…because I told you there would be fish rambles. I mentioned there would be fish rambles, didn’t I?
I know a LOT about fishkeeping. I have to: fish are my job. As such, a lot of people ask me fishkeeping questions, and because I was feeling, uh… fishy, I am here to provide a piscatorial post.
In specific, this is how to Start a Tropical Fish tank with Minimal Issues.
…well, okay. For the absolute minimum amount of issues, you should do all of this with a pinch of fish food in the water instead of live fish. But I know a lot of people are impatient, myself included, and you CAN do this with fish already in your tank.
See, this is a very common problem. People come in to my store to start a fish tank. They assume, 9 times out of 10, that keeping a fish tank involves sticking fish in a tank and leaving them there. Maybe poking the water once every couple of months. These are the people that are constantly having problems with it and usually swear off fishkeeping forever. But now, I will tell you the Secret to avoiding these issues all together! =D
Before we begin: CRASH COURSE ON THE NITROGEN CYCLE IN FISH TANKS!
Fish eat and thus, fish poop. Fact o’ life, unfortunately. Fish poop turns into ammonia, which is very toxic to fish. Bacteria in your gravel will turn the ammonia into nitrite, which is still very toxic to fish, and eventually to nitrate, which is… toxic in high doses, but most freshwater fish can tolerate it in lower doses.
In a brand new fish tank, this “good bacteria” does not exist yet. Thus, while you are cycling a tank, it is up to YOU to make sure that the bad chemicals do not reach toxic levels.
No! Bad! Gaaah! *brain explodes*
HOW TO DO IT:
1.) MAKE SURE YOUR TANK IS NOT OVERSTOCKED. Marketing will show you pictures of five guppies in a three gallon mini-tank. Unfortunately, aquarium marketing, uh… is usually not accurate. “The Rule” is roughly one gallon for each inch worth of full grown fish. This rule is not set in stone. If you are willing to do a lot of work, you can bend it. And bigger fish (and goldfish) need more gallons per inch. But if you’re starting out with a fairly small tank, it’s a pretty good rule to follow.
2.) FOR BEST RESULTS PICK FAIRLY DURABLE FISH TO START OUT WITH. Zebra Danios and White Cloud Minnows are good choices. Platies are also pretty good. Do not use Mollies. They are notoriously sensitive to ammonia and thus are not a good cycling choice. Stuff like Neon Tetras and Barbs are difficult to use, but not impossible.
Got your tank set up? Got your fish? Good!
3.) WATER CHANGES. I know people hate doing these. Unfortunately it is basically the only way to get a good cycle going unless you wanna mess with chemicals and things. Do about a 25% water change every other day. This should keep the ammonia down to a manageable level. If you have a test kit, use it! Otherwise lots of pet places will do a water test for you for free.
The Ammonia Phase usually lasts 2-3 weeks, though it may vary depending on a lot of factors.
Once you get through the Ammonia Phase you will hit the Nitrite Phase. This means the ammonia on your test strip will lower a bit, and your nitrite pad will turn bright pink. The Nitrite Phase, in my experience, only lasts a few days. Continue doing the every-other-day water changes.
Not long after this you will do a water test and you will notice that your ammonia and nitrite counts are nice and low, but your nitrate is starting to rise. You may also start to notice algae growth around this time.
Your tank is cycled and you have just bypassed the issue that discourages probably 80% of first-timers from continuing in the fishkeeping hobby. Wasn’t that easy?
Now you can get more fish (if your tank has room for them). Be sure not to add more than a few fish at a time, as to not overload your little biological system.
4.) NOW WHAT? I am going to get on the soap box here and tell you something that you probably don’t want to hear. But I’m going to tell you anyway because I’m a firm believer in this. Ready?
Keep doing those crazy frequent water changes.
See, conventional wisdom says that once you hit the completely cycled Nitrate Phase, you can scale back your water changes to once a week or once every couple of weeks. Yes, you can probably do this and not suffer too many ill effects.
However, I recently saw a bunch of math done by fish geeks, complete with all sorts of charts and experiments, showing that conventional wisdom in this case pales in comparison to the beautiful fishkeeping results you’ll get with frequent water changes. See, even if Nitrate is the least toxic of the chemicals we’ve discussed here, it’s still, in the end, toxic. And it is Algae Food. Algae loves it some Nitrate.
I change 25% of the water in my fish tank every other day. My fish are brighter in color than any other fish I have ever seen. They are happier and more active than any other fish I have ever seen. I know you’ll accuse me of anthropomorphism here, but I swear to the Fish Gods that they get even happier for a few minutes after a water change. They are healthy– I have had these fish for months (or years in the case of one of them) and they have never been sick. And guess what: no algae. You heard me. No algae. Oh, I’ll get a couple flecks of it every few weeks. Takes five seconds to scrub it off. Far cry from the dozens of people who come into my store every week begging for an easy solution to their algae woes.
I have mentioned, before, that I can glance at a test strip and tell you how old someone’s tank is and make a good guess on how many fish they’ve got in there. Recently I tested my tank water. And let me tell you, if it had been someone else’s tank water, I’d have smiled politely and asked why they were asking me to test water that clearly had no fish in it. That’s how clean my water is, and that’s why my fish are so happy, healthy, and bright.
Can you get away with fewer water changes? Yes. Especially if your tank is sparsely stocked. But in fishkeeping, as with many hobbies, you get out of it what you put into it. Spending five minutes every other day doing a water change is worth it, to me.
*gets off soap box*
…did I just rant about fish? Sheesh. I am beyond hope.
Have a Puffer Fish: