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Here's my take on the optimum tank:
1. It must provide me with new questions or ideas which I can use to
expand my knowledge regarding the aquarium. I will be greatly
disappointed if I even find myself sitting in front of my aquarium and
not wondering how or why some aspect of the tank is the way it is.
2. It must be balanced. I am not saying that I try to run a "natural"
tank. I use external filters and CO2 reactors and the like but I want
the inside of the tank to be completely balanced. I want the fish to use
the plants and the plants to use the fish. I don't want to be surprised
by test results and I want all changes in conditions to be minor. I
enjoy working with all the external machinery, but prefer not to do
anything more in the aquarium than is absolutely necessary.
3. Life. Everything in the tank must be alive and vigorous. All plants
must show visible growth (they need not grow inches a week, just a new
leaf every now and then or a flower or floater). All the fish must be
active and reproducing. I have only tried to raise fry a couple times,
but I enjoy seeing eggs or fry in my aquarium even if they are gone the
next day. Such is life. My filter must be alive, in fact, I even add
some snails to the filter to help the process.
4. Finally it must be a microcosm of the macrocosm. If my life is going
well, my tank seems to thrive. If my life is not going so well I seem to
find problems in the tank. I may be bringing this to a static aquarium,
but at least it can reflect my mood back to me and provide me with a way
to escape the doldrums.
As far as work involved, that doesn't matter. Most of the time it is
extremely low, but there are days when it takes hours to fix one little
problem. Either way it's worth it.