Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fresh water aquarium start up

So, you went out and bought a 10 gallon aquarium, gravel, fake plants, an air pump and a few pretty fish.
Now what? You got everything set up and going but now how do you keep the set up looking nice, the water clean, and the fish happy?
The first thing we need to discuss is "what kind of fish did you buy and what kind of water do they normally live in?"
Some aquarium fish are cold water fish like Goldfish and do not need warm water or an aquarium heater. They can be kept in water that is room temperature.
However, most fish sold in pet stores are tropical and require the water to be 75 to 80 degrees faranheit. Therefore you will need a heater.
Some aquarium heaters go into the water and suction cup to the back of the tank and have a small knob on top that you turn to adust the temp up or down. Others go in and hang on the back of the tank with the adjustment knob above the water. Both work well.
Another thing you need to know is that the tank has to cycle. "What's that mean?", you say.
Well, I can sum it up with one word. "Bacteria." Contrary to what we all see on tv commercials trying to sell anti bacterial soap, not all bacteria are evil or nasty. Some are very helpful and beneficial in the natural world.
A healthy aquarium is loaded with these beneficial bacteria. These particular bacteria feed on ammonia from fish waste. Too much ammonia in the water is deadly to fish.
These bacteria feed on the ammonia and turn it into nitrites. Nitrites are also deadly to fish but another bacteria in the tank then feeds on the nitrites and turn it into nitrates which is much less toxic to fish. Have I lost you yet?
I know that this is all a bit confusing at first but don't worry its really not that complicated. In a new tank set up there are very few if any good bacteria living in the aquarium yet. The first bacteria in your tank will probably come from the water in the plastic bag that your new fish were in when you brought them home from the store, or on the fish themselves. They now have to multiply to be useful ammonia and nitrite removers. This takes time. Sometimes within only a couple of weeks, or more than likely a month or more. This is what we call cycling a tank. "The tank has to cycle." These bacteria like to attach themselves to rocks, plants, ornaments, the gravel, etc. One way to increase living area for these bacteria is to add an aquarium filter. Sponge filters which operate using an air pump, work well and are fairly inexpensive. The bacteria live inside the sponge material. There are also filters that hang on the back of the tank and use a water pump inside to circulate the aquarium water through a filter bag and then flow over a bio wheel. The bacteria live on the filter bag and the bio wheel.
Be aware that during this cycle period you might lose a fish or two. The cycling of a tank can be harsh on fish while the bacteria are growing and multiplying. This is why hardy fish are recommended as beginner fish.
"How do I know if my tank is cycling or when it's done?" To know what's going on with your aquarium you will need some testing strips that check for ammonia and nitrite. Your fish store should have them. They also sell liquid testing kits that require you to mix some tank water with chemicals to check for the ammonia and nitrite. I recommend the test strips instead. They are much easier to work with. You just dip the strip into the water for the specified time and then remove and examine the color of the strip. You then look at the color chart that comes with the strips or sometimes labeled on the side of the test strip container. This will tell you the amount of ammonia or nitrite that's in the water. Check the water each day and record the levels. Ammonia levels will begin to rise first and eventually become very high and toxic. Don't panic. This is normal. Very soon the levels should start to drop dramatically as the ammonia feeding bacteria begin to multiply. Now as the ammonia levels start dropping, the nitrite levels will begin rising. "Uh Oh, now what?" Again, don't panic. This is normal. Our tiny microscopic friends are doing their job and turning the ammonia into nitrite. Now it's time for the nitrite feeding bacteria to grow. As they begin to grow, the nitrite levels will start going down. They will turn the nitrite into Nitrate. Nitrates are much less toxic and fish can tolerate them fairly well. Once the ammonia and nitrite levels test out at zero you are done. The tank is cycled and ready for a few more fish. To keep the water healthy, and the tank maintained, the Nitrates in the water will have to be removed or reduced by doing small water changes every 2 weeks or at the very least once a month. Usually a 20% water change each time. That is 2 gallons for every 10.
"Ok, that's it. Your basic fresh water aquarium start up, cycling and maintainance.
I hope I didn't confuse you with all the discussion about nitrites vs nitrates and beneficial bacteria?
However, this part of aquarium keeping is probably the most important thing that you will learn that will allow you to keep a beautiful aquarium and happy fish."