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.

Sinking the wood

A friend of mine told me that his red moor wood took 4-6 weeks to sink, so I decided to give mine a little helping hand by placing a fish-bag-full of inert rocks on top of it, after moving it into position. On my second attempt, about a week later, I was able to remove the bag of stones, with the wood not floating up. I took the opportunity to move the weeping moss onto the wood, rocks and all included, as it is best when grown hanging off branches.

Wood fungus/bactria

Wood fluffThe wood has started growing a layer of what could be either bacteria or a fungus, which is apparently common in aquariums with a higher pH. I have seen this happen on a re-used piece of mopani wood before: it usually stops growing the fluff after a while. Without analysing a sample of the fluff, it would be impossible to find out if it really is a bacteria or a fungus. I took the wood out of the aquarium and washed it off. The fluff feels slimy to the touch, but is harmless.

First maintenance

Diatoms begone!Above is the photo of the aquarium after I finished a full maintenance on the aquarium.

I started by turning off the heater and filter, and scraping all the diatoms off of the front using an expired bank card, followed by the sides and the back, although I must admit that I did not make a particularly good job of the back. I was especially careful to not catch the sand, but I think I still may have caught one or two grains which would have scratched the glass.

Next, I drained out 5-10% of the water into a bucket, syphoning up all the diatoms I scraped from the glass. At this point, I decided to clean the filter. So I took the filter out of the aquarium, which was a bit more difficult than I would expect because of the spray bar. I pulled the filter apart and started cleaning the media in the old aquarium water which I had just drained: chlorine and chloramine will kill the nitrifying bacteria that I have been growing and feeding ammonia to. In the two months that the filter has been running for, it has become covered with sand dust, including the media and the impeller. I gently squeezed the sponge in the water until I could not see any sand left on them, then cleaned the impeller, the plastic casing and rubbed the ceramic media between my hands to remove the fine sand coating which was covering it in places. Rubbing ceramic media against itself is not harmful to the filter because the vast majority of the bacteria will be inside the media. Next, I cleaned all the soft plastic as some of it still had fungus on it. I reassembled the filter and placed it back into the aquarium.

Because my tap water is hard, I have lime scale deposits around the top of the glass, inside the aquarium. I cleaned these off with some cotton wool which I soaked in spirit vinegar and then rinsed the areas with aquarium water.

Finally, I syphoned out the remaining water down to about 10 cm from the bottom. So as to not disturb the sand, I then syphoned dechlorinated and temperature matched water back into the aquarium, finishing off with a top up to get the water level right as I do not like the sound of trickling water too much. In total, I changed 36 litres of water.

Finally, I switched the filter and heater back on, managing to spray water out of the aquarium in the process, and added the new piece of wood. The flow of the filter looked much faster, now that it had been cleaned.

Daitoms everywhere

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.

Aquarium wood

Moor rootOne of the most popular types of décor for aquariums is wood. There are a number of different types sold commercially and it is possible to prepare one’s own wood for aquarium use. The most likely ones to be found in shops are bogwood, driftwood, mopani root and “red moor root”. There are also a few other types which are only starting to become available now or are not so popular too.

Bogwood and driftwood are usually solid pieces of grey to brown colour, they are usually parts of the trunk or thick branches. Mopani is more of a thick, gnarled root, a light sandy colour on one side and a rich brown on the other. “Moor root” is used to describe any wood which is composed of weaving, curly branches, usually attached to a gnarled base. Moor root often comes in colours ranging from orange to red. I have also used dead English oak branches with success, and dead heather branches and roots, but the heather tended to disintegrate quite quickly.

There are a few benefits to using wood, the biggest one being the release of tannins, which help lower pH. Soft woods, such as bogwood, are also required if plecos are kept, because plecos will feed on them. Wood can also be used to grow certain plants, such as Anubias, Microsorum pteropus and various aquatic mosses, which can be a big advantage when keeping species which like to dig.

The advantages of wood are also the disadvantages, some people do not like the tannin coloured water and the lower pH is not suitable for certain fish. Wood can also start growing fungus, this is often the case if the wood has been boiled in a bid to remove tannins: it is considerably more productive to just soak the wood in a bucket, changing the water regularly. Once fungus has appeared, it can easily be removed with a syphon or by gently scrubbing the wood under the tap.

I prepare wood by brushing off any dirt under a running tap, then adding it to the aquarium, where it should quickly become water logged, although sometimes, the wood can take a few days to a few weeks to sink.


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.

Adding sand and filling the aquarium

Setting up 1 Setting up 2 Setting up 3 Setting up 4 Setting up 5 Setting up 6 Setting up 7 Setting up 8 Setting up 9 Setting up 10

Setting up 11

Once the water is in, it is almost clear right from the start. I used a plastic bowl for pouring the water on to, so that I would not disturb the sand too much. The whole process of washing the sand and adding the water took about 45 minutes, it needed about 120 litres of water and I finished it off with 15 ml of dechlorinator. Last to go in were the filter and heater.

The aquarium is currently on the floor (that’s my old AquaOne next to it, which I am trying to sell) because I do not have any small table which is sturdy enough to take the 70 odd kg that the full aquarium weights (about 55 kg of water and 15 kg of substrate), so I am planning to build a wooden stand for it in the near future.


Substrate choice partially depends on personal preference, but mainly on whether the fish you are planning to keep have any specific requirements. For example, loaches, Corydoras and earth eaters are a few of the fish which benefit from fine substrate because they will sift it through their gills while looking for food. Some loaches will even bury themselves under the sand, while some cichlids will only spawn in pits which they have dug.

As I am still undecided on which species of fish I will have for the bottom of the aquarium, safest choice is sand. I have bought some play sand, which is aquarium safe and is considerably cheaper than aquarium sand.

Regardless which substrate one chooses, it is important to make sure that it is not dyed because most dyes will come off with time and some may be harmful to aquatic animals.

Another important point to consider is that some substrates will alter the pH of the water. For example, peat will result in the water becoming more acidic, while crushed coral will have exactly the opposite effect. These properties can be very useful to for adjusting the aquarium pH in the long term, but I would still recommend that anyone new to fishkeeping should avoid these and pick fish which will be happy in the water parameters that one already has. Normal sand and gravel are usually inert, so have no effect on the water chemistry.

The first thing to do with new substrate is to clean it: this can be done by placing a small quantity of it into a bucket and rinsing it with water until the water runs clear even when one stirs it. If the substrate is not clean enough, it will cause the water to become cloudy because of the dust in it, so I usually give it an extra rinse before adding it to the aquarium. The water is still likely to be slightly cloudy for a couple of days even though the substrate has been washed, so it is possible to temporarily add filter wool (also known as floss) into the filter, so that the water clears quicker. Luckily for me, this play sand was quite clean, so each 3 litre lot took only three goes to clean, instead of the more usual 6-8. Before draining the water after each clean, I waited a few seconds to let the smaller bits of sand, which were not the dust which can make the water cloudy, settle.

Wet and dry play sand

Wet sand will often look darker than dry sand, so it is important to take that into account when picking a colour. In the photo above, you can see the dry sand on to top with the wet sand below it. The sand which was available at my local DIY store is a dull brown with specks of larger dark and pale stones. I think this gives it quite a natural look, which is what I am aiming at.