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.

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.

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.

Fish jump.

Some do it as a defence mechanism, some do it for breeding, but regardless of the reasons most fish are very capable of jumping and quite a few are exceptionally good at it. Some species, such as Pangio spp. and Erpetoichthys calabaricus, are even known as escape artists, requiring extremely tight fitting covers for their aquaria. Jumping fish can easily become a problem as the fish can hurt themselves or even manage to escape and die.

In home aquaria, fish most often jump when they are spooked, so the primary point of concern is making sure that the aquarium is located somewhere that the fish are not disturbed. A suitable location would be in a dining room or a relatively quiet lounge, away from the doors, preferably where no one would walk by the aquarium on a regular basis. While most fish jump for the sake of jumping, I have also heard reports of an increase in jumping in waters that contain ammonia and I have had a pleco that took to jumping with age.

Of course, it is also important to discourage the fish from jumping. This can be done by adding floating plants, as fish are usually less inclined to jump through a barrier. Even with floating plants, a cover glass is highly recommended as the plants are no guarantee against jumping.

With all of these precautions, the dangers still remain as a fish can hurt itself if it jumps into a cover glass, so it is best to use all of the above measures in combination.

Most fish can not survive out of the water for long, some species, such as gouramis and certain catfish can because they are able to breath even when out of the water, so it is always worth checking if the fish is still alive if it is found after it has jumped. Chances of survival, as long as it is still alive, are quite high. It is usually recommended that the fish is floated in a shallow contained with increased aeration until it is able to swim and then, transferred back to its aquarium.

I thought it would be wise to mention all of these things as I am now down to 9 Danios because one male jumped around 40 mm up, through the opening for food (approximately 50 by 100 mm) and onto the floor, then made its way approximately 1 metre away from the aquarium, where I found it dry and dead by morning.

Daily tests: day 48 – 57 and adding wood

Test tubes waiting to be washed

I’m planning to do a large water change tonight, in preparation for the fish, and I would also like some clear readings for the record, so I know how much the wood will affect the water after it is added. This morning, the readings were:

  • KH: 9.5 ° (170 ppm)
  • GH: 21 (376 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 80 – 160 ppm
  • pH: 8.2

I expect KH, GH and nitrate to drop after the water change because my tap water readings are lower.

Unfortunately, the diatoms are still there and getting worse, so hopefully, the water change will help improve the situation. I also have a Malawi aquarium, which, for those of you who do not know, is a Lake Malawi simulation, with a lot of rockwork and no plants because the fish which live in the lake naturally graze on algae and have a habit of mistaking plants for algae, which means that most plants would not survive for long. In this rocky and plant-free environment, I also often see diatoms, and as is currently the case with this aquarium, the Malawi setup also has high nitrates, so I assume, given that the general hardness is the only other common factor between the two aquariums, that the nitrate is responsible. I have also noted the appearance of cyanobacteria, an algae-like bacteria, today. I hope this is also related to the high nitrate levels.

I performed a clean of the aquarium, including glass and filter, and changed 36 litres of water, which was approximately 80%. The water readings after the maintenance were:

  • KH: 10.5 ° (188 ppm)
  • GH: 18 (322 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0.25 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 10 – 30 ppm
  • pH: 7.8

The results indicate that my tap water has changed since I took the original readings: my tap water pH has dropped, while the KH has risen.

I also added the wood, right after the water changes. It has now picked up the rich red which gives it the name of “red moor wood”, but is being slow to water log.

Picking plants…

60 litre plant layout planSince I have already decided to stock Asian fish, I am going to try aiming for the same from the plants. I used Tropica’s index of plants by origin as a starting place. My first attempt at creating a layout ended up with a few non-Asian plants which I liked the look of, but this was created long before I even had the aquarium itself.

60 litre plant layout planOn my second pass, I reduced the numbers of species and removed the most demanding ones from my list. I also removed the non-Asian plants, which left me with eight species in total.

For the background, I picked Cardamine lyrata, Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Mi Oya’, Lindernia rotundifolia and Rotala rotundifolia as these all have the potential to grow very tall; mid-ground, I want Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’ and Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides; the foreground plants will be Cryptocoryne parva, which I have never had much success with, and Pogostemon helferi, which I already have.

While I agree with supporting retailers, my LFS charges approximately € 7 – 10 per pot, which is relatively expensive. My usual online retailer is more reasonable, charging € 3 – 5 per pot or bunch of these plants, but because the set-up has already cost almost € 200 and because I want to heavily plant it from the start, I have been looking for these plants from fellow fish-keepers, mostly though forums and suchlike, but also via online advertisements. While I do have some plants to offer for trade, which is the usual etiquette, I will make an effort to pay for them in cash, same as any beginner would be doing.

My first two finds were Cardamine lyrata and a Hydrocotyle cf. tripartita (also known as H. species ‘Japan’ and H. sp. ‘Australia’, sometimes mistakenly identified as H. maritima because it looks similar to H. sibthorpioides) which I bought in a lot of 30 “bunches” for € 30 including delivery, so I will price these at € 1 for the C. lyrata and € 2 for H. cf. tripartita, as they were on the more common side out of the plants I received.

A few days ago, I had another piece of good luck: I received six pots of Lindernia rotundifolia from an unknown source, which I was not expecting. Maybe someone out there likes me, as these are usually € 5 – 10 EUR per pot.

I have also already managed to secure Rotala rotundifolia and Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’ from a couple of forum members, once they need trimming again, both for the price of postage.

For the moment, here is how the aquarium looks right now:

Actual 60 litre plant layout

Daily tests: day 31

This morning’s test results were:

  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm

Some of the plants are starting to suffer from the higher temperatures and no light. Given that my first stock will be 9 × 10 mm Danio margaritatus, I expect that they will not produce more than 2 ppm of ammonia per day. So, while for a full stock I would be aiming to see 4-5 ppm of ammonia processed in 12 hours, I will settle for the 2 ppm in 24 hours for now. I will now gradually start dropping the temperature into the 22 °C range and I will start using the lighting. To avoid algae problems, I will also dose ammonia in the evenings from now, instead of the mornings, so that by the time the lights come on, there will not be much ammonia left left.