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NFC: misers guide to aquarium keeping


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 time.

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 fishing!