Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tank Logs

Tank logging is the practice of keeping statistics on your aquariums.  It can be as simple as a blank book with hand written notes to as sophisticated as pie charts and photos.
In order to properly cycle a new tank, one very important task is to document your water chemistry readings every day.  These statistics, water parameters or 'chems' as we have nicknamed them, tell you how much ammonia you will need to dose your aquarium with every day during the cycle as well as giving you a good indicator of when your tank is stable enough to add fish.  For a very thorough explanation of the nitrogen cycle use this [link]  

What types of information do we need, when and what do they tell us?

The water test kit you purchased when you purchased your aquarium set up hardware should include the following tests, ph, ammonia {NH(3)}, nitrIte {NO(2)}, nitrAte {NO(3)} and most master kits include a test for ph2 or high ph.  Additionally, you should have purchased GH {general hardness} and kH {carbonate hardness} solutions and a thermometer. 

So, to set up the simplest log for this information, create a daily entry system that looks like this in your blank book.  You can put your dose of ammonia in the notes space as well as any other observations.  The ______ day in cycle field was very useful for tracking how long our tanks had been cycling as well as the named day of the week.  Once in a while you will notice something and think it not important enough to note.  Having the day of the week recorded is useful in reconstructing events.  This simple notation structure was what we first used, usually two entries per page in a 5x7 book.  Occasionally there was only one entry per page as we had extra notes such as a plant list or equipment list.

We then transferred our readings to very nice, free tank log on Badman's Tropical Fish website.  Their tank log system is more extensive than this simple format.  It gives you a place to record multiple tanks, equipment and livestock as well as some other nice features.  This was extremely helpful for research purposes and comparing hardware specifications.  Our tank chem readings and records were the first thing we did every morning while the coffee was brewing.  Truth be told, our tank logs have fallen into disarray as we have not kept up the dual logging system we started with.  Nevertheless, these logs are very important; you can see our 10g:view log here.

The reason the dual logging system fell into disarray is that we were recording the same information twice, every morning.  Not such a big deal, except that class schedule got in the way and something had to go.  We looked online for free tank log software; sadly there are not many choices and "free download" does not mean "free software".  Our requirements for the software we chose to test are as follows:
  • Free: this is nothing more than a simple database so paying an arm and a leg was out of the question for a student.  We were willing to go as high as $20.oo, as we believe a workman is worth his wages.  Programmers have to eat, too.
  • Specifically for or customizable to fresh water flora and fauna.  Seems the reef keepers need to test and document many more parameters than fresh water aqua-culturists.  All that extra recording space is bound to be confusing to someone brand new to the aquarium hobby.
  • Printable: the ability to print out whatever information one chooses.  Hardware specifications, water chems, fish statistics; any and all information one might need to take on a road trip to a fish store an hour away or more.
In addition to Badman's Tropical Fish tank log monitoring online, we also tried another site today.  Tankkeeper.com has many of the same features as does the system at Badman's.  In addition there is a sub module that allows tank keepers to document where they bought hardware and at what price-point.  Very useful when making sure you get the price matching discounts advertised.
For our purposes, if we continue to use an online record keeping system, we will stick with our account at Badman's Tropical Fish.

To the software choices; we chose to test Aqua Log and Aquarium Lab.  Aquarium Lab by SeaApple software is a very nice looking, feature rich program.  However, it is designed with reef aquarists in mind.  There are many things in this program that do not pertain to fresh water aquarists therefore; it would be somewhat confusing for the novice aquarist.  However, the experienced aquarist might find it useful.  At $24.95 it was just over budget.

Aqua Log on the other hand does just what we wanted a piece of software to do, record our data.  It will post reminders when the program is opened based on your predefined schedule.  However, that schedule is based upon the first entry of a particular item and the number of days you specify before the next action is due.  For example, if we entered water change data for December 24, 2009 and set the interval for a water change to 7 days, we would get a reminder for a seven day interval.  If we were monitoring something like medication in the tank, we would have to set up a different reminder evem if it were related to water changes.

The price is right, free.  It does output to either a text file for importing into Excel or Calculator in Open Office or you can view it as a web page.  This is where for us, it falls down.  The formatting for viewing as an HTML document is so old, it does not have even a basic style sheet.  As a result the table created for each entry has those thick, raised lines, we do not like those.  Anyone with a bit of HTML/CSS style sheet knowledge could easily clean up the output by copying it from the html page source and slapping it into another page with a properly formatted CSS style sheet in the header.  Piece of cake but not for a novice.  

This program also gives you the ability to print a blank data form for notes or to take with you on that road trip.  However; if you want to print your actual data log, better do it from an Excel or Calculator spreadsheet.  You will have much more control over the final print.

That wraps up this combined article on tank logging, what you need to know during tank cycling as well as a super-quick review of some tools to help you out.  We hope you found this information useful.  
The image of the tank data sheet up there at the beginning of this article was created as a 3x5" image to demonstrate how little space and effort daily logging takes.  It has been downsized to fit the article.  The benefits of tank logging can save your foggy memory and some cash on occasion.

In this series:


Monday, December 28, 2009

Newly Purchased Tanks ~

So, some caved in and bought the tank or received one for Christmas; welcome to the aquarium hobby!

For those of you who have not set up your tank yet, we thought we would insert some embarrassing shots of mistakes at this point in the series, in hopes of steering you clear of some pitfalls. For those of you who did not go to Grandma's and have already started filling your tank, we hope this article answers some questions as well. Fishless Cycling was covered on December 20, 2009 in an article entitled "New Tank Acclimation, Phase I"
Fishless Cycling comes after these set-up tips.

If you have dry driftwood, start soaking it in a bucket of water. It will take about two weeks for it to become saturated. Yes really, sorry. However, you are doing a fish-less cycle, right? Not a big deal, by the time your cycle is complete, your driftwood will be saturated.

The first thing you should do with a new tank is check for leaks by filling it. Pretty simple, right? New tanks have been known to leak on rare occasion; the 10g:view leaked after three weeks. We never did find out what caused the leak, the silicone sealing was fine, there were no cracks in the glass, it is a mystery.
A 24 hour test should be sufficient, yes really.

Next we clean the inside glass with plain old vinegar and newspaper or paper towel. Do not use glass cleaner. {period}
If there is no vinegar in the house, use the plain, pure ammonia you bought for your fish-less cycle. {It was on the list in the article on Holiday Aquarium Purchasing}

You will be surprised at how quickly the glass gets dirty and smudged. Now we are ready for the substrate; whatever you use for substrate, wash it thoroughly. The substrate has been tossed around, rubbed against itself and a fine dust will cover everything. Do not expect your filter to clean that stuff up, see stupidity here --->

This is what happens when we do not read the distructions, we end up with an embarrassing, frustrating mess. The substrate can be washed in a strainer or colander, if the holes are small enough to prevent the substrate particles from falling through. A hair strainer for your drain will help keep that stuff out of the drain, or a piece of cheese cloth will work as well.

Despite best efforts, the water will be cloudy but not as bad as this. There may be some silt dust on the glass but it is not serious, as we have already cleaned the inside glass of anything greasy or oily that would trap silt particles, leading to potential scratching. The best way to keep the remaining silt to a minimum is to partially fill the aquarium by 1/3, then siphon out that water. Then start your refilling with conditioned water. Water conditioner is super important in your fresh, out-of-the-tap water. It removes chlorides and chlorine. Do not skip the purchase of this stuff. Chlorides in your water will kill your beneficial bacteria crop and your fish. If you are using a bucket or gallon jug, place a soup bowl or dinner plate into the aquarium and gently pour the water onto that surface. The bowl or plate will diffuse the water current and keep everything from rising into the water column.

A second option, which we use, is the "gentle-fill" method.
In our fish-village, we have a nice metro-style, fish rack.
Our shop light {not seen here} is suspended from a shelf above the two ten gallon tanks. We lucked out and acquired two five gallon carboys for $5. One is used for gentle fill, the other is used for waste water drain. We take silly pride in our carboys. The same can be achieved with a bucket or tub. A piece of air hose cut to length, one end weighted in the bottom of the carboy or bucket, the other end dropped into the tank. The benefits of this method are; little if any disturbance of the substrate, condition all the water needed for a refill or water change all at once and less work while doing tank maintenance. We can actually sit down and write while the gentle fill is taking place. Great solution if you do not have access to a full-fledged fish room, or your water source is too far away to be practical. Cheap and efficient, we love that!

That is more like it. The cloudiness is minor, our filter can certainly handle it within an hour or two. We filled the tank for demonstration purposes, you should fill your tank one half to two thirds full if you have long arms. Planting and arranging is best done in a tank with less water, not more.

Should you be adding hard-scape such as driftwood, rocks or shelving to create layers, it should be done before your final half to two thirds fill. It is much easier to work with a half filled tank than to frustrate yourself sloshing water all over the place. Driftwood should have been soaked for two weeks or so prior to starting this part of your aquarium project. Dry driftwood floats, hence the name. If you did not soak your driftwood, you can weigh it down with something. Plants go in next, pay attention to two things; your eye travels naturally from bottom left to top right. Place your plants according to the natural way the eye travels. Second, you eye will target the upper, right corner of dead center, that is where you want your focal point to be. Specimen plants or optical focus should be in that area. Attach your hardware before getting to the fussy part of small plant placement. When you are satisfied, top off the tank and start your hardware up.

Sit where you would normally to watch the tank. Watch it during daylight and with all the lights off except the tank light. This will give you a good idea of what your final project will look like. Something not quite right? Now is the time to fix it by moving things around, before your livestock moves to into the tank.

Now you wait. You can re-read New Tank Acclimation, Phase I, research livestock or join an online community of experienced aquarists. We suggest all three. Our experience is that aquarists are vey friendly and helpful. No question is too lame, they are happy to help.

We reviewed the AqAdvisor, Aquarium Advisor on our old site a month or so ago. It is a great stocking tool, designed to help you make choices about which fish and shrimp will work well in your tank. It will give you warnings if you are planning to stock fish that are not compatible or too many fish for your tank size and filtration. Give it a try, questions and feedback are welcomed by the developer. They help him as much as they help you.

That is about it for this article. Next article we will be covering tank logging. As always, your comments and feedback on our experiences are welcome.

In this series:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tanked Cam

We are taking the lazy post way today as it is Sunday and we are moving fry and cleaning the nursery tank. We are preparing the nursery tank for two for two American glass shrimp we think are berried. American glass shrimp are not the easiest shrimp to breed in captivity, nor are they the most difficult.

When we cleaned out the 10g:view of all the algae mess, we found a blue tinged American glass we had not seen since it {she?} and four of her tank mates had been tasked with feasting in the algae crops. Upon observing it, we noticed it had gotten bigger and fatter? We looked and looked, finally hauling out "shrimp-view" but it was difficult to tell.

While futzing around with moving fry, we decided the alpha-fry must go into the parent's planted tank, the 10g:view, to learn to be a good citizen of fish-village. So off to school alpha-fry went. We have been holding our breath all morning. So far, so good, nobody cares about the lone small-fry in the tank. We think the Neon Tetra shoal provided caviar yesterday for a snack today anyway. We did a fast count of the fry we and came up with 11. That is a pretty consistent count over the last two weeks or so. The 10g:redux /shrimparium/plant grow-out is home now to some as yet, unidentified fry. We are going out on a limb and returning to our original guess; White Cloud Mountain minnows. Moving along to today's featured site . . .


We are generating a Listorious list for aqua-culture; while working on that list this morning we ran across a cool idea for anyone who spends more time away from their aquariums than they would like. It is not a new idea to the Internet; in fact the idea has been around for ten years or so. TheBlowfish who promotes the idea, updated "remote control over the net" to include an iPhone app, very clever. He can feed his fish, turn on or off, the O2 bubbler, lights and a few more things.

You an control some of the features of his TankedCam either via iPhone or on your PC @ www.Tankedcam.com.
But wait, it gets better . . . control your own tank via www.WaveJam.com!

Yeah, if there is any cash Santa Claus did not have time to drop off, we may just investigate further. However; do not wait on us, get your own tank cam.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas from Fish Village

My Christmas present to myself was restoring a view through the 10g:view. We have had algae, lots and lots of algae. Miserable amounts of three types
at last count. The worst by far was the hair-algae. I tried an Oto a month ago but the poor little guy did not survive transportation shock despite my
best transportation and acclimation scheme.
{read more . . . }

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tank Cycling & Acclimation Phase I

This is a follow-up to "Holiday Aquarium Purchasing" published on December 9, 2009 @ giypsy.wordpress.com; this is the second article in the series "New Aquarium".

For those of you who wish to know what tank cycling method was used on our aquariums, this [link] will take you to the forum post by rdd1952, a forum moderator at Tropical Fish Forums. Here are our experiences with cycling two 10g and one 5g tank.

Our setup for the 10:view tank included an Aqua Clear 20 filter, a Stealth 100 heater and 2.5" of Fluorite Black substrate. We also bought a Master Water Test kit; our kit is the API Master Kit. It was a crucial part of the cycling process as we needed to know the baseline ph of our tap water as well as some chemical levels present in the water on a daily basis. In addition to the master test kit, we purchased GH - general water hardness test solution and kH - carbonate hardness test solution. For a technical explanation of the nitrogen cycle, see this [link], and for an explanation of GH & kH, see this [link].

The plants included Japanese Marimo algae balls, an Anubis Petite nana, a Barclaya longifolia, a Java Fern, Lace and a small Banana Plant. We did not put any fish or shrimp into this tank, as we were doing a fish-less cycle. Our tap water ph is 7.6 therefore; our base ph was 7.6.
The initial dose of ammonia was 3ml which gave us a base read after an hour of 5ppm NH(3) - ammonia. Tank temperature was kept between 80 & 84f. A slightly higher temperature encourages bacteria growth.

Our calculation for a 10 gallon tank was a daily dose of 2ml to achieve 4ppm ammonia level on a daily basis. On day six of this regimen we recorded our first NO(2) - nitrIte level at 0.5ppm and our first NO(3) - nitrAte level at 7ppm. What that told us was that there were beneficial bacteria, in high enough numbers to begin processing the NH(3) we were dosing every morning. Our NH(3) - ammonia level that morning was still at 2ppm, we did not dose that morning.

The next three weeks were long and boring. We measured chem levels, we dosed, we did water changes, we started reading forums, doing plant research, bought more plants and tore up the living room to make room for a "fish-rack" for our "fish-village". We also shot quite a few photos of every tank re-scape we thought was the final aqua-scaping plan.

At the end of three weeks our ammonia NH(3) levels were reading 0ppm, our nitrIte NO(2) and our nitrAte NO(3) levels were also 0ppm. We decided to do a final test; dose 1ml ammonia to bring our reading to 2ppm and then test after 12 hours and 24 hours. Our tests indicated the 2ppm amount of ammonia could be processed by the beneficial bacteria in less than 24 hours; we were ready to acclimate the fish in the tank. We used the very cautious and conservative drip method to acclimate our fish over a three hour period with no problems. Drip acclimation will be covered in a future post.

Our 5 gallon and second 10 gallon cycle was speeded up somewhat, at least enough to move established plants, fish and shrimp around between the three tanks. We achieved this by taking 1/2" of the Fluorlite substrate, including the mulm, the organic wastes and bacteria present in the substrate, out of the cycled 10g:view tank for each of the two other tanks. We upgraded the 10g;view filter and used the extra filter with it's current bacteria in the filter media, to filter each new tank. In other words, we took the filter, washed the media in old tank water to prevent clogging, and placed it on the next tank to be cycled. In doing this, we did not have to wait to add fish or shrimp. We did have to test the water every morning but did not have to dose with ammonia - NH(3) as the livestock provided the ammonia in the form of their waste. This method is not the same as a "fish cycle".

The term "tank cycling" is somewhat misleading in that your tank may take anywhere from three to six weeks to achieve the beneficial bacteria level we have just described. Your tank is not really finished cycling yet. Once you begin adding fish, shrimp, more plants, you change the dynamic in the tank. Upon completing your tank cycling, you add your fish a few at a time over a few weeks; your tank water is crystal clear, everyone is happy. Then you notice a filmy, oily, scummy substance on the surface. Maybe your water turned cloudy or milky overnight. Or you see an algae farm growing on your glass, plants, decorations and substrate. Perhaps there is "snot" growing on the air-stone you use for CO2, or your bubble infuser. "Snot" is a descriptive term some of us hobbyists use to describe what can look like a white or creamy-yellowish growth on the above mentioned equipment. So we are repackaging the "new tank syndrome" into two phases we will call "tank acclimation phase I & II.

Tank Acclimation, Phase I

The scummy, oily surface cover was explained in "Aqueon vs Aqua Clear Filter". So let us break it down, problem by problem; keeping in mind the "one problem at a time" rule.
  • Cloudy Water overnight or within a few hours: the most likely cause is "bacterial bloom". Something caused a rapid increase in bacterial growth enough to make your water cloudy. Nothing really serious about this phenomena. It happens after a large water change, especially if you have vacuumed your substrate pretty well or you have added too many fish at once. It should clear on it's own within 24 hours.
  • The Algae Farm: has been covered at the old blog site; we recommend either Jame's Planted Tank or Algae ID as useful resources to both identify the types of algae you have and find remedies. Currently, our 10g: view planted tank has outstanding crops of three types of algae we will show embarrassing photos of in another post. Three things should be investigated first; 1) is your filter clean and free of obstructions? Yep, we will probably always nag you about keeping your filter clean. 2) If you are using high light; for example a shop light or the very expensive T5 fixture, is your timer set to no more than 10 hours per day? 3) If you are dosing fertilizers to get fast plant growth, are you under-dosing? If you are, you might want to make adjustments. Dusko Bojicof Algae ID has some great information to help you correct the problem. You may need to add CO(2) - carbon dioxide to your water or you may need an air-stone or slightly larger filter to increase water circulation.
  • The "Snot" issue. We did not come up with the term, but it is descriptive. It is a creamy yellowish or white growth on your air-stone or infuser. It is a growth related to the injection of CO(2). Just clean the equipment when you notice it.
Tank Acclimation Phase I can last a few months during which time you may look back to the boring days of tank cycling with fond nostalgia. However, this too shall pass. Remember these things:

  • Keep the filter and media cleaned and well maintained, free of obstructions, changing your media sachets successively, not all at the same time. This method insures your beneficial bacteria colonies will regenerate without your tank crashing.
  • Add livestock at spaced intervals, one or two fish per week, in the case of shoaling fish such as neon tetras and white cloud mountain minnows, add the shoal (5 fish group) and nothing else for a couple of weeks.
  • Do not miss your regular water changes, if your circumstances prevent it on the regular day, do it the next day. Clean water = healthy tank, flora and fauna.

We hope you have found this information helpful. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Editor's Update:
The National Science Foundation published an interesting article regarding the behavior of bacteria.  While not specifically targeting the behavior of aquarium beneficial bacteria, the article gives some interesting insights into the general behavior; interesting and useful to aquarists.
[link to: Tank Acclimation Follow Up: Secrets of Bacteria

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Planted Tank Inspiration

giypsy ~ December 16, 2009

During the process of re-learning good fish-keeping habits, I ran across a tank that brought back memories of the first serious tank I kept as an adolescent. Jason Baliban's Second Place winner in the 2008 AGA [Aquatic-Gardeners.org] contest: "Meander". Jason's tank had all the elements that inspired me; large enough to accommodate a full scene, rimless and endless view, simple balanced design. I was enchanted and inspired.

The 10g tank-with-a-view is a direct result of that inspiration.

The tank is placed in front of a narrow window, allowing me the same endless view through the tank. The 10g:view tank's planting scheme has not come together yet. The end result will be different than "Meander". However; I just had to know if I could achieve something similar on a scale one tenth of the size Jason used.

Time and patience will tell.

  • Radican Marble Queen, mother plant & daughter plant
  • Cryptocoryne Lutea
  • Banana Plant
  • Anubis Petit nana
  • Betta Splendens, female
  • 3 Neon Tetra, fry in a nursery tank
  • 3 White Cloud Mountain minnows
  • 12 Malaysian Trumpet snails

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Content Home for Giypsy: aqua gillie

Yes we are moving our content, in order to facilitate

easier content aggregation.
Upon logging in to the blog we have worked on for two months, we found uberVu had visited us and reposted our content. We appreciate anyone who thinks our content is useful therefore;
we visited uberVu website and found a nifty little feedback widget we liked very much. You can see it at the bottom of our posts. Sadly, we could not use it on the host we have been working with.
So, we moved the publishing to blogger by Google.

We will continue to publish our content, in modified format, at our former address: giypsy.wordpress.com.

Additionally, we have created a Posterus.com account to try to get a handle on our twitter update feed by brute force. In the past we have logged into our twitter account only to find we have annoyed our followers with multiple re-posts of the same thing, today was no exception.
We do not like it when those we follow practice that sort of shot-gun tweet-spam, we choose to try not to annoy our followers either.
Trying is the operative term.

You will notice our layout is different, we have post pages but we have not decided if we will continue the individual tank logs we were fooling around with at our previous address. Our site and product reviews will continue, the link lists will be reconstructed here shortly, as will the articles we started writing on new tanks for those new to the fish-keeping and aquatic plant hobby.

It is our sincere desire to write well and provide useful content. We acknowledge the changes may not appear all that earthshaking but on the back end, for the purpose of management and prompt responses to user comments, believe us it makes a world of difference.
Thank you for continuing to read.