Seeding the filter

Previously, I did a fishless cycle on this tank which took a grand total of one month. This time, I switched from the Powerbio 700 by Classica to a Elite Mini (a tiny internal filter which is quite efficient and was a favourite of mine for my fish room) which I “seeded” with cycled filter media from my display tank. I had also switched the heater from the 50 W heater that came with the tank to a Visitherm 50 W heater which was also salvaged from when I broke down by fish room five years ago. This puts the heater and the filter both at around 7-9 years old and still in perfect working order.

To seed a new filter, some of the new filter media needs to be replaced with old, cycled filter media which already has all the necessary bacteria living on it. It is possible for a filter to be partially seeded, to kick start the cycle with household ammonia or for low stocking, or to be fully seeding so that it will be able to take closer to full stock immediately. If you are seeing your filter and aiming for higher stocking, I recommend that the seeding is followed by a fishless cycle, which should take no more than a week or so.

I drip acclimatised the fish as normal and set up the filter at the same time on the 13th of December. Ammonia and nitrite have been at a constant 0 ppm since then, which means that seeding followed by immediate low stocking works well.

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.

The heater

Since this will be a tropical aquarium, it will require heating.

Fish are poikilotherms, so (in rather crude terms), their environment affects their metabolism. Because fish are not able to regulate their own body temperature, the temperature of the water will affect their enzyme activity, so it is important that an appropriate water temperature, which is sustainable in the long term, is chosen for the fish to live in. This also means that temperature will affect the lifespan and activity level of the fish: for the same fish, a higher water temperature would mean more active fish with shorter life span, while a lower temperature would result in lower level of activity, but with a longer lifespan.

Changes in temperature throughout the year or during a rainy season can also be a breeding trigger for some species of fish. The latter can easily be simulated by large water changes with cool or cold water. Seasons of the year are more difficult, although still possible by setting the heater to a lower temperature in winter and increasing it toward summer, then lowering it again for the winter.

In fishkeeping, fish are usually divided into three groups:

Fish which live best at water temperatures of 1 – 16 °C, for example, common goldfish
15 – 22°C, fish such as fancy goldfish, white cloud mountain minnows and hillstream loaches
20 – 30 °C, which include some of the most popular aquarium fish, such as neon tetras and angels

There are, of course, plenty of fish which overlap two (or all) of these groups, or are even outside those temperature ranges altogether. Since there are almost no species of fish, available within the aquarium trade in Europe, which fit into either of the first two categories and a 60 litre aquarium, I have settled on tropical fish.

In an average European household, approximately 1 watt of heater per litre of aquarium water (rounded up, as needed) is enough to keep the water up to temperature when the temperature drops inside the house in winter. Because this is a small aquarium, I will be using the 50 W heater which was included in the set. For aquariums over 100 cm in length, I normally prefer to use more than one heater to make sure that the temperature is the same throughout.

Most heaters have inbuilt thermostats, so it should not matter if the chosen heater gives more than 1 watt per litre of water, but when a heater breaks, it is most often in the “on” state, which means that the heater does not switch off when the water is warm enough. Because of this, I prefer to use appropriately rated heaters, so it is more likely that I will have time to notice the problem, before the fish come to harm.

Internal heaters are usually made out of glass (sometimes with a removable plastic cage around them), polymers and metal. The most common heater are made of glass, but these can be cracked easily, so one has to be careful about letting them cool down properly before taking them out of water and large fish can break them. Polymer heaters are considerably more difficult to break, but are slightly more expensive and difficult to manufacture. Metal heaters are uncommon.

Another common problem with internal heaters is that the numbers on the temperature dial (or a separate scale on the heater itself) do not correspond to the temperature that the heater will be heating to, because these can easily become displaced. This is not a problem, as long as you know how high the displacement is.

On top of the standard internal heaters, one can now buy in-line heaters for external filters, external filter with heaters built into them and undergravel heaters.. but all of these are currently less common and none are suitable for the set-up which I am planning.

In addition to the heater, I will also buy a glass thermometer.