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Starting a Planted Tank

Plant Nutrients 101

Phophates in the Planted Tank

Activated Carbon

Fertilizer & the Planted Aquarium

CO2 & the Planted Tank

Algae Control

Safety Around the Aquarium

Cleaning Aquarium Glass

Mysterious Fish Deaths Explained!

Aquarium Photography

New Tank Syndrome

Choosing an Aquatic Heater

Tips for Beginning Fishkeepers

Salt in the Aquarium

Outdoor Patio Tubbing

Malaysian Trumpet Snails



Beginner's Tips - Part 2

5. Filters. All aquariums accumulate debris from fish poop and plant detritis. This
should be removed by means of a filter. The debris is trapped in filter media, where it can be removed when you clean or change the filter cartridge. Power filters, or HOB (Hang On Back) filters should be serviced every week or two, to remove this accumulated debris, lest it decay in the filter and add its own waste products back into the tank. Filters should be chosen to be a little oversized for the tank. Most filter manufacturers seem to be wildly proud of their filter's capacity. If the manufacturer says their filter is rated for a 20 or 30 gallon tank, that usually means it's just right for a 10 gallon tank. A filter rated for a 100 or 150 gallon tank will serve a 55 gallon tank well. Remember, the larger the filter, the larger capacity it will have for holding debris, which means it won't clog up too quickly. Beware of filter ratings. Flow rates as stated by the manufacturer are often wildly exaggerated. These numbers are usually given for an empty filter (no media), and at zero head (no lifting of water from the aquarium). A filter may be "certified" to give, say, a 400 gallon per hour rate of water flow. In actual practice, after filter media is added and after the filter is installed on a real-life aquarium, the actual water flow may drop to as low as 150 gallons of water per hour. Thus, you might have added that filter to a 50 gallon tank and thought you were achieving 8 turnovers of water per hour in your tank. In actual practice, you may only be achieving 3 turnovers of water per hour. Thus, rules of thumb that say a filter should be rated for 5 or 10 water turnovers per hour may actually end up being 2 or 3 turnovers per hour. Fortunately, this is adequate. Many large aquariums turn their water over only once per hour, and achieve very good filtration. Too much water flow can actually be detrimental for fish and plants. You don't want to have a tank where the water is churning, or where the fish are swimming for their lives. Some fish like fast-flowing water, while others don't. I have observed some of my fish happily swimming up the current at the lip of the filter outlet at times, while at other times they are resting down in the opposite corner behind a big rock, where they can get away from the current. So long as you have a quiet place in your tank where your fish can rest, they should be fine.

6, Aeration. Water must contain dissolved oxygen for the fish and bacteria to live. If you keep your stocking levels to a sensible number, adequate aeration of the water will usually be maintained just by the circulation of water provided by the filter. If the tank is overcrowded, or if summer temperatures have caused the tank temperature to rise into the 85-90 degree range, supplemental aeration may be beneficial. This can be provided by a simple airstone attached to an air pump. If the temperature is below 80*F, and if your power or canister filter is operating normally, then you will probably find an airstone to be completely unnecessary. One often overlooked time when an airstone is particularly useful is when the tank is new and "cycling," or building its new bacteria coating. Beneficial bacteria are "aerobic" bacteria, which simply means that they need oxygen to grow. An airstone for the first 3 or 4 weeks of a tank's life may help speed up the tank "cycle," or population by bacteria.

6. Fish. Now that you have a tank properly set up, you'll want to add some fish. Add only a few fish in the beginning, and gradually increase their number to the desired stocking level after 3 or 4 weeks, or more. Choose your fish carefully for compatibility. You need to ask questions here, and get some recommendations from experienced fishkeepers. There are several hundred fish to choose from, and the combinations possible are literally infinite. Try to choose fish that have similar requirements, that will grow up to be similar in size, and that prefer to eat similar foods. A sure-fire plan for disaster would be to choose small, gentle fish to live with fish that will grow up to be large and aggressive bullys. Angelfish should not be kept with fin-nippers such as Tiger Barbs. Neon Tetras, which require soft, acidic water, will not do well when kept with African Cichlids, which require hard, alkaline water. Do not attempt to keep Angelfish and Neon Tetras in the same tank, since Angelfish prey on Neon Tetras in the wild and will see the gentle Neons as dinner. Aggressive fish such as Cichlids rarely do well in community tanks, and should be kept in separate species tanks. Giant Danios, the "fish on amphetamines," are constantly on the move, darting and zipping here and there. They would make very poor tankmates for Gouramis, which are very calm and placid fish who tend to move slowly and gracefully. Livebearers usually prefer salt in their water, which would not do at all for an Amazon River fish. Take all these factors into consideration when choosing your occupants for a community tank. Carefully matching fish for compatibility will result in a more successful tank in the future.

7. Plants. Fish do not require plants, but most planted tanks remain healthier and
cleaner, longer. Plants consume fish waste (ammonia), and can therefore help maintain healthier water conditions. Your tank probably came with a lighted hood. Sadly, most or all of these hoods are way too small for adequate light levels for plants. Choosing low-light plants can help a lot. Fortunately, most low-light plants are also very beautiful. Low light plants are those described as requiring only about 1 watt of light per gallon of water. Plants with higher light requirements may require 3 to 5 watts per gallon of water. The standard 10-gallon tank hood only provides a 15 watt fluorescent light, for about 1.5 watts per gallon. This would fall into the "low light" category, and would limit your choices of plants. Some plants that will do very nicely at 1 to 1.5 watts per gallon would be Anubias Nana, Java Moss, Java Fern, and Cryptocoryne species. Anubias Nana is an elegant little plant with broad leaves. It rarely grows more than 3" or 4" tall in low light, although it can become a very large showpiece plant if provided with 3 watts per gallon, proper nutrients, and CO2. It survives in low light where other plants would shrivel up and die. Its leaves are dark green, and it seems to resist algae growth on its leaves. There are several hundred Cryptocoryne species of plants, ranging from elegant little plantlets with broad sword-shaped leaves, up to quite large specimens that make wonderful centerpiece plants. Cryptocoryne sometimes does poorly after transplant. If you bring home a "crypt" and it doesn't seem to do well at first, leave it alone. It may just be in transplant shock. A few months later, it will send up new growth, and do nicely for years and years after that. Be careful about moving Cryptocoryne around in the tank. It likes to take root in one spot, and then stay there. Moving it may just throw it into shock again, and you will have to wait months for it to recover. One advantage of low-light plants is that they grow very slowly, and thus do not have elaborate nutrition requirements. Fast growing plants such as Echinodorus (Swordplants) often grow very rapidly and deplete food stores in the gravel and in the water at a rapid rate. This can result in your needing to constantly replenish nutrients via fertilization. This is rarely an issue with low light plants, which sip nutrients rather than devour them.

Continued in Part 3

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