Help me feed by acquarium obsession!
September 29, 2006 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Acquarium hobbyist looking for suggestions on her new-found obsession. I've had a freshwater tank for years and just now really got into having it heavily planted and aquascaped. Now I'm really wanting to expand and possibly develop a cichlid or saltwater tank. There's just a few problems, (and lots of questions)

I'm a graduate student at the moment, and this poses a few financial problems. So I'd love any info on ways to keep the hobby affordable.

Speaking of cost, how much do your acquariums cost? Is it feasible to think of doing a small scale salt tank on a budget? Or is this something that will have to wait til I get my PhD? It doesn't have to be huge or happen all at once. I'd love to just slowly start out and add a bit at a time.

Any links to sites and articles that youve found helpful would be great as well. I'm familiar with a few but I find forums are often to disjointed for somebody who really wants to learn the basics rather than somebody who is looking to have a specific question answered. Especially with regards to saltwater tanks, what sites or sources would you suggest I check out before I take the plunge? I'd like to try the DIY approach but I'm kind of inexperieced and dont even know what half the stuff is yet.

Also: moving tanks. I currently have 29 gal and 12 gal freshwater tanks. They were easy enough to move this last time, but if I get a larger tank (I'm thinking 55 or 75gallon) would this make moving feasible? I've moved about once a year or two years for affordable housing in a college town and I know I'll be wanting to move within the year.

Also, any suggestions on ways to make the freshwater planted tank more enjoyable? I really do love my tank, but Now that its fairly well stocked, I find myself looking to do more. Is there anything people can suggest without me adding more tanks to the collection? My friends already think I'm mad :)

And finally, DIY lighting for tanks. How does one who is inexperienced with wiring and general handy-ness go about building their own hood or lighting setup? I think that my tank would definitely do better with a setup that would allow me to use more than one t5 light.

So yeah. I realize this is a ton of related questions. Any suggestions, help or reality checks will be well appreicated.
posted by gilsonal to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For saltwater:
for Cichlids:

Saltwater can be done on the cheap, but the more interesting life, the more expensive it is. A really basic tank you'd use an undergravel filter with a power head. Not my thing but it can be done. You can also do varying levels if you diy your equipment. There are so many DIY articles for saltwater, that as long as you can follow instructions, innate handiness isn't necessary.

Moving big tanks is a pain in the ass, but doable. When my friend moved out of town and gave me his 65 gallon reef tank, it took us probably 12 hours to get everything moved. It could have been done faster I think, but we made some mistakes planning it.

If you like planted tanks, I'd suggest a nano-reef, probably 10 gallons. They're pretty high on the difficulty level, but if you've done planted tanks, then you should pick up on the concepts pretty quickly. Them moving won't be the pita a big tank would be.

As for making your current tank more enjoyable, the only solution I've found when a tank is "finished" (stocked, aquascaped, etc) is to start a new tank. Yup, that's why I have at least one fish tank in every room of my house.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:51 AM on September 29, 2006

from one grad student salt water aquarium hobbiest to another: we can't afford it right now. livetock is big big $$$ and if you are just starting out you can expect to kill a lot of them.

do you inject CO2 into your freshwater tank? cheap and easy to DIY with big results.

brackish tanks are a much cheaper option. archerer fish and mangroves are cool.
posted by paradroid at 8:01 AM on September 29, 2006

I knew my friend Max would be interested in responding, so I forwarded this question's link to him, and now I'm posting on his behalf...

I have never kept saltwater fish, so I can't help you
there. But I do have 3 large freshwater planted
tanks, so I can help you there.

On moving: Moving a large (55+ gallons) tank is hard,
but you can make it easier if you plan ahead.

1. a good supply of clean 5-gallon buckets (like 10 of
them) WITH LIDS. Those square cat-litter buckets are
GREAT for this because they have tight-fitting lids
and handles.
2. a LARGE car or van that can hold the empty tank and
many buckets of water and fish
3. lots of patience
4. several HELPERS --- people you can trust to help
you empty out your tank who won't scratch it, kill
your fish, or be reckless.

On the buckets you'll use for fish, drill a bunch of
holes in the lids - you DON'T WANT TO seal them in
there or their oxygen supply will go to zero in a
matter of under an hour and they'll all be dead.

Turn up the heat in your house until it's sweltering,
like 80 degrees. You want to avoid letting the
buckets of fish cool while you move the tank.

Siphon water into a group of buckets until about half
the water is out of your tank.

Now, siphon MORE into other buckets and start moving
fish into them. You want to do this part LAST so the
fish are in the buckets for the minimum time.
Having multiple buckets helps because if you have some
aggressive species you can separate them from the
timid fish. The more buckets the better. You'll have
more water, more oxygen capacity, and less stress on
the fish, so don't be afraid to use 5, 6, 10 whatever
buckets to carry fish. If you've got some 10-12" huge
fish, you'll need lots of buckets but that's okay.

SNAP ON THE LIDS (with the holes in them)

Now the fish are in buckets, so the clock is
running.... they should be fine in there for at least
4 hours, but don't waste time. Remember, they live in
those awful plastic bags on trucks for longer than
that when they are trucked to the fish stores.

Siphon out all the rest of the water from the tank and
just dump it. You want the tank EMPTY. Don't try to
cheat and move it with 10 gallons of water in it.
It's heavy, stresses the tank, and is asking for

Remove all rocks and as much of the gravel as you can
scoop out and store in 5 gallon buckets. With a small
10-20 gallon tank, you can move it with the gravel in
it. But the gravel is VERY heavy in a large tank, so
don't try to move it with the tank. My 150-gallon
tank has over 250 lbs of gravel in it!

DON'T WASH OUT THE GRAVEL. Put it in buckets with
some tank water. Don't let it dry out.

The gravel will be cleaner anyway, because you'll be
scooping it back out of buckets of water. You can
dump THAT water out and not reuse it, as it will
likely be pretty dirty when you remove the gravel from
the pails.

If you have live plants, move them into buckets of
tank water as well.

STEP 7: Warm up the car - heater on, get it HOT in

Put the tank, gravel, rocks, and buckets of fish and
water in the car and make a beeline for your new
place. Set up the tank, put the gravel and water all
back in, and put the fish back in.

Slowly fill the tank up with clean water enough to
cover your heaters and get your filters to work. Use
a dechlorinater like StressCoat on the new water you
refill the tank with. Get your filters and heaters
running right away.

The fish will be back in their same tank with their
same water and hopefully won't be too stressed by all

For lighting on-the-cheap for a freshwater planted
tank, I've had very good luck with plain old el-cheapo
48" shoplight flourescent fixtures. These are the
type that hold 2 conventional flourescent 48" tubes
(not compacts or hi-brightness types, which are
These fixtures go for $10 all the time. I lay one
down right on top of the glass tank top and they work
great. Don't use these over open water! You want a
full flat glass top for your tank. All-Glass and
Oceanic (now the same company) always have optional
flat-glass tops available for their tanks and I
recommend them over the cheap plastic types. These
fixtures don't make much heat, so you can spray paint
them black or gray or brown so they are less ugly.

I use 40-watt Triton tubes in them, which cost more
(about $25 each for a 48" tube), but they last a LONG
time, make a good spectrum for plants, and don't lose
their brightness over time the way normal flourescents

Using this method, I have 120 watts of light (the
original 48" tube plus 2 in the shoplight) over a
75-gallon 4 foot tank, and the plants do well in
I could ditch the original tube head and just use 2
shoplights to get 160 watts if I really wanted to, but
I don't need it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:44 AM on September 29, 2006 [4 favorites]

I kept a brackish tank in high school pretty well with a 20 gallon tank, limited allowance, and pre-Internet information. The fish were interesting and fun to watch.

By comparison, my rich friend with a 50 gallon salt water tank killed fish after fish after fish, no matter how much technology he threw at the problem.
posted by nev at 9:22 AM on September 29, 2006

Salt water is finicky. We went for tough freshwater fish, and kept getting a bigger tank. Had a very large Oscar, and several territorial areas. Tuff included pleicos andj angelfish.
posted by dragonsi55 at 10:06 AM on September 29, 2006

In my experience, larger tanks are easier to keep up once the water chemistry is established, because the increased volume gives you more time to fix a problem before it kills your fish.

That being said, keep in mind that a 55 or 75 gallon tank weighs a lot. As a renter, this will limit your housing choices significantly- unless you have access to the blueprints (unlikely) and are certain that the structure can support the load, I wouldn't recommend anything bigger than a 29 gallon above the ground floor. (My own 55 gallon is in the basement.) Also, some landlords may be fine with a 12 or 29 gallon but less so with a 55 or 75 gallon- if it springs a leak while you are away, that's a lot of water to deal with.
posted by ambrosia at 1:01 PM on September 29, 2006

I kept 25 and 55 gallon freshwater tanks for a few years, but sold them when I moved coast to coast. My process for moving them locally was pretty simple... give away the fish to people with established tanks, and then start over at the new place :) It was just never worth the mad hassle to me to try and actually transport fish AND WATER, in the midst of packing, moving, and unpacking all my other belongings. I thought about it, and it was like the fish tank was going to have to be the absolute top priority item to move if I was going to bring the fish too. Just not worth it.
posted by autojack at 4:05 PM on September 29, 2006

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