Planning: A carefully planned and well-sited aquarium can be an attractive and focal part of any room. At the moment it may seem a daunting task to the newcomer who would like to create this attraction, it need not be however, my guide will show you how easy it is, as long as you follow some basic rules of fish keeping.
Gather as much information as you can, have a look around your local aquatic shops, the ones that specialize in fish and aquatic supplies, not the local pet shop that just has a few fish tanks in the corner of the shop as a sideline. It will also give you the chance to compare prices of what is on offer between shops, and a chance to talk to the staff; they can usually offer some good advice. It’s a good idea to strike a bond with someone you can trust and knows what they’re talking about. It is also advisable to read one or more of the many books and magazines available. There are many different fish keeping theories, as you will discover (although basic rules are always observed). Therefore if you know a little yourself you can make comparisons, and be able to make some decisions of your own, as well as having a good idea of what you want from the hobby.
When you have acquired a reasonable knowledge, and have decided to start a tropical freshwater aquarium, it is then time to draw up a shopping list of equipment. Do not buy any fish at this time. Fish must only be added when your filters have had time to mature, this would be at least two to three weeks, and only then if correct test results are obtained.
Having made up your shopping list don’t forget to add up the cost, it would be a shame to get partially set up, only to run out of money.
Site Your Aquarium: Think carefully about where you are going to put your aquarium. Site it where it can easily be viewed, and where you won’t have difficulty getting to it for maintenance. Avoid placing it close to your rooms heating source, or where it would be in constant direct sunlight, these would cause temperature fluctuations, and excessive direct natural light would promote unsightly algal growth.
Remember that when your aquarium is fully set up it will be very heavy; one gallon of water weighs ten pounds (5 litres-5kgs). Therefore, an aquarium measuring 24x12 x12 ins. (60 x30x30cm), when filled with water, gravel, etc. would weigh in excess of 200 pounds (90kgs). Your stand or cabinet must be strong enough to support these kinds of weights, and if you are setting up an aquarium on raised floors be sure your stand is at right angles to, and lies across the floors supports.
If you are considering decorating the room it would be worthwhile doing it before setting up your aquarium, once set up it would be difficult, if not impossible to move. Also paint fumes can be adsorbed by the surface of the water, and could have a toxic affect on your fish.
Getting Started: Wash your new aquarium in clean fresh water; do not use detergent or soap. Remember to place polystyrene tiles beneath the base of your aquarium, some tanks don’t need this precaution, they are designed with a floating base, which stops the bottom coming into contact with the stand. (Ask at the shop)
If you are to use a background film décor, stick this on now with tape, keep it close to the edges and as tight to the glass as you can.
Now is the time to position your aquarium on its permanent site. Use a spirit level to ensure that your stand and aquarium are level.
Building your aquarium: Don’t be tempted into putting any water into your aquarium yet! Don’t rush things, patience is a virtue in this hobby, it’s better to take a day or two to set things up, than to find something wrong and have to start stripping things down, to make them right. Follow these steps and you will find things easier in the long run.
If you have decided on an under-gravel filtration system put the under-gravel plates and uplift tubes in now.
Gravel should be washed thoroughly. Put a bit at a time in a bucket and run water through it from the tap or hosepipe, at the same time stirring it, this could take some time to get all of the dust out of it. When clear water runs from the gravel then it’s ok.
You can now carefully put the clean gravel into your aquarium. In theory you should arrange the gravel so that it slopes from the back to the front, this is so that any debris will accumulate at the front of the aquarium, making it easier to clean. In reality, I find that the gravel doesn’t stay that way; it will just find it’s own level. Either way you should aim for a depth of about two to three inches (5-8cm).
Rocks should be washed thoroughly, and placed gently in the aquarium, don’t over do it, this stuff is heavy, and to avoid the risk of it toppling you could consider bonding it together with aquarium sealant, remember to let it dry.
Bogwood and Mopani wood are quite attractive pieces of décor, (remember to soak the bogwood for at least a week prior to using it), and can be placed in next.
Try a little aquascaping by using the wood or/and rockwork to form terraces rather than a flat expanse of gravel. This sort of décor can be beneficial in hiding some of the equipment you’re about to put in.
Heater Set the heater to approximately 76F (25C). Place the heater on the rear glass of the aquarium at an angle of about 45°, close to, but not touching the gravel. It should be placed near a filter outlet, or where there is water movement, so that heat can be distributed around the tank. Do not plug it in yet! Aquarium heaters must be submerged in water before being switched on, irreparable damage could be caused.
CAUTION an aquarium heater is hot enough to severely burn when switched on and not in water.
Powerheads can now be placed on the uplifts and attached to the aquarium with the brackets or suckers provided. Do not plug powerheads in yet! They need to be submerged, they are cooled and lubricated by the water, and running them dry could cause irreparable damage.
Internal filters can be placed at either side of the aquarium, or at the rear, simply insert the foam into the filter chamber and attach the filter to the glass with the brackets or suckers provided.
As with powerheads, do not plug in yet!
External filters have slightly different features according to each manufacturer, although they all work basically the same, you can now “plumb in" according to the manufacturers instructions, and place the pickup strainer in the aquarium.
Air pump Place any air operated features (air stones, etc.) in the aquarium, and run the tubing out of the tank to the air pump. Unless you are using a check valve (non return valve) in the airline, it is important to have the air pump higher than your water level, water could siphon back down the line otherwise.
Adding the Water: A new bucket specifically kept for your hobby is essential, you must not risk contaminating your aquarium water with any pollutants.
Prepare your water in the bucket, by adding an appropriate amount of Tap water conditioner/dechlorinator to water that is approximately 76F (25C), this can then be added to your aquarium. Ideally it should be siphoned in through a tube of about ½in (13mm) diameter, this is available at aquatic shops, or, if you are extremely careful you could pour it in from the bucket, either way use a saucer or something similar to pour it onto, to avoid disturbing the gravel. Continue until the aquarium is approximately one third full.
If you are using live plants rinse them in water of about 76F (25C) to remove any unwanted pests. Don’t let plants dry out, and when planting avoid damaging the roots. Potted plants are worth the extra expense as they are already established and less likely to be uprooted by fish.
You can also use artificial plants; they look quite natural and don’t need regular pruning. In both cases try to position your plants so that the taller ones are at the back and the shorter ones towards the front, this will create a pleasing effect and will help to hide equipment, as well as being a natural feature for your fish.
Now you can finish filling the aquarium, in same way as before, remembering to add dechlorinator. You can also add a biological culture to the water, or directly into your filter, this is available at your aquarist shop, and will help speed up your filters maturation.
You can now put the condensation covers in place, and then having fitted the fluorescent tube into the hood, place the hood on top of the aquarium. Site the control unit close to the aquarium, on the wall for instance.
You will have ended up with a number of plugs now at the rear of your tank, be sure to keep this wiring tidy and use a multi-socket block to plug your equipment into.
It’s now time to switch on, make sure everything is working, and then leave it to settle down for 24 hours before checking the water conditions and temperature. Don’t worry if the water becomes cloudy, it’s quite normal for this to happen and will settle after a few days, this is due to harmless bacteria and will disappear naturally.
Prepare for your Fish: You must now leave your aquarium and its filters to mature for at least two to three weeks. Leave all the equipment running as though there were fish in the aquarium, and get into the habit of switching the lighting on and off, lighting should be on for about 10 to 12 hours a day, keep it regular, I put mine on at 8am and then off again at 7pm, like clock work every day.
Check the water temperature after 24 hours, and adjust the heater as necessary, keep checking daily until a stable reading of 76F (25C) is observed.
You must not add any fish until there are enough beneficial bacteria to cope with the waste that they will produce, that is why you must wait for at least two weeks, so that these bacteria can colonise and multiply.
Use your test kits according to their instructions within this minimum period, to ensure you have correct readings before introducing any fish.
> Ammonia: 0 ppm (mg/l)
> Nitrite:0 ppm (mg/l)
> Nitrate: 50 ppm (mg/l) or less
> pH: 6.5 to7.5 (for tolerant species)
After a couple of days you may be fooled into thinking everything is ok to introduce your fish, because your test results indicate low or even zero readings, remember, there are no fish in at the moment to produce waste to give high readings, what you have to realize is that you are actually waiting for the bacteria in your filter to multiply, ready for the introduction of fish.
Fish waste is high in ammonia , even in small amounts it can kill. Bacteria feed on the waste and produce nitrites , which are also toxic to fish; these in turn are converted into nitrates , which are harmless at low levels, this process is known as the "nitrogen cycle ". If you introduce fish to soon there will not be enough bacteria to break down the fish’s poisonous waste.
You should also check your water's pH every three or four days to ensure it is remaining stable. For a tolerant species community aquarium you should have a reading of pH 6.5 to pH 7.5. adjusting pH
Adding the Fish: When you are satisfied with your results, one or two hardy fish can be introduced. These will produce enough waste to feed the bacteria and build up their numbers.
When adding fish you should never just tip them straight out of the bag into the aquarium, the temperature in the bag will be different to the temperature in your aquarium, they should be acclimated gently otherwise they could be shocked, which would leave them prone to disease. Instead, place the unopened bag in your aquarium for about 15 minutes to equalize the temperature, then open the bag and add a cupful of aquarium water to it, leave this for 5 minutes, then repeat, before gently letting the fish swim out of the bag.
Don’t be tempted to add any more just yet, this a crucial stage. Using your test kits you should monitor the ammonia and nitrite levels every couple of days while the bacteria multiply, it’s not unusual for the nitrite level to increase at this stage, and it should soon fall back.
Over the next two weeks do your tests regularly. When you are satisfied that levels have remained stable, you can add another small batch of fish. Once again, remember to closely monitor ammonia and nitrite levels for a couple of weeks before adding another small batch of fish. Gradually build up to recommended stocking levels over an 8 to 10 week period.
How many Fish: If you want to know how many fish your Fresh Water Aquarium can accommodate, simply multiply your aquariums Length by Width in Inches, divide by 12, this is the total number of fish in Inches.
If you have gone metric measure your aquarium in centimeters, divide by 30, this will give you the number of fish in centimeters. .e.g.
> 24 x 12 x 12ins aquarium, 24 x 12 = 288 divided by 12 = 24 ins of fish.
> 60 x 30 x 30cm aquarium, 60 x 30 = 1800 divided by 30 = 60 cm of fish.
New Tank Syndrome: When setting up a new aquarium, and/or filter, you must monitor things closely in the first 4 to 6 weeks, especially after adding new fish. As mentioned earlier, beneficial bacteria have to build up, and until then, a phenomenon known as “New Tank Syndrome” can occur, and could cause problems.
During this process there is a characteristic rise and fall in the concentrations of ammonia and nitrite, with levels possibly becoming toxic, and causing fish to become unhealthy. This is due at this stage to fish waste and uneaten food accumulating in the aquarium and not being broken down by these helpful bacteria, remember the “Nitrogen Cycle”?
Do your tests every two or three days. Do not over feed, once a day is more than adequate, and only the tiniest amount. Don’t think you’re being cruel, far from it, more fish eating more food means more waste, and your filters won’t cope with the sudden surge of fish waste.
Be patient, it takes time to mature an aquarium and its filters, and you will benefit in the long run by having less problems and being successful.
If you do experience a problem with your water quality, you should replace about 20% to 30% of it, remembering to treat the new water the way you did initially. Never replace more than 50% of your water at any one time (You will just end then with new water and be back to square one). Its better to carry out smaller water changes over a few days, rather than change large volumes of water at any one time. When you do a water change try to get as much debris from the aquarium and gravel as possible, this task will be made easier with a gravel cleaner, and without clouding the water too much.
New tank syndrome can have a range of effects on fish, some of which include, gasping at the surface, rapid gill movement, rubbing against objects. They will also be prone to diseases like fin rot, fungus and whitespot, and may even die. What you must bear in mind is, that if it is new tank syndrome, it is likely that all the fish will be affected, if it is only one or two it would probably be an introduced disease.
If you are following the basic rules of fish keeping so far, I can’t see you encountering these problems.
Congratulations, you can now sit back and enjoy your creation. You’ve followed the steps that will lead to more enjoyment from your hobby, rather than having to worry whether you’ve got right or not.
You’ll be surprised at how many fishkeepers there are around, most will be willing to pass on their experiences….don’t be afraid to ask if you have a problem.