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NFC: misers guide to fishkeeping

The Misers Guide to Native Fishkeeping
Robert Rice
A lot of us would like to Native keep fish. We enjoy watching and
learning about our local species but just don't want to spend the kind of
money the folks at the pet store tell us we need to just for a basic
tank. I have a solution, treat those fish the way they deserve. Treat
those fish the natural way. You can have an inexpensive attractive tank
that is not high maintenance. Contrary to what they tell you a power
filter on the back of a tank is not necessarily the best way to run a
tank on a budget. Power filters do a good job of pulling wastes and
debris out of the water but do not do a good job of Biological filtration
which is much more important. Think about it, how good for a tank can it
be to have the water run through a sponge full of fish wastes all day? So
follow my step by step plan and you will have a clean tank the envy of
the neighborhood.

First off stop buying retail. If you really are on a budget keep you eyes
open for used tanks and hoods at a garage sale or the local paper. I make
it a rule to never spend more than $1 a gallon for used setups. A setup
must include a tank and hood with lights. For tank stands I bridge the
tank between cinderblocks covered in sheets, curtains, or whatever looks
nice. Half used chemicals like pH up or down or whatever go right in the
garbage You do not know the age or usefulness of these chemicals so get
rid of them. Besides we are on a budget and can't afford the extras,
right? Now comes the placement of this tank. Anywhere is fine as long as
you stay away from windows and heat vents. I have kept rows of tanks in
my basement, garage and carport. The second thing to do is to decide
weather this is a tank for shiners and darters or a sunfish tank. If it
is a darter /shiner tank you will need a powerhead and a undergravel
filter. The place to buy your undergravel filter and the gravel is,
surprise, the chain hardware stores (Lowes, Menards, Home Depot etc.)
They have 50 pound bags of river pea gravel in a variety of colors for
about 2-3 dollars. They intend it for landscaping purposes. However with
a scrubbing with the hose you've got your gravel. They also sell a
variety of plastic grids used for light covers and what not for about 1-2
dollars. Take one of those, cut it to fit and punch a hole for the
powerhead intake tube and you are in business. Of course old undergravel
filters and old powerheads are usually available for a song at garage
sales. So keep you eyes peeled If it's a sunfish tank, all you need is a
gravel bed. Here's the trick you need a thick gravel bed. I like about 6
inches be it for shiners, darters, or sunfish. This gravel bed performs a
very important purpose and without it you will have a high maintenance
tank. This bed provides homes for the good guy bacteria that break down
fish wastes. This biological filtration breaks down wastes and keeps the
water fresh and pure. So get that gravel bed going first.

Next step after you put 6 inches of gravel and the optional powerhead
setup. It's time to get creative. First off, go ahead fill up your tank
you might have to add one chemical . Nowadays you just cant let water
"age" like the old days. The chemical complexity of chloramine makes
water unsuitable for fish until it is completely removed from the water.
You could call your water company and find out if they use chloramine.
Perhaps they just use chlorine. If so you can then avoid the chemicals by
letting the water age 72 hours. If not use something that removes,
chloramine, your choice of brands, but make it inexpensive. OK you have
your garage sale tank setting on those charming cinder blocks. You placed
it away from windows and heat vents. It's full of water and gravel and
looks pretty good. Congratulations you are a third if the way there.

It's time to take a look around and find a place tocollect some plants.
EEEK you say collect plants! Yepwithout suitable vegetation this whole
mix will not work and you would be forced to purchase (yuk) some more
higher tech equipment. Find some rooted plants that aretolerant of lower
light and grow well in cooler waters. In the Native category watersprite,
cabomba, elodea, and giant val, come to mind. In the non Native category
several types of swords and Java fern fit the bill. You don't have to
"collect" all of them borrow a few from another tank or from a friend.
You will need 3 plants per gallon ultimately. However for now 1 per
gallon should get you started. Go ahead and plant them in the tank. With
that thick gravel bed the plants should be easy to bury in the bottom of
the tank, completely covering their roots. It's getting close to fish

Now you have waited a few days, set things up on a budget and are pretty
proud of what you've got going on. If you have the powerhead option, turn
it on. The lights should stay on at least 10 hours a day. Biology should
start kicking in and things are starting to cook. Find the healthiest
tank you can find and beg, borrow or steal a handful of gravel. Take the
gravel and put it in your tank. The old gravel will "seed" the tank. The
good guy bacteria will have the inside track on things. Now that you have
done the above it is time to add fish. You can add fish but not many and
not to fast. Start with either 1 sunfish or 4 darter/shiners. That's it.

OK you got your tank, your plants and your fish and suddenly your tank
gets cloudy, what's wrong? Nothing, you are on the right track. The cloud
is caused by a bacteria bloom. The seeded bacteria has found a new home
and has gone to town. In a few days things will clear up. You have your
few fish, your few plants what next? Stick by your guns and do NOT give
in to your desire to feed the fishes three squares a day. This set up is
dependent upon a more natural food schedule. Feed 2 times a week and that
is it! No more, in nature fish get a large meal once a week or so and
spend the rest of their time nibbling on plants and what not. Simulate
that at home. Besides who wants to pay for all that extra food anyway? If
all is going well after 2 weeks it is time to add a few more fish.
Remember how many you added a few weeks back? Add the same amount this
time and continue every three weeks or so until you reach the 1 sunfish
per 3 gallons or the 1 shiner/darter per gallon limit.

Now comes the extremely difficult, time consuming maintenance of this
setup. Twice a month use a gravel vacuum and remove 20% of the water
while vacuuming r of the gravel. A gravel vacuum for those who don't know
is a siphon with a big end and a small end.The big end gets pushed into
the gravel and the little end goes into the bucket. The gravel pulls up
about halfway up the big end and then falls back while the dirt heads to
the bucket. For a 20 gallon tank this will take about 10 minutes.
Exhausting isn't it? At some point algae will build up on the tank. Go to
the grocery store pick up one of those plastic brillo pad looking dish
scrubbers. The ones without any soap or chemicals on them please. When it
is necessary, use it to wipe the glass clean. That's it your tank
maintenance is done.

If the plants prosper and you don't get to crazy with the food and the
fish you are home free. With a little luck your natives will thrive and
perhaps even spawn. This low tech setup has served me well I have kept
and bred a great many species in them with little expense or problems. I
hope it does the same for you. Until next time good luck and good