Setting Up A Freshwater Aquarium

Today I am getting some fish for our new aquarium. I have had many aquariums and a pond in the past, all with goldfish and some koi in the pond. I like goldfish and koi. Many people think that goldfish are dirty and a lot of work. They are no work at all if the tank is set up properly and you have all the ingredients for a balanced eco system.
In the past I put the fancy-tailed goldfish, together with a plecostamus, in the tanks. This has always worked well for me. The plecostamus (called pleco) keeps the tank and everything in it shiny clean, eating all the algae, everywhere.

I had this arrangement for years and never once had to clean algae from the walls of an aquarium. They were always squeaky clean. I am planning on that arrangement for this one. The key to keeping both together successfully is water temperature. It needs to be above 70F to keep the pleco happy and below 75F to keep the goldfish happy. So I am going to need a heater set to about 72F-73F, since we turn the heat off at night here. The goldfish are happy in much cooler temps and would be fine alone. The pleco would suffer in the cold water at night. Finding a heater that does not have a preset temperature of 78F is going to be difficult. All the new ones are preset. I will have to find an older heater second hand. It is cheaper that way, anyway.

I got this aquarium together with the light, filter and a heater (which did not work) in exchange for soap and brown sugar body scrub. I also aquired a much larger tank, canopy, light, large filter and a few small tanks in the same trade. I am planning on using these as mini greenhouses in the garden. Unfortunately, I don't have room for the larger aquarium anywhere in the house. Its 3' long! I might keep it in the basement in case I put in a small pond outside and need a place to overwinter a few goldfish. I have done that in the past and it worked very well. For now it is staying empty and out of the way.
Since we live in the country, we are on a well, therefore no chlorine or chlorimines. It would be a shame to have this advantage and not have an aquarium and pond! If you are on city water, you will have to add dechlor to every drop that you put in the aquarium or pond. You might get away with letting it set out overnight if your city only adds chlorine, but if chlorimines are added, you will have to use declor to get rid of them. Chlorimines are a blend of chlorine and ammonia, specifically made so that it will not evaporate. Most large cities are adding it to their water now.

This is the tank that I have set up. I put natural large and porous gravel in the bottom, along with some polished amethist and some raw amethist.

I have quite a bit of it from the little span of time we spent in Thunder Bay, near a large amethist mine. Raw amethist can be found just laying around on the ground. I have a bucket of small pieces like these and a small bag of the polished ones.

I chose this particular gravel for it porosity. The more surface area you have, the greater amount of symbiotic bacteria you will grow. We want this bacteria in the tank and filter. It would grow even better if this porous gravel were in a filter or waterfall where the aerated water is flowing over it. This is the reason lava rock is popular in aquariums, because of the porosity and effectiveness in growing a good bacteria culture. I know it seems as though I am obsessed about cultures lately with the buttermilk and cheese and wine making. Maybe I am. (Is there anything wrong with that?)

There are two different bacteria that we want growing in our tank and filter. Nitrosomous and Nitrobacter. One takes in the ammonia from the fish wastes and spits out nitrites. The second takes in the nitrites and spits out nitrates, which the live plants absorb and need to grow. (Its nitrogen, You know...the "n" in npk... the first number in 10-10-10.) Hence the need for live plants. Without them the nitrates will build up in the water and you will have to do small water changes.

The bacteria will grow on all the surfaces in the tank and in the filter. You will get the largest number in the filter where the water is more oxygenated as it flows over the filter media. You want as many surfaces as possible. This is the reason poly fil type stuff makes good filter media for an aquarium. It is about as multi-surfaced as you can get. This is good for an aquarium but not so good for a pond. A pond will quickly overwhelm something as tiny as poly fil. Unless you want to be cleaning the filter media every couple of days you will need to use something not quite so small. Lava rock works well for this, as do nylon dish and bath scrubbies. (There is no need to BUY filter media!) It cannot be organic, however, or it will decay. Plastic and nylon are excellent.

Set it up properly and balanced and you won't have to do a thing, except add water as it evaporates and feed the fish, and maybe keep the cat from fishing in it. (Use a lid!)

This has been going on all afternoon.

The colourful background is just plastic wallpaper that tapes onto the outside of the back of the tank. How easy is that! They sell it by the roll at aquarium stores. It makes the whole thing so beautiful and its cheap too! The plants in there now are plastic but I will be adding real plants.

If you have live plants you will also need a light for them. They won't last very long without light. Most aquarium plants have to be replenished from time to time, especially if you have goldfish or koi, because the fish will eat them. Plants with thicker, larger leaves seem to last longer. One that I like is Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia). It is not sold as an aquarium plant and a lot of you will have it growing in your garden. It makes an excellent plant in the water, just bareroot and held in place with a rock. It grows and grows in an aqurium and the fish do not eat it. You can also use it to hide pot rims in the pond or cover a stream edge. Watercress is another good one, but the fish do eat it. You can too. It makes a good salad. I am considering buying a bunch of cut watercress at the grocery store, rooting the pieces and growing it out of the back of the aquarium. It will give the fish some healthy natural food to eat in addition to the commercial fish food I usually give them.

Since the aquarium is in front of a window I can grow plants out of it. There is no direct sunlight. The window is under the porch overhang of about 6', facing east. Direct sunlight would cause too much of an algae growth but this indirect light will be good for some houseplants. I don't know if it will be enough for watercress or not, but I will try it.

I set up the tank and started the filter about a week ago and left it empty of life. This gives the bacteria time to grow. I put in just a drop of ammonia at the beginning to get the bacteria started as it needs something to eat. If you do not have pure ammonia, you can always use a drop or two of pee. It is, after all, the reason you want the bacteria grow in the first place. They have been growing in there with the filter running for a week. Two weeks would be ideal but I am getting tired of looking at an empty tank. I bought these two little guys today.

They are very little right now but they will grow to two or three times their size in a year or so. These two plus a pleco will be about all the tank will safely hold. The rule for aquariums and ponds is this: one inch of fish, tail included, for every gallon of water. I might add one more goldfish with the pleco. If you have a better than average filter system and stronger pump than needed, you can get away with more, but not a lot more. In the long run the fish will suffer and become stressed and you will have to do constant water changes to keep the ammonia and nitrate levels down.

Stressed fish are sick fish, eventually. Goldfish and koi and shubunkins are all carp, so I am treating them all the same. Carp have a natural slime coat that protects them from disease and parasites that naturally live in the water. When they are stressed their slime coat lessens. Stress can be caused by anything, i.e. swings in water temperature or water that is too warm (above 75F), danger, poor water quality, moving into a new home or anything else causing an unhappy fish. Another thing that causes stress for carp is lack of sleep. Yes, they sleep at night but they have no eyelids. In their natural habitat it is dark at night and they don't need them. Turn the light off when you go to bed. Sometimes fish get parasites and diseases anyway, for no apparent reason but if they are healthy and happy you will see a lot less of it. A great deal of this can be prevented by using salt. I always reach for the salt before using any other remedy. Always use pure rock or aquarium salt (sodium chloride).

Freshwater aquariums benefit from being salted a small amount. It prevents parasites like ich, worms and other nasties and helps to keep a thick slime coat on the fish. It should be added gradually over a few days to get the fish and your lovely bacteria culture used to it. It may harm your plants. Some plants will tolerate a little and some will not.

To add only a small amount for general health, use 1/4 teaspoon per gallon of water, added gradually over a three day period. Dissolve the salt in some water from the tank in a glass before pouring it into the aquarium. If you have a lot of plants and still want to add some salt, use less. It will still benefit your goldfish.

Keeping goldfish is a rewarding and enjoyable hobby, or it should be. If you are finding your pond or aquarium to be a lot of work, perhaps you need to lessen the load somewhat or set it up differently. If it is not fun and interesting, why do it?