The bulk of the maintenance that has been happening on this tank since October has involved topping up the evaporated water, filter cleaning, manually removing algae and water changes.


One of the issues that the family which has the tank had was that topping up the tank with a bucket disturbed the substrate. I generally avoid the problem by balancing the bucket of new water on top of the tank and syphoning it in. This helps avoid spilling water all over the place and the water from the water butts tends to be freezing this time of year so I’m sure the fish appreciate not having a shock of cold water. Their solution is to place a mug in the tank and pour the water over that (similar to the plate suggestion that seems to be popular in books).

In the mean time, the die back from the plants kept clogging the filter, which they started cleaning in old tank water, but then replaced the filter media altogether. Luckily this was before the fish were added, but I have reiterated the importance of not replacing the filter media in one go.

Fish - 3

The algae that was removed in the previous maintenance session has not come back after the lighting was reduced and the Spirodela spp. was introduced. They haven’t used the EasyCarbo, but I have now advised a dose of 0.25 ml per day to encourage plant growth as nitrates were high in the test results:

  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate 50-80 ppm

The predominance of tap water top ups (we live in a hard water area) has caused the water in the tank to be quite hard, but this is likely to be beneficial to the plants in the long terms. At last water change yesterday, we removed 5 litres of water and added 20 litres.

I have trimmed the Limnophila sessiliflora a few times and removed over twice as much Spirodela spp. as I had originally added to the tank. The Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’ has shown good growth as well, although Crypt. sp. ‘Green Crisped Leaf’ has remained the same size but now has submersed leaf growth. I added four sera Floronette A root tabs, one under each of the Crypt. spp. and two spaced equally under the other plants.

We also got a dark-blue on the bottom to blue on the top background for the tank and replaced the perspex lid with a glass one which is available for a shocking £20 from Arcadia. It works very well, but really should have come with the aquarium from the start. The glass lid is satisfyingly solid and easier to clean with vinegar than the perspex one.

Picking the species

By December, our schedules coincided enough to get some fish for the tank. I had wanted to find some Micropoecilia branneri as we live in a hard water area, but my search failed again. Instead, I decided to try our a very popular group of fish that I had not kept before. Being a complete beginner with killifish, I did my research, double and triple checking all the facts, but I failed to find guides to stocking in a “community” tank as most of the resources are aimed at breeders. On advice from some veteran killi-keepers from Seriously Fish, I found our that a 60 litre tank takes 8-12 Fundulopanchax gardeni ‘Innidere’.

The interesting thing about Fundolopanchax gardeni is that it is a very diverse species with many, many natural and cultivated colour morphs. I picked ‘Innidere’ based on mikev’s recommendation and as I had never seen a F. gardeni in person, that was good enough for me.

‘Innidere’ is usually attributed as a color morph of Fundulopanchax nigerianus. In reality, Fundulopanchax nigerianus has never existed. It is true that gardeni and nigerianum used to be considered two species, but this was a long time ago, when they were both considered to be in a different genus altogether, and were merged into one species in 1992, finally being named F. gardeni and F. gardeni nigerianus in 1996.

Nowadays, the correct naming is Fundulopanchax gardeni gardeni for what is traditionally considered F. gardeni and Fundulopanchax gardeni nigerianus for what is usually called F. nigerianus.

When I first started looking for this species, the breeder had some juveniles available. Unfortunately, by the time that I came around to buying the fish, they only had eggs. Fortunately, I didn’t read the description properly and bought eggs thinking it was the last pair of juveniles. Hatching these fish has proven to be quite interesting and easy.

Killifish eggSo unfortunately, I did not have the promised fish for the family on the day, but (again) luckily, I had also bought a pair of Apistogramma commbrae at the same time, which I have now let them borrow.

Hitting the first problems and finiding solutions

By mid-November, the newly set up, fish-free tank already showed some problems, the biggest being the appearance of fluffy clouds of dark green algae along the surface of the substrate. To counteract this, I suggested reducing the lighting period (which had been set to around 12 hours by the family) to 10 hours. I also gave them some Spirodela spp. which is a type of giant duckweed that can have a nice red tinge and a bottle of EasyCarbo, a liquid carbon fertiliser which also acts as an algaecide. We then manually removed as much algae as possible while doing a water change and left it at that. I also gave them some sera Florenette A root tabs (which are best value for money), two of which were inserted into the substrate at the time.

In that 6 or so weeks, some of the plants settled in nicely and some died off. Mainly, the Limnophila sessiliflora tried to take over the tank, while the Bacopa lanigera, Lindernia rotundifolia and Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ died back heavily. This corresponds with my experience that without investigation and special attention, some plants just take to some tanks while some just don’t.


The other problem that the family encountered is high levels of evaporation as can be seen in the photo below. With the tank temperature set to 24°C, this was unexpectedly high as I get considerably less evaporation in my “hot” tanks. The problem with topping up is that it increases the water hardness in the tank, and disturbs the substrate, but this was resolved later.

In the mean time, I had failed to find my background for this tank, so it was looking a bit bare without one. The sagging lid was also irritating everyone.


Restarting the 60 litre project

Following a rather unfortunate end to the 60 litre project, I have now re-set it up at a friend’s house for their 5 and 6 year old children. The parents have the previous white-ups from this project for reference, and my advice, in person, on demand. Their life style is relatively busy, with little free time, so we’ll see how a fish tank fits into their schedule.

We set up the tank with the 5th of October. I wanted to use Moler clay for the substrate because it resembles the popular gravel more closely than sand would. It should also keep a higher bank at the back more easily. Moler clay is a ridiculously dusty substrate which is sold by some aquatics suppliers, but is also available for the bonsai tree hobby as a substrate for the plants, as cat litter (which may be fragrant) and in some other industries as well. Moler clay, which is calcinated clay consisting mostly of diatomaceous earth from Denmark, supposedly has a high cation exchange capacity. In simple terms, this means that it will extract some nutrients from the water column and make them available to the plants through their roots instead.

I was reminiscing about one of my first tropical aquaria around this time, which was set up in the early 2000s. I was using Dorset pea gravel at the time and as it sat in the corner of the room, I created two tiers: a 1 cm layer of gravel at the front and a 10 cm tier across the corner which was propped up by oak branches and had a “cave” from a plastic pot that was cut in half. As this tank will be viewed mainly from the front (from the dining room, across the lounge) and the right side (from the sofa in the lounge), I decided to try for a taller tier at the back-left of the tank sloping downwards to the front-right and only a little substrate at the front. I’m hoping this will allow the higher tier to be planted heavily, while keeping the front clear for viewing and feeding. I was recently lucky enough to acquire some dragon stone at a good price from another hobbyist, and wanting to involve the children, I let them pick out a few pieces for the new tank. These now line the tank about a third of the way to the back, and from the left side to three quarters across the tank.

Next came the plants. The children, stayed relatively engaged while washing the substrate as they enjoyed plating with the hose and getting soaked (in October?!?). Guiding their dragon stone placement strategically was a bit more challenging. Filling the tank with water was slow torture. They did redeem themselves on unpacking and sorting the plants by species.

2 pots of Bacopa lanigera went into the back-left corner, next to the filter, thermometer and heater. Two pots of Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ went in front of the Bacopa. To the right of the Bacopa, one pot of Limnophila sessiliflora and next to that the Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’. Two pots of Lindernia rotundifolia went in between the Crypt and the right side of the tank. The Cryptocoryne sp. ‘Green Crisped Leaf’ took the spot on the right side of the tank, on the substrate slope between the front and the back.

60-litre-1I left them with a bucket, piece of hose, net, dechlorinator and a full test kit (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, GH, KH and pH).

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.


Black background

Backgrounds can make all the difference to how an aquarium looks: they can be used to hide cables and equipment, create a more natural looking environment or simply bring out the colour of the fish.

The cheapest and most basic backgrounds are usually made from a sheet of plastic and are cut to size when one purchases them. These are usually attached to the outside of the aquarium. They are usually black on one side and blue on the reverse, or have some sort of print (often a planted aquarium, a marine aquarium or rocks). For aesthetic reasons, it is probably best to avoid the ones with the prints. The alternative to these are textured backgrounds, which go inside the aquarium, but these are often very expensive. Another option is to make a textured background for oneself, these often look best, especially for aquariums which are not heavily planted. Textured backgrounds are places inside the aquarium and usually imitate stones or tree roots.

My usual preference for backgrounds is plain black, so that is what I am using. Below are photos without background and with the blue background (which is looks lighter when not attached to the aquarium).

No background
Blue background

As can be seen from the photos, the light has a pink glow to it. This is quite unusual for me, as I usually use cool daylight bulbs (colour “865”). Most manufacturers which offer “aquarium” light bulbs, usually label pink ones as “plant”, although in reality, I think the colour of the bulb makes little difference, as long as the bulb is not green.