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    Freshwater Aquarium Basics

    Freshwater Aquarium Basics

    Welcome to the aquarium hobby! Keeping a tropical freshwater aquarium is a great hobby for young and old, and can be a stepping stone for keeping more complex aquaria. The following is a very basic overview of how to set-up and maintain a tropical freshwater aquarium.

    Freshwater Aquarium Basics

    Welcome to the aquarium hobby! Keeping a tropical freshwater aquarium is a great hobby for young and old, and can be a stepping stone for keeping more complex aquaria. The following is a very basic overview of how to set-up and maintain a tropical freshwater aquarium.


    The first step before any well planned aquarium is research. Take the time to think about what kinds of fish you would like to keep. By pre-planning you are better assured that the fish you choose will be appropriate tank mates.

    Aquarium Size

    Almost any size aquarium is suitable for freshwater fish. However, the smaller the aquarium, the smaller and fewer the fish you can put in it. Many beginners start with a 10 gallon aquarium, but as with saltwater aquariums, bigger is better. A larger freshwater ecosystem can better handle the daily fluctuations in water quality than a small ecosystem, absorbing more toxins and reducing stress on the fish. Before buying your aquarium, take into account the adult size of the fish you are going to purchase and this general rule: one inch of fish body (not including fins) per one gallon of water in the aquarium.

    Setting Up Your Aquarium

    You will need good filtration, be it a hang on power filter, a canister filter, or a wet-dry system (for larger or heavily stocked tanks). Be sure there will be adequate bio-filtration to break down fish wastes. Check with one of our knowledgeable staff members, as these types vary with the size of aquarium and fish desired.

    Substrate or gravel can be any non-reactive stone type. We offer several size gradients and colors to choose from. If you wish to keep live plants or a special type of fish (like stingrays) more specific substrates will be needed. Check with staff if you are not sure which to choose.

    A heater is required, set your temperature between 76 and 80 degrees for most fish.

    Lighting is another requirement, but how much you will need varies. If you are only keeping fish, (no live plants) a simple fluorescent bulb fixture will suffice. Your fish would do just fine without the light but for your viewing pleasure a timed day of no more than 10 hours will do. If you find that you are having an algae problem in the aquarium, reduce the hours the lighting is on and test your water quality.

    Be sure to have test kits on hand to monitor your water chemistry. Test the water in your new aquarium at least twice a week for pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. General Hardness and Carbonate Hardness are also good tests to have available. The pH level in your aquarium should be as close to neutral 7.0, but this may vary, depending on the fish you choose to keep.

    Cycling Your Aquarium & Adding Fish

    Before adding your favorite fish, your tank must "cycle" or become biologically stable. Cycling is the process where a nitrifying bacteria colonizes in your filter and gravel. This bacteria's job is to detoxify the wastes created by your fish. You will notice that within the first few weeks by testing your water, ammonia and nitrite levels will rise in the tank and slowly decrease. Also during this time you may see the water in the aquarium start to cloud or look grey. Do not worry, this is natural, the cloudiness will pass quickly on its own, or you can add a bacteria supplement such as Stress Zyme or Cycle to help lower ammonia levels and aid in the cycle.

    Fish can be added about three days after setting up your aquarium. This time allows the temperature and pH to stabilize. To get started, you need to begin with starter fish. The cycling process is very stressful for most fish so we recommend hearty starters. These are usually danios, or white cloud minnows, small, non-aggressive fish that come in several colors. Barbs can also be used, as they are extremely hearty, but they can be aggressive, and are not always a wise choice for community tanks.

    While your aquarium is cycling do not change any water, clean out your filter media or add more fish. Your tank will be completely cycled when ammonia and nitrite both test at zero and nitrate tests low. This can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks. The key here is to be patient.

    New Fish & Maintenance

    When your aquarium is cycled, add new fish gradually. Adding too many fish at once can disrupt your cycle and increase the possibility of fish illness. Be sure to follow recommended acclimating procedures to ensure a happy addition.

    Once cycled, basic aquarium maintenance includes feeding, cleaning, and water changes. When your purchase your new fish, find out what food is best and how often they should be fed. Freshwater foods are available in dried and frozen varieties and each type of fish has different needs. Cleaning includes scraping aquarium walls to keep them free of algae and siphoning the gravel on a regular basis. Water changes are crucial to keeping your tank healthy. Never change more than 25% of the aquarium water at one time. Changing too much can do much more harm than good. Normal water changes should be done approximately every 14 to 18 days. This keeps nitrate levels low and ensures healthy fish.

    With this basic information you are well on your way to keeping a tropical freshwater aquarium. If at any time you have any questions or need help selecting fish or supplies for your aquarium, feel free to contact the fish room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1213 or marinebio@thatpetplace.com. You can also find informative articles on That Fish Blog at blogs.thatpetplace.com or post your questions on our Facebook page. We at That Fish Place - That Pet Place want to keep you and your fish happy for years to come!

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