By choosing the right kind of aquarium, equipment, plants, decorations
and optional accessories we lay the basis for the healthy conditions
in our fish tanks. It is up to us the hobbyist to set up the closed
environment in such a way that our fish can thrive.
This section will cover all the basics of setting up your aquarium
in order to reach your goal.
All kinds of materials can be arranged to give shape to the interior
of the aquarium. You can elect to set up a natural
Biotope tank or go with a completely whimsical
set up with castles and all types of air powered objects. However you
decide to aquascape, there are a few materials used in the tank that
have important uses other than aesthetics. BOTTOM MATERIAL
Gravel or substrate, sand, stones caves, driftwood, roots and plants
all play a part in the health and well being of an aquarium and its
inhabitants. I will discuss them here.
Quartz gravel and river sand along with most gravels available at
the pet store are usually fine to use as long as they don't contain
calcium and the fish you plan to keep have no special requirements.
An average size of one to three millimeter is good. The choice of
color is up to you and is available in all shades of the rainbow.
I prefer the natural stone over the dyed colors.
A note of caution, some gravel can raise your pH and you will never
be able to lower it, always test a small sample by placing some gravel
in a cup and covering it with household Vinegar, if it bubbles its
calciferous and will raise your pH, don't use it. Trust me on this
as I had a plant tank that I could not maintain below pH 7.5 and was
going crazy as to why, it was the gravel and all is fine now.
Substrate for a plant tank is set up differently, first you should
put down a layer of fertilizer or
Laterite and then cover with your normal gravel. All gravel
should be thoroughly washed prior to being placed in the aquarium.
You can build caves and entire structures out of rocks. Rocks provide
fish with shelter, places to hide and places to lay eggs.
They also can be used as territorial boundaries, which is essential
to many fish. Use only Calcium free rocks like Granite, Slate, Sandstone
and Lava. You should build any rock structures directly on the tank
bottom, before you add the gravel to prevent any anaerobic bacteria
beds from forming.
DRIFTWOOD and ROOTS
Driftwood and roots make great hiding places for fish. They can also
serve for a place to put your plants that don't live in the substrate,
like the Java Fern. They can also provide a source of roughage for the
Corydoras and other Mailed Catfish.
Roots and driftwood also tend to soften and lower the pH of the water.
One word of caution, most livebearers prefer their water on the Alkaline
side so too much driftwood could be detrimental to them. The best place
to get your driftwood or roots is from a supplier who can guarantee
their source, as the process of curing your own is not easy and most
wood from the forest would just rot in the tank.
The true beauty of an aquascape is brought to life by the use of plants.
Whether plastic or live to create a "complete aquarium" all the decor
should be complemented by the use of plants.
Plastic plants today come in all shapes and sizes and come so close
in look to live plants its sometimes hard to tell them apart. When decorating
with plastic plants please try to keep in mind what type of plants would
be growing in nature. For more information on the care and use of live
plants, please visit my separate section dedicated to
aquarium plants, here you will find a large list of plants and what
they need to thrive.
SETTING UP THE TANK
Here I will give a general guideline and time frame for setting up the
aquarium once you have acquired all the needed components. This list is
not written in stone and should only be used as a starting point.
- Place the rock structures in the tank, make sure that they are placed
in such a way that they won't fall and possibly crack the bottom glass.
- Add the substrate. For tanks with different types of fish use the
appropriate grade and type gravel. For tanks with live plants,
- First put down a one inch layer of Clay type soil with fertilizer.
- Top with an additional one and one half to two and one half
inches of gravel.
- For the top layer use prewashed gravel or rinse until the water
- Install the filter. Locate the water intake and outflow as far apart
as possible, for good water circulation. Add any bubble walls and
airstones. Fill the filter with water.
- Install the heater. Don't plug it in yet.
- Install any other optional equipment: power heads, thermometer,
air devices etc.
- Place the driftwood and roots in such a way that they don't interfere
but hide the in-tank equipment.
- Add the live or plastic plants, if using live use fast growing types
- Pour the water into the tank so as not to bother the material already
- Pour the water onto the rocks or wood.
- Use a plate to disperse the water.
- Install the top and lighting.
- Plug in and turn on all the equipment.
- Run the tank and adjust the water and temperature to the fish you
plan to keep for at least a couple of days.
- Finally add the fish, slowly and remember the Nitrogen cycle.
BUYING and ACCLIMATING FISH
A few simple precautions and things to look for when you go out to purchase
new fish can save you a lot of frustration later. I will list some things
to keep in mind here.
- Before you buy any fish try to find out some information on it.
Find out what water conditions it prefers; pH, Hardness etc. Find
out if it has any specific dietary needs. Find out how it interacts
with other fish.
- Make sure your tank meets the conditions you researched.
- Make sure the fish looks well fed, its stomach well rounded. Ask
the dealer to feed the fish, so you can see him eat. Trust no one!
- Don't worry to much about color. Fish in the dealers tanks rarely
show off their true colors.
- Check the fishes health, no clamped fins, no white fungus, no panting
or rubbing. The fish should be active and alert.
- Never buy a fish from a tank with sick fish in it. Check the filtration,
some use a central system, which means the water in one tank is the
same as all the others.
- Make sure you don't submit the fish to a wide temperature swing
on the way home, hot or cold.
- Combine species only with the same water and temperature needs.
- Combine species only with the same food needs.
- If your fish are territorial move the aquascape around a little
to give your new fish a chance to claim his area.
- Don't over crowd the tank!
Acclimating the new fish
Let the plastic bag your new fish is in float on the tanks surface for
about fifteen minutes to equalize the temperature. Remove the bag and
open it into a small plastic bucket. Add some tank water to the bucket.
Continue adding water 'till the bucket is about half tank water and
half fish store water. Then net out the fish and let as much of the
water drip off the net as possible. Release the fish to the tank. Never
dump the bag into your tank, you don't know what's in its water! Keep
a close eye on the fish until your sure its settled in. That's it.
Here is a general listing of chores that have to be done regularly on
your fish tank. They are not written in stone and are meant only as a
starting point. As you gain experience and your tank matures you will
develop your own system of maintaining your tank. I will give you a basic
- Observe your fish, are there any signs of disease or Parasites?
Are any fish being bullied?
- When your feeding are all the fish eating? Don't be afraid to skip
a day feeding, your fish won't starve.
- Check your equipment. Check temperature. Check filter flow and cleanliness.
- Remove any dead fish or plants.
- Do a partial water change about 25% will be fine. Remember to have
the water the same temperature and pH.
- Clean the glass in and out. Clean the top and light fixture.
- Vacuum a small portion of your gravel.
Note: if you have a gravel cleaning syphon you can do this when you
change the water. If you do the 25% change with the vacuum, once a
month your entire gravel bed will be cleaned.
- Change your filter top layer and carbon.
- Thin out and cut back plants that need it.
- Clean the filter and impeller as per the manufacturers instructions.
- Perform all your water test to see "what's" going on.
- Check your food supply.
- Change your florescent light bulbs.
- Clean all your tank decorations.