provided by the manufacturer with regards to the installation of the filtration system and all other accessories. Fill your new aquarium with water and enough salt to get the correct water gravity (1.021-1.025). One that has been done, activate all the equipment, check to see if there are any leaks and then set the chiller/heater to between 76 and 84 degrees F.

As with method 1, rinse all the rock in a container to free it from all debris, sand and other organic materials.
Put the rock directly into the aquarium, creating a stable base for decorations and corals.
In order to reduce the possibility of algae grow, it is important to remember to keep the lighting system off during this time.

The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
The water will need to be changed (50%) on a weekly basis. This is done by siphoning out loose debris and other organic matter that has accumulated in the aquarium.

As with method 1, the nitrate and ammonia levels need to be checked on a weekly basis.
When the levels of the ammonia and nitrate are at zero, you need to perform a water change (50%).
Check the pH level of the water after 24 hours and adjust accordingly. The correct level is between 8.1 and 8.4.
With this method, most aquariums will be ready in 3-5 weeks.

How to Control Unwanted Pests

unwanted pests from live rock
unwanted pests from live rock

Place new rock into a container filled with saltwater (gravity 1.035-1.040) for one minute. Any bristle worms, mantis shrimp and crabs will very quickly leave the rock and end up in the water.

After the minute, take the rock out of the container and go through the invertebrates that are left behind. There may be some that you actually want in your system, so sort through them and get rid of the pests that you do not want to add to your aquarium. Bristle worms tend to stay attached to the rock, but you an easily remove them with a tweezers or a needle-nosed pliers. You can use this process before or after your rock is cured.

What is Live Sand?

newly laid live sand

Getting a new saltwater tank ready for the first few animals can be a challenging task. It can take some time to build a solid base for a successful aquarium.

Live Sand Explained

Basically, live sand is sand that a variety of invertebrates and bacteria call home. The sand is like an organ to an aquarium, much like the kidneys are to the human body. The kidneys take away pollutants and replace them with not so toxic chemicals that your body can deal with, which is what the sand does for your tank.

Live sand is a place where your tank’s “clean-up” team grow and live. Copepods, bristle worms, mini starfish and other marine creatures all live in and around the sand. They are all important for the health of your tank. They keep your tank clean.

When you buy live sand from a fish store, it is already inhabited by the invertebrates and bacteria that are needed to keep your aquarium healthy and clean.

Do I Have to Use Live Sand in my Tank?

It is not necessary to use live sand in your tank. Some people opt for not using any sand at all. Any sand that you add to your tank will become live sand after a while. Buying live sand can be a lot more costly than dry sand and comes in smaller bags as well. You do not need to buy live sand, as you are able to add dry sand that has just been washed, but make sure it has not been treated with any chemicals.To the sand you could add a little live sand which will spread into other sand creating a tank full of live sand.

You will need to boost your biological filter in some way, but if you are adding live rock to your tank, that will be the cultural boost that it needs and any sand that is present will become “live sand”.

The “Cheap” Method

It is recommended that you use regular sand in your tank if you are working on a strict budget. Live sand might work faster, but dry sand will work just as well, only it will take a little longer to see results. Adding just a small amount of live sand to regular sand will give it the boost it needs. The bacteria and other living creatures in the live sand will move into the dry sand and eventually make it become live sand.

How to Choose a Product

There are so many different options available, so how do you choose the right one for you. It is pretty simple actually you should choose a product according to how you want your tank to look. CaribSea is a popular choice for many people. You will also need to think about the types of animals that will be in your tank. Are they going to burrow in the sand? If so, you will need a specific type of sand.

The Benefits of Using Live Sand

It starts the cycling process right away.
Helps to maintain the correct pH levels.
It provides shelter for fish who like to bury themselves and a place for invertebrates to hide.
It lowers the levels of harmful nitrate
Essentially, at the end of the day, the live rock and live sand that you choose to use is a personal choice. Consider all your options and speak to the staff at the store for further advice on how to achieve what you are looking to create with your unique aquarium.

How to Clean a Fish Tank

syphoning aquarium

This article will explain how to clean a fish tank in a professional way

syphoning aquarium

What you are trying to achieve

You need to have 2 goals when cleaning a tank. The first is to clean up the appearance of the glass in and out, the gravel, ornaments, equipment and plants, and the other is to clean up organic pollutants in the water which might not be visible to the eye. The first is for your viewing benefit while the second is for the fish’s benefit in terms of health.

Equipment and Supplies needed

You will need :

  • Matured and dechlorinated water (20 litres. More for a bigger tank. Less for a smaller tank.) and warmed to the temperature of your aquarium
  • An algae pad for cleaning the inside glass of the aquarium.
  • A large bucket 20 litre bucket.
  • A siphon gravel vacuum with tubing
  • New filter media may be needed
  • An old credit card/store card or other similar piece of plastic to scrape off stubborn stains.
  • White vinegar
  • Old but clean towel
  • Old but clean cloth

Step by step cleaning your fish tank

Remember your fish do not like being disturbed. This method of cleaning your glass involves only a partial water change. Also you should not remove your fish while you are cleaning the aquarium. That is the best way to reduce fish stress.

Get your replacement water ready. If your tank is new you will need to prepare 20% of the volume of your aquarium in new water. To prepare the water, leave the water in a bucket for 24 hours or use a dechlorinator chemical. The use some boiled water to bring up the temperature of your replacement water to that of your aquarium.

Turn off all electrical equipment. Once you have turned off all equipment then you will have to do all your cleaning tasks without pausing because the water will start to cool and the biological bacteria in your filter will start dying after an hour of the filter being switched off. Note: do not remove your heater from the water for cleaning for at least 15 minutes because it will overheat out of the water.

Use your algae cleaner and scrub the inside of the glass to remove algae or other internal growths. Clean the front and sides, but leave the back glass. The algae is actually healthy for the fish because of its cleaning properties and the biological action of bacteria within the algae. Some fish even feed off the algae.

Take out any ornaments, rocks and equipment that have become coated with algae. Clean these objects with the algae scrubber and then replace them back in the aquarium. Remember to put all these objects back in the exact place from where they were removed, this will reduce stress to the fish in your aquarium.
Wipe down plant leaves with your algae scrubber but do not remove them from the aquarium. Plants do not like to be disturbed and might die back if you interfere with their roots.

If your filter has slowed down then you will need to take out the aquarium sponge. If you have other filter medium that has become clogged then you should change about 50% of this medium and replace with new filter medium. With a clogged sponge, you need to take the sponge to a sink and give it a good squeeze until most of the mulm comes out. Do not clean with tap water or cold water because this will kill off the essential bacteria that biologically filters the water. If the sponge has become too clogged then you will need to cut the old sponge in half and cut the new sponge in half and put the old and new sponge back into your filter.

After cleaning your filter the water may be cloudy for a while. Do not worry this cloudiness will be filtered back into the filter and some of it will drop to the aquarium floor where you can syphon it off later.
With your old credit card start scraping the inside of the aquarium above the water line. Use some water to soften the residue. Then use the sharp edge of your credit card at an angle and push firmly to scrape the glass clean. Take care not to scrape the silicone, because you may cause a leak.

Make a mark with a felt tip pen at about 20% of the way down the aquarium to use as a guide to how much water to syphon out.

Syphon through the gravel use the base of the vacuum tube to disturb the gravel or sand to release trapped pieces of dirt. Syphon out any loose algae that has been produced by your scraping the aquarium.
Your syphoning should result in about 20 litres of water being removed.

There will be some gravel or sand syphoned out with your water but don’t worry, it sinks to the bottom of the bucket.
Pour the dirty water away but take care not to pour out your gravel/sand. Then just rinse out the sand/gravel under running water until it runs clean. Then carefully pour away all the water. Replace the cleaned gravel in the aquarium.
Pour the newly mixed water into the aquarium. Turn back all the equipment.

Now you can start to clean the outside of the aquarium. Use white vinegar, which you may need to dilute depending on the concentration. Dip an old but clean cloth into the vinegar and use the cloth to wipe the outside glass. Clean it in the same manner as you would clean your windows. Do not use any soaps, detergents or any other cleaning agents, because these are usually lethal to the fish.

Once you have cleaned all your aquarium with the white vinegar you will need to rinse off any residue. You do this by rinsing out your cloth in warm water. Wipe each surface of your aquarium with the wet cloth and then dry down with the dry towel. Your aquarium should truly sparkle. Finish off the front before moving to each side in turn.

If the hood is dirty, you can also clean the hood in the same way as you cleaned the glass, but be careful that no vinegar falls into the water because it might harm the fish.

If there is still dirt at the bottom of your aquarium after this procedure then wait a few hours then syphon off this dirt and then prepare some water to replace this water. Replace the next day when the newly prepared water has matured. Make sure this water is at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Cleaning is now complete. You should have given your aquarium a new lease of life with this makeover. The preferable fish is otocinclus. Use several in the aquarium. Use more for larger aquariums.

Cleaning the tank: preventative measures

If you are getting too much algae growing or your aquarium water is becoming pea-green then you need to remove the cause. Algae feed of nitrate in the water and use excess of light, especially daylight.

To reduce the light you should first of all remove all sources of direct sunlight into the aquarium. If that is not the cause then you will need to reduce the duration of time your aquarium lights are on and perhaps reduce the strength of the bulbs. You could also try increasing the number of plants in your aquarium. The plants should eat up the nitrate before the algae in order to starve the algae.

To reduce the nitrate, feed the fish less and syphon daily any waste matter such as uneaten food, food poop and dead leaves on the aquarium floor. Also you could increase the frequency of your aquarium’s water changes. Remember to replace with dechlorinated water at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Another way to help reduce algae in the aquarium is to have fish that eat algae. These fish will continually browse on the algae thereby reducing your need to clean the algae.

And finally have two filters instead of one to double the amount of filtration in your aquarium and so improve the speed of waste removal in the aquarium.

Brown algae

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae a common problem for new tanks

What is brown algae?

Brown algae is a form of algae called diatoms that can photosynthesise as well as eating chemicals in the water. So they can survive even in low light levels as long as their alternative food sources are available. Silicate, phosphorus and nitrates in the water are potential food sources for them.

Recognising brown algae.

When you see a light to dark brown blotches which appear as a slimy film covering any aquarium surface then you are highly likely to have brown algae. It is easily displaced from any surface and can be vaccuumed off glass, plants and gravel.

What causes brown algae?

It usually comes about when there is low light levels, low green algae or plant growth and when there is an abundance of silicate, nitrate or phosphorus in the aquarium. This usually happens in a new aquarium. The silicate can come from the glass of a new aquarium leaching silicate into the water or from newly used sand leaching silicate. Sometimes the rocks in the aquarium contain minerals that feed brown algae so may need removing.

Is brown algae harmful?

It can be harmful to plants or corals because it can coat them and block sunlight and nutrients to them. It the algae starts to die it can cause pollution problems. However, many algae eating fish will relish brown algae and is generally not harmful if it doesn’t overly cover plants or corals.

How can you cure brown algae?

The best way is to deprive the algae of the nutrients that the it feeds off. Correct the lighting problem, such as buying a new light if your aquarium bulb is old or buy a brighter light. The algae will take up the nutrients from the newly set up tank. Once the tank has matured the algae should run out of food.

The second way to cure brown algae is to continually scrape it and syphon it from the aquarium. The nutrients locked inside the brown algae will also be removed along with it. When you scrape off the algae make sure it is removed from the water. If it is allowed to remain in the water it will simply re-attach elsewhere or it might die and leave silicate in the aquarium water, so will re-appear. If the water you are using contains silicates and phosphorous then you might either need to put silicate/phosphorus remover in your aquarium or you could try mixing tap water with reverse osmosis water.

Removing any suspect rocks or gravel in the aquarium and replacing with safer gravels without silicates or phosphorus. Sometimes all it takes is to wait for the aquarium to cycle and mature. The brown algae usually gets overtaken by green algae.
Add a couple of otocinclus catfish which will devour it. In a saltwater tank fish like yellow tangs like to eat it too.

I suggest you avoid any chemical treatments to kill off the brown algae because of the side effects on your other tank inhabitants and the harmful effect on the biological filter.

Preventing brown algae.

Use good lighting. Set up fast growing plants. Use safe gravel or aged sand. Check out the mineral content of your rocks. Do not overfeed the fish. Make sure you cycle your aquarium properly. Use a silicate free source of water such as reverse osmosis water.

Brown algae in a saltwater tank

Check for silicates in your saltwater mix. Look through the list of ingredients to see if any silica based compound is in the list. Try using reverse osmosis water rather than tap water for your saltwater mix. Make sure you clean the brown algae off the corals daily. Use a phosphate/silicate-absorbing material in the filter.

Starting a fish tank for beginners

beginners aquarium set up

Starting a fish tank for beginners that have never had a fish tank before. Everything that you need to know, do and buy is explained here.

Which type of aquarium setup do you want?

There are 3 basic aquarium setups

beginners aquarium set up
beginners aquarium set up with plants

1. The tropical freshwater tank. This is the most common. This is an aquarium that uses tap water or other freshwater source and a heater to maintain the tropical temperatures needed. There are a wide variety of colourful fish and plants available to populate this type of aquarium.
2. The cold-water tank. This is less common put still popular. By far the most common fish for this aquarium is the goldfish. With the growth of fish keeping there has been a wider availability of other cold-water/temperate fish (besides goldfish) that do not require warm water or a heater. Some of these fish are quite colourful.
3. The marine tank. This is a heated aquarium that uses seawater instead of tap water. You don’t need to take trips to the sea to obtain seawater. You can actually buy a sea salt mix and add it to tap water to make your own seawater. Most marine fish in the hobby are reef fish. Reef fish are the most colourful fish available. Maintaining a marine tank is much more difficult than the other two and is not recommended for beginners.

beginners aquarium
Setting up a beginners aquarium

Beginners should choose either the cold-water aquarium setup or the tropical aquarium. Both are as easy as each other. The tropical aquarium is more colourful and allows you to have more fish in the tank but does require a heater.

Where to place your aquarium

Where not to place an aquarium

1. Do not place near any heat source such as a fire or a radiator.
2. Do not place near a window that has any sunlight.
3. Do not place near a draughty location.
4. Do not place in a location that has a lot of disturbances such as people walking by or banging doors.
You need to place the aquarium near a double electric socket. Place the aquarium in a location where you can observe it comfortably and you have easy access to the top of the aquarium for maintenance.

beginners fish tank cabinet and hood
beginners fish tank cabinet and hood

Essential equipment for the beginner’s fish tank

Glass aquariums are recommended for best viewing. Plastic tanks are available but scratch easily
Buy a as large a tank as you can reasonably afford. A 2ft/60cm tank is the recommended minimum size.

You need a heater for a tropical aquarium. But no heater is required for goldfish or temperate fish.

Lighting is needed so that the plants can grow and you can see the fish clearly. Good lighting can bring out the colours of your fish.

aquarium water test kit
aquarium water test kit

Ammonia and nitrite test kit is essential for a new aquarium to test for fish waste build-up.
 
Filter – a canister or even a sponge filter is necessary for biological filtration to break down fish waste. A sponge filter will need an air pump to power it.
 
Fish food. A good quality fish food that is made for the type of fish you keep. Remember some fish are carnivorous, some are mainly herbivores, while most are omnivores.
 
A syphon and bucket to remove water easily from an aquarium is a necessity. You can also use the syphon and bucket to return fresh water to the aquarium in a way that does not scare the fish.

beginners coldwater fish tank
beginners coldwater fish tank

Plants. Plants help remove fish waste(manure) from the water and provide a healthier more natural looking environment for the fish. You can choose from floating plants, rooted plants and non-rooted plants such as moss balls.

It is not essential to have gravel or sand but most people prefer it because it gives a grounding to the aquatic scene. Plants can be potted in pots with soil topped with gravel for better growth.

A thermometer is essential for a tropical aquarium to check if the heater is heating the water to the ideal temperature for your fish. This varies depending on which species you have. However, there is a range of temperatures that fish tolerate.

A hood. This prevents excess evaporation, heat loss and stops fish jumping out of the aquarium.

equipment for beginners aquarium
equipment for beginners aquarium

How to set up your fish tank

A fish tank when filled with water can get heavy so it needs a floor that can support it. Most floors in modern houses do this with ease. You can place an aquarium on a fish tank stand or a cabinet. A fish tank cabinet is preferred because it has been designed to support the weight of a tank of water. Home furniture can be used as long as the top surface is straight and has vertical support in the middle which will prevent the cabinet from bowing. If you buy a larger tank then a proper fish tank cabinet or stand is a must.

The stand or cabinet has to be level under load. The floor might not be level so use a spirit level on top of the aquarium and adjust things until the aquarium is sitting level. Before filling the aquarium use a cushioning material underneath the tank, ie between the tank base and the top of the cabinet. Polystyrene foam is ideal and helps distribute out any unevenness.

Basic aquascaping for your beginner’s aquarium

Find a picture of an aquarium that you like online and try to replicate it. When you place the gravel in the aquarium slope it from the back to the front. Place tall or bushy plants at the back and sides of the aquarium. Leave the front and middle of the aquarium plant free except for the occasional specimen plant. Place heaters, filters and other equipment behind bushy plants.

Setting up sequence for a beginner’s aquarium

Once the tank has been properly located and set up level, you are ready to start putting it together. A suggested sequence is as follows.
1. Wash your gravel or sand by placing some in a bucket then running water from a tap into it. Dust will come out with the water flow. Swirl it with your hand until all the dust has gone. Then place the cleaned gravel/sand in the aquarium. Then put the next batch of gravel/sand in the bucket and repeat until all the gravel/sand that you need is in the aquarium.
2. Half fill your aquarium with water. Smooth out the gravel/sand again. It usually gets disturbed when you add water to the aquarium.
3. Place your potted aquarium plants in the aquarium. Add fertiliser to the roots of the plants.
4. Place all the equipment and any decorations in the tank.
5. Fill the tank to the top.
6. Switch on all the equipment.
7. Place on the lid and turn on the light.
8. Add dechlorinator to the water.
9. Check the temperature and adjust the heater to get the required temperature
10. After 24/48 hours add a couple of fish.
Do a 10% water change every day. The new water needs to be dechlorinated and at the same temperature as the tank water.
11. Daily check the ammonia and nitrites. They will rise as the fish keep pooping and urinating. If the ammonia/nitrite levels go too high, do an extra water change.
12. When the ammonia/nitrite levels start to drop add another 2 fish.
13. Check the levels again and keep doing the water changes.
14. As the levels drop again and again add more fish. Only add more fish when your aquarium can cope.
15. After 6 weeks the aquarium should be stabilised.

starter fish for beginners
starter fish for beginners

Choosing the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

You need to research to find which fish is tough and won’t die easily. You need to avoid fish that are aggressive to other fish. And make sure you don’t buy fish that grow very big. Make sure you have a few alternative choices, because the particular fish you want might not be available. Do an internet search for fish that you like the look of that fits the previous choices.

How to buy the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

Child choosing fish in aquarium storeNow, you know what fish you are after and they are available. Do you just hand over your money? No! You must go to the fish shop’s tanks and have a good look at the fish in the tank. A tank with dead or sick fish is a big no no. You need to observe the fish. Are they active? Do they have fins extended. Are the colours bright and clear? Make sure there are no missing scales, no spots and no bits of fungus growing on them. Don’t buy a fish with split fins or cloudy eyes. When you approach the tank and pretend to feed them at the top of the aquarium, the fish should all rush to where you put your hand.

Select one fish at a time and ask the shop keeper to net the particular fish that looks good to you. Remember to not get excited and buy just a couple of fish at a time.

When to add the fish to your aquarium

Add the first 2 fish 24 to 48 hours after the tank has been filled up. To add fish to the tank from the bag. Do not just throw them in, but put the closed bag in the water and wait 15 minutes for the bag’s water to match the tank’s temperature. Then you just plop the fish in.

Then do daily ammonia/nitrite tests and daily water changes. As the fish eat they poop and urinate into the water. This pollution is cleaned up by bacteria in the filter. But, it takes time to build up enough bacteria. That is why you need to test the ammonia/nitrite levels. When the levels start to fall, add a couple more fish. If the ammonia/nitrite becomes too high then do an immediate water change of 25% and add dechlorinated water at the same temperature.

Cycling the beginner’s aquarium

This is critical to keeping your fish alive for any length of time. Fish waste builds up in water which slowly poisons the fish. Luckily when fish waste appears in water, bacteria start to grow that feed off this waste and neutralise it. However there is a time lag of several weeks before the bacteria can grow enough to cope with all of the fish waste. Most cycling bacteria grows inside a filter on the sponge material. The filter needs a good flow of water to feed the bacteria, which means you occasionally have to squeeze off the excess mud off the filter to stop it becoming clogged.

Cycling your aquarium

Setting up a maintenance routine

Once the tank has cycled, perhaps after 6-8 weeks then you can start to relax and reduce the water changes to 10% every week. Water changes help reduce the level of nitrate that is produced by the cycling bacteria. In nature, fast growing plants and algae would normally utilise nitrate, which is a fertiliser. In the aquarium we need to dilute the nitrate because we normally have too many fish compared to nature.

beginners tank fish feeding
beginners tank fish feeding

Every day
Feed the fish and do a fish count every feeding time. If any fish are missing then search the tank and remove the dead fish otherwise it could rot and pollute the tank. At the same time, check that all fish are healthy, active and with fins spread. Check for any parasites, any spots or any fungus and treat the fish when they are sick. At the same time check the temperature is right.

Once a week
1.Do an algae scrape of the front of the aquarium. It is better for the health of the aquarium if you do not scrape the side and back panes of the tank. If you are a meticulous person then you can also scrape the side panes as well but leave the back pane alone. Syphon 10-20% of the water into a bucket and sift the syphon through the sand/gravel to disturb any food or fish droppings that are trapped in the gravel. Pour away the bucket of water but be careful not to pour away any accidentally syphoned gravel. Wash this gravel and put it back into the aquarium.

2. Next, mix up a bucket of water with hot and cold tap water until it is the same temperature as your aquarium. Add your dechlorinator to the bucket of water. Then add this water to your tank. Top up your tank until full again.

3. Check there is a good flow from the filter. If the flow is slow then squeeze the excess mud from the filter and throw the mud away. Do not wash the sponge with tap water because that will kill the nitrifying bacteria on the sponge. Just squeeze the sponge by hand and then wash your hands.

4. Check your plants. Prune any dead bits and remove any dead plants.
5. Sit back and relax and enjoy your aquarium. You have passed the hardest stage of fish keeping. Now everything becomes easy and should be a more relaxed routine.

Cycling your aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single most important piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium
mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing. The fish do suffer stress during this process which is why many advanced aquarists have turned to fishless cycling.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens several days after a tank is newly set up. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

How to maintain a clean tank

How to clean your tank

How to keep your water clear

Top 10 tips on African Cichlids

crowded malawis

Top 10 tips for a successful African cichlid tank

African cichlids on youtubeTip number one. Watch a lot of cichlid videos on youtube. With many expert hobbyists giving first hand experience of setting up a cichlid aquarium, which species to buy, maintenance of a cichlid aquarium through to breeding the various, mbunas, peacocks, haps, Tanganyikans and other topics. Always be prepared to learn more because there’s tons of information in video format.

Tip number two. Over filtrate. Always buy a filter that is twice as powerful as the recommended size. Your tank has to be super clean the reason is because most Malawi tanks are overcrowded. Malawi aquariums are over stocked to spread aggression. Malawis are big eaters and cichlids are constantly producing waste you need to over filtrate. Running two filters simultaneously in the same tank is also a great idea. Canister filters are a must. You need to stuff them full of good filter material to do both mechanical and biological filtration.

Tip number three. Overstock your tank. Overstocking will crowded malawishelp spread the aggression between the fish so that no individual fish gets singled out. Even then you will still see aggression, where one fish will want to eliminate another particular tank mate. It is something that you have to expect when keeping Africans. But do all you can to keep that kind of behaviour down. To reduce it to a minimum. over stocking your tank, rearrange the rock scape every two weeks, and be quick to act when you see one fish getting constantly bullied by another. If it looks like one fish has picked out another fish for destruction remove the aggressor or the victim immediately.

Tip number four. Act quickly when you see a fish getting beaten up or looking ill. If you see mouth locking, tattered fins or hit marks on the side of the body. Immediately remove the weak or injured fish. If you leave it too late and remove a harassed fish you will often find that the fish will still end up dying either the same day or a few days later.

yellow bags in bagTip number five. Always add 4 or more fish to an aquarium at a time. Adding just one or two fish to an established aquarium results in the new fish entering other fishes already established territories and so will get beaten up.

Tip number six. Spend less on the filter canister and use the money saved to buy good quality filter media. And again having two canisters will enable you to service one canister while the other keeps running doing its job of filtering the impurities from the water and avoiding ammonia and nitrite spikes. And if
one filter fails you will still have one filter running until you can fix the broken filter or buy another one.

Tip number seven. If you skip one day a week of feeding the fish or possibly two days a week you will notice that your fish are more healthy and active. Also they will be less prone to getting Malawi bloat which is common in Malawis which are always eating. They are supposed to be eating mostly algae. So when they eat dried foods which are a more concentrated food than they find in the wild, you are actually overfeeding them. Also the water will be cleaner because less eating results in less fish waste.

Aquarium water changeTip number eight. Change 40-50% water changes every week. Try and set up an automatic top up system. Use a long hose system of some sort. When you add tap water use a water conditioner. It is wise to overdose rather than underdose on water conditioner. The easier this task is the less likely you are to skip it. Carrying buckets of water up and down in your living room every time you do a water change is likely to cause an accident at some time.

Tip number nine. Research on YouTube on the particular species of African that you intend to buy. You need to find out whether your particular fish is overly aggressive or passive or even a carnivore. Or the fish may grow much bigger than you can cope with. Always be prepared to move on a fish that is not suitable for your aquarium. Some fish that are beautiful and small when young can become nasty monsters that quickly outgrow your aqurium.

sulphur head peacockTip number ten. Don’t be too obsessive over getting everything exactly right. This is a hobby that is meant to be enjoyed so relax and don’t be too worry if the tank is not too perfect. You don’t have to be overly precise. Remember Malawis are strong fish that are mostly immune to things like ich.

Lastly an overall tip is to always chat with other hobbyists on the forums. Ask questions. Answer other people’s questions. Share your experiences with other hobbyists.

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

  • A 120 litre 4 foot tank. This is a basic minimum size.
  • Buy a hood with a normal lighting system.
  • You will also need a protein skimmer,
  • An external power filter,
  • 300w heater,
  • A thermometer and hydrometer to measure the salinity,
  • Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish
    Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish

    A marine water test kit

  • Bag of seawater salt mix
  • Natural coral sand
  • Fish tank stand.

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

  • 10 kilos of live rock
  • 1kg Live coral sand
  • 10 margarita or asteria snails
  • 2 hermit crabs blue or red-legged
  • Some hardy peaceful fish species

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium
Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium

Put together your stand and aquarium. Wash the inside of the glass with warm water. Never use any chemicals or soaps. If there are any stubborn stains then use white vinegar and a razor blade to scrape the stain. Rinse any white vinegar with tap water. Remove water with a siphon hose. Paint the rear glass in black, blue or marine or apply a stick on background.

With the tank empty move the stand and tank around the room until you find a location you are happy with. You can use a spirit level to adjust the levelness of the aquarium. If the aquarium doesn’t sit level then you can use thin flat pieces of plastic or wood to raise the leg that is lower. Once the aquarium is sitting level then you can then fill with water. Once the aquarium is 95% full then again check the aquarium for levelnbess. If the aquarium is not level then you will have to remove all the water and adjust the levelness again before re-adding water.

Once the tank is 95% full of water and level then you have to wait 24 hours to see if any slow leaks occur. If there are no signs of any leaks then install the filter, heater and protein skimmer. Set the heater to 76 Fahrenheit.

Plug in all the equipment and switch on everything. Leave everything running overnight. The next day check the temperature to be 76F. If the temperature is out then you have to adjust the thermostat.

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive
Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive

Calculate the volume of your aquarium then add your sea salt mix according to the recommended amount on the bag of your mix. If you wait another 4 hours your salt will have completely dissolved in the water. You can then check the salinity of the water with your hydrometer. The reading should be between 1.022 to 1.024 when the temperature is 76F. If it is less then you can adjust by adding a little sea salt mix. If it is more then you can reduce it by adding a little fresh water. Thenm wait a further 4 hours before testing again. When you achieved your ideal density use a black marker to mark out the water level in a hidden part of the glass. This mark will be your guide to the level of water before any evaporation. Topping up back to this level should get you back to the correct salinity.

Now test the water’s ph. It should read 8.2-8.3ph or close to this. If it is far from this then you’ve done something wrong somewhere or your hydrometer or thermometer is wrong. Fix the problem by changing your hydrometer or thermometer and make adjustments. If there is still a misreading then you will have to switch everything off and remove all the water and start again with the water mix.

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

golden wrasse - perfect lemon yellow fish
golden wrasse – perfect lemon yellow fish

When the water is just right you then need to start adding your pieces of live rock. Start with the larger pieces first. Move the rock about to create a pleasant aquascape. Test each piece is stable by prodding and adjusting into a settled position.

Place the bigger, heavier pieces directly on the glass. These should be arranged in a long semi circle along the sides and back. Leave gaps in between the individual pieces of live rock for your fish to swim through. Place the smaller pieces of rock in front of or even on the larger pieces again making sure that the whole setup is table. Use the live rock to hide the heater and protein skimmer behind.

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

You should clean your sand before you put it in the aquarium. All you need to do is rinse it thoroughly in a bucket of water by running the water through a bucket of some sand. Do it in small batches of sand and swirl the sand round until the water runs clear. Remove the water from the backet and put the sand into the aquarium all along the floor of the aquarium around the live rock.

Once the sand has been added the average level should be 2 inches deep. Then take your 1kg of live sand and spread it evenly over the other sand. Do not wash the live sand. It should contain beneficial bacteria and life forms which you risk killing by washing with tap water.

Check all your water measurements again such as ph, salinity and temperature. Adjust if necessary.

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew
blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew

After a week add your first creatures. Remember your filter, heater and skimmer should be running continuously throughout this time. Add your snails and hermit crabs. Algae eating species are recommended to clean up any algal blooms that usually break out in new saltwater aquariums. You should not just throw your snails or crabs directly into the water but float the bags in the water for 15 minutes then add some aquarium water to the bag slowly over ten minutes before releasing them into the aquarium.

Feed the snails and crabs with tiny amounts of fish food as a top up to the algae that the snails and crabs may eat, which may be insufficient for their needs.

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish
yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

Some experts recommend adding a couple of damsel fish as your first fish because they are a tough fish and can cope with the conditions while your aquarium water is cycling. While this is true I recommend an alternative to damsels as a first fish such as tank bred clownfish because damsels can be aggressive to future fish additions. You can start off with just a couple of clown fish to add colour and interest to your tank.

During this time your aquarium filter and live rock will be cycling by developing a colony of bacteria that can digest fish and other creature waste products turning it into less harmful nitrate. This process can take anything from 4-8 weeks. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite which are harmful to your fish and other creatures.

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback
orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback

After your first fish have settled in and looking healthy and happy you can start adding some invertebrates and a few other fish. Add hardy species of anemone. A good choice of anemone are feather dusters.

Fish to consider at this point will be wrasses, dottybacks and banggai cardinal fish. Try wherever possible to buy tank bred fish as these are fish that have adapted to life in the aquarium and should prove better survivors in your saltwater tank. Add fish at a rate of 1 or 2 a week. When you add new fish keep a close eye on them and make sure the newly added fish start feeding within 2 or 3 days. Also check the nitrite and ammonia levels daily. Stop adding new fish if the readings rise.

Some fish and other creatures to absolutely avoid as a beginner are: seahorses, octopuses, angelfish, clams, scorpionfish, and damsels.

When you have a settled tank and have introduced all the fish and other creatures for your aquarium then you can reduce the water testing to once a week.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your own piece of the ocean in your living room. However, you still need to keep checking all your water parameters once a week at least or when something doesn’t look right with any of the inhabitants.

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle
The texture of good quality water is subtle

On a very basic level water is 99.98% H2O in a liquid that your fish swim, eat, breathe and excrete into. What about the other .02%? Is it important? Of course it is. It is these minute quantities of dissolved gases and dissolved solids that makes all the difference in whether the water is hospitable or poisonous to the fish. It is this 0.02% of dissolved substances that make sea water, river water and lake water different from each other. Note that seawater has a much higher level of dissolved salts of around 3.5%. It only takes minute quantities of the common gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide or insufficient oxygen to poison or drown fish. Likewise it only takes a small amount of pollution or the wrong type of chemical to be dissolved in the water to poison and kill fish. But when conditions are just right or within reason then your fish will thrive without much care from you.

Creating a generic biotope for your fish to live in

The most common elements of an aquarium biotope
The most common elements of a biotope

As a fish keeper is is your responsibility to recreate a reasonable biotope for your fish that is as close as possible to the fish’s natural environment as you can.

Water has dissolved gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia and chlorine. Some of these gases are poisonous while others are necessary for fish to breathe. Water also contains dissolved minerals that determine the general hardness of your water. Some fish thrive in very hard water with a high ph, while other fish prefer much softer water with a lower ph. Organic matter can also dissolve in the water, usually darkening the water and acidifying it.

A biotope should include a substrate, plants and a source of light with the temperature of the water kept within a suitable range for the plants and fish. The choice of subrate includes gravel, sand, and even soil. Soil is usually topped with gravel. Other less essential features you might want to include in your fish’s biotope could include rocks, roots and branches.

The Lake Malawi Biotope explained here

The Amazon Biotope explained here

Is tap water safe for fish?

Is tap water safe for fish
Is tap water safe for fish

Tap water direct from the tap is not suitable for use in an aquarium. The main problem is chorine which water companies put in the water to kill off any potential bacteria in the water. To remedy this you need to leave your tap water standing in a container for at least 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. This can be achieved by using buckets of water or water barrels to store the water.

Another danger to your fish is from dissolved copper which can come from copper pipes. Water that comes into contact with copper will slowly absorb the copper. This problem is worse for new copper pipes. But this can be remedied by running your tap water for a few minutes until uncontaminated water starts to come through. Copper is poisonous and even copper coins left in your aquarium will slowly dissolve and kill your fish.

If you are going to be serious about the quality of your fish’s water then you should buy a water test kit. A good test kit will test ph, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as well as general hardness.

If you are a new fish keeper who wants the best chance of keeping your fish healthy and alive then test your tap water before you buy any fish. When you know the ph and hardness of your water then you can buy fish that prefer the water from your tap. Adjusting your water to suit fish that like a different type of water is best left to the advanced aquarist who don’t mind the extra effort. Some fish when kept in the wrong type of water will simply die after a few weeks and certainly won’t thrive.

If you are a more experienced aquarist then you can start adjusting the ph and hardness of your tap water so that you can keep the more delicate species of fish. To soften your water you can buy a reverse osmosis device that will remove the minerals from your water. Such water is usually too soft and must be mixed with unfiltered tap water to achieve the correct level of hardness. You can also use rainwater collected from a safe source.

To adjust the ph of your water you can either use a muslin bag containing peat moss to acidify your water or you can use calcium carbonate sand to alkalinify it instead. In order to reach the correct ph level.

All these procedures are complicated and time consuming and even prone to error. Messing with your tap water usually means you will have to monitor changes in your water conditions to maintain it. To make this complicated process a little easier it is best to prepare large batches of water in say a 200 litre barrel all in one go and then draw off water as needed.

I recommend that you don’t bother with all this messing around and just buy fish that can do well in the water that comes from your tap. There is usually quite a variety of fish that will suit your water conditions but you may have to avoid a particular species of fish that you might be keen on.

What water conditions are best for fish?

Normally the ph used in most freshwater aquaria ranges between 6.0ph and 8.3 ph. However Lake Tanganyika fish like an even higher ph, even as high as 9.0ph. And they also like hard water. Ph nearly always varies together with hardness. High ph above 8.0 usually means very hard water, while low ph of 6.4 or less coincides with soft water. Some amazonian fish like water that is of a ph less than 6ph and have very soft water.

Most of the commonly available fish in your aquarium prefer an average ph around 7ph and a medium level of water hardness. Not only that but such species can also tolerate a wider variation away from this medium than other more exotic species. Tank bred fish that have been bred in aquaria for several generations are overall more adaptable to variations in aquarium conditions compared to their wild caught counterparts.

Most average species will live in a wide range of possible water condititions. However, when it comes to breeding the ph and hardness must more closely resemble the fish’s conditions in the wild. Only then will some fish be capable of breeding and their eggs hatching.
Water hardness

This is a measure of the amount of dissolved minerals in your fish’s water. The most common minerals are calcium, magnesium and sodium.

These dissolved minerals are also essential for the health of your fish and plants.
Most cyprinids, tetras, rasboras and similar river fish like soft water. Most livebearers, Malawi fish and Tangayikan fish prefer quite hard water.

Plants also show a similar type of preference for different levels of hardness depending on the plant species.

Iron for fish health

Plants require minute levels of dissolved iron for optimum health as do fish. Fish acquite iron from their diet while plants will absorb it directly from the water. Pure iron quickly rusts in water making it unusable for the plants and animals. Feeding fish iron rich fish food will not only provide iron for the fish but allow the fish to provide manure that is rich in iron for the plants use.

Dissolved oxygen in water that fish breathe

Dissolved oxygen is essential for fish to breathe. The main source of oxygen in an aquarium is through the surface of the water. So a large surface area of water is essential to allow sufficient oxygen to dissolve into the water to replace the amount of oxygen that the fish breathe in through their gills. Also excess carbon dioxide that the fish release into the water from their gills has to be released from the water through the surface of the water. Plants also give off oxygen when they are in bright light, but will release a small quantity of carbon dioxide at night.

It is best not to rely on the quantity of oxygen that plants produce during the day to supplement the amount from the surface because this source of oxygen stops at night. If you see your fish gasping for air very early morning this is a sign that there is not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the water in the night so you will have to reduce the number of fish in the aquarium. This can also be a sign you have too many plants.

Fish waste in water

One lethal cause of fish deaths is ammonia poisoning which burns the skin and gills of the fish while also displacing oxygen in the water. Ammonia comes from fish waste and from decaying fish food and other decaying organic matter. In a new aquarium there will be no ammonia but this will build up over the fish few weeks. If you are new to fish keeping you will see your fish as being fine for the first week and may not realised that the fish are slowly but surely poisoning themselves in their own waste matter.

To overcome this you need some way to remove the ammonia as it gets created. You will have to for the first 6 weeks have to do daily water changes, use a filter and make sure that you under stock your tank until it is mature. Also avoid any uneaten fish food being left in the tank that will quickly rot and cause an ammonia spike.

A filter is not just for removing particles from the water but also for providing a base for the growth of bacteria that digest ammonia converting it into nitrite which is also poisonous. Later on another set of bacteria develops that will digest the nitrite converting it into nitrate which is much less harmful. This process takes between 4-6 weeks from new. So partial water changes are needed daily until the filter matures.

This is better explained in cycling your aquarium

Plants take up nitrate but usually not enough so you will need to keep doing partial water changes, perhaps once a week. 10% of the water changed is a reasonable amount of water change.

During this filter maturation period you should test your water daily with a test kit and if the ammonia or nitrite reading becomes particularly high then you will have to do another partial water change to bring it down to acceptable levels.

How to buy livebearers

blue lace leopard skin guppy male

Where and how to buy livebearers

Here are the main sources of livebearers

Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish
Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish

You can of course go to one of the large pet chain stores where you will be able to buy some off the shelf guppies, platies or mollies and sometimes swordtails. However don’t expect any fancy variety or high pedigree fish. If you are a beginner just starting out then this is not a bad place to start out. You will however have to be more careful with the health of the fish you buy here because these are not cared for by experts in fish keeping but by shop staff who may not have experience in looking after fish at all.

There are smaller specialised aquarium shops that will carry a greater variety of livebearer and occasionally will stock the excess brood of a professional breeder. You might be able to pick up some near pedigree stock.

Aquarium clubs are a much better place to buy more specialised forms and rare species of livebearer. You will also be able to buy wild strains of newly imported fish that are not available anywhere else. The American livebearer association or the British livebearer association are the obvious clubs to join. Other local clubs are less likely to have livebearers that you might particularly want.

internet classified adverts is a good source for fish
internet classified adverts is a good source for fish

You can also browse aquarist magazines in the classified section to see if the livebearer you are after has come up for sale.

Before buying your fish, it is best to inspect it first. Be prepared by taking with you several plastic bags and a polystyrene carrier box to take your fish home comfortably without much heat loss. Before you set off to buy you must have your home aquarium all set up.

Now, with the spread of the internet you can also buy fish from an online source. There are several good options available to you. Ebay, craigslist, gumtree, and others have a good fish for sale section. Aquarist classifieds has several specialised fish for sale sections that are also sorted by area.

There are also online firms that do mail order tropical fish. They deliver tropical fish to your door overnight no matter where you live in the country. But sometimes when the weather is particularly cold they might not deliver. Another drawback to this is that you cannot inspect the fish before hand. Home delivery of fish relies on mutual trust from the buyer and seller. The advantages are that you can pick exactly the fish you want with you having a wide choice. Also you do not have to make wasted journeys looking for your fish. The cost of delivery can be reduced by buying several fish at the same time.

In the winter some firms will deliver fish but will include special heat packs that maintain the temperature of the water for 24 hours until they can safely reach you. These are expensive and you the purchaser will have to pay extra for this delivery method.

Always buy healthy livebearers

How do you recognise a healthy livebearer? Once you have picked out the fish you are interested in, take a good long look at it in the aquarium. Also, look at other tankmates that share the same tank as well. Examine the body for any white or grey fuzzy patches. Examine the fins for any splits or frayed edges. Check for any abnormal swelling of the eyes or swelling of the abdomen. Check for any scales that stick out pine cone like. Look at the gills they should not be red in colour. check the belly of the fish. If it is concave or the head of the fish looks too big for the body. This is a sign of a poor upbringing. If any of the previous symptoms are present in the fish you are considering then do not buy the fish.

Your ideal fish should have scales and skin with bright colours and have no white grey,brown spots on the skin. The skin should not have a cloudy mucous or fluffy patch anywhere. The fins should be held proud and erect, held away from the body. Clamped fins are a bad sign. Frayed fins are a sign of ill health.

Examine the mouth of the fish. The fish should not have white/grey patches around the lips. The mouth should be sharp and clear.

Next observe the fish swimming. The fish should be active not skulking in a corner. It should show signs of wanting to feed when you come near the aquarium. The fish should not be stuck to the floor of the aquarium nor should it be stuck floating at the surface. This is a sign of swim bladder problems. If you see any of the fish in the aquarium with their mouths near the surface gasping for air and gills opening and closing then this is a sign of poor water conditions(but don’t confuse this with fish trying to feed).

Can I buy just a single livebearer?

It is best to buy a group of fish together because livebearers are social animals and develop inter-fish relationships such as dominance and recognise familiar individuals. You can buy a single fish to add to an existing aquarium but be careful of bullying of the newcomer. Swordtail males will fight each other so it is best to buy only 1 male for any individual aquarium.

How many male and female livebearers should I buy?

If you are buying young fish then to guarantee a reasonable group of males and females you should buy 6 or more because there is no way of telling the sexes apart at a young age.

If you buy adult fish then you can distinguish the males from the females.

  1. Males are more colourful than females. Females are dull in colour but may have some colours in the fins.
  2. Males are usually smaller than females of the same age.
  3. Males have a stick like ventral fin, where the females have a normal triangular shaped fin. The males use this fin to fertilise the females. This fin is located near the fish’s vent.
  4. The males have larger dorsal fins than the females.
  5. Males are slim built while females are plump in shape.

Once you learn to tell apart males from females then you are ready to buy a breeding group. Try to buy 2 females for every male.

Best time of the year to buy livebearers

There is a greater abundance of fish for sale during the spring, autumn and christmas time. So these are the best times to buy your fish. When you buy your fish make sure you don’t have a holiday or business trip planned in the weeks after purchase. It is best to be there for the first few weeks while your fish settle in to oversee if there are any problems.

How to bring your newly bought livebearers home

Set up your home aquarium before you start looking for fish. It should ideally be cycled with a mature filter. After you have purchased your prized specimens always head straight home. When you arrive home, immediately place the unopened bags in the aquarium water.

Leave the fish in the bag for at least 15 minutes to give a chance for the water temperature to equalise with that in the tank. After that you can slowly top up the bag with some water from the tank. Wait 5 minutes then top up again with some more water. Keep repeating until the bag is full. Then release the fish into the tank.

If you have bought small fish or baby fish less than an inch long then you can bag them together in large bags, 4 to a bag. You should put adult fish or fish an inch or bigger in size, singly into separate bags. The bags should be filled with 3/4 air and 1/4 water by the person selling you the fish. They should use the water from the aquarium the fish came from.

Quarantining your newly bought livebearers

When you become serious at the hobby and have prized specimens at home that would be a great loss if they died then you must use a quarantine tank to keep your new arrivals away from your established fish. This gives you a chance to see if your new fish have any hidden illnesses or not. Keep your new fish in quarantine for at least 2 weeks, but better still for 4 weeks to be absolutely safe. If the new fish appears well after this time then they can be transferred to the main aquarium.

Have the right livebearer aquarium set up

Most livebearers can live quite well in a community tank. Your community tank can consist of a variety of livebearer species, a single livebearer species or even include some other community fish alongside. The choice is yours.

Use a single species tank if you are line breeding pedigree livebearers. Note that some closely related livebearer species can interbreed and you will end up with unwanted mongrel fish.

When having a community tank you should try to make sure all the fish are of a similar size and similar activity level. This will help to reduce bullying of small fish by bigger fish and active fish stressing out more placid fish. Also the more active fish will always get to the fish effectively starving the less active fish.

You should always include more females than males for all species. A ratio of 2 females to every male is a good starting point. This is because most males will be continually trying to mate with the females. Too much male attention stresses the females.

Livebearers generally prefer hard alkaline water of ph higher than 7.5. Some species even benefit with some sea salt added to the water. The main species of livebearers prefer temperatures between 74-80f. However the sunset platy a close relative of the common platy prefers lower temperatures between 70f and 75f. Goodeids also prefer lower temperatures similar to sunset platies.

Compatible fish for a livebearer community tank

Most small tetras are compatible with guppies, mollies and platies or other similar livebearer species.

Small corydoras catfish are ideal for most livebearer tanks because the corys stay along the bottom avoiding the livebearers who mostly live along the top of the aquarium.

Most dwarf cichlids make ideal companions because they also occupy the bottom of the aquarium and are not overly aggressive. The presence of livebearers in a dwarf cichlid tank actually gives the dwarf cichlids more confidence to come out more rather than hiding in plants and caves.

Barbs, rasboras and danios are a little more active and occupy the same space as livebearers but can still make good companions for medium to large livebearers such as swordtails and sailfin mollies.

Even for a livebearer single species tank, the addition of a few corydoras catfish can liven your aquarium by having some activity in the lower half of the tank which is usually deserted in a livebearer aquarium set up.

Setting up a Community tank here

Suggested starter groups here

Essential facts about Livebearers here.

Maintain a healthy Livebearer aquarium here.

Suggestion list of compatible fish groups for your aquarium

fish tank set up

How to set up your tank fish from top to bottom

To increase the chances of your fish being compatible you need to consider the fishes’ territory. Fish swim in different zones of the aquarium. Some swim near the surface. Some swim midwater. And yet others stay near the floor of the aquarium. Generally fish in one zone will be less territorial with fish from another zone.

Here I will list suggested fish groups by tank size with an eye on maximum compatibility.

2 foot 50litre tank

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams
amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

Small amazonian biotope

Surface fish
4 hatchetfish
Midwater fish
8 neon tetras
2 angel fish
Bottom dwellers
4 panda corys

More on amazon biotope here


Small slice of an Asian stream in your living room

rasboras breeding pair male on left
Male and female breeding pair of harlequin rasboras

Surface fish
4 hatchet fish
Midwater fish
4 Harlequin rasboras
6 cherry barbs
Bottom dwellers
4 kuhli loaches
1 siamese algae eater

————————————–
Dwarf Cichlid Breeding set up

Surface fish
4 Lemon tetras
Bottom dwellers
Male and 2 female cockatoo dwarf cichlids
3 three stripe corydoras

More on dwarf cichlids here

————————————

pedigree red guppies
pedigree red guppies

Livebearer community set up

Surface fish
6 guppies 2 male 4 female
Mid water fish
3 sword tails 1 male 2 females
Bottom dwellers
3 bronze corydoras
 

 
More on livebearers here
———————————-

30 inch 76liter tank

Amazonian biotope aquarium

Surface fish
2 silver hatchet fish
midwater fish
3 emperor tetras 1 male + 2 females
5 lemon tetras
Bottom dwellers
3 peppered corydoras

More on the Amazon biotope here

————————————

kuhli loaches on gravel eating
group of kuhli loaches in an aquarium

Slice of an asian stream

Surface fish
3 glass catfish
midwater fish
6 harlequin rasbora
Bottom dwellers
5 kuhli loaches
1 siamese algae eater
——————–

Amazon dwarf cichlid aquarium

Surface fish
6 cardinal tetras
midwater fish
mated pair(1 male+1 female) of blue rams or bolivian rams
Bottom dwellers
6 pygmy corydoras
——————————-

4 foot 110 litre tank

male pearl gourami with red breast
male pearl gourami with red breast

Large gourami Asian biotope

Surface fish
male and female pearl gourami or male + female blue gourami (breeding pair)
midwater fish
6 checkerboard barbs or 8 harlequin rasboras
Bottom dwellers
5 kuhli loaches
——————————

Asian busy community tank

Surface fish
5 zebra danios
midwater fish
5 rosy or ruby barbs
Bottom dwellers
2 siamese algae eaters
6 kuhli loaches

———————————————-

kribensis breeding pair
kribensis male and female breeding pair

Non-rift valley African community tank

Surface fish
midwater fish
5 red eye tetras
Bottom dwellers
5 kribensis

More on kribensis here
———————————————-

Convict community

Surface fish
6 guppies
midwater fish
5 bleeding heart tetras
Bottom dwellers
5 convict cichlids
———————————————-

all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

Malawi Community

Surface fish

3 Mollies

midwater fish
6 peacocks (jacobfreibergi) 2 males 4 females

Bottom dwellers

6 yellow labs

More on Malawis here

 

Foreground plants and specimen plants

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

Foreground plants and specimen plants

More about aquascaping basics here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

These are plants that stand out as individual plants. They occupy the middle to front of the aquarium. They usually have large leaves and visible stems. Only a few are needed or even a single large dominating plant is a possibility. Here is a range of easy to care for foreground plants.

cryptocoryne-beckettii
cryptocoryne-beckettii

Cryptocoryne Becketti

Long slim pointed leaves with a serrated edge. The plant can turn from green to red in brighter light. Use of fertiliser and brighter light helps this plant grow faster but is not necessary.

Plant separately in individual pots. It does not like its roots touching the cold aquarium bottom.

It gows 6″ to 8″ and requires low to medium lighting with a temperature range of 75-82F. It is a nice low maintenance plant once established.

Cryptocoryne Undulata

cryptocoryne-undulata
cryptocoryne-undulata

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves grow upwards from short thin stems.
Leaves tend to turn red or brown when kept in bright lighting which can be quite attractive depending on your own personal preference. In moderate to low lighting the leaves remain green.
It grows between 4″-8″ and is flexible in terms of the lighting conditions provided.
It does best in temperatures between 72F-82F and a ph 6-8
It is an easy to care for plant

Cryptocoryne Wendtii

It has medium to long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This is the most popular and most recommended of the crypt plants. They grow between 4″-6″ but there are also larger sub-varieties of Wendtii.
It likes a water temperature of 72-82F and a ph between 6-8. It likes low to moderate lighting
This is the easiest to keep of the crypts.

cryptocoryne-willisi
cryptocoryne-willisi

Cryptocoryne Willisi

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This plant likes medium to bright light.
It grows to 6″ in height. Ph of 6.5 -7.2 . Temperature range 72-81F
It is one of the toughest Cryptocoryne species.

Echinodorus Tenellus

It has a grass like appearance with nice long slim green leaves. Under water grass that will cover most of the foreground area. Place larger plants within the middle of it.
Will grow and spread quickly once established. It prefers soft water with a ph of about 5.5-7.5
It grows to 3.5″ and likes bright lighting. Keep the temperature between 62F-80F

Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae
Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae

Lilaeopsis novae zelandiae

This is a grass like plant with long thin green leaves that bunch together. It propogates off runners. Just take cuttings when the mini plants develop roots.
Needs bright lighting. Grows between 3″-5″ high. Keep at temperatures between 64F-82F. It has a pH range 6.8-7.5

Giant Sagittaria

Long but wide green leaves that fan out from the base and no stem. Can also be placed in a coldwater aquarium.
Grows to 8″ tall. It needs bright lighting. Teperature range of 61F-79F

More unusual foreground plants

Anubias-barteri-nana
Anubias-barteri-nana

Dwarf Anubias

A short plant with green privet shaped leaves. It is good for low lit aquariums. Temperature range of 72-82F. ph range of 6.0 – 9.0. Grows from 3-4 inches tall. Can be attached to bogwood or rocks away from the aquarium floor. It develops a good root system.

Java Fern

This is a popular plant and for good reason. It is a relatively easy to care for plant that survives in most aquarium conditions. The leaves are bitter tasting to most fish and is usually left alone. It likes low lighting conditions. It will grow to 10inches tall. Temperature range of 68-79F. Ph between 6-8 ph. It prefers not to be planted but to have its roots attched to a rock or a piece of bogwood. The plant has long wide pointed leaves.

Radicans Swordplant

radicans-sword
radicans-sword

Quite a large plant. Can grow up to 24 inches. So you need a larger taller aquarium. It has long stems and round leaves. It likes bright light and a temperature range between 64-82F. PH 6.5-7.5. An easy to care for plant.

Red Tiger Lotus

This is a stunning and dominating plant with variegated red, orangey or yellow leaves. The leaves are wide, round and crinkly. It can grow to 12-20 inches tall. It needs bright light and a temperature between 72-82 and a ph of between 6.5-7.5. Relatively easy to care for but will need to be pruned occasionally.

Java Moss

This not a plant but is a moss that grows in the shape of a bush. It can be pruned and trimmed to the right shape and size. It is not fussy over lighting conditions. It is a tough and undemanding plant that grows slowly and doesn’t need much attention. Fool proof plant. Temperature range of 68F-86F. Ph 5-8 or more.

Selecting midground plants for your aquarium

Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background

What is a midground plant?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about background plants here

A midground plant is a plant that acts as a filler in the mid area of the aquarium. Usually planted as individual plants. Midground plants should have distinctive large leaves and colour. They should be short plants to not block out the background. A good midground plant will stand out against the background without dominating the scene. Midground plants create the ‘body’ of the aquascape, whereas background plants create the skeleton of the aquascape.

I will list below recommended midground plants for your aquarium that are easy to care for.

Anubias barteri known as broadleaf anubias

Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant
Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant

This is a slow growing plant that has tough, firm dark leaves and is recommended for an aquarium with fish that destroy plants. It should be planted singly in the midground. They prefer a heated substrate. Needs moderate to bright lighting. Temperature range of 72F-82F. ph of 5.5 to 8 and moderately soft water.

Giant Bacopa

This is a fast growing plant that likes bright light and can be kept in hard watere. It is a stemmed plant with medium spade shaped leaves all along its stems. Can be propogated by taking cuttings. Leaves can turn red under very bright light. It can tolerate lower light levels. Temperature range 68F-82F. Water ph 6.5-7.7.

Japanese Cress

Healthy specimen of japanese watercress
Healthy specimen of japanese watercress

An unusual plant with a disorganised growth pattern. It is not strictly tropical so should only be used in the unheated aquarium. It is hardy except that it can be affected by medications and chemicals. It does prefer bright light. Temperature range is 61F-72F. Water ph 6.5-7.8.

Stargrass

This plant can grow tall and should be trimmed down. The leaves are long and slender and grow out in groups of 5,6,7 leaves giving it a star like shape. They do better with a little fertiliser occasionally and good lighting. Temperature range is 72F-80F. Water ph 5-7 and low hardness is preferred.

Water pennywort

The leaves of this plant are large and round with lace like edging. The leaves grow all along winding and branching stems. This plant will try to reach the water surface, where it will grow leaves that block out the light to the aquarium below. So, trim back before the plant reaches the surface. It prefers bright light. Temperature range is 68F-82F. Water ph range is 6-8.

Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light
Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light

Green ludwigia (ludwigia palustris)

This is an easy to care for plant. There are various varieties of this plant. The best, recommended variety has bright solid green leaves which are medium/small in size. It prefers bright light. Temperature range 64F-80F. Water ph range is 6.5-7.5 with moderate hardness.

 

Background plants for your aquarium

aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

Which background plants for your aquarium?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

How to recognise good background aquarium plants

What is meant by ‘background plant’? This refers to plants that will be placed along the back and sides of your aquarium. These type of plants usually grow tall and cover most of the rear of the aquarium. And finally they usually provide a good background contrast to foreground plants. This is achieved by having bushy growth or fine leaves. Listed below are the best background plants in terms of beauty and ease of care.

Magenta Water Hedge (Alternanthera Reineckii)

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

This is a plant that will contrast well against other green plants because of its red/purple coloured leaves.

Because it is a little short it has to be planted in groups to form an effective background or as a space filler between taller plants. There is a taller variety that does make an ideal background plant.

Allow space between each stem so that each plant will obtain enough nutrients from the substrate and also they don’t block each other’s access to light. It does need good lighting or it will not thrive. Push fertiliser tablets near its roots because they do like a lot of nutrients. The water hedge prefers neutral to slightly acidic and soft water with a temperature range of 72F-80F. Hardiness is average.

Green Cabomba

fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds
fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds

This is a plant that needs strong lighting and fertilisers tablets near its roots or it tends to disintegrate. It is better to keep the aquarium water well filtered because the fine frond like leaves collect debris. Plant cabomba in groups. Easy to propogate by taking cuttings from the top. Prune when it grows too long. Temperature range is 60F-80F. It prefers water that is around neutral in ph with a moderate hardness. It is medium in difficulty to care for.

Onion Plant

This plant sometimes known as the aquatic onion plant resembles an onion plant but is unrelated. It grows long slender but thick leaves that don’t branch. It has a bulb above its root system. The leaves tend to spiral slightly as it grows. It is a tough low maintenance plant. It is good with cichlids and goldfish. It needs moderate lighting. Temperature range of 64F-80F and can handle a wide range of water conditions around neutral ph and moderate hardness.

Cryptocoryne Balansae

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves
cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

This plant has long slender crinkly leaves with pointed tips. It can grow well in hard water and can be grown under different brightness. However it will grow faster in bright light. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets that grow on the runners. It is a hardy plant and easy to care for. Plant in groups for a nice effect. One of the best background plants. Temperature range 73F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph between 6-8ph and a moderate hardness level.

Broadleaf Amazon sword plant

This is a good beginners plant and makes a good background plant but does need to be kept pruned because it grows large. It needs a reasonably bright light. It can cope with a temperature range between 68F and 82F. Does benefit from the occasional fertiliser tablet. It does not care much about its water chemistry as long as extreme conditions are avoided.

Ruffled Amazon sword plant

This is another easy to keep amazon sword variety. It is more bushy than the broad leafed amazon and its broad leaves have an attractive crinkle to them. It needs the occasional fertiliser tablet and some good lighting to thrive. Temperature range of 72F-82F and likes a wide range of ph and hardness with slightly acid being preferred.

Spadeleaf plant

The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant
The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant

This is a very broad leafed plant. It is easy to look after and grows quickly when supplied with bright light and tablet fertilisers. It can become quite bushy because of its fast growth. It likes a temperature range of 50F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph and water hardness.

Water wisteria

Water wisteria is an easy to keep plant with finely branched leaves. Use a table fertiliser near its roots and a bright light to ensure good growth. Water wisteria likes a temperature range of 73F-82F. Likes average water conditions around 7 ph but is not too fussy.

Dwarf Hygrophila

This is a popular aquarium plant and for good reason. It is low maintenance and very hardy. It will grow under nearly all aquarium conditions. Plant in groups of five in the background to create a bushy background. It does grow rather quickly. It does prefer bright light but can get by in moderate lighting. The preferred temperature range is 64F-86F. Ph range 5.0ph – 8.0ph.

Green myriophyllum

The green myrio is a great beginners background plant
The green myrio is a great beginners background plant

A great looking background plant that creates a fine leaved layer of green bushes all along the back of the aquarium. Keep the aquarium well filtered because debris in the water will collect in the plants fine leaves. Temperature range between 59F-77F.

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf rotala is a stem plant with leaves that grow all along single stems. In bright light the leaves take on a reddish colour over the green. This plant grows quickly when kept in brightly lit aquariums. It is an easy to care for plant. Temperature range is 68F-84F. Ph 5.5-7.5.

Straight vallisneria

The vallisneria is a tough, easy to care for plant. It reproduces by sending out runners on which plantlets sprout out. Each plantlet can be cut off when the plantlet has grown roots. It will grow quickly in the right conditions. Because of this it needs to be thinned out by separating out the leaves of the plant. vallisneria grows best in bright light but it will tolerate low lighting conditions. It is best planted in thickets surrounding the back and sides of the aquarium. Temperature range of 59F-86F. ph range is ph6-ph8.5.

The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough
The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough

Corkscrew vallisneria

The corkscrew vallisneria is similar in appearance to the straight version but with spiral leaves. It is not as hardy as the straight leaved version and needs moderate to hard water to thrive. And will not do well unless bright lighting is provided. Temperature range of 75F-82F. Ph range is ph6-ph8.