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BlueWolf's Howl

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September 04, 2018

Fish Tank Lessons Learned

For several years I have kept fish. At one point I had two or three tanks, but for the last 5 years I have been using just one tank. I got a bit discouraged when several types of fish died off, but there were a few that thrived. The ones that lasted the longest were goldfish, plecos and cory catfish. The large carp in the tank has been with me for several years. And the two albino cory catfish are the last two survivors of a family of 5 that bred in the tank.

With just three fish in the tank, I decided to add a few more for interest. I added two plecos and two comets. The carp no longer looked bored and depressed. It brought new life to the tank and rekindled my interest. With what I thought was great success, I decided I would try my hand at a saltwater tank. So I started to research what it would take to start up a coral reef tank. What I learned ended up helping me get better at keeping freshwater fish.

I really didn't know I was doing things so majorly wrong. A long time ago I bought a siphon that attaches to the faucet. It was convenient and kept me on (what I thought was) a good water change schedule. Whenever the tank looked "yucky" I would perform a water change. The siphon helped me to vacuum the gravel until the fish had barely enough water to swim and then I would turn the knob and put water back in the tank. A partial water change still looked horrible, so I repeated this process 3 or 4 times until the water was pretty clear. Then I would put the water conditioner in the tank. It is a major miracle that I have kept any fish. I now know that this is wrong on so many levels.

First of all, visual inspection is no way to determine the need for a water change. Aquarium water can be crystal clear and still contain dangerous levels of ammonia. Ammonia kills fish. Ammonia is colorless. How my fish survived my water changes (for years), I'll never know. The water should be treated BEFORE you put it in the tank. I now have a 5 gal food grade bucket that I use for my water changes. And I also have a Freshwater Master Test Kit to test my water. And I put the filter back on the tank. I got a little tired of changing nasty looking filters and the fish survived without it for a long time. [Think goldfish bowl.] The filter gives me a good measure - so I don't do more than a 25% water change (to keep the pump running). Before I start the water change, I use the siphon to fill the bucket. It's a 5 gal bucket (which is 25% of the 20 gal tank). Then I treat the water. The chemical reactions take place while I vacuum the gravel and remove about 5 gal of water. Then I use a small pitcher to scoop the water from the bucket and pour it onto my one decoration in the tank to minimize the disturbance. All of these items are reserved for the tank so that detergent doesn't touch them.

When I learned about the nitrogen cycle for the saltwater tank, I finally understood what a "cycle" meant. I knew that you had to cycle a new tank, but I really didn't understand what that meant. I knew you had to do it before you put fish in the tank, but didn't know it related to a nitrogen cycle. I thought it just (magically) happened after X amount of days. And I knew there were chemicals that could shorten the process. So just plop in double the dose and in a few days, just add fish. You could do that - and you'll be watching your fish die off gradually in front of you. It's not the fish. It's not the fish store. It's the water in your tank (responsibility of the owner). It takes around X amount of days. But that depends on the sex life of beneficial bacteria (how quickly they multiply). And no one can tell you exactly how long it will take to cycle your tank. You have to TEST for it. The test kit mentioned above tests for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. You should (ideally) do this before you put fish in the tank. Otherwise, you're going to lose (kill) some fish before the cycle completes itself.

You may see some info on the web where they use "cheap" fish to cycle the tank. What that really means is that you expect (all/most of) the fish to die. It doesn't mean that the fish in any way prepare the tank for you. And "tank cleaner" fish are helpful, but do not make up for cycling the tank. Remember that tank cleaners also add to the amount of ammonia in the tank.

One other misconception I had involves plants. I tried some live plants, but ended up with trouble in the tank. I think one of the tanks that had live plants ended up with algae growth and I associated it with the live plant. So for years I used fake plants. Live plants help with the nitrogen cycle and help to keep the tank stabilized. It's not just for fish to hide in. So now I have live plants. I haven't had them long, so I can't really vouch for their effectiveness. But it stands to reason that if a fish is hungry, I'd rather have them nibble on my plants versus another fish's fins.

Hopefully some of my mistakes and misconceptions can be helpful to someone else. And if you find that you've already made the same mistakes, start with daily partial water changes. From what I've seen in my searches, this can fix just about everything (given enough time).

Posted by BlueWolf on September 4, 2018 10:07 PM