Tips from an Experienced Aquarist

I spend a great deal of time reading the forums over at Last week Ruth took the time to post tips from experience gained over 20 years of being in the aquarist hobby. I have about 10 years of experience in the aquarist hobby, but I haven’t attempted to start a planted tank yet.

Ruth was gracious enough to let me repost her tips here in my blog. If you find these tips useful please visit the original thread by clicking here and let Ruth know how much these tips helped you!

Tips on What Works for Your Tanks

I thought it would be interesting for the members to share tips that work for them. After 20 years of keeping tanks, I’m still banging my head against the wall, but have discovered a few things that work for me. My tanks are very low tech with easy to grow plants — I don’t want to see equipment hanging off it or hear anything but the soft ripple of water. Setting up a tank from scratch is hard enough. It’s heart-breaking when you have to break it down because of a problem you could have avoided. I’ll start it off:

SUBSTRATE FOR PLANTS: I’ve found that Flourite works the best for my planted tanks. When I used Eco-Complete in my Nano tank, it immediately created an environment that allowed a carpet of bright, green algae to grow over everything (seemed like it leached nutrients into the water column). The tank was too small for full-grown Siamese Algae eaters and the ottos and shrimp couldn’t deal with the algae growth. I then spent the next 2 years fighting it til I finally had enough and broke the tank down. Plain aquarium gravel, while cheaper, doesn’t provide anything for plants. Flourite is extremely dirty right out of the bag. You have to wash out the silt or you’ll be trying to clear a cloudy tank for weeks. I clean it outside, under my fruit trees — so I don’t feel so guilty using all that water. I put 1/2 a bag into a 5-gal bucket and use a garden hose with a strong flow of water, swooshing til it runs clear. Some people don’t like the red color of the original Flourite. They now have brown and black colors, along with a black sand.

Diane Walstad describes using soil in her book, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium (an excellent book by the way). I’m not brave enough to try this, but have heard it works great for some people.

GOOD ALGAE EATERS: I love Siamese Algae Eaters (SAEs) – they are such characters. I’ve had them for years in my tanks, always trying to keep at least 2 together. Once they reach 6″ when they mature, it doesn’t appear that they are eating much algae (they love regular fish food), but when I lose the last SAE in a tank to old age, I discover just how hard they’ve been working — the string algae pops right up and doesn’t go away til I get more SAEs. I also have ottos, cherry shrimp and snails — while they help with algae control, they don’t come close to what the SAEs do.

CATCHING FISH: I’ve done my share of chasing fish with a net. Notice I said chasing, not catching. Guess I’m not agile enough. I’ve found that using a clear acrylic container (mine is 5x5x2.75″) works great, even when I have to catch my SAEs (bullet-fast, cagey and great jumpers). I simply approach the fish and scoop them up slowly. For jumpers, make sure you cover the top with your hand once the container is out of the water. I read once that the acrylic is hard for them to sense (something to do with their lateral line senses?), unlike glass or netting, and it keeps them from panicking. It works great for me.

FILTERS FOR PLANTED TANKS: Because you want to avoid losing CO2 in your water, a submersible internal filter works best because it doesn’t disturb the surface of the water. While I love the Duetto filter (quiet and moves a lot of water), I’ve been using Fluval for many years simply because they have more room to pack in a lot of biological filter material. And because my plants need the nutrients, I never keep activated charcoal in these filters.

I use a lot of weighted-down cork bark in my tanks for background interest and the water turns yellow over time, even with regular water changes. To remove the yellow and polish up the water, I have a Magnum canister filter that I pack with activated charcoal and hang on the outside of my tank for a day or two. I only have to do this once every few months — works like a charm.


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