Aquarium Setup And Maintenance
By Jon Power
One of the first and most serious problems an aquariast can encounter, is adding fish to an aquarium setup that hasn't been properly cycled. This one basic step has caused many would be fish enthusiasts to leave the hobby before they really get started. Aquarium maintenance is another factor that will decide you success as a hobyist. It is my hope that this article will help those of you who are new to the hobby to start of on the right foot.
Lets say that you wish to setup a community tank to show off all of the beautiful guppies that you are going to be raising. A thirty gallon aquarium setup would be perfect for this. Because this is going to be a show tank, you're going to want to use gravel (as opposed to a breeder tank where you wouldn't use gravel.) Anytime you use gravel, it's best to use an undergravel filter. This consists of a plate that sits on the bottom of the tank. You then put about three inches of washed gravel over the entire filter plate. When you hook an airpump to the lift tubes it will circulate the water through the gravel and out of the tubes. With proper aquarium maintenance, this is one of the best biological filters you can buy. It's also one of the cheapest! You're also going to want to have a backup filter for your aquarium setup. Preferably, one that you can run carbon in. Filter carbon keeps your water crystal clear and helps to remove many toxins that are present in the water. One of those hang-on-the-back types are perfect for this. Once you have your gravel, filters and ornaments in place it's time for step two.
The easiest way to fill your aquarium setup is to run a garden hose inside and fill it that way. Put a small plate or bowl in the bottom of the tank to keep from disturbing the gravel. Once the tank is filled, turn on the filters and make sure that everything is running properly. If everything checks, out it's time to add the dechlorinator. Be sure and use one that neutralizes both chlorine and chloramine. When first setting up a tank, never use a water conditioner that neutralizes ammonia. The ammonia in the water will be used as food for the nitrifying bacteria.
Fish aren't the only things that will be living in your fish tank. You will also have millions (to tell the truth it might only be hundreds of thousands, I never really counted) of nitrifying bacteria. They will live in your filters and throughout the water column. Without these bacteria your fish would not survive and your aquarium setup would fail. These bacteria are responsible for the brake down of ammonia and nitrite, which are both highly toxic to fish, into nitrate which is far less toxic. The nitrate will then be removed by you in the way of weekly water changes.
A few days after you have your tank up and running (without fish) you will notice that it's starting to get cloudy. This is called a bacterial bloom and this is a good thing. This means that the nitrifying bacteria are establishing themselves in your tank. After about two weeks, this bloom should clear up and your ammonia and nitrite levels should fall to zero. ( It is advisable to invest in a ammonia/nitrite test kit.) Once the levels reach zero, it is safe to add a small number of fish. Remember that in the beginning your bacteria are only going to be able to handle a very small fish load. Start out with a few fish a week for the first six weeks. This will allow the production of bacteria to keep up with the growing fish population. For those of you who can't stand the idea of your beautiful show tank sitting empty for two weeks there's a product called "Cycle". This is an amazing product and I've used it many times. It's basically "bacteria in a bottle" and it's great for both setting up and maintaining your tank. After your new tank has run for a few hours and all the chlorine/chloramines have been neutralized, you just add the recommended dose of cycle and the next day your tank is ready for fish!
The most important aquarium maintenance would have to be water changes. There are a lot of opinions out there on how much to change, mine is 20% a week. You're going to need to purchase a gravel vacuum. An undergravel filter is an excellent biological filter until it becomes clogged up with fish waste, vacuuming your gravel will be an important part of your aquarium maintenance. When vacuuming your gravel only vacuum half of the gravel per water change. Remember that your bacteria are going to be living in the gravel and it's best if you don't disturb them all at once.
You'll also need to change the filter pad in your hang-on-the-back filter. You'll know it's time when the water starts to flow around the sides of the pad. You can increase the biological filtration of your hang-on filter by putting a plastic pot scrubber into the filter. This will give the bacteria an extra place to call home and when you change the filter pad you will still have the bacteria living in the pot scrubber as backup.
These are the basics of aquarium setup and maintenance. I hope that this information will help to get you started on the path to a successful and rewarding hobby.