The Basic Guide To Starting An Aquarium Part 2

Gravel And Decorations

Usually gravel bought from a petshop will be problem free. But even if it says “no rinsing needed” rinse it anyway. If you use gravel from another source, such as a home and garden center you should test it first. Using a small cup or bowl add a few table spoons of the gravel and then pour a little vinegar over the gravel. If you observe any fizz at all then the gravel is not inert and will probably gradually leach water hardening minerals into your water and could even cause a almost permanent cloudiness to your tank. Personally I do like to use home center gravel, but i always test it first. Remember that most fish are more comfortable over darker gravel, and their colors will be brighter. White gravel will just about always cause the fish to appear “washed out”.
Be very careful about any decorations you put in the tank, they should be sterilized if there’s any doubt about them, using the same technique as you used on the tank. Most plastic or glass decorations will be inert and cause no problems. Driftwood has to be cured or it will leach out into the water causing a dark tint to the water. Any rocks you use should be put to the same test as the gravel, and if it’s been in a tank before it should be sterilized unless you know for sure it wasn’t contaminated.

The Water

Water from your tap should be fine for your fish. It does need to be chemically treated to remove chlorine and or chloramines that are added by the water company. There are many brands and they all do about as well. Look for “water conditions” or “Chloramine remover”, it isn’t very expensive ad a small bottle should last a long time. You can have your tap water tested at your local petshop to see exactly what your pH and hardness is. I strongly advise getting fish that are naturally happy in your local water conditions. It is very important to NOT be adding chemicals to alter the pH and hardness of the water. Most fish will adapt to your local water and will be much more comfortable if it remains stable. Adding chemicals to adjust the pH will have the tank pH going up and down on a never ending cycle and cause you and your fish a lot of unnecessary trouble. I always advise adding a teaspoon of salt per gallon to all freshwater tanks. It helps the fish in many ways, it prevents most diseases and makes the fish more comfortable. After your tank is set-up and fish are in it you need to start a regular water changing schedule. Changing some of the water is always a good way to perk up a tank. Ideally changing about 20% per day would be fantastic. But in the real world nobody is going to do that. A good compromise is 25% every 2 weeks. It is best to never change more than 35% of the water at one time. Again stable conditions are best for the fish and drastic water changes are not stable. Changing a little at a time as often as possible is the best way to go. The key is stability.


anubias and java fern
This tank is planted with Anubias a little
off center and Java fern on both sides. Do you want live plants? There’s a lot of failure involved with the planted tank. I think this is really due to a few misconceptions and bad procedures. I have a short list of plants that I really do believe you can grow and be proud of. The trouble with most planted tank with beginners is that they get the wrong kind of plants. A lot of the plants sold at petshops are either bog plants or outright non-aquatic plants that don’t have a chance to make it in an aquarium over the long run.
Here is a list of plants that will work for you: Duck Weed, Java Fern, Anubias, Najas, Java Moss and Water Sprite. Although all of these plants are easy to keep I have them listed above in what I think is the order of easiness, Duck Weed is easiest and of those listed above Water Sprite is probably the hardest to keep, but still down right easy. Using the plants above you can have an absolutely beautiful planted tank and everyone will think you are an Aquarium genius, and they will never guess how easy it can be.

Adding Fish

Adding fish to a new aquarium is a test of your patience. There’s a whole subject all of it’s own about the “nitrogen cycle”, it’s about breaking in the tank and getting the filter working properly. To be honest I don’t even think about the nitrogen cycle, I know that you need to add a very few fish to begin with and wait a week or two and add a few more and so on until you have the tank stocked. If you will just follow that suggestion you won’t have to worry about “new tank syndrome”. Don’t over stock your tank. That means don’t put more fish in the tank than it can support. And if there’s any doubt about it, don’t add anymore fish. When choosing fish try to get ones that you will be happy with over the long run, don’t buy on impulse, think about it before you buy a fish. Make sure that the fish are going to be compatible with your other fish, and do the research on this before you make the purchase. And always give potential new fish a good look for disease. A lot of fish in the petshop are at a critical time of their lives, they have been caught , possibly drugged, bagged and shipped to the petshop, kept in a strange bare tank with bright lights and lot’s of traffic, crowded, over stocked and generally treated pretty rough. Some of them are going to succomb to this treatment. That’s why the death rate for “new” fish is so much higher than it is for the fish you’ve had for a while. My theory is that if your new fish makes it past two weeks he should do fine.
There are so many choices about what fish to get that there’s really no use in trying to address that here, but the rest of the website and the message board will help you decide. ALWAYS use a quarantine tank for new fish. The quickest way to mess up a good aquarium is to introduce a sick fish and have the disease spread to all the other fish. If you ignore this tip you will eventually pay the price.


OK you have your tank set-up and the fish are swimming around nicely. Remember to feed lightly, change the water often, avoid drastic changes in the water conditions and you should be in cruise control.