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After moving into a flat of my own, I decided to start keeping fish to add some life to the flat, and as a new hobby. Initially I imagined it would involve getting a bowl, adding some water and chucking a couple of goldfish in, as you would when you used to win goldfish and fun fairs. However I quickly realised that if you want to do it properly, and to keep a variety of colourful fish in an interesting environment, it was not as simple as this. Below is going to be a record of how I established the tank above, and hopefully it's development.


Maintaining a Small Aquarium

As my previous entries allude to, I am still very new to fish keeping, and learning that it's very different to dropping a goldfish in a fish-bowl. My my recent lesson is the maintenance required to keep the aquarium operating efficiently, and therefore the fish happy. At 55 litres my aquarium is still considered small, and therefore requires more work than the large aquariums, anything over 100 litres. Part of this is because my aquarium is quite full - 7 tetras, 2 dwarf gouramis, 3 ottos, 4 shrimp (3 definitely still alive) as well as 2 assassin snails to deal with the snail infestation, although they haven't been seen for a while. Whilst these are all relatively small fish, between them they'll produce a lot of waste.

My biggest problem is keeping the filters clean to allow a steady flow of water. At the moment I can only keep the carbon filter in for a couple of days before it becomes clogged up, reducing the flow to the filter section of the tank, causing low water levels resulting in air in the pump. However, by taking the carbon filter out results in the sponge and ceramic filter becoming clogged up. Some of this is food which goes straight into the filter section, the rest of it is more natural. My mistake was not doing regular water changes. I monitor my water levels closely, and for a period everything was so good that I didn't bother doing water changes. Unfortunately this meant that the filters weren't being cleaned. Now, with the filters becoming blocked and rising nitrate levels, weekly water changes are only helping a little.

The second issue was not cleaning the new carbon filters when I put them in - they were full of dust and I didn't bother washing them. After discussion with Maidenhead Aquatics I realised I could just rinse them in tap water as there are not bacteria on the filter to be killed by tap water. Whilst I'm still experiencing issues, I'm hoping that by continuing with weekly water changes, as recommended by Maidenhead Aquatics for small tanks, and cleaning new filters, that normal flow will resume through the filter section whilst also decreasing nitrate levels.


Creating a Planted Aquarium

After deciding that a planted aquarium with community fish then came the task of setting up a planted aquarium. Anyone who has tried to do this knows that this is, unfortunately, not as simple as planting some underwater plants and leaving them to it. Firstly you need to select a substrate that will help them grow, the gravel and pebbles substrates that are typically used in aquariums are not suitable. I was told this very early on, before setting up my new aquarium.

Secondly you need to select appropriate plants. Some are a lot easier to grow than others, and some grow a lot taller than others, which in a relatively small tank such as mine you've got to take into account. Once you've selected the plans it's important to plant them as you would any plant in the garden - sounds obvious.

After a couple of weeks I noticed that some of the plants were doing OK, but not really establishing themselves, whilst others were not doing well at all. I had assumed that the plants got their nutrients from the fish waste and the light, which I keep on 8 hours a day. However after being recommended to add CO2 every day, and fertiliser once a week, I realised that this was not the case. As it you can over-dose on the CO2, I've opted for adding CO2 every other day, when I feed the fish, and fertiliser once a week.

Since doing this the remaining plants have really grown (as you can see from the photo). A couple of the plants there were not doing so well started to establish themselves, however the fish finished them off fairly quickly. The tall plants are doing well enough to need trimming once a week. Once I was happy some of the plants were doing well, I cleared out any dead plants/leaves, as these lower the water quality.

There are two big benefits of having a planted aquarium: 1) they really do help keep the water quality high as they regularly take out nitrate/nitrite and release O2 (although may also be due to the highly efficient filter on the Aqua One Nanos), 2) they provide an excellent hiding place for timid fish. Some of the plants do get nipped at by the fish, however I have yet to have real problems with fish eating the plants. Overall I've very happy with how the planted aquarium has developed.


Upgrading to an Aquarium

I decided that a specialist aquarium shop would be the new place to get advice, as well as from my many friends who also keep fish. The people I went to, and still use, are Maidenhead Aquatics. With a number of stores around my local area. I went in to discuss my recent high nitrate levels, which I had attributed to excess food due to the holiday food I left whilst away at a wedding. Rather than the 2 minute snippet of information from a Pets at Home staff who had been told what to say, I chatted for over 15 minutes with someone who kept fish, his life was fish, and enjoyed talking about fish.

It is at this point that I realised just how much of a novice I was, and also how the tank I had bought didn't suit my needs. After a lengthy discussion on tanks (and avoiding the 460 litre oak cabinet for 35/month over 12 months) I opted for a new tank, 55 litres that he could not recommend more highly due to it's amazing filtration for a tank of that size. This was an Aqua One Nano 40 (40 referring to it's dimensions of 40cm by 40cm by 40cm rather than 40 litres). He also suggested that, due to the limited tank size, I should go for communities of small, colourful fish, in a well planted tank. He showed me an example, and I instantly agreed. I had to go to another one of their stores to buy it, when I got yet more specialist and excellent advice on how to create the planted tank, from substrate, to plants, to additives and natural scenery (wood and rocks) to make it look the part. They also offered to take my remaining fish off me and re-home them, given it was clear I was no longer interested in keeping coldwater fish, and that paradise fish aren't the best fish for novices to keep.


My Initial Foray

My initial foray into keeping fish was to go to Pets at Home, buy a small fish tank and set it up at home. After 3 days I went to Pets at Home to get some fish, only to find my Nitrite levels were too high. I bought some plants, and did a water change. 3 days later I returned and they were happy with all the levels. Whilst on this occasion I found a member of staff who was very helpful and seemed to know his stuff, his suggestion of keeping 2 paradise fish (which was also suggested on the box of the fish tank), later proved to be a big mistake. The paradise fish settled in well, and I went back to buy some platy and shrimp. That's where it started to go wrong. The shrimp disappeared after a few days, although turns out one just hid very well. However after a couple of weeks one of the platy died.

After discussions with less helpful staff at Pets at Home, and more useful research on the internet, it was clear one of the paradise fish was bullying all the other fish. As a result I lost a platy, both shrimp, and the remaining platy and paradise fish were not happy. It is at this stage that I realised my mistake - you don't go to a supermarket to get specific advice on a product, you go to a specialist. It's at this stage that I decided I was no longer interested in keeping a couple of fish in a small tank that looked sparse and boring.
Copyright Adrian Champion 2013
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