Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to set up an aquarium - for beginners

I've noticed that there is a big need for information on fishkeeping, and that a lot of the information out there isn't so great. So without further ado, here is the first of many posts about fishkeeping.

Many people buy a bowl and a couple of fish before doing any research. If you are one of those, pretend you are starting from scratch, and after you follow the instructions in this post, move your fish to the tank you've just set up.

If you are one of the few people who decided to research fishkeeping before diving in, congratulations! You've just taken the first step in helping to make sure your fish have a long, happy life.

A good size for a first aquarium is 29 gallons, since it is small enough to care for easily but big enough to house most common species of fish, including goldfish. However, some people can't afford a 29 gallon tank so it's OK to start smaller, but you shouldn't get a tank smaller than 10 gallons for your first tank since there aren't a lot of options as to what to put in anything smaller than a 10 gallon. Here's a tip, though: If you look on Craigslist, you can often find used tanks in good condition for a really great price!

Assuming you can afford a 29 gallon tank, here's a list of what you'll need to set up your first aquarium:

A 29 gallon aquarium

An aquarium stand

A lid for the aquarium

A filter rated for at least a 29 gallon aquarium

A 200-250 watt aquarium heater (if you are keeping any fish that is not a goldfish)

Filter cartridges (they are the pieces of sponge-like stuff that go inside the filter)

An API master test kit

None of the things I listed above are optional. They are absolutely necessary to keeping fish, unless you are keeping a goldfish tank, in which case you won't need the heater, but you will still need everything else listed!

Here are some optional things to make your aquarium much nicer:

Substrate (gravel, sand, etc. My favorite substrate is sand. You will need about 1-2 pounds of substrate per gallon of tank, so you will need around 40 pounds for the 29 gallon tank.)

Decorations (plants, driftwood, castles, etc.)

A light, if the lid didn't come with one (these will make the aquarium much more
attractive, and are necessary if you want to have live aquatic plants in your tank)

Do NOT buy any fish yet! You will buy them much later in the process.

Okay, now that you have everything, the fun part starts! First, you will need to find a good place to set up your tank. You shouldn't set it up right next to a window, door, or air vent because those can cause the temperature of the tank to fluctuate. You will need to put the tank near a power outlet because you will need to plug in the filter, heater, and lights. The floor of the place you choose needs to be level. You will probably also want to place the tank in a main room of the house so everyone can see the fish.

Once you find the right place, set up the stand and make sure it is level. Then take the tank and carefully rinse it out with the water hose (if the weather is warm) or in the bathtub (if the weather is cold & the tank is small enough). If you have purchased a used tank, you may need to scrub it thoroughly. If it is a new tank it just needs a light rinsing to get off any dust. NEVER use soap on your aquarium, because it is very hard to get all of the soap off and even a tiny bit of soap can kill fish.

After you have rinsed the aquarium, empty it and dry off the outside so it will be easy to carry. Don't ever try to carry the aquarium when it has water in it. A full 29 gallon aquarium will weigh in at between 250 and 300 pounds!

Set the aquarium on the stand and make sure it is centered. Rinse the substrate well and put it in the bottom of the empty tank. If you have any large decorations such as big rocks, caves, etc. go ahead and arrange those in the tank as well. You should also stick the heater to the back of the tank at this point, but do not turn it on yet.

Slowly add water to the tank until it is about 1/3 full. If you put a plate on the gravel and our water on top of it, the gravel will not be disturbed by the water. After the tank is about 1/3 full, secure any plants in the gravel and continue to fill the aquarium until it is full. Put the filter on the tank and fill it with water. Put the hood and light on the tank. Now you can plug everything in!

Most people go out an buy a whole bunch of fish at this point, but that is a very bad thing to do, because your tank is not cycled yet. Here is a brief explanation of the nitrogen cycle.

I'm not going to explain how to cycle your tank before you get fish, because it would take a long time, so instead I'm going to give you links:

Different methods to cycle your aquarium before you add fish

How to do a fishless cycle on an aquarium

Do you notice how the articles say to test your water? This is where the API master test kit comes in. Test strips are cheap, but they are not very accurate at all, so you should use the liquid test kit.

You will know your tank is finished cycling when it holds steady at 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and 10-30 nitrate for at least 3 days.

NOW you can add your fish! They will be so much happier now that they don't have to go through all of the stress of the nitrogen cycle, and happy fish are generally healthy fish.

Congratulations! You just set up your first tank!

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