Second shopping list

Before starting on this shopping list, you should already have everything from the first one. This shopping list is about the items that one should have before buying fish, so it is a good idea to shop for these 1-2 days before stocking, once the cycle is almost complete.

  • Airline
  • Airline tap
  • Nets
  • Lights
  • Medications (antimicrobial and anti-white spot)
  • Live plants
  • Décor

As before, I will be explaining each of the above and their importance next time.

First shopping list – the details

Following on from the first shopping list, here are the explanations for why the items on the first shopping list are needed and what to look out for.

  • Aquarium

    The best aquaria for beginners are long, rectangular ones as most beginners do not know which way the hobby will take them and these are the tanks which give the most stocking options. It is best to go for at least a 90×30×30 cm (3×1×1 ft) tank as anything shorter will restrict you even on many of the “popular” fish. 60×30×30 cm (2×1×1 ft) is the absolute smallest that I can recommend to any beginner as setups smaller than that will not tolerate mistakes. Taller aquaria will not allow you to keep any larger fish, nor (really) any more fish, but the extra water will result in more stable parameters. Tank height does matter for some fish, such as Pterophyllum spp. (angels) and Symphysodon spp. (discus), but they should have quite large tanks anyway (for most species starting from 150×60×60 cm (5×2×2 ft)), so are usually not kept by beginners. Tank width/depth (the front to back measurement) does not matter too much for tanks tanks under 120 cm (4 ft) as they are too small to keep any fish that are large enough to have trouble turning around in a standard 30 cm (1 ft) wide tank. Odd shaped tanks and ones with low surface areas should generally be avoided if one does not want an extra level of difficulty and more stocking restrictions, this includes cubes, hexagonal prisms, “picture frames”, bowls and tanks with artificially reduces areas such as the Fluval Edge.

  • Filter

    Usually, the filters that come with the aquarium kits are fine, but if you do not have one, then I recommend external filters. I prefer to use Fluval internal filters or Eheim external filters. If the filter has activated carbon inside it, then the activated carbon should be removed and replaced with a media that does not affect the water while providing a high surface area for bacteria, such as porous ceramic media or sponges.

  • Test kits for ammonia, nitrite, GH and KH (water hardness), nitrate and pH

    It is only worth spending one’s money on liquid test kits, or maybe digital ones, but the strips are usually very inaccurate and can give false positives and, more worryingly, false negatives.

  • Dechlorinator

    Your first dechlorinator should be one that claims to “deal” or “neutralise” chlorine, chloramine, ammonia and nitrite. These are usually about the same price as ones which only work on chlorine and chloramine and add an extra level of protection because one of the by-products of chloramine removal is ammonia, so if your water supply has chloramine, as many in Europe do, then using a more traditional dechlorinator would leave the new water with ammonia in it, which would make the water changes during cycling redundant. Also, tap water can contain both ammonia and nitrite, both of which are harmful to fish.

  • Household ammonia

    Any household ammonia that does not contain anything other than water will do. Apparently the test to see if it contains other things is to shake up the bottle and see if it produces foam: if it does not, then it is what you want, but if it does, then it contains other constituents. I have never tried this method as I have never seen ammonia that contains other cleaning agents or perfumes in it. In the UK it is possible to buy ammonia from Boots, in the USA from Ace Hardware and in Germany from eBay.

  • Tubing for water changes

    Anything that is clean will work, starting from filter tubing all the way to garden hoses. If you plan to refill the tank straight from the tap, then it is worth getting a short length of tubing and a longer one or a python system.

  • Bucket

    Useful for lugging around water and for acclimatising fish. The bucket needs to be a new one and must never be used for anything other than fishkeeping to avoid contamination and poisoning the fish.

  • Thermometer

    Alcohol and digital thermometers are the most accurate. Avoid liquid crystal thermometers as they measure the temperature of the room and glass, not the water.

  • Heater

    Almost any heater is fine, I prefer to use NeWatt heaters because they are ceramic, so are more difficult to break and are less likely to fail than a glass heater. A good heater should last you a very long time (my oldest working heater is probably around 15 years old), while a bad (normally cheap) heater can break very quickly (most of the “cheap” heaters that I have had have failed in under 5 years). If you use a glass heater, make sure you have a heater guard for it: this is a plastic cage that goes around the glass, preventing the fish from touching the hot heater and burning themselves. A heater guard will also reduce the risk of you or a large fish smashing the heater. As a very general rule of thumb, one should have approximately 1 watt of heater per litre in a well heated house. So for our 90×30×30 cm (3×1×1 ft) example tank, which is approximately 80 litres in volume, we need an 80 watt heater. Since most heaters come in 75 or 100 watts, I would chose the 75 watt heater if I knew that the room was always warm, or the 100 watt heater if I could not be sure that the room is always heated. Another option would be 2× 50 watt heaters.

  • Substrate

    Research the substrates and go for your final choice right from the start. I recommend sand from a garden centre because it is usually no different from aquarium sand, but is considerably cheaper, and allows for a much wider selection of stock.

  • Plain background

    I prefer black, but dark blue also works well. White is more difficult to pull off, and the printed backgrounds usually look just tacky. At the very least, a background will hide the equipment cables, and it can even make fish more bold.

Next time, I will be writing a post-cycle shopping list.

First shopping list

It can be a bit difficult to know what to buy when one first starts in the hobby, so I thought that it would be a great idea to put together a list. First up are the essentials:

  • Aquarium
  • Filter
  • Test kits for ammonia, nitrite, GH and KH (water hardness), nitrate and pH
  • Dechlorinator
  • Household ammonia
  • Tubing for water changes
  • Bucket

In addition to those, I would have the following as well because these will speed up the cycle:

  • Thermometer
  • Heater

And the tank would look nicer during the fishless cycle if one also had:

  • Substrate
  • Plain background

Next time, I will be explaining why each of the above is important!

Test kits (part 2)

Since writing about test kits, I have been paying a bit more attention to where people go wrong and I have slightly revised my recommendations on the importance of various kits for beginners.

  1. Ammonia and nitrite

    Ammonia and nitrite are still top of the list because ammonia is harmful to fish and nitrite causes haemoglobin to convert to methaemoglobin, which effectively suffocates fish as they are no longer able to absorb oxygen.

  2. Water hardness

    GH and KH are general hardness and carbonate hardness respectively. Both types of hardness are measured in (German) degrees, where 1° is 17.848 ppm. 1 ppm of hardness is equivalent to 1 mg/l (and also one American degree, but this should not be used as ppm or mg/l are simple enough and considerably more common). Water hardness comes second because fast changes in water hardness are quite likely to harm or kill fish and this is something that many people are not aware of. One can avoid these changes by always drip acclimatising, especially if one is not able to measure them.

  3. pH and nitrate

    While nitrate in itself is unlikely to be lethal to fish in the concentrations that are most often seen in aquaria (up to 500 ppm), there is scientific research to back up the popular consensus that it is best to keep nitrate as close to 0 ppm as possible because it will harm the fish (for example, it will result in stunted growth). Nitrates will rarely rise above 50 ppm in a well maintained aquarium even if they are not monitored as they will normally be used up by plants and removed through water changes. pH is important, but not as much as as water hardness because a difference in water hardness will indicate that there is a difference in pH, but the KH also indicates how stable the pH is.

Most “master” test kits do not include the water hardness kits, so it is best to double check what you are getting if you buy a set. I am still working through the kits that I used for the 60 litre aquarium, even though I have been using them for all of my aquaria, so they really are not all that expensive at around £30 for the set and well worth the money to save beginners a lot of headaches.

Large water changes

When raising young fish, it is a relatively good idea to occasionally do large water changes to remove waste products from the aquarium, but this is not the commonly given reason for the large water changes; the more common belief is that fish release growth stunting hormones/pheromones, but I have been unable to find any scientific proof to back it up. It is true that fish release a growth hormone (GH) which stimulates growth, but they can also become resistant to the hormone if they are already stunted, for example, because the competition for food is too high. There are also other factors that affect growth, including higher nitrate concentrations. Of course, any ammonia and nitrite[2][3] are very high on the list, but this should not be a worry as neither should be present in an aquarium.

Before starting on the water change, I check the water parameters. I know that my tap water is quite hard, and the results below show lower water hardness, lower pH and higher nitrates. This means that my tank water hardness has drifted downwards from my tap water and not all nitrates are being used up, which indicates that I need to refill the tank very slowly after the water change so that the fish have time to adjust to the change in water parameters and do not go into osmotic shock.

Parameters before the water change:

  • KH: 8 ° (143 ppm)
  • GH: 16 (286 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 20 – 30 ppm
  • pH: 7.5

Water change

As can be seen in the photo, the tank is really rather overgrown with Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce), so I regularly have a bag or so of water lettuce to sell. If you would like some, reply to the post or contact me for more information!


[1] John Colt, Robert Ludwig, George Tchobanoglous, Joseph J. Cech Jr. (1981), “The effects of nitrite on the short-term growth and survival of channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus”. Aquaculture , Volume 24: 111–122

[2] Jane Francesa, Geoff L Allana, Barbara F Nowak (1 April 1998), “The effects of nitrite on the short-term growth of silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus)”. Aquaculture , Volume 163 (Issues 1–2): 63–72

A sad end to the project

On 1st of January 2012, this tank was moved from Berlin, Germany to UK. The move took around 48 hours and was successful, with a 100% survival rate of fish, plants and equipment. Unfortunately, I have since not had enough time to dedicate to appropriate research for the new posts, so the blog was put on hold.

Last month, this project met a rather abrupt and an unexpected end: I was away from a couple of weeks in the US, and during that time, without my knowledge, the filter was unplugged. On my return, I found no sign of vertebrate life in the tank. This has happened even though the people who were in the house while I was away knew the importance of a running filter.

You can view all the posts relating to this aquarium in the 60 litre aquarium category. The posts of most interest to beginners are the following:

The three items that are highlighted are the ones that I have referred others to most often, as they are usually the most misunderstood and clouded in myth.

This is the last tank shot of the aquarium:

Before trimming

Of course, this is not the end for the tank and I will soon be setting it up again. I do not have much preference for set-up, other than it be a biotope, so I welcome all suggestions in the comments! Anything from a detailed set-up to a species that the rest of the tank should be created around would be considered.

Next time, I plan to explain how to seed a filter from an existing tank, and whatever else is requested. In the mean time, I am using it to grow plants that fund my hobby.

Beef heart mix for growing fish

The discus have been growing well, and I feel that it is time to move them onto a more fish-based diet, so I have come up with a variation on one of the earlier recipes, with this beef heart mix for growing fish. As before, this beef heart mix is aimed at young fish, I used decapsulated brine shrimp, Spirulina, fish and spinach.

Information

  • Type: fish food
  • Preparation time: 20 minutes
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 500g

Ingredients

  • 75 g spinach
  • 12 g decapsulated brine shrimp
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 125 g beef heart (fat, arteries, veins and lining removed)
  • 125 g fresh or frozen fish
  • 25 g Spirulina
  • gelatin (enough to make up 500 ml)
  • water

Instructions

  1. Soak the spinach in boiling water until it becomes soft
  2. Rehydrate the decapsulated brine shrimp, 25 g of shrimp needed 30-40 ml of water for rehydration
  3. Cut up the beef heart, fish and spinach into small pieces
  4. Mince the garlic (I use a garlic press for this)
  5. Place spinach, brine shrimp, garlic, beef heart and Spirulina into a blender, mixing until it forms a smooth paste (some people prefer to use a mincer)
  6. Make up the gelatin with 100 ml of water and add into the blender
  7. Mix the gelatin into the paste
  8. Place mixture into containers to chill before freezing (I use 9-10 10×15 cm grip-lock bags, placing approximately two large tablespoons into each bag)
  • Author: Ekaterina Gerasimova
  • Published: 24th May 2012

Beef heart mix for community fish

I was asked today about what to do with Spirulina, so below is a generic beef heart mix that can be made up with Spirulina and that should be suitable for most community fish. Beef heart should be fed to most community fish only as a treat, not as a staple, as it does not provide a balanced diet, but using a high proportion of generic fish food and spinach should help balance it out. 100g of beef heart is approximately 1/8 of a heart before it is prepared for fish food.

Information

  • Type: fish food
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 600g

Ingredients

  • 100 g spinach
  • 100 g generic dry fish food (like flakes or pellets)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 100 g beef heart (fat, arteries, veins and lining removed)
  • 20-30 g Spirulina
  • gelatin (enough to make up 500 ml)
  • water

Instructions

  1. Soak the spinach in boiling water until it becomes soft
  2. Crush or pulverise the fish food until it is in small pieces or powder
  3. Cut up the beef heart and spinach into small pieces
  4. Mince the garlic (I use a garlic press for this)
  5. Place spinach, dry fish food, garlic, beef heart and Spirulina into a blender, mixing until it forms a smooth paste (some people prefer to use a mincer)
  6. Make up the gelatin with 250 ml of water and add into the blender
  7. Mix the gelatin into the paste
  8. Place mixture into containers to chill before freezing (I used 10 10×15 cm grip-lock bags, placing approximately two large tablespoons into each bag)
  • Author: Ekaterina Gerasimova
  • Published: 12th March 2012

Making beef heart mix

Since I am hoping to receive discus soon, I decided to make a small batch of beef heart mix for them. I do not have any set recipes to use, just make up whatever I have at home. Since this mix is aimed at young fish, I used decapsulated brine shrimp, Spirulina, spinach and garlic. Some people even add extra vitamins to fish food, although I did not because I feed a range of other foods which should provide a well balanced diet between them.

Information

  • Type: fish food
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Total time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 500g

Ingredients

  • 50 g spinach
  • 20 g decapsulated brine shrimp
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 250 g beef heart (fat, arteries, veins and lining removed)
  • 30 g Spirulina
  • gelatin (enough to make up 500 ml)
  • water

Instructions

  1. Soak the spinach in boiling water until it becomes soft
  2. Rehydrate the decapsulated brine shrimp
  3. Cut up the beef heart and spinach into small pieces
  4. Mince the garlic (I use a garlic press for this)
  5. Place spinach, brine shrimp, garlic, beef heart and Spirulina into a blender, mixing until it forms a smooth paste (some people prefer to use a mincer)
  6. Make up the gelatin with 250 ml of water and add into the blender
  7. Mix the gelatin into the paste
  8. Place mixture into containers to chill before freezing (I used 10 10×15 cm grip-lock bags, placing approximately two large tablespoons into each bag)
  • Author: Ekaterina Gerasimova
  • Published: 14th February 2012

The end and a new start

At the start of December 2011, my husband was made redundant. It would have been very difficult for us to remain in Berlin as I could not support both of us on my wage and it would have been almost impossible for him to find a new job there.
I started selling off most of my livestock and plants immediately, taking some of the fish to my LFS (Aquarien Meyer) in exchange for fish bags and dechlorinator which I used for the return journey, but unfortunately it was quite difficult to sell the aquariums as so many people made appointments to view them, then did not turn up. In the end, I managed to sell one of the AquaOne AquaStyle 980 for 50 EUR, the second for 60 EUR and the 420 litre aquarium (including substrate) for 275 EUR, which is approximately what I paid for the tank and substrate when I bought them.
The keyholes, two male rams and plecos were packed into three fish boxes and taken back to UK by van, alongside the rest of the furniture. These fish have been living in a very cramped, 50 litre aquarium since then, with most of the plants from the 420 litre in with them and with one of the Eheim 2076(Professional 3e for 450 litre tank). While such an overrated filter would normally be too strong for a small tank, the 2076 has adjustable flow rate and the plants, combined with pointing the spray bar at the surface, next to the intake, reduce the flow to something which is suitable for such a small tank.But this is not the complete end to this tank: I have ordered a nice, custom sized aquarium from ND Aquatics, which arrived today. It is a 4.5×2×2 ft sized tank with a solid topped hood, optiwhite glass front and sides, clear silicone, glass condensation trays and flat hood with an aintree oak cabinet to match the existing teak furniture. There are so many options available for customisation with ND Aquatics that I have probably forgotten some of them! The service from the company was good, and the tank looks great:

Since I have to be careful about the carpet, I have invested in a painters’ fleece which is lined with a plastic sheet on one side. The one which can be seen in the photo is a 10×1 metre piece which was around GBP 5 from Aldi.
While waiting for the tank to arrive, I decided to try adding laterite under the substrate. Laterite is a weathered clay which has a high cation exchange rate because it is rich in iron oxide. One of the cheapest sources of laterite is cat litter, but not all cat litter is laterite. After a quick search, Tesco Low Dust Lightweight Cat Litter appeared to be the best choice. I read that a 2 cm layer was recommended, for which I would have needed approximately 12 litres of laterite (length×width×2 cm/1000). Since the cat litter I had chosen came in 10 litre bags, I purchased two bags at GBP 3.29 each and ended up using all of it, with a 1 cm deep bed at the front and right side of the aquarium, going up to about 5 cm at the back:

It did take much longer to wash the laterite than it usually does to wash substrate: I probably gave each 3 litre lot at least 10 rinses before I could see the laterite through the water. It felt like the laterite might have been “99 % dust free”, but the 1 % was just dust and no laterite. Also, I found out that this particular cat litter is fragranced; it took me at least 3 rinses before I could not smell the fragrance coming off the water. In other words, this laterite needs considerable cleaning, more so than most substrates!

Tomorrow, I plan to add three bags of sharp sand (sharp sand is sand which has been recently weathered from granite or gneiss) and one of play sand, as I like to see some texture in the substrate, but this sharp sand has too many large grains when used on its own, although I thought it was still worth GBP 0.50 per bag from Homebase. I will also add a plain, black background to the back and the left sides of the tank tomorrow, and a branch of hornbeam which was cut down a month ago so that the van would fit down the driveway during the move.