Sunday, November 28, 2010

Water Heater and Water Testing, AKA Fish Survival 101

Water Testing
This is one of the most important purchase and that is why I am listing it first. I can say this because I woke up to find two of my fish dead and knew I had a water quality issue. These two fish already set me back $20 (blue sad!). I was immediately able to test the water to find out EXACTLY what the problem was before I lost my whole tank or begin randomly dumping chemicals trying to guess what I was treating. It turned out I had dangerously high level of ammonia which I had to address quickly or I would have lost most of my fish. I will have another post on just this experience that will focus on cycling your tank or in my case not adding to many fish before the good bacteria had time to establish themselves. The best kit out their that is unanimously recommended if you do a search is the Freshwater Master Test Kit.

To find out more about the different chemicals to test check out what fishlore has posted here. I can say it is easy, you fill up the 5ml beaker that has a cap to the black water line on the test tube.

Here is the PH test, I am in the 6.8 range which is fine for a community tank

My Ammonia levels are now good, before they were dangerously green.

Add three drop to test PH and wait for the color change, match it to the chart, if it is high reference the guide that will tell you the appropriate steps you can take to mediate.

Because I chose to get a canister filtration system I went with an in-line water heater. The Hydor External Heater received a 9.12 on the Cichlid forum based off of 32 reviews. I have to agree.  Basically once it senses a water temperature drop it kicks in. The ideal temperature range for a community tank and plants seem to be about 73" degrees. I like the fact that it actually senses the water temperature in real time only kicking on when needed, so far it has worked flawlessly.

I only hit one snag with the heater, it takes a larger hose then the 3/8" green one supplied with the Eheim 2215, it takes 1/2"  hose size that usually goes on the Python Tank cleaning gravel sweeper (also the most recommended for cleaning tanks at it hooks into you sink tap so you do not have to mess with buckets!). I popped off the end of the hose sweeper and cut of two, 2" inch pieces fitting both on the end tips of the heater. I was then able to slowly force the Eheim 3/8 hose into the 1/2"  hose so it formed a sleeve. The fit is super tight so I am not worried about it coming out. I am going to put a small hose clap on it though to be double safe. If the hose came off the pump would pump out all the water in the tank until it fell below the intake level, scary thought.

Here is a picture of the heater, you can see the red light just kicked on during the photo to indicate that it is heating the water, the temperature dial is also easy to use.

Bottom line pick a heater that is reliable and accurate, if your not going canister filtration take your time and do your research online to find the right one, when you begin getting the more expensive fish "your 2-4 show/wow fish"  your going to need a good one because you are going to set the temperature according to their ideal conditions to reduce their stress (Angel, Discus, ).

Substrate (bottom of your tank) essentials for your aquarium, it's your canvas.

Substrate advice abounds and I have read some really baddd advice that nearly got me into a serious mess in my tank (basically taking potting soil mixing with loam, and then covering it in sand). I found a substrate that is working great, but it still turned out to be CONSIDERABLY more work that I imagined. And the price was expensive.  This will be a good post to read so you can avoid some mistakes and make the best choice for yourself.

The first bit of advice, if you bought some sort of multi-color gravel or small rock gravel like this

Please return it!  My understanding is with this substrate it is more difficult to clean and it is not ideal for the breakdown for food and waste for the good bacteria. There are many other attractive canvases available including the most simple, silica sand, you can get the white sand from Home Depot for super cheap. I believe it is called playground sand. You will still need to rinse it considerably to remove and "extras".  This sand is good for cichlids or for a tank where you want simple maintenance and high visibility for fish.  You can also get black sand from the pet stores (costs more) for a more dramatic look.  Here is a link with more info on play sand from Home Depot.  

If you considering a planted tank then it get considerably more confusing and the advice abounds. I took the simplest recommendation I could find that would give me clear water (HA! only have 2 hrs of rinsing), good material for the plants to root in and something that held nutrients for the plants so I would not have to fertilize in the very near future. I chose fluorite, at $17 to $24 a bag (shop online) it takes about 4 bags at 15.3 lbs a bag to provide 2-3 inches of gravel for a 53 gallon tank. The advice I have heard from the planted competition sites is that you should slope the gravel with it being 3 inches in the back and two inches in the front to give contour.   Most of you heavy planting is in the back so that 3 inches gives your plants plenty of depth for their roots

Now before you think I am raving about flourite, let me tell you it was a pain in the ass to rinse.  Yes I am very happy with the final product and the plants are growing great, but the rinsing was insane, I mean 2 hrs of rinsing it in the bathtub, if you count the labor involved it is a bad investment. It also left a big mess and the little lady was not thrilled. Here is some ranting on the rinsing and recommended techniques so you cannot say I did not warn you.

I think you may be better in the end going with Eco Complete, it sounds like you rinse it once and dump it based on the reviews here.

Anyway after a week and a few more water changes the water is clear though I still think their is a red tint to everything. I chose three bags of red with one black to give a bit of color variation and I am pleased.

Please note, if you plan on going with a heavily planted tank you will eventually have to use some sort of fertilizer at some point, though I have not gotten to that point yet.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pimp my tank! How a new coat of paint and calcium removal does the trick.

I found my my aquarium after a week of searching, I knew the max size I could go with would be a 55 gallon because of the dimensions, I have a limit to how much space I want it to take up and I did not want to manage a tank bigger that that. You also cannot appreciate just how big 55 or 80 gallons is until it is in your living room. One note, please makes sure you the stand is SOLID for the tank. For a 55 gallon tank the stand needs to be able to hold 485 pounds of weight.  Every gallon of water is roughly 8.35 pounds of weight. I would recommend having both you and your wife or the person you are buying from sit on the stand together, if it does not feel 100% solid then it is not the right stand for you. Imagine the catastrophe of dealing with a tank that falls and shatters on the floor? Perhaps the highest I could ever imagine going with would be 80 gallon.

In regards to tank material you have the choice of acrylic or glass, I wanted to go with a glass tank because acrylic tanks are prone to scratching and I tend to be less than gentle on my stuff so it needs to be able to handle wear and tear and still look good.

I found a 53 gallon tank of craigslist that was all glass with a wood stand for $75 dollars, the tank had some calcium buildup, was an ugly brown faux wood finish.

Here is what the tank looked like:

Looking at it does not look like much, but with some TLC it became a beautiful tank which you will see in later pics.

I did make one mistake in my used tank purchase, the canopy and light were to old, the grooves that hold the fluorescent light tube were so worn out that it could not hold the bulb.  I ending up building a custom light that I like better than what is sold in the pet stores for about $40 ( will have a separate post on that).  I was able to remove the calcium buildup by making a paste. You combine white vinegar and baking soda until it is the consistency of wet sand or thick pancake batter. You smeared it on the areas that have calcium buildup and let is sit for a 30 min or so (try not to put it one the tank silicone seal lines). After wiping it off the calcium was gone, it was pretty amazing.

To go from the fake wood color to a modern look simply paint it black with a semigloss or full gloss acrylic paint. You first need to paint over the plastic trim on the fish tank and the wood of the stand with a white primer so the black paint will stick. I used Kilz from Home Depot for this since it can stick to anything. After it dried in an hour I painted a first coat of "Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Gloss Black". I t works on wood, metal & more per the can.  To be honest the first coat did not look that great, actually it looked terrible. After it dried the second coat went on well. The third touch up coat finished the job.

Here is the result:

A bit closer, you can see what an amazing thing some black paint can do not counting the new light I built. (water is still cloudy from flourite substrate)

My next posts will focus on how I selected my equipment (pump, heater), how I built the light, and selected substrate.

After the posts we will be able to move into my present world of having a full planted tank and the painful lessons I am learning about Ammonia and properly cycling your tank.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The secret to paying 1/2 the price or less for a complete aquarium

The next series of posts will be a bit of a catch up on how I made the choices so far for building my aquarium.

In regards to tanks there are many choices from the standard rectangular shape to the bow front tank that provides a better viewing angle. There are newer tanks made from seamless acrylic (scratch easily) to tall cylinder style tanks that provide maximum viewing and minimal space.

The costs rapidly increase based on the size, once you go over 30 gallons you will see the biggest increase. A 50 gallon tank by itself does not seem to represent a big investment at $200-300 but when you add the stand, the hood, light, substrate, heater, filtration, plants, fish. It adds up quickly bringing you into the $600-$800 range depending on the equipment you buy.

My best recommendation that all the fish stores and Petco are going to hate is to buy your tank through Craigslist. Check right now in your city or nearest capitol city to see available listings. 

Here are two example from add I just checked:

Here is  good deal that includes a top quality Canister Filter, the filter alone is worth $120-$200,plus you get the tank, stand and light. However wait until you see the next one after this one.

55gal. Aquarium/fish tank with stand and canopy - $300 (Edmonds, WA)

55 gallon fish tank with light, black stand and maching canopy. Comes with Fluval 404 filter. This is a extra tank that we have no time to take care of. $300
Willing to deliver for extra small fee.

Here is the sweet deal.

50 Gallon Fish Tank Including Fish & Abundance of Accessories Must Go! - $175 (WA)

This beautiful 50 gallon black trim fish tank was purchased six months ago and must go due to an upcoming relocation. The tank is 17 tall, 18 deep and 36 wide. The tank provides exceptional clarity and unobstructed views. The tank is safe for freshwater, marine or reef environments and includes a fluorescent hood with fixtures. The fish tank comes with the following:

Fish: This tank comes with an assortment of fish, allowing you to immediately begin enjoying your new purchase. The tank currently holds 2 Plecostomus (8" & 12"), 3 Kissing Gourami (4", 5" & 6"), 1 Female Red Wag Platy (3”), 1 Red/Blue Neon Tetra (2”), 1 Orange Neon Tetra (2”), 2 Long Whiskered Pictus Cat Fish (4" each), 1 Bronze catfish or aeneus catfish (2”), 3 Mexican Cave Fish (no eyes!) (3”, 4” & 5”). Food to feed these fish will go with you; TetraMin, Algae Wafers, as well as ReptoMin and Frog bites for any additional aquatic creatures.

Fluval 204 Water Filter: The Fluval MSF (Multi-Stage Filter) combines innovation and convenience with a high level of performance. Multiple internal filtration modules allow the use of a variety of different filter media to provide optimal water quality. You will receive three additional filter packs for period changes. Brand new this high end out-of-tank filter was over $120.

Tetra Whisper 40 Air Pump: The unique patented dome shape actually flattens sound waves, while thick walls, noise dampening chambers, wide rubber feet and a suspended pump motor make the Whisper air pumps are among the quietest on the market. All this while the pump's diaphragm produces the considerable air flow needed to drive sponge, undergravel and internal filters, protein skimmers and action ornaments.

Accessories: This tank also comes with a load of fish tank accessories to choose from as you set up your new underwater world. At your disposal are several castles, rock walls, reefs, gravel, etc. Also included in this purchase is a light effect kit! 3 LED lights are different colors and can be used to highlight bubbles or spotlight tank objects as well as one underwater laser. Additionally, the buyer will receive a water heater, two fish nets, and an algae scrubber and gravel sifting siphon with 15 feet of hose for cleaning.

This fish tank sits comfortably on wood desk that has numerous drawers for you to organize your accessories in. AND last but not least, buyer will also receive a variety of water and fish treatment chemicals, an automatic feeder, two small glass tanks, hoses, and other smaller accessories.

I’ve spent over $1000 on this hobby. Separately, a motivated seller could easily bring in $300-$400 for all of this stuff. If you are looking for a really nice aquarium and all the stuff to go with, check out what you would pay at a pet store. This is a really good deal. My price is firm.

Buyer MUST bring suitable container to transfer fish (very clean 5 gallon bucket) as well as an additional 5 gallon bucket for some tank water which will reduce shock to fish by keeping valuable bacteria. This will also help the first tank cycle.

So there it is, happy hunting!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Freshwater vs. Saltwater

Freshwater and Saltwater have different advantages, here are the considerations I thought about and how I came to the conclusion to go freshwater.

+More colorful fish
+Generally they tend to have a cleaner more sterile look
+Sea Anemones are cooler then freshwater plants
+Something about having basically a mini ocean in your living is cooler
+Makes you think of snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean
+A vastly wider selection  of invertebrates (shrimp, starfish, crabs and other crustaceans)

-The fish are EXTREMELY expensive compared to freshwater
-You really do not want to tinker with it
-Live corral is extremely expensive compared to dropping in some driftwood and few freshwater plants
-Equipment, you need some fairly serious equipment from protein skimmers to sub pump filtration.
-Maintenance heavy (maintaining salt and water quality)
-Maintenance costs (chemicals and media to maintain water quality)
-Breeding saltwater fish in captivity can be very difficult, if not impossible, for most species, so your going to miss the circle of life with the exception of clown fish.

-Sustainability, this one is fairly serious for the most part with the exception of clown fish, these fish are being plucked from our oceans and reefs, ecosystem that are already dying off due to pollution, overfishing and global warming

+You can breed freshwater fish
+Fish are affordable ($Discus$ can really set you back though)
+1/3 the cost of a Saltwater tank in general
+A freshwater tank is more tolerant and forgiving to mistakes in water quality
+If you experience a complete die off of your entire tank you can start again for relatively low cost
+Easier water changes
+You can grow freshwater plants (some people focus on the horticulturist part more creating Zen landscapes, the fish are more of compliment to the plants, check out this '09 winning tank

-Colors are a pale comparison to saltwater fish (though see the georgious Discuss below, Angels and Cichlids can also be very colorful)

-Freshwater tanks can be pretty amazing as you can see in the link above, but to be fair saltwater tanks are the ones that always take my breath away
-Algae can be more of an issue in freshwater tanks
-Less fish selection

Fishlore provided a great service by breaking down the costs comparisons here The conclusion is a saltwater tank will cost you 3x as much as a freshwater tank. If you go for a saltwater "reef" tank your looking at 5x the cost. For a 29 gallon tank the break down is this:

29 Gallon Tank
Freshwater $350
Saltwater $635
Saltwater Reef Tank $1270  

My next post will focus on why I chose freshwater.


So where did this hobby birth from, it started with me growing up in rural countryside in Indiana surrounded by corn fields in all directions, pong on Atari was fun for only so was in those long ago days when children played outside without the fear of ending up in Dexter situation. I was a regular bug catcher and animal observer because frankly their was nothing else better to do when you live in the middle of a bunch of corn fields. From watching the praying mantis devour a helpless grasshopper to climbing up a tree to look in a Red Robbins nest to see the baby birds open their bright yellow mouths for a worm.

My passion for fish was a combination of doctors office visits as I said before and Walmart, yes I said Walmart.

I had the awesome privilege of being at the bottom of the food chain myself as a Walmart stockman, cleaning up spills on aisle 5, cleaning up the fimine product wrappers in the women's bathroom at closing and finally pushing in the carts on the coldest day = character development.

To take solice from the scary bathrooms I had to clean I would often hung out in the pet department to kill time between cart pushing. I performed many experiments with the multiple fish tanks.

Here is classic tank at Wally world.

My first and favorite was to scoop out a few of the small goldfish (feeder fish) and drop them in the Oscar tank. Something about watching the black Oscars with their distinct blotches of orange swallow these feeder fish whole that were 1/4 their size was absolutely fascinating. 

Typically in the first swallow they would take in half the goldfish leaving the tail end to stick out like a cigar that would wiggle as the feeder fish struggled to go in reverse to leave the jaws of death.

My experiments went further into cruelty as I would drop feeder fish in African Cichlid fish tank, not pretty. Basically if the cichlid cannot shallow a fish whole it would chase it continiously biting/picking it apart bit by bit until it is dead...and then it is a fish buffet for the rest of the cichlids.  It is a vicious thing to watch because they will not stop, they continue to pursue the feeder fish ripping it fins off until it cannot swim and then it becomes a feeding frenzy.  Imagine what would happen to small goldfish dropped into this tank? It would not be pretty!

I moved past the teenage fascination of death (Deathnote is a good series to see on this subject) to enjoy watching Parrot fish, and finally I began to appreciatte the more delicate fish like guppies.

My foster parent who I lived with at the time had a fish tank that he let me take free reign with. I took many of the interesting fish home to watch. To be honest the fish continued to die as I did not understand the basics for cycling the fish tank, overcrowding and proper filtration.

From then I took a 16 year hiatus from fish tanks, with the purchase of a home it seemed high time to go back to that teenage interest, but this time with a little Internet education and planning. The next series of post will focus on this new adventure.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Aquariumist Starts

The first question you should have is how does someone find the time to start a blog...well it was perfect storm of me diving headfirst (and wallet) into having a freshwater aquarium and the fact that I am actually on vacation and have a partner who does not bury me with a honey-do-list. Thus, the perfect storm for the birth of the "New Aquariumist".

Ideally my mental vision is take with a few pairs of Angel fish with a bunch of great community fish and some healthy plants growing in the background.

My goals are simple, chronicle my adventures as I head, well dive into this. My motivation is to provide clarity in regards to the sheer dearth of confusing information available out there. You will see how I apply it to see whether it holds true or not.  I want to take you through my personal journey in order to save you some of the pain of research through an interactive blog experience of post, pictures and videos of my adventure in a 53 gallon tank.

I would look at this blog as the adventure of someone that finally has the means to have a large aquarium (53 gallons) that he always admired in the doctors office before that painful shot. An aquarium done his way with the flair of wanting fish that are interesting and beautiful combined with reasonable maintenance and cost (ex. not saltwater).  By all means this is not journey of someone who is experienced, not it is meant to help someone who is considering the hobby who wants to learn my successes and mistakes in order to make their own aquarium experience as rewarding as possible.

I welcome feedback and hope that this helps you if you are considering this hobby which is the equivalent of playing Sim City in a fish tank.