Starting a fish tank for beginners

beginners aquarium set up

Starting a fish tank for beginners that have never had a fish tank before. Everything that you need to know, do and buy is explained here.

Which type of aquarium setup do you want?

There are 3 basic aquarium setups

beginners aquarium set up
beginners aquarium set up with plants

1. The tropical freshwater tank. This is the most common. This is an aquarium that uses tap water or other freshwater source and a heater to maintain the tropical temperatures needed. There are a wide variety of colourful fish and plants available to populate this type of aquarium.
2. The cold-water tank. This is less common put still popular. By far the most common fish for this aquarium is the goldfish. With the growth of fish keeping there has been a wider availability of other cold-water/temperate fish (besides goldfish) that do not require warm water or a heater. Some of these fish are quite colourful.
3. The marine tank. This is a heated aquarium that uses seawater instead of tap water. You don’t need to take trips to the sea to obtain seawater. You can actually buy a sea salt mix and add it to tap water to make your own seawater. Most marine fish in the hobby are reef fish. Reef fish are the most colourful fish available. Maintaining a marine tank is much more difficult than the other two and is not recommended for beginners.

beginners aquarium
Setting up a beginners aquarium

Beginners should choose either the cold-water aquarium setup or the tropical aquarium. Both are as easy as each other. The tropical aquarium is more colourful and allows you to have more fish in the tank but does require a heater.

Where to place your aquarium

Where not to place an aquarium

1. Do not place near any heat source such as a fire or a radiator.
2. Do not place near a window that has any sunlight.
3. Do not place near a draughty location.
4. Do not place in a location that has a lot of disturbances such as people walking by or banging doors.
You need to place the aquarium near a double electric socket. Place the aquarium in a location where you can observe it comfortably and you have easy access to the top of the aquarium for maintenance.

beginners fish tank cabinet and hood
beginners fish tank cabinet and hood

Essential equipment for the beginner’s fish tank

Glass aquariums are recommended for best viewing. Plastic tanks are available but scratch easily
Buy a as large a tank as you can reasonably afford. A 2ft/60cm tank is the recommended minimum size.

You need a heater for a tropical aquarium. But no heater is required for goldfish or temperate fish.

Lighting is needed so that the plants can grow and you can see the fish clearly. Good lighting can bring out the colours of your fish.

aquarium water test kit
aquarium water test kit

Ammonia and nitrite test kit is essential for a new aquarium to test for fish waste build-up.
 
Filter – a canister or even a sponge filter is necessary for biological filtration to break down fish waste. A sponge filter will need an air pump to power it.
 
Fish food. A good quality fish food that is made for the type of fish you keep. Remember some fish are carnivorous, some are mainly herbivores, while most are omnivores.
 
A syphon and bucket to remove water easily from an aquarium is a necessity. You can also use the syphon and bucket to return fresh water to the aquarium in a way that does not scare the fish.

beginners coldwater fish tank
beginners coldwater fish tank

Plants. Plants help remove fish waste(manure) from the water and provide a healthier more natural looking environment for the fish. You can choose from floating plants, rooted plants and non-rooted plants such as moss balls.

It is not essential to have gravel or sand but most people prefer it because it gives a grounding to the aquatic scene. Plants can be potted in pots with soil topped with gravel for better growth.

A thermometer is essential for a tropical aquarium to check if the heater is heating the water to the ideal temperature for your fish. This varies depending on which species you have. However, there is a range of temperatures that fish tolerate.

A hood. This prevents excess evaporation, heat loss and stops fish jumping out of the aquarium.

equipment for beginners aquarium
equipment for beginners aquarium

How to set up your fish tank

A fish tank when filled with water can get heavy so it needs a floor that can support it. Most floors in modern houses do this with ease. You can place an aquarium on a fish tank stand or a cabinet. A fish tank cabinet is preferred because it has been designed to support the weight of a tank of water. Home furniture can be used as long as the top surface is straight and has vertical support in the middle which will prevent the cabinet from bowing. If you buy a larger tank then a proper fish tank cabinet or stand is a must.

The stand or cabinet has to be level under load. The floor might not be level so use a spirit level on top of the aquarium and adjust things until the aquarium is sitting level. Before filling the aquarium use a cushioning material underneath the tank, ie between the tank base and the top of the cabinet. Polystyrene foam is ideal and helps distribute out any unevenness.

Basic aquascaping for your beginner’s aquarium

Find a picture of an aquarium that you like online and try to replicate it. When you place the gravel in the aquarium slope it from the back to the front. Place tall or bushy plants at the back and sides of the aquarium. Leave the front and middle of the aquarium plant free except for the occasional specimen plant. Place heaters, filters and other equipment behind bushy plants.

Setting up sequence for a beginner’s aquarium

Once the tank has been properly located and set up level, you are ready to start putting it together. A suggested sequence is as follows.
1. Wash your gravel or sand by placing some in a bucket then running water from a tap into it. Dust will come out with the water flow. Swirl it with your hand until all the dust has gone. Then place the cleaned gravel/sand in the aquarium. Then put the next batch of gravel/sand in the bucket and repeat until all the gravel/sand that you need is in the aquarium.
2. Half fill your aquarium with water. Smooth out the gravel/sand again. It usually gets disturbed when you add water to the aquarium.
3. Place your potted aquarium plants in the aquarium. Add fertiliser to the roots of the plants.
4. Place all the equipment and any decorations in the tank.
5. Fill the tank to the top.
6. Switch on all the equipment.
7. Place on the lid and turn on the light.
8. Add dechlorinator to the water.
9. Check the temperature and adjust the heater to get the required temperature
10. After 24/48 hours add a couple of fish.
Do a 10% water change every day. The new water needs to be dechlorinated and at the same temperature as the tank water.
11. Daily check the ammonia and nitrites. They will rise as the fish keep pooping and urinating. If the ammonia/nitrite levels go too high, do an extra water change.
12. When the ammonia/nitrite levels start to drop add another 2 fish.
13. Check the levels again and keep doing the water changes.
14. As the levels drop again and again add more fish. Only add more fish when your aquarium can cope.
15. After 6 weeks the aquarium should be stabilised.

starter fish for beginners
starter fish for beginners

Choosing the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

You need to research to find which fish is tough and won’t die easily. You need to avoid fish that are aggressive to other fish. And make sure you don’t buy fish that grow very big. Make sure you have a few alternative choices, because the particular fish you want might not be available. Do an internet search for fish that you like the look of that fits the previous choices.

How to buy the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

Child choosing fish in aquarium storeNow, you know what fish you are after and they are available. Do you just hand over your money? No! You must go to the fish shop’s tanks and have a good look at the fish in the tank. A tank with dead or sick fish is a big no no. You need to observe the fish. Are they active? Do they have fins extended. Are the colours bright and clear? Make sure there are no missing scales, no spots and no bits of fungus growing on them. Don’t buy a fish with split fins or cloudy eyes. When you approach the tank and pretend to feed them at the top of the aquarium, the fish should all rush to where you put your hand.

Select one fish at a time and ask the shop keeper to net the particular fish that looks good to you. Remember to not get excited and buy just a couple of fish at a time.

When to add the fish to your aquarium

Add the first 2 fish 24 to 48 hours after the tank has been filled up. To add fish to the tank from the bag. Do not just throw them in, but put the closed bag in the water and wait 15 minutes for the bag’s water to match the tank’s temperature. Then you just plop the fish in.

Then do daily ammonia/nitrite tests and daily water changes. As the fish eat they poop and urinate into the water. This pollution is cleaned up by bacteria in the filter. But, it takes time to build up enough bacteria. That is why you need to test the ammonia/nitrite levels. When the levels start to fall, add a couple more fish. If the ammonia/nitrite becomes too high then do an immediate water change of 25% and add dechlorinated water at the same temperature.

Cycling the beginner’s aquarium

This is critical to keeping your fish alive for any length of time. Fish waste builds up in water which slowly poisons the fish. Luckily when fish waste appears in water, bacteria start to grow that feed off this waste and neutralise it. However there is a time lag of several weeks before the bacteria can grow enough to cope with all of the fish waste. Most cycling bacteria grows inside a filter on the sponge material. The filter needs a good flow of water to feed the bacteria, which means you occasionally have to squeeze off the excess mud off the filter to stop it becoming clogged.

Cycling your aquarium

Setting up a maintenance routine

Once the tank has cycled, perhaps after 6-8 weeks then you can start to relax and reduce the water changes to 10% every week. Water changes help reduce the level of nitrate that is produced by the cycling bacteria. In nature, fast growing plants and algae would normally utilise nitrate, which is a fertiliser. In the aquarium we need to dilute the nitrate because we normally have too many fish compared to nature.

beginners tank fish feeding
beginners tank fish feeding

Every day
Feed the fish and do a fish count every feeding time. If any fish are missing then search the tank and remove the dead fish otherwise it could rot and pollute the tank. At the same time, check that all fish are healthy, active and with fins spread. Check for any parasites, any spots or any fungus and treat the fish when they are sick. At the same time check the temperature is right.

Once a week
1.Do an algae scrape of the front of the aquarium. It is better for the health of the aquarium if you do not scrape the side and back panes of the tank. If you are a meticulous person then you can also scrape the side panes as well but leave the back pane alone. Syphon 10-20% of the water into a bucket and sift the syphon through the sand/gravel to disturb any food or fish droppings that are trapped in the gravel. Pour away the bucket of water but be careful not to pour away any accidentally syphoned gravel. Wash this gravel and put it back into the aquarium.

2. Next, mix up a bucket of water with hot and cold tap water until it is the same temperature as your aquarium. Add your dechlorinator to the bucket of water. Then add this water to your tank. Top up your tank until full again.

3. Check there is a good flow from the filter. If the flow is slow then squeeze the excess mud from the filter and throw the mud away. Do not wash the sponge with tap water because that will kill the nitrifying bacteria on the sponge. Just squeeze the sponge by hand and then wash your hands.

4. Check your plants. Prune any dead bits and remove any dead plants.
5. Sit back and relax and enjoy your aquarium. You have passed the hardest stage of fish keeping. Now everything becomes easy and should be a more relaxed routine.

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

How to stop your aquarium from getting dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

How Do I Keep My Fish Tank From Getting Dirty?

Related articles

Learn how to clean a fish tank.

Keep your water clear.

Maintain a clean aquarium long term

How to keep your aquarium clean?

various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel
various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel

Fish-keeping is enjoyable and rewarding for people of all ages. However, as with all the other pets, fish need to be cared for with a healthy environment. From harmful chemicals, various toxins to algae, and calcium deposits, they contribute to a dirty and unhealthy aquarium for fish. Thus, a regularly cleaned water tank and proper filtration system is a must to keep the fish and aquarium system healthy as well as beautiful.

Basic maintenance of a tank begins with filtering the water and removing various toxins from it at frequent intervals. As the task to scrape muck and slime from the tank, change water frequently and take other necessary actions requires time, any fish keepers find it to be one of the hardest things to do. But with the right techniques, looking after the aquarium would be a breeze for you.

The 5 essential ways to keep aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish:

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Filtration Systems: As an aquarium is a living biological system, it produces several toxins that must be removed from the tank. A proper filtration system can help in removing the toxins while housing the majority of beneficial bacteria and maintaining a happy and healthy fish aquarium. Thus, having the right filter with enough power, is a must to ensure regular cleaning of the water and keep your aquarium running properly.

From filtering out particles from water, collecting debris and bacteria, filtration systems are a must, without which it would be hard work to keep tropical fish as a pet. However, as the market is full of a variety of aquarium filtration system pumps that remove toxins and impurities in water, it has become a daunting task to choose the most suitable filter. It is a must to buy a filtration system that utilize mechanical, biological and chemical filtration processes.

Regular Siphoning: As with time, fish waste, uneaten food, plant waste, and other debris build up on the substrate, rocks, plants, etc., a siphon helps in removing the dirt from the gravel easily. Make sure to stir the siphon into the gravel to release trapped dirt. The gravel will not be sucked up. It also comes in handy to make routine water changes and ensure that the water is fresh for your fish.

Careful Feeding Regime: Fish-keepers are often confused about the feeding regime that must be followed and the most common mistakes they make is that they feed the fish too much and too often. And when there is uneaten food in water, it rots causing pollution. Therefore, you have to ensure that you do not overfeed your fish or the water quality will suffer as the uneaten food rots and creates toxic waste. You must feed fish in small amounts of food, once or twice a day. The fish must consume all the food you feed within a few minutes. As long as they eat it all within a short time then you should be fine.

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

Cleaning and Controlling Algae: Algae grows in a healthy water tank and once it begins to grow, it does so very rapidly and there is no way to prevent it or remove it completely. However, you can control it with the right techniques. It is a good practice to keep a check the water quality and reduce nitrate, phosphate and iron levels, by adding water without these chemicals, as these nutrients are a source of algae. If any algae has grown on the glass of your water tank, you can use a magnetic algae scraper to get rid of it.
One of the most effective ways to remove phosphate and other fertilising chemicals is by using a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit or tap water filter. But do not remove all the minerals from your water because aquarium plants and fish need trace elements. Also, if your aquarium is getting too much light, you can decrease the amount of light by either reducing the amount of time for your lighting is used or exchanging the bulbs for a lower wattage.

Partial Water Changes: Regular water changes keep your fish happy and healthy. So, it is recommended to change 10 to 20 per cent of water once a week, depending on the number and type of fish, feeding schedule, volume of water and filtration system. You can change water at the same time that you vacuum the gravel, which can be done by using siphon gravel cleaner with a hose attached.

Proper aquarium maintenance will keep your water tank healthy. With the right techniques to change water and clean the tank, you should never need to completely empty the water.
Depending on the maintenance requirement of your tank, you can take some steps to clean it daily and on a weekly basis. Listed below are those steps:

Daily aquarium cleaning tasks

  • Just like any other pet, fish need to be looked after on a daily basis.
  • It is essential to feed them the right quantity of food, ensuring they the food is consumed immediately.
  • You must also ensure that the filter, lights and heater are working properly.
  • Take a few minutes every day to observe if the fish are swimming normally. Also, look at their skin and take note of sign of disease, if any.
  • Check the water and ensure that it does not have a foul odor, is clean and nothing is floating around.

Weekly aquarium cleaning tasks

Besides keeping an eye on fish and water tank at regular intervals, there are certain steps that must be taken on a weekly basis to make sure that the water tank is clean and healthy for the fish.

  • Remove Dead Leaves: Your fish tank may be a home to a number of plants. Thus, it is your responsibility to remove any dead leaves from it and trim excess growth of the plants, ensuring that the water tank is clean for your fish.
  • Clean Off Algae: You can use a algae scraper or magnet to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium.
  • Clean Aquarium Glass: Using a clean cloth and water spray, remove dirt from the water tank’s front and side glass. No soap or chemicals!
  • Water Replacement: Every week, siphon nearly 10 to 20 per cent of water by using a siphon hose and replace with dechlorinated water.

You should set up a consistent maintenance schedule every week to ensure that the aquarium stays clean and healthy for your fish to live in!

You can now sit back and enjoy your fish without being distracted by a dirty tank!

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.

An outsider’s view of the Burlington Fishkeepers Club in Vermont

members of the Tropical Fish club of Burlington Wermont

members of the Tropical Fish club of Burlington WermontThis is an article by a sympathetic reporter into what he sees as the unusual activities in a fishkeeper’s club during an auction.

With about 45 current members, the Tropical Fish Club of Burlington has been uniting freshwater fish fans for almost a quarter century. Judging by the scene in the club house, it’s a small but spirited society. Some 40 people attended the event, which was emceed by Doug Patac and featured everything from fish to filters to cartoonish figurines of nude females — for aquariums, of course. Around the meeting room, several long tables were loaded with fish and plants in clear plastic bags of various sizes. While local vendors donated some of the auction items, most were fish bred by the hobbyists themselves.

 

Read more here

Burlington Fish Club website