Saturday, December 16

How to Setup And Maintain a Freshwater Aquarium

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            Have you ever wished that you could have an aquarium in your own home but don’t know where to get started?  Have you ever thought about moving beyond a goldfish bowl?  Getting started with a freshwater aquarium isn’t as hard as you might think.  If you rush into this project without researching it first, you will probably end up with several dead fish and an empty fish tank in your basement.  If you take the time to learn something about fish keeping first, you will see that keeping a beautiful, well maintained freshwater aquarium in your home isn’t that hard.

            One of the first things to consider is where you are going to keep your aquarium.  First, you need to consider what size aquarium you have space for.  For most people, a basic 10 gallon aquarium is a good size.  This size aquarium isn’t too large, so you won’t have too much trouble finding a space for it.  I would recommend a glass aquarium over an acrylic aquarium because it is cheaper and much harder to scratch.  If you plan on keeping goldfish, this is the smallest size aquarium you should even consider.  Now that you have decided what size aquarium you are going to purchase, where are you going to put it?  Avoid placing it near a window or in direct sunlight.  If you put your aquarium near a window, the water temperature will get too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer.  This could end up killing your fish.  Try to find someplace where it will be visible, but not where it could be bumped into.  Try to pick a room that you spend a lot of time in, but don’t put it in a hallway or other area where a lot of people will walk by it and could accidentally bump into it.

            If you are planning on keeping your fish tank on a piece of existing furniture, keep in mind how much the tank will weigh once it is filled.  Your aquarium may not appear very large, but water weighs a lot more that most people think.  One gallon of water weighs about 8.35 pounds.  If you have a 10 gallon aquarium, that’s 83.5 pounds of water!  If you add the weight of the tank that’s almost 100 pounds!  Make sure that any furniture you plan on using as an aquarium stand is capable of supporting this weight.  Also make sure that it won’t be ruined if you splash some water on it during a water change.  Another consideration is height.  Your aquarium will be much easier to maintain if you can easily reach inside of it.  For almost a year and a half I had my 10 gallon aquarium on top of an old dresser that was about 4’6” tall.  That may not seem very high, but keep the height of the aquarium in mind too.  Every time I had to change the water or move something around in my tank, I had to reach over the top edge of the aquarium which was almost 6 feet high!  I recently purchased a basic metal aquarium stand for $25.  Now the tank is at a height which is much easier to work with.  I would highly recommend starting out with your tank on an aquarium stand made for that purpose, not on a piece of furniture that you already own.

            There are a few other things that you will need for your aquarium before you can begin adding fish.  One of these is a filter.  There are several different types of filters.  I would recommend a basic power filter that hangs on the back of your tank.  These are easy to maintain and do a good job keeping your water clear.  Most have two filter elements inside.  One is a mechanical filter that cleans particles out of the water.  The second is a biological filter that bacteria grow on.  These bacteria turn the fish’s harmful waste products into non-toxic substances.  Usually you change the mechanical filter every 2 weeks or so and just rinse out the biological filter.  Another thing you will need is a lighting hood.  This lights your aquarium and covers the top to keep fish from jumping out and other things from falling in.  If you are just keeping fish a basic hood with incandescent or fluorescent lighting should be fine.  If you plan on growing live plants in your tank you may need a different type of lighting. 

            You will also need to buy gravel to cover the bottom of the aquarium. Make sure that you buy gravel from a pet store because other gravel may change the water chemistry and be harmful to your fish.  You can choose from many different colors, depending on how you want your aquarium to look.  It is also a good idea to get a few plants for your aquarium.  If this is your first aquarium, it is a good idea to start with artificial plants.  If you change your mind later you could always add some real plants to your tank. You could also buy a few rocks or other aquarium decorations from a pet store to enhance the appearance of your fish tank.

            Buying an aquarium starter kit could be a good option for a beginner.  These kits usually include the tank, filter, and hood.  You would still need to buy gravel, plants, and any other decorations that you wanted separately.  If you aren’t sure what type of filter or hood you should buy, I would highly recommend one of these starter kits.

            Now that you have everything you need, it’s time to start setting up your aquarium.  First assemble the stand if you chose to buy one.  Then, put your tank on top of the stand.  It is a good idea to rinse the tank out first.  Pour your gravel into a bucket and rinse it several times until the water that you pour out off the bucket becomes clear.  You can then spread the gravel evenly around the bottom of the tank.  Now place any plants and other decorations in the tank.  These can be adjusted later if you don’t like how they look.  Slowly fill your aquarium with treated water. Put the water in a bucket first and add the correct amount of water treatment, following the instructions on the container.  Assemble your filter according to the directions.  Hang it on the back of your tank.  Before you plug it in many filters need to be primed.  Make sure that you read the directions that came with it.  Then you can plug it in and make sure that it runs properly.  Now you can put the hood on your aquarium, plug it in, and turn the lights on.  I would recommend letting your aquarium run for several days before adding fish to make sure that everything works properly.

            After you wait for a few days, it is time to begin the nitrogen cycle by adding your first fish.  Although it may be tempting to fully stock your aquarium now, it is a very bad idea.  Fish have waste products that can be very toxic.  Bacteria will grow in your tank that will neutralize these waste products, but you must give them time to grow.  After choosing what type of fish you want to keep in your tank, go to the bed store and buy just one of them.  Let it live in your tank for a few weeks before adding any more fish.  Then it is a good idea to add more fish just one at a time.

            Now that you have your aquarium set up you will need to spend a little bit of time each week keeping it clean.  All that you really need to do is change about 20% of the water every week, scrape any algae off of the walls, and change the filter cartridge about every 2 weeks.  To change the water, siphon the amount you want to change out of the tank into a bucket and pour it down the drain.  Then fill a bucket with treated water and fill your tank up again.  I would recommend using an algae scraper to keep the walls of your aquarium clean whenever algae starts growing on them.  Make sure that you change your filter cartridge about every 2 weeks so that the water stays clear.  Congratulations on your new aquarium!

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