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.

Moving again

It has been eight months since I moved from Germany to UK and it is now time for another move. I have already drained the 60 litre tank, and have removed the substrate from that – all that is left now is to clean it, dry it and pack it into the box – and I am around one third of the way through removing the substrate from the discus tank.

The 60 litre tank was the easy one: I drained the water into buckets, using it to water the plants, then used a measuring jug to remove the sand into a sturdy box.

The discus tank is a little bit more complicated as I need to keep that running until I actually pack the fish for transportation. I have started removing the two layers of substrate separately by syphoning out the top layer of mixed sands, then fishing out the cat littler with a fish net. So far it took me about one hour to get around a quarter or the sand and litter out. Tomorrow I will try to finish it off.

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.

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.

Test results and maintenance update

Almost two weeks ago, on Friday when I collected the loaches, I did a 20 litre water change on the tank because I wanted to acclimatise the loaches directly to the water they would have in the end, so I used the water from the 60 litre for the quarantine tank. The test results for the water from the 60 litre before the water change were (on day 113):

  • KH: 7 ° (125 ppm)
  • GH: 19 ° (339 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 20 ppm
  • pH: 7.8

And today (day 124):

  • KH: 8 ° (143 ppm)
  • GH: 18 ° (321 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 20 ppm
  • pH: 7.8

The temperature has been steady at 20 °C, which is perfect for these fish and fits in with the recommendation of the breeder from whom I bought them.

Following these tests, I performed an 8 litre water change (with the old water going into the quarantine aquarium that contains the loaches) and finished off by wiping the glass on the outside.

Current maintenance schedule consists of cleaning the glass and pruning the plants once per week. While normally I would recommend weekly water changes to beginners, in a well balanced aquarium such as this (which is lightly stocked and is planted enough that individual plants can not be counted) which does not contain young fish and where the fish are not overfed, the water changes are not as important because the plants can maintain the water quality. For the moment, I do water changes when I feel that they are needed or need water for the unplanted quarantine aquarium.

Cleaning the glass

Cleaning the glassMost home aquariums are made of glass, although it is possible to find some made of acrylic. The cleaning methods vary slightly between the two as acrylic can be easier to scratch, but even the harder glass is not difficult to damage, especially while in the process of cleaning it.

There is a handful of common equipment offered for this purpose: metal and plastic blades, magnet pairs (one for inside the aquarium, one for the outside), slightly abrasive gloves, etc… Having tried most of these products, I have given up on all of them when it comes to small aquariums. I have developed a strategy which involves cleaning the inside of the aquarium with an old bank card (it does not have sharp edges, so can not scratch the glass like blades can), using acetic acid (vinegar, may damage some acrylic) and a microfibre cloth for water stains. Magnet pairs are the only commercial product I consider to be effective, but only for large aquariums where it is not possible to reach the glass by hand or for aquariums whose inhabitants pose a health risk (for example, fish that carry poisons and predators that can harm humans). The problem with using any scraping device is that if some substrate is caught between the device and glass, the glass is very likely to get scratched.

I start by scraping the algae off the glass with firm downward strokes, moving the card away from the glass between each stroke to avoid catching the sand between the card and glass. Once I finish the first pass, I do a second one across the glass, but only in areas which are well away from the substrate. For the last bits near the substrate, I repeat the vertical motions again. Once the glass is clean, I change the water or let the filter pick up the floating bits. Note: if you leave the water for the filter to pick up what you have just scraped off, make sure to clean the filter within the next day or so, if there was much algae on the glass, as it can become blocked otherwise, which would affect its performance. If I plan to clean the lime scale stains which are at the water level, I drain the water so it is about 5 cm below the stains and a little bit of acetic acid on a microfibre cloth to gently scrub them off, while being careful to prevent the acid from going into the water. Finally, I top-up the aquarium and go over the front of the glass with a little bit of acetic acid and the cloth.

What do I keep in my cupboard? (part 1)

I have just completed murdering an Aiptasia which was living amongst my Zoas in my marine aquarium and it got me thinking about all those things which live in the cupboard under the tank. Between my two cupboards, the cellar, cupboard under the sink and bathroom, I probably have around 4 large IKEA bags full of anything and everything I could possibly want. And this is excluding the stash of polystyrene boxes and fish bags for when I move house.
Just today, I made use of bleach, spirit vinegar, microfibre cloth, cotton buds, cotton pads, towel, hydrometer, credit card (and not for purchases!), bucket, syphon tube, water filter, dechlorinator, glass jar, tweezers and four types of prepared, dry fish food (at home, and another four types at work).
  • Bleach is a decent disinfectant, also useful for killing Aiptasia as I found out
  • Old (credit) card is useful for scraping algae off glass
  • Dechlorinator will render bleach harmless, as well as chlorine and chloramine
  • Microfibre cloth won’t scratch the glass of the tank, when wiping off water stains
  • Spirit vinegar is useful for cleaning off salt and limescale stains
  • Towels are great for keeping the floor dry while messing around with water
  • Kitchen water filter is useful for topping up, if I’m too lazy to water change

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