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Old 05-14-2011, 01:32 AM   #1
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The good old fashion way

We are in a world where everything is automated, loaded with technology or digitalised. Even in an aquarium we use 5-6 level filters all sort of water condition checking systems, digital thermometers etc, so the question is if I have to go for all this?Well I have an opinion about this, but the decision needs to be done you.
I have some sort of aquarium for 30 years. I have started with a catfish caught in a canal while I was fishing with my dad and kept it in a 3l bottle. I had no filtration or heating not even an air pump. I knew nothing about the aquariums, just one thing that I like it.
Didnít took me long to join to the local aquarist club (I didnít know that then but that was the biggest in the country) where I could learn about what to do and what not to do.
I couldnít afford to buy an aquarium myself so was happy to look after the fish at the club. I was there every day and tried to learn everything from the older generation. I have learnt from people who could first bread neon tetras in Europe or first looked after African cichlids in Eastern Europe. I didnít know that then how lucky I was to know all these people. Later they wrote down in books what they know about this hobby and ever since I didnít see so accurate descriptions of the spices like those were.
They hardly checked the water conditions in the beginning, but still could manage to keep the fish alive and bread them with minimal equipment. Those kits could be used to test the water conditions were so expensive hardly anybody could afford them. Later of course these and other kits become more affordable so we all had air pumps, and electric motor powered filters and some of us even water tests.
So what was the secret? Our guideline was what the nature can do for us let the nature to do it. We maintain it, but not do anything what is not a must. We learned to use our senses to check the water conditions; we knew by colour or smell of the water if it is good enough for the fish or not. I still do not test my water condition with chemicals and I canít remember when last time had issues with starting an aquarium. All I do is fallowing simple rules while set up a new tank.
  • I start with research. Even after 30 years in this hobby I start in the library or on the net to find out what exactly I want and what I need to do. At this point I donít even have the tank. Why? Because different fish have different needs. I check the local water conditions on the website of the water provider for hardness where these details are available and up-to date. It is important to able to select the fish you can have without the hassle of keep treating the water with chemicals. I only go for the fish which is fine the water available from the tap.
  • I do my plans. I start to draw a pictures for how the tank would look like where the rocks/plants would be. At this point I still donít have a tank, just a few coloured drawings of an optimal setup. Why? Because in this way I will able to have time to find out which plan I would go for. Recently getting lazy and just save some pictures from the net and only doing rough sketch before I storm down to the local shop but still do some plans.
  • By the time I get to the shop I know what I want. Funny but usually I test the stuff if I can rely on the advice of them or not and then I buy what I had planned. So a heater an analogue thermometer, a tank, a well oversized filter and decoration is the only thing I buy in the first visit. I have a special obsession of South African cichlids so plenty of rock I use. Driftwood is also a good natural decoration which can be bought in almost any shop. You can use your own peace of wood from the local forest, but make it ready for the aquarium is a long process can take up to 2-3 month while it starts to sink, but the results will be more unique then the one from the shop.
    Never miss out to purchase some background as well because later it is hard to install. I usually go for the 3D ones, I did it DIY as well but If you want fast results you can buy pretty good ones on the net for cheap. If you want just a background picture that is fine as well just go for one which is in harmony with the fish and plants you are planning to have.
    I only use live plants, so if they have what I want I buy that as well. The only chemical I use is some antichlor. I donít want to mention brands but almost every brand works just fine. If I were you would never use any non natural looking decoration. Plastic plants are not natural!!!
  • I go home and put my tank together. I usually play around with the rock/wood on the floor before I put it in to the tank and always make sure it is stable. Plant your plants and fill it up with water. Turn on all the equipments and your job is done for a while.
  • I watch what is going on in the tank. Your plants will start to turn in to the light source, maybe start to grow as well. You will recognise some small snails came with the plants and in a few weeks time you will find some algae patches on the decorations. Now this is the time when you can say you have planted life to your tank. If everything was brand new this might take up to 3-4 weeks. I only do my regular weekly 15-20% water change during this period. There is no need to keep check the water condition because you will smell if the water is healthy. Looking from the side of the tank you will see if the water is clear or cloudy. Cloudy water generally speaking is no good and smells different too. I donít stress myself with water tests. Cycling the tank is not something you do it happens if you want it or not. Can be speed up but what is the point?
  • I introduce the first fish in about a month after setting up the aquarium, and usually start with some sort of catfish then every week a new set of fish till I have planned amount of fish and usually introduce one species a time. In this way I havenít lost any fish in the last 20 years due to wrong water conditions in a new tank. I only buy healthy fish, which is in a shop/breeders aquarium where there is no ill fish and the water seems to be clean smells healthy.

And how to maintain in an old fashion way?
  • Donít overstock your tank.
  • Do your weekly water changes. If you miss out one that is not a problem, but next week you have to do it. Once a month collect the dirt from the bottom of the tank and clean the filter. If you have biological filters clean it in aquarium water only. Donít use any carbon filter media unless you need to remove medication from the water.
  • Feed only what your fish eat in 2 minutes or if you can do it in two parts the 2 times 1 minute is better. Donít forget your fish will eat while food presents. Be weary with live food but I believe that is a good exercise for your fish to hunt for food. In no circumstances let the neighbours feed your fish while you are on holiday. If it is more than a week use auto feeders or holiday foods.
  • If you need to replace your dead plants. Some will work in your setup some wonít. When you feed your fish have smell of the water. Soon you will learn what is good or bad.
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Old 05-14-2011, 03:05 AM   #2
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I agree with a lot of your points.

There are a lot of dymanics in play with the modern fishkeeping, especially in the expense and un-needed stuff category. Half of it is the instant gratification mentality of the consumer, in this case, the fishkeeper. The other half I blame on greed of fish suppliers and the ignorance of sales staff who need to make sales for the suppliers.


I used nothing but simple undergravel filters for close to 20 years, and still use them on a few tanks. This is because they do work well if you follow the rules and are they are simple.

I always get shouted down when people ask if they should use them. My experience says they are an excellent choice for the contientious fishkeeper.

I've too have kept fish for many years without the benefit of filtration of any kind. But it does take much more work. A great deal of more work than an average fishkeeper is willing to undertake these days - myself included.

But this is because I keep many tanks at the same time and have a full-time job with a lot of overtime. I couldn't do this many without the great modern filtration and media available today. But even with modern conveniences, 25-50% water changes weekly are essential.

I'm lucky and have a high quality private well, so I don't even have to use dechlorinator.

But I also believe many strains of fish sold these days are much less hardy than in years past, mostly thanks to modern fish breeding methods that rely on hormones, antibiotics, etc. to grow out fry, rather than a proper, clean habitat.

Except for fish I rescue (long story, different topic) I now only buy or trade fish from reputable private breeders or in a few cases, importers. Yes, I'm an SA cichlid lover too!

I'd guess that at least half ( probably a lot more) of the additives, meds and so called "must haves" common in the hobby are not needed, and most cause more problems than they solve.


After saying all this, my two favorite tanks are very different. The one I dote on most is fairly high tech, with regulated CO2 injection, regular fertilizing regimen, custom CFL lighting, expensive cannister filter etc.

My second is a simple ten gallon with a simple HOB filter, lots and lot and lots of plants, no fertz, additives, conditioners or anything but about a bazillion female guppies I have never let breed.

I wish fish retailers would quit selling all that snake oil, and concentrate on selling the few real essentials needed. They would make up for the lost sales from "make your aquarium perfect now from a bottle" stuff by keeping people interested in the hobby by selling quality fish and giving better advice on starting up. People would then expand the sizes of the aquariums and the number/size of the fish they keep instead of blowing tons of money before they give up.

This is my two cents - or pence - being as you asked.
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Old 05-14-2011, 06:16 AM   #3
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I couldn't agree more about the selling of useless, safe for fish in 24hrs, crap in a bottle. And the horendous advice that is all to often given by FS personnel when someone buys their first aquarium. To often these people walk out with a cart full of crap they will never need or that does nothing.
Not once have I seen anyone walk out with a new tank and a test kit. But almost always they walk out with several fish.
It should be illegal to sell an aquarium and fish at the same time. It would protect both the fish and the consumer.
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Old 05-14-2011, 02:07 PM   #4
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As someone getting back in to fish keeping after a few years in rural Alaska, I agree with so much of your post. I guess I was lucky that when I started at 16 years old I had a great little LFS, and so right from the start I would take a 35mm film canister with water from tank to the owner twice a week to have the water tested for the first 4-5 weeks of owning the tank, where he would explain what was going and helped me understand the processes going, before helping me select fish once the tank had cycled.

Through that initial 10g, 29g, 45g and now 55g I'm getting my wet with again, I've never had any fancy equipment, though must say I'm quite blown away by some of the advertisements in TFH magazine and similar of what one can now purchase! It would be very easy to be swayed by those fancy pictures and deals in pet stores to buy such products, although I must also say that they probably do have some place in the hobby.

Overall, a good grounding in the basics of aquarium care along with a good dose of patience and willingness to research and learn will almost always trump the latest technological innovation
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Old 05-14-2011, 06:10 PM   #5
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I wouldn't say don't use new technologies but there is a way without most of it. Testing the water can be beneficial but relay only just the technology given in your local LFS is not the way forward. My point is You can live without most of the chemicals super fancy filters or testing kits. Having saying that my dream filter is a Fluval G6, but it cost as much as the aquarium set I am going to buy next month and I know I can live without it. I like my gadgets have the latest phone computer and tools but at the same time I know this hobby is about something else. To me it is all about observation, relaxation, and grat knowladge base need to be discovered. We have to understand this is not only a hobby but a good business at the same time.
Technology makes our life easier but ruins it at the same time and makes us lazy. We rely on too much and sometimes we can't imagine what would happen without it.
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Old 05-15-2011, 11:39 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fouldsy View Post
As someone getting back in to fish keeping after a few years in rural Alaska, I agree with so much of your post. I guess I was lucky that when I started at 16 years old I had a great little LFS, and so right from the start I would take a 35mm film canister with water from tank to the owner twice a week to have the water tested for the first 4-5 weeks of owning the tank, where he would explain what was going and helped me understand the processes going, before helping me select fish once the tank had cycled.

Through that initial 10g, 29g, 45g and now 55g I'm getting my wet with again, I've never had any fancy equipment, though must say I'm quite blown away by some of the advertisements in TFH magazine and similar of what one can now purchase! It would be very easy to be swayed by those fancy pictures and deals in pet stores to buy such products, although I must also say that they probably do have some place in the hobby.

Overall, a good grounding in the basics of aquarium care along with a good dose of patience and willingness to research and learn will almost always trump the latest technological innovation
Yours is the first story that I've read where the LFS gave the appropriate advice. Saving you and your fish a lot of grief.
I wish more FS were like the one you started with. It would give this wonderful hobby a better rep. for those just starting out.
I don't use a lot of high tech stuff either, I wouldn't know how.
But one thing that I think everyone should have is a Water Changer. It doesn't matter if it's a Python or the Aqueon but they will save a lot of people from hernias and low back injuries.
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Old 05-15-2011, 12:29 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by WendiDell View Post
Yours is the first story that I've read where the LFS gave the appropriate advice. Saving you and your fish a lot of grief.
I wish more FS were like the one you started with. It would give this wonderful hobby a better rep. for those just starting out.
Yeah, I've come to realize since then, hence I wrote in my original post how I was lucky, that most LFS aren't quite up to par with what I first experienced. It is sad, but I don't think most LFS are intentionally giving out bad information, or at least I hope not, rather they're not fully appreciating what it's like as a new person to the hobby, or they're simply trying to move on to other customers. A somewhat shameless plug, but Fish Alive where I started out in Gilesgate, Durham (back in sunny England...) was owned + ran by Jim Kelly (I think), and I never saw anyone but himself working there. Sure, it meant you sometimes had to wait 5-10 mins to get served, but he always smiled and greeted you and told you he'd be right with you. A lot of the stories I read where people have received bad advice are usually coming from one of the young adults working there as a part time job who may not feel that quite connection or have a great deal of experience in some of the more specialized areas.

Oh, and yeah, a Python or Aqueon is totally worth it, a big improvement from schleping bucket after bucket of water through the house! That's one of those improvements that was so obvious and does actually help with the upkeep of an aquarium.
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Old 05-15-2011, 12:48 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by fouldsy View Post
Yeah, I've come to realize since then, hence I wrote in my original post how I was lucky, that most LFS aren't quite up to par with what I first experienced. It is sad, but I don't think most LFS are intentionally giving out bad information, or at least I hope not, rather they're not fully appreciating what it's like as a new person to the hobby, or they're simply trying to move on to other customers. A somewhat shameless plug, but Fish Alive where I started out in Gilesgate, Durham (back in sunny England...) was owned + ran by Jim Kelly (I think), and I never saw anyone but himself working there. Sure, it meant you sometimes had to wait 5-10 mins to get served, but he always smiled and greeted you and told you he'd be right with you. A lot of the stories I read where people have received bad advice are usually coming from one of the young adults working there as a part time job who may not feel that quite connection or have a great deal of experience in some of the more specialized areas.

Oh, and yeah, a Python or Aqueon is totally worth it, a big improvement from schlepping bucket after bucket of water through the house! That's one of those improvements that was so obvious and does actually help with the upkeep of an aquarium.
I would rather wait 20, even 30 min. for good advice that get bad advice quickly any day.
A lot of the larger FS don't train their staff to work with fish. It's not so much that the kid helping doesn't care, they're just clueless. And they are told to sell, sell, sell. They are also told to push all that insta-cycle in a bottle stuff that does nothing but make money for the store and the mfg.
I schlepped buckets back and forth for 5 years and gave myself a HUUUGE hernia, before I bought a Water Changer. Then I kicked myself for not getting one much sooner,
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