Freshwater tank basics

Establishing a new Freshwater Aquarium is really pretty easy…once you know the procedures and guidelines:

Your very first step should be to decide what creatures you want to keep. Before you buy your tank.

If you don’t know, please visit our section on Fish Groups at this time. It will tell you what groups of fish are available that can be best kept together in a given aquarium and what size/type of tank is recommended.

Design notwithstanding, aquariums with a general rectangular shape are the most practical, and the best maxim is to buy the largest tank your space and budget will permit. This is especially true if you plan to keep any fish that grows greater than 3 inches.

Your aquarium is a closed environment and toxic byproducts of fish waste will accumulate, especially ammonia. Be sure you purchase a filter that is large enough for your tank and that it has adequate biological filtration. This means your filter has a place where good bacteria can live to get rid of ammonia from your fish’s waste. Your aquarium professional should be able to help you with this.

Once you’ve decided on your aquarium “goal”, and purchased the correct tank, stand, filters, accessories and decor from your knowledgeable aquarium store, proceed as follows;

Set the tank, filters, etc. up according to manufacturer and your store’s recommendation. You should place all of your decor (gravel, rocks, plants, etc) in the tank at this time.

Let you tank run for at least 2 to 3 days before adding fish. During this time the water will age and pH (relative acidity) of your tank will stabilize (not necessarily where you want it to be, however).

After this time bring about 1/2 cup of water to your professional aquarium store to test the pH prior to adding your chosen fish. If you plan to keep fish that like a high pH (e.g. African cichlids, or mollies) your aquarium store professional can recommend buffers to raise the pH level. If, however, your pH is too high and you want to keep tetras or south american cichlids, you may need to lower is with a pH lowering buffer or partial water change with purified (reverse osmosis or deionized) water. Again, your aquarium professional can help.

Assuming you water is ready you should initially stock no more than 20% of the ultimate capacity of your tank. If you are keeping small (1 to 2 inch) fish, and your tank is a “rectangle” shape, your capacity will be about one inch of fish per gallon (e.g. ten 1 inch or five 2 inch fish in a 10 gallon tank). The reason you stock so lightly in the beginning is that it will take time (about 6 weeks) for sufficient good bacteria to grow in your filter system, and until they do ammonia that is given off by your fish can accumulate and sicken or kill the fish. Stocking and feeding lightly helps keep the waste levels diluted. If you stock lightly, feed lightly (once a day what will be completely eaten within one minute), and add fish slowly, you can get through this “cycling” period without losing fish.

Subsequent additions of fish should be no more often than every 2 weeks, and only if no ammonia (or it’s byproduct nitrite) are present. Also, when adding fish you should never more than double the load. In other words, if you first added 2 one inch fish, you should add no more than 2 one inch fish the second time, 4 the third time, and so on.

Once your tank has had fish for about 2 months, begin the regular task of performing about a 1/3 water change every month. Use a “gravel vacuum” device for this to remove fish waste solids. You aquarium store professional can help with choosing this.

Keep you stocking levels “lean” and don’t overfeed! Fish always act hungry but can easily thrive on 1 or 2 small feedings per day. More food means dirtier tanks and sick fish. Take it easy, treat you aquarium right, and enjoy!