This page started out as my opinions, but has ended up to be more of an
explanation of how we got hooked on fishkeeping and how we learned from
One of the most common problems with new aquariums no matter what the size
is not understanding the Nitrogen Cycle. It's my opinion that the Nitrogen
Cycle is THE MOST IMPORTANT CONCEPT anyone should learn when
first setting up a new tank. Failure to understand this basic concept is
what has led to many dead fish, unhappy children and is what has turned a
lot of people off to the hobby. It's not hard to understand, but in most
cases it will delay being able to fully stock your new aquarium. I'll write
more about this topic in the future, including ways to speed things up
without killing a lot of fish for the impatient new fishkeeper.
Another good reason for starting small is not to lose a big pile of money
if you end up deciding that fishkeeping just isn't for you. It might seem
like a wonderful thing you want to do for the rest of your life now, but
after a couple of months of water changes, tank maintenance and maybe
having a favorite fish die on you, it might not seem like such a great
Starting small lets you get familiar with all the basics with the least
amount of time, effort and money. Many local fish and pet stores offer
a good basic 10 gallon starter package for as little as $25. Many of
these setups only require the addition of water and fish to get you going.
Stock your new aquarium with only 2 or 3 hardy fish at first. This will
get your nitrogen cycle started as gently as possible. Be happy with
your two or three fish for a month or so before you start adding more.
When your "cycle" has finally completed you can start adding more fish
until you have a fully stocked tank, but it should be done gradually over
a period of weeks. As mentioned above, I'll write about safe ways to jump
start the process for the impatient, but the BEST way to
do it will always be the slow and patient method.
Tammy and I did everything the WRONG WAY when we started. I
didn't even find out about the Nitrogen Cycle until the ammonia levels were
near lethal in our first aquarium! It took nearly a month of panic,
research and absolutely maddening patience after that to survive our first
cycle. We had to set up a second 10 gallon tank to split up the bio-load
(fish) to reasonable levels because we were already over stocked without
Before you rush out to buy your first aquarium I highly recommend some more reading. A LOT more reading, hell, spend the next couple of days on it! Research is never wasted time if it helps to increase your level of enjoyment with the hobby, not mention keeping your new aquatic friends healthy and happy.
Before our first two 10 gallon aquariums had fully cycled we already had
bought a 55 gallon tank. The fishkeeping bug had bitten and bitten
HARD!. Over the next couple of months we set up two 75's, a 30 and
our pride and joy, the 120. It didn't stop there as you might already have
seen. At any given time we have 10 to 16 tanks set up here. We love all of
our aquatic little buddies dearly, but they OWN us now, we
can't go anywhere for more than 18 hours or so without having someone here
a minimum of twice a day to feed them all and let the dogs in and out. It
doesn't help that my business is 270 miles away and I have to be there for
several days at a time every couple of months or so. Tammy and I just
aren't happy when we're apart for more that 24 hours at a time...
Before we bought the 55, when we only had two 10 gallon tanks cycling, we
found that we had a very pregnant female platy. When she finally dropped
her fry it was just about the most fascinating thing in the world. We were
suddenly Fish Breeders. I have no idea how many hours I spent researching
breeding fish that month, but it was a lot. About the same time we
inadvertantly discovered that our zebra danios had also spawned. Tammy was
doing a water change and noticed that some of the scuz was swimming against
the water pouring out of the bucket and down the drain. Talk about throwing
the baby out with the bathwater! Our second type of fry and they were
egglayers to boot.
Now we not only had two fully stocked 10 gallon aquariums which weren't cycled
yet, but the little buggers were increasing our fish count all on their own!
That was probably the point of no return for us. We'd seen many gorgeous aquarium setups on all sorts of websites and had been participating in the Fish Profiles web forums where lots of experienced fishkeepers hang out and we were chomping at the bit to get a big tank. We had to get another tank for all these fry starting to appear!
After stressing the hell out of all our
fish in two 10 gallon tanks we weren't going to repeat our previous mistakes.
Now how in the world does an empty aquarium do any good for anything, isn't
the whole point to have fish in it? Yes, but not until it is ready for
fish! So how did we make it ready for fish? I fed it ammonia. You read
that correctly, plain jane ammonia from a hardware store bottle. Ammonia is
the kingpin of the whole nitrogen cycle.
Fish produce ammonia (NH3) with
their gills from respiration, from their waste and uneaten food produces
ammonia when it breaks down. When a tank has enough of the good bacteria
in it the ammonia is converted to nitrite and then another type of bacteria
convert the nitrite into nitrAte which is subsequently removed
by water changes and/or absorbed by living plants as food. Ammonia and
nitrite are quite harmful to fish even at relatively low levels, but
nitrate is only harmful to fish at extremely elevated levels. By "feeding"
the fishless 55 gallon aquarium plain ammonia I encouraged the "cycling"
bacteria to appear and multiply without endangering any of our little
buddies in the process.
In order to be successful with a "fishless cycle"
you have to monitor the levels of ammonia and nitrite with a test kit and
add more ammonia when necessary to keep the tank at a level "lethal" to
fish, but not so high that it inhibits the reproduction of the type of
bacteria which converts nitrite to nitrate. Once your nitrite test kit
starts showing a perceptable level of nitrite you have passed the first
hump in your cycle, but the hard part is still to come. As the level of
nitrite rises the level of ammonia starts to fall off even though you
are still providing a daily "maintenance dose" of ammonia. The ammonia
eating bacteria population is nearing the point where conversion is
almost instantaneous. This point took about a week to happen for me. An
agonizing week which more than tested my patience. By the time that
nitrate started to show up ammonia levels were essentially zero and
nitrite levels were almost ready to start dropping off. Mid way through
the second week the nitrite levels were dropping, the nitrate levels
were rising, we finally started adding fish and I stopped feeding the
tank ammonia. At the end of the second week the ammonia and nitrite
levels were both zero and we had a fully cycled tank, something which
usually takes 4 to 8 weeks if you just let nature do its thing.
We'd come a long, long way in two short months since we first set up a 10 gallon aquarium! In fact, that first 10 gallon aquarium was finally achieving its own cycle at the same time the 55 was done.
Because we had cycled the 55 to a full bio-load right off the bat, we
were able to immediately fully stock that tank. We didn't waste
any time doing that! Withn a week it was essentially maxed out for fish.
Like any addiction, fishkeeping often turns into a need for MORE!
One of the bigger highs is to bring home new fish from the Local Fish
Store (LFS) and add them to your burgeoning aquatic community. This is
great fun, but for all but the luckiest of us it means we will eventually
run out of tank space. The only solution is ANOTHER TANK!
We were already ahead of the game at this point as we had a 30 long
sitting in the basement which just needed a filter, heater, air, gravel
and plants to set up. I had Mastered the Art of Cycling and I
thought I could get it done in half the time this go-round. That
still meant a week before we could put fish in it so no sense in wasting
time, right? You bet!
In short order we had the 30 long set up and I was ready to start the
fishless cycle. I had a secret weapon this time, an already cycled tank!
My theory was that I could transplant some bacteria from the cycled 55
to the 30 long and that should cut the cycling time in half. Boy was I
wrong, but wrong in a very good way! We bought a second Emperor 280
power filter for the 30 long so I could pirate the bio-wheel from the
55 to jump-start the cycle. I figured the little nitrosomonas bacteria
buddies would go to town on the ammonia and their nitrobacter cousins
would ride the nitrite train into the station soon after giving us a
full cycle after maybe a week's time.
I dosed it up with what I calculated to be an appropriate initial amount of ammonia and waited a half hour to do my first ammonia test. Zero. WTF, ZERO?!?!??! I must have grossly underestimated what the first dose should be. Double that and try again. A half hour later I tested again and still no ammonia showing! No way it was all being absorbed, we had just filled the thing with water about an hour ago. In a cognitive leap I decided to test for nitrite. There was a trace amount of nitrite showing! Finally something to indicate that something was happening. I dosed it with more ammonia and this time tested for nitrate. WHOA!!! "Houston, we have NITRATE, I repeat, WE HAVE NITRATE!" Less than two hours after filling the 30 and it's merrily cycling away like it wants the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. I tested the nitrite and it was showing a little bit, but I had dosed it with enough ammonia to choke Mr. Clean and the rest of his whole family. I waited an hour and when the next tests showed zero ammonia and nitrite Tammy and I started calling around to see who was still open and had some tiger barbs for sale! Less than four hours and we had a fully cycled 30 gallon aquarium just begging to be stocked with fish. We were out the door and an hour later it had seven tiger barbs "rubber-banding" back and forth from end to end. When you put a group of tigers into a new tank they follow each other around until they get used to their surroundings and it looks like they're connected with rubber bands :^)
You'd think we would stay busy enough gathering all the goodies to set up
the 120 until it arrived, but noooo, not us...
We ended up setting up a 75 gallon tank we had bought at our favorite
fish store on a spur of the moment impulse first! If we had
no idea that the hobby owned us by then that should have set off warning
bells all over the place, but it didn't. We were done like dinner, hook,
line and sinker. No deposit, no return, do not pass go, do not collect
$200, go directly to insanity! We still had no idea that
aquaria positively owned us and we were already beyond help, waaaay beyond
We had run out to Perrysburg Aquarium to pick up the rest of the odds and
ends we'd need to set up the new 120 when it came in as well as some of
the normal consumables like fish food and whatnot. There was a brand spankin'
new All-Glass® 75E setup on sale for a very nice price, tank, stand,
tops and light. It was so purty, but we had the 120 on the way and
we were here shelling out a coupla hundred spandolas on goodies for it...no
way we could justify buying another big tank...right? Right? RIGHT?!?!?!
We paid for our varuous and sundry fish goodies and both of us pretended we
didn't have to buy that 75E as we loaded up the Blazer for the trip home.
The Blazer never even got started.
Tammy just looked at me and said "You want to go back in there and buy that
75, don't you?" I tried to pretend that I didn't need to, but she
could see right through me and besides, the Fishy Addiction was coursing
through her veins just as strongly as in mine. We were powerless to resist
a temptation as strong as a big tank on sale while there was potentially
available floorspace in the house which could possibly hold it. We marched right
back in there and bought that sucker, as well as everything else needed to
set it up with Gary (the owner) beaming like the Cheshire Cat the whole
time. We were the junkies and he was our pusher and he damned well knew it.
Honest, it was Tammy's fault, I had to get it for her, she needed it,
honest she did, you gotta believe me, it's the truth, I swear it is, it's
not my fault, I didn't do it.....
They say that ignorance is bliss and I say they are absolutely right. We were having a GREAT time with our fish...and spending money like there was no tomorrow...
The only thing more interesting than a big tank full of lots of kinds of fish
is a big tank full of lots of kinds of fry. What a great idea, we'll
breed fish on purpose, hell, they're already doing it for us! Who
could have guessed that the addiction could possibly get worse, but there it
was, we were planning on doubling and tripling our fish population on
purpose, was there no end to it in sight?
We picked up the 120 and got it all set up and going. It was just gorgeous!
we had raided the creek at my mother's place in Eden, NY for all sorts of
great rocks and had stocked it with clown loaches, electric yellow labidos,
giant danios, australian rainbows and rubber nosed plecos. I had applied the
"instant cycle" to it without a hitch. Life was good, who could ask for more?
Our breeding program was going pretty well. We had fat momma platy pumping out
fry like clockwork every four weeks and our zebras were doing the wild thing
every couple of weeks in the 55 gallon tank. We had some problems with the
survival rate on the egg-layer zebras as we were trying to raise them solely
on liquid food rather than live food which isn't easy. We ended up picking up
some 5-1/2 and 2-1/2 gallon tanks to use as fry and hospital tanks and Tammy
was becoming quite the Fish Doctor as we learned how to deal with ick, fungi,
fin and tail rot, ulcers and the myriad of ailments which crop up when you
have a lot of fish. We were doing a pretty good job of dealing with anything
Until we both were 270 miles away visiting my family in Buffalo...
It could and did happen...
After a few uneventful days of reports from home Tammy got a call from her
son, Nathan, and the news was worse than anything we were ready for. The 55
had totally failed. Nate had come home from work to find 50 gallons of water
and sand on the living room floor. The lower tank brace of the old style
All-Glass 55 had broken and allowed the bottom of the front sheet of glass
to pull away from the tank bottom near the middle. Once the silicone parted
company, that was all she wrote. While the fish were still in the tank, the
water wasn't, a very not good thing. Many of the fish were still alive and
Nate had the presence of mind to toss them into the 75 baby tank across the
room which saved some of their lives. We were just stunned. 270 miles away
from home and our beautiful 55 was history along with a bunch of our precious
little friends including all of our zebras which we had lovingly raised from
eggs. We'd lost fish here and there before, but this one hurt us badly.
We rushed back home and cleaned up the mess. We felt pretty miserable for a while. Reality sandwiches just suck sometimes. 50 gallons of water, sand and fish poo can really do a number on a living room rug too. After a suitable period of mourning we replaced the 55 with another 75E. Life goes on, but the loss of the 55 changed the way I looked at fishkeeping forever. Some of the enthusiastic innocence was gone, never to return.
The aquisition of various different tanks is sort of a big blur at this point.
I couldn't get the sequence correct without digging out receipts to establish
a timeline. Not that it matters. A 90 gallon tank joined the 30 long in the
bedroom, a 20 long became a tiger breeding tank, a 20 high replaced the first
10 Leader as our tetra tank, we bought a 10 gallon stand to replace the piano
bench we had been using for the 2nd original 10 leader and that gave us space
for another 10 Leader below it as a place for a hospital tank. We set up a
10 gallon tank in Nate's bedroom after he moved out and I had a Great Idea.
By this point we had successfully spawned about 10 different kinds of fish
and it occured to me that we might be able to finance our addiction by
dealing. Sure, why not? Any junkie knows that being a dealer pays for
your own habit! I started drawing up plans to convert the front room in the
basement to a high density breeding and rearing factory and did a bunch of
cost analysis and revenue projection exercises. It all looked pretty good on paper.
Fortunately, in one of my more lucid moments, I decided we should try it on
a very small scale first to get a feel for it as a revenue generating
venture. I had figured out that the All-Glass 55 gallon "economy" stand
would hold two 20 highs on top and two 15's on the bottom at one time. It
seemed to me to be an ideal high density small-scale rearing setup to test
We already had 10 or 11 tanks from 2-1/2 to 120 gallons going and more fry
than the 75 baby tank could comfortably hold. We had spawned the tigers
and we were having to strip the two electric yellow females of fry
every four weeks or so, we had rosy barb fry and our severum/convict cross
parrot cichlids (not the hideously mis-shapen variety) had surprised us
by spawning on their own. We started out by spawning the tigers again. It
takes no effort at all. We put a male and a female into the 20 long and
Pouf, in the morning you get tiger eggs all over the place. It's
best to be there while they do their business so you can net them out as
soon as they are done or they'll gobble the eggs. 36 hours later we have
a tank full of little tigers and a couple of days after that you start
feeding them brine shrimp nauplii. They grow like mad for a month or so
and then you start sorting them into other tanks to grow out.
This is like a license to print money, right?
OK, let's try fancy guppies. Gary in Perrysburg gave us some beautiful
fancy blue males to breed with our females. Nothing's easier than breeding
guppies, right? Brood after brood come and nothing blue appears. Common
feeder fish type every damned time. To make matters worse we're starting to
lose the blue males one at a time. They just get listless and one day they're
gone. This sucks. We get some more males and the same thing happens. I
don't know if they are too inbred these days or what. We screwed around with
the pH, salinity, food, etc. and no dice. After several months of nada we
abandon the guppy program.
Our freshwater parrot cichlid severum convicts are spawning like mad and they are such totally cool fish that we'll just run with those. They're hardy, they adapt to anything, they have great personalities and they are a gas to watch in community aquariums, these guys are a winner!
We can't understand it, they really are fantastic fish and everyone who
has gotten some of them from us just loves them, why aren't they a gold mine?
Apparently fish stores are wary of hybrids which don't naturally occur.
Of course, most every livebearer and corydoras species you'll find at your
LFS is a hybrid, but I guess they don't count for some reason.
We just love them to death, but HUNDREDS of these adorable little buggers
is totally ruining our fishkeeping experience! Every tank is overstocked
because of them. We have like 6 or 7 pairs of adults in the 120 and they all
stake out "their space" and defend it so they can spawn. Tam and I have agreed
that we won't save anymore of their broods, they'll just have to make it on
their own in the community tanks if they can. It's broken our hearts to have
to watch brood after brood fail. 95% of the little guys just fade away into
ghosts and disappear. Of the remaining 5% of each brood maybe 3 or 4 survive
the first month and at first we were afraid they'd start to survive
in greater numbers, but that hasn't happened. We're sure they ended up being
We still have this problem of hundreds of young parrots to deal with. A
friend who lives about a hundred miles east of us says their LFS will take
some. Another who is 270 miles away back in Buffalo says one there will
take a bunch. We've been trying to strongarm a couple of stores closer
with a promise of future electric yellows (and anything else we can breed)
if they'll just take some of the parrots off our hands and not sell them as
feeders. They really are wonderful and entertaining community fish.
Here we are overrun by these parrots and Tam comes back from a friend's
house with a filter tube just slathered with angelfish eggs. I wasn't
really worried as I didn't think they'd hatch or at least not many of them.
We'd lost our two mature angels (who had just paired up) in the 55 disaster
and our six other angels just aren't old enough to get down to business yet.
We know there's a market for angels, we just haven't been in a position to
breed any yet. With the parrots having taken over all of our tanks I've nearly
been cured of my fishkeeping addiction.
The angelfish eggs hatched, ALL of them. Hundreds of them. We fired up the
brine shrimp factory and started feeding them as soon as their little egg sacs
were depleted. They grow like mad. We still have hunderds of parrots and
now we have hundreds of angels growing like mad.
Out of the clear blue we got another surprise. We have cory fry all of a sudden. Our albino and bronze aenus corys have been laying eggs regularly for over a year, but nothing ever hatched out of from them and we haven't had a chance to do a dedicated breeding deal for them yet. Now all of a sudden they're going to town in the 20 high tetra tank and we're getting survivors. This is very good news, I love corys, they're built-in cleaning crews!
When Gary learned we had a sizable brood of angels well along, the wheels must
have been turning in his head. Gary's always hot for angels, he just doesn't
have a great source for them. The ones he gets tend to be on the small side
and small angels don't travel so well. Stewing in an ammonia brew for a couple
of days in-transit isn't the best growth formula for littel angels. Gary decided
to make us an offer we couldn't refuse. He said he'd take ALL of our parrots
if it would provide rearing room for the angels. WOW! This was a solution to
a MAJOR problem which had been spoiling my enjoyment of the aquariums for
months and months. We wasted no time in taking him up on his offer. We brought
the pH in our tanks up to his (our dropping pH problem is another story) and
packed up all but about 50 of the smallest parrots and off to Perrysburg we
went. It was bittersweet for us as we really do like the little guys, but we
want five or ten of them, not hundreds. Gary took 300 of them that day.
That's solved our parrot problem for the moment. I say for the moment because some small parrots in our 90 have mananged to rear at least 7 surviors since then. 7 is how many I have seen at once, who knows how many there are and they're growing quickly and don't seem to be in any mortal danger. (Insert the horror movie music where the good guys find out the evil mutant isn't really dead)
The little angels have grown like weeds. We've been sorting them out of the 30
long and into the two 20 highs in the bathroom and the 20 long in Nate's room.
It has become painfully apparent that we're going to run out of rearing space
before they're large enough to take to Gary's and Noah's Ark. We have only a 15
left for expansion and just to accentuate the space crunch we have two broods
of electric yellows and the two "mystery fish" which have turned out to be australian
rainbows which will need more room shortly. Out of the frying pan and into the fire!
To Be Continued...
When I have some more time...