Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

guppies and platies in a community tank

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

Make your own fish food

Raising live food

Feeding livebearers can be easy especially the commonly found livebearers, but to get the best results then care must be taken with their diet. Most livebearers are omnivorous, eating both animal matter and vegetable matter. Other livebearers are mostly vegetarian such as the platy and goodeid livebearer. And the last group of livebearers are carnivores that need live food and even small fish to eat such as pike livebearer, half beaks, four-eyed fish and porthole livebearer.

Dried food forms a livebearers staple diet

Dried foods can be used to feed most livebearers but if you have vegetarian livebearers or carnivorous livebearers then you need to pick a brand that has a high vegetable content or high protein content. Supplement dried foods with live food at least once a week. And for the vegetarian livebearers add some sliced vegetable matter such as a cucumber slice.

The biggest problem with dried food are that they quickly become stale. So it is best to buy only small quantities at a time and when you buy them check the sell by date and whether the carton looks dusty. Do not buy old stock.

Dried foods come in several varieties. Food flakes are the most common and are a good choice for livebearers because the flakes float giving the livebearers a chance to eat from the surface. Most livebearers are surface feeders.

Types of dried foods for livebearers

Food flakes come in different sizes. The sizes are there to allow you to feed fish with small mouths or fish with large mouths. If there are fry in the aquarium the just crumble a few flakes into crumbs for them.

You could also feed fish pellets to your livebearers. Care must be taken to buy a brand that has floating pellets. Livebearers will usually ignore food that has fallen to the floor of the aquarium where it will rot and pollute the aquarium. The advantage of pellets is that they are less processed than flakes and are just compacted bits of dried food.

Food tablets are useful if you will be away for days at a time. They are compressed food tablets that dissolve slowly over sevearl days. The fish will pick off bits at a time and will be kept fed while you are away.

Feed live food to keep your livebearers healthy

All livebearers benefit from the occasional meal of live food. The fresh vitamins, minerals and amino acids available in live food can not be obtained from dried foods. Once or twice a week is sufficient for most species. But for vegetarians you will also need to feed fresh vegetable matter at least once or twice a week.

Live food can also come in the form of frozen live food and freezze dried food. These are not quite as nutritiuos as real live food.

Where can you obtain live food?

  1. You can keep a large 200l litre barrel of water in a sunny spot in the garden. This will attract mosquito larvae and blood worms. But you can also seed the barrel with daphnia. Daphnia needs to be fed daily with green water or yeast powder. This is the safest and best way of collecting live food for your fish.
  2. You can buy live food from the pet store. But care must be taken to examine the bags of live food for freshness. Some bags of live food can be full of dead insects which is a waste of time. Also some pet shops will sell live food which may contain illnesses from their fish or other source, even the best aquarium store may be quilty of this.
  3. You can collect from wild sources. Good sources for daphnia are from water troughs for cattle or horses and are generally safe. Collecting from wild ponds is a danger. Care must be taken not to collect parasites and other nasties alongside your chosen live food. Best to avoid any pond that contains fish.
  4. You could also raise live food such as brine shrimp to adult hood to feed adult fish. Brineshrimp is an excellent choice of live food except for the effort you need to put in to raise the shrimps. You can also raise white worms or fruit flies. All make a nutritious supplement to dried foods.
  5. Another excellent choice is small earthworms. You will need to rinse out any soil from the worms stomach. Chop the worms up with a razor into small pieces to feed your fish.

Best live foods include daphnia, cyclops, mosquito larvae, and even earth worms, white worms and fruit flies. If you can give your fish a variety of live food as well as some vegetable matter then all the better for the health of your livebearers.

Vegetable items to feed livebearers

A slice of cucumber, boiled spinach or lettuce leaves, spirulina and algae are a good source of vegetable matter for livebearers. There are many vegetable items that can be chopped up into small pieces and fed to your fish. Experiment with what your fish will eat. Try ensure that the items float. Tie a cotton thread to the vegetable piece to keep it near the surface. Also after a couple of hours remove any uneaten vegetable item and throw it away.

Variety in feeding keeps your livebearers healthy and breeding

If you bear all this information in mind and feed your fish using this knowledge then your fish should remain healthy, vibrant and active. Remember variety is the spice of life and it goes for the food of livebearers too. They will of course reproduce when fed well which is a sure sign that they are healthy.

How to make your own fish food

prawns make a good component for diy fish foods

How to make your own fish food

prawns make a good component for diy fish foods
prawns make a good component for diy fish foods

While many fish are happy enough if you give them excellent quality water, a well-stocked aquarium to live in, and commercially available dried flake food, many aquarists enjoy going the extra mile and preparing their own fish food from scratch, or supplementing the diet of their fish with homemade meals. This option allows careful aquarists to enjoy a number of benefits simply not possible with commercial foods.

Although it may seem like hard work, you can make a lot in one go. A large batch can keep your fish going for a long time. Freezing what you are not using right away can keep it fresh a long time.

Advantages to preparing home made fish food

• Fresh Ingredients—By leaving out the manufacturing process, storage and distribution of commercial fish food, you ensure that your fish food is much fresher and healthier than commercially available dry flake alternatives.

. Better ingredients – because you don’t have the same economic constraint a manufacturer has, you can utilise the best ingredients rather than using cheaper alternatives.

• Lower Costs—If you are clever with your use of household food waste, you can use a wide variety of commonly thrown away food scraps to feed your fish. Even if you don’t totally recycle your foods, you can still end up enjoying considerable savings.

• Nutrient Control—Since you are controlling the foods your fish eats, you can determine the specifics of its diet. For example, weak fish can be fed home made preparations that are higher in protein, and sick fish can be given important boosts of vitamins by using supplements.

The combination of fresher ingredients and strictly controlled nutrients can help you ensure that your fish enjoy happier, healthier lives. This is usually the primary reason why aquarists go for home made fish food recipes.

Types of foods that your fish will eat

spinach is an excellent green ingredient for fish food
spinach is an excellent green ingredient for fish food

Unlike cultivating live food such as brine shrimp or daphnia, home made fish foods are generally easily put together from various common household leftovers. And you only have to do it once in bulk, freeze the product and use it as needed. You will have to begin collecting leftovers that fish can eat and combining them into nutritious meals for your fish. Your fish will gladly eat many combinations of meats and vegetables if they are properly prepared using a food processor or blender.

Your fish, of course will happily eat just about any seafood, especially shrimp, but they will also happily devour most meat leftovers as well including chicken and beef. Take care to remove any bones before processing. A very popular option that many home made fish food enthusiasts take is discarding livers, hearts, and other organs in the food processor with root vegetables such as carrots or zucchini.

Most of the healthiest recipes centre their nutritive offerings around a combination of leftover meats and vegetables including peas and spinach. The basic combination of meat and vegetables forms the base of your recipe. The vegetables need to be steamed soft and then blended with the cooked meat to make a healthy paste. Also the gelatin or agar must be prepared separately by adding a little liquid and boiling before adding to the ingredient paste to create something that will bind together without crumbling. Then it can be conveniently frozen in small separate blocks and fed to your fish as needed.

Examples of healthy ingredients that can be used in your home made fish food are:

  • beef heart is a good food for meat eating fish
    beef heart is a good food for meat eating fish

    fresh prawns or fresh fish

  • Discarded meats and organs (but take care to remove any fat)
  • Root vegetables like carrots and broccoli
  • lettuce or spinach
  • Ground staples such as corn and flour
  • Most fruits in small quantities
  • Spirulina (fresh if you can find it, but powedered spirulina is acceptable)
  • Raw chicken eggs

This allows for some very creative possibilities, but there are some ingredients to steer clear of as well: Things to avoid include nuts, saturated fats, and just about anything processed.

Tweaking your fish food recipe

Once you begin collecting your leftovers, you can conveniently make your own brand of fish food from a wide variety of ingredients and then begin adding health boosters for your fish. For example, fish will gladly eat eggs, and the protein boost can be very helpful when you want to encourage growth, so cracking a few eggs into your fish food paste can be an excellent idea. This is especially true for juvenile fish.

agar makes an excellent food binder to keep the fish food from disintegrating
agar makes an excellent food binder to keep the fish food from disintegrating

Another useful tip that can make your life easier is the use of unsweetened gelatin powder in your fish food paste—this powder will help give your food the consistency it needs so that it doesn’t crumble before your fish can eat it. You are also encouraged to add vitamins and other useful ingredients such as lecithin. Do your research on the vitamin and mineral needs of your fish before deciding which supplement to add. Simply add the powder to the food processor with all of the other ingredients to enjoy its benefits.

You will want to spend some time getting your fish accustomed to your new specialised cooking skills by gauging their reactions to your experiments. Fish, just like people, will have differing tastes and you may find that yours prefer certain foods over others. By paying attention to their appetite, you can begin to formulate an exact recipe that fits their needs exactly.

Packaging and freezing your fish food portions

Once you have settled on a combination of ingredients and have successfully processed them into a fine paste, you are ready to package individual portions into small bags and freeze them. It is recommended to pack just enough food into a single serving for your fish to consume everything in one sitting. Each frozen pellet of food will easily dissolve in your tank, providing great health and nutrition for your fish. Remember to thoroughly defrost the fish food before feeding your fish.

Home made fish food can be a great way to give your fish a special treat, or offer a complete replacement for commercial fish foods. Enjoy watching the obvious pleasure of your fish as they eat your lovingly crafted foods.

Example recipes

Recipe 1 for omnivorous fish

  • 1kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/4 kg fresh fish
  • 1/2kg fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/2 kg spinach
  • 1/2 kg fresh carrots
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 200g spirulina powder
  • 6x 1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together

Recipe 2 for carnivorous fish

  • 1kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/2kg fresh fish
  • 1/2kg beef heart
  • 200g spirulina powder
  • 6×1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together

Recipe 3 for vegetarian fish

  • 1/4 kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/4 kg lettuce
  • 1/2 kg fresh carrots
  • 1kg spinach
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange or lemon
  • 400g spirulina powder
  • 6×1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together

Setting up an aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

A guide to setting your own aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up
Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

Intrepid aquarists that want to do something special with their tanks will be glad to know that turning an aquarium into a small-scale aquaponics system is not quite as hard as it looks. It may seem complicated, but the underlying science of the matter is stuff that any aquarist should already be comfortable with: the nitrogen cycle, the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, and the health benefits they offer one another.

If you have kept a planted aquarium before, you already know that the nutrient-rich water of the tank is perfect for plant growth. Aquaponics is just a system by which you can maximise that growth and raise some terrestrial plants while you’re at it. A successful mini aquaponics system can provide you with delicious fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices while giving your fish excellent quality water.

Making your aquaponics system self-sufficient

There are several different ways to construct an aquaponics system, but this article will focus on ways to make it as self-sufficient as possible. Self-sufficiency will cut down on maintenance, but may also deliver smaller yields in return. If you would like to grow large quantities of vegetables, you will need to invest in a more robust set up.

The system described below is a perfectly suitable beginning aquaponics setup that focuses on minimising the need for strict maintenance. If you would like to improve it once you get it up and running, you can invest more time and effort into producing larger yields.

An aquaponics syste has all the hallmarks of a Walstad aquarium. With the closed ecosystem and natural substrate of the growbed. The fish providing nutrient manure for the plants and the plants filtering out toxic waste products from the fish, ie nitrogen recycling. However, where the system differs is that there is a nutrient export. The plants when they get harvested do not recycle back into the system. In the medium to long term there will be a deficiency of minerals that the plants are taking from the water. You will have to occasionally replenish these nutrients.

What you need to build your aquaponics system

  • components of aquarium aquaponics system
    Diagram of basic components of aquarium aquaponics system

    Your aquarium tank, of course

  • A gravel substrate, 1 kg for every 20 litres of water in the tank
  • A small circulation water pump
  • 1 metre length of plastic tubing, that will fit on the outlet of your pump
  • An air stone
  • An air pump matched to your tank’s size + (optional sponge filter)
  • Another 1 metre length of plastic tubing, sized for the air pump outlet
  • A growing medium, pea gravel, perlite, and peat moss work well
  • A plastic grow bed, ideally the same size as your tank and sitting on top of it with a depth of 7 – 20 cm
  • actinic lights for your plants
  • Ordinary aquarium lighting for your fish
  • A pH testing kit
  • A drill
  • A heater for the fish
  • And some fish

How to setup your aquaponics system

One thing you must bear in mind is the height and weight of the whole system when it is all put together. The height will be the height of the aquarium plus the height of the grow bed plus the height of the lighting system above the grow bed. So either obtain a shallow aquarium of make sure there is plenty of room above the aquarium for access.

The first thing you will need to do thoroughly wash your gravel substrate and line it along the bottom of your tank. Then drill tiny holes (3–5 mm) into the bottom of your grow bed with an even distribution, every 5 cm or so. This will let the water drain into the aquarium. Drill a larger (10–12 mm) hole into one of the corners of the bed so that the water pump tubing can pass through.

Now you can place the water pump inside the tank and cap the top with your grow bed. Insert the water pump tubing through the hole you made in the grow bed—leave a little bit of extra tubing to loop around inside the grow bed and cut of the rest. Fold the end of the tub over and seal the folded tube with tape.

Once you have this done, puncture tiny holes every 5 cm in the looped section of tubing in the grow bed. You may now fill your grow bed with your peat moss or pea gravel up until you cover the tube. This is the basic form of your aquaponics system.

Now you can focus on the aquarium: fill it with water and plug in the pump. You should see the water pumping into the grow bed and trickling down through the peat moss and back into the tank. Now is a good time to adjust the flow to make it run smoothly and gently.

Connect your air pump to your air stone using the other tubing, and place the stone in your tank. Attach a sponge filter for added filtration for your fish. Plug the pump in and you should see oxygenating bubbles rising through the water—your system is almost ready.

Check the pH level of your water. It is best somewhere between ph6.8–ph7.2, with ph7.0 being the ideal. If you have to adjust the pH level, now is a good time to do so. If your water is clear from chlorine and chloramine you can add your fish immediately—otherwise, let the water sit for 24 hours or treat it with a water conditioner before you begin.

Since your tank is not yet cycled, you will need to add your fish very slowly, gradually introducing additional fish to the tank while the bacterial colony in your grow bed grows to support them. You may need to perform daily water changes at first, in order to clean the water for your fish before the plants have a chance to do it for you.

If you take good care of your aquaponics system in this period, you should be ready to add plants within 4 weeks when the system is completely established. Introducing them slowly will make sure that you do not upset the careful balance between your fish population and plant population. Leave your actinic light on once you plant the seeds and wait for results to bloom.

Fish selection and care

For your first attempt at an aquaponics setup, avoid selecting fish that are too delicate to survive any water quality issues. Hardy species that can tolerate the varying water conditions that will be present in the beginning are highly recommended. platies, catfish, kribensis, danios, tiger barbs, dwarf gouramis or goldfish can all be used with success.

The notoriously messy nature of the goldfish is actually a benefit in this circumstance, since increased levels of fish waste mean more food for your plants. So long as you do not overwhelm the balance in nutrients between the plants and fish, you will enjoy success.

Plant selection and care

While you can grow just about any plant in an aquaponics system, you will find that fruit-bearing plants and spices may not grow to their full potential from this kind of setup—they will need a more robust, higher maintenance system. With the system described in this article, however, you can grow spinach, lettuce, basil, parsley and many other leafy green herbs.

If you decide to transplant your plants from soil, take very special care to thoroughly wash away all of the dirt surrounding the roots and to clear the plant’s entire surface of insects or other pests. Transplanting is an easy way to introduce an invasive species to your system without knowing it.

Maintaining your aquaponics system

A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop
A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop

The system described in this article has two major inputs: fish food and electricity. You will want to make sure you do not overfeed your fish—a single feeding should consist of enough food for your fish to consume in 5 minutes and no more. Your tank may also gradually lose water over time to absorption and evaporation, so you should perform a monthly 10–15% water change and refill that keeps it topped up.

Your plants’ mineral needs may need to be considered as well: Flowering plants and vegetables may benefit from having additional minerals added to the water at the start. Also as time goes on, the nutrient export must be replenished. If you notice that your plants are struggling, you may be able to find help in the form of liquid fertilisers designed for aquaponics systems. They contain soil components like phosphorous and potassium that your plants may be missing.

If your plants are growing nicely and your fish are active and healthy, then you’ve done it! Good job on creating your first mini aquaponics system. Cosmetic improvements can be made to the aquaponics system by boxing in the growbed to hide the tubing and wires. Now you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labours: healthy fish and fresh home grown herb and spices. You can nibble on some lettuce while admiring your fish.

Adjustments to your aquarium aquaponics system

If there is too much fish waste in the system, instead of reducing the fish, add more sponge filtration. If the plants are not growing then try different plants. If the plants are growing long and stringy then they are not getting enough light. Increase the lighting. Keep checking the ph. If it keeps rising then add more peat. If it keeps falling then add some coral sand.

You should experiment with growing different plants. You can also try increasing and decreasing the pump flow rate, thereby increasing or decreasing the water around the plant roots.

If you get bored of your aquaponics system or it is not working out, you can always remove the plastic growbed and have just an ordinary aquarium. Or you can do more research to do it more professionally.