Welcome to the Fishroom

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

I love to have fellow aquarium enthusiasts over to my house. They know I'm supposed to have a fish room. The come in to the living room and see a stand with a nicely planted 55 on top and two planted 15 gallon tanks on the bottom. They're thinking, "Is this it? Is this what I drove all the way out to Apache Junction for?" I check to see if they need something to drink (it is hot and dry here in the desert) and make some small talk. Then I ask them if they'd like to see the fish room.

From the Begining

When we bought this house I was specifically looking for a house with an area that I could make into my fish room. I had about 2 dozen tanks at the time. Well we found a house. It's a typical 70's ranch style with a living room kitchen and dining area on one side and a hall with bedrooms and bathrooms on the other side. Being an older house it's had several additions. One of them is a workshop added on to the back of the house. This was my perfect fish room.

The Journey

It's a strange journey to where I keep my fish. To get to it you go down the hall, through the master bedroom. At this point when I have guests trailing behind me I know they're wondering where on earth I'm taking them because next we go through the master bath. Then I open the door in that tiny room to reveal my large fish room.

I can't help but feel proud when the fish room door opens and my guests get their first look at a room filled with rows of planted aquariums. The room just about glows green. I have about 80 planted tanks operating at any one time. In addition to a nice little collection of aquarium plants, I also have a fairly nice collection of livebearers, and a number of other small aquarium fish.

Becoming an Obsessesed Fishkeeper

So when does an innocent hobby become a crazed obsession? Was it the first moment I saw a tank? Or did it happen gradually over the years as the collection grew?

People often ask me if my parents kept aquariums. They didn't. This was pretty much my own passion. My parents did expose me to nature. They got me my first fish tank and helped the first few years but the tanks soon moved into my room and were totally my project.

What's the draw for me? I just love to look at them. I love to look at the plants and their colors and veins in their leaves and the fish and their scales. And how they all act and what they do. I love to go out in nature and watch things too. I love the tiny world that you can just barely see. I love green growing things, and small animals.

When I was young my Grandma, Dad and I used to go out driving in the woods pretty much every other weekend, at least when the weather permitted. I just loved the outdoors. My favorite thing to do was to stop at just about any body of living water. I would walk up and down the shore of the Columbia River, or hang over an old wooden bridge and stare at the grasses and small mouth bass. I would peer over the edge of the boat at the green jungle below. I would stare at the tiny little mosses and ferns that would line the edge of a mountain creek or stream. I've just always loved to looking at living little systems and watching them interact and just be.

There's The Fish Too

If your still not thinking about having a fish room of your own, there are even more advantages of multiple tanks. Having several tanks is great if you're interested in breeding fish, or if you like a particular group of fish. For me that's livebearers. I keep mostly the wild type livebearers, about an even mix of Poeciliads and Goodeids.

These are great fish for me to work with. They like my tanks. They are from areas with similar water properties as the water that comes out of my tap. They breed well in planted tanks where the fry have multiple hiding places. I love these fish, but that doesn't mean they're the best fish for everyone or everyone's water.

All new fish should be researched before you bring them home. You should know what sort of water they like, what foods they eat, what sort of temperament they have and how big they will get. Read about the animals you're interested in before you purchase them. Make sure that you will be able to accommodate their needs before they're already in your tank.

I have a local Killie fish club that I really like, Arizona Rivulin Keepers, and have managed to get several Killies in my collection too. I also like to keep North American natives, a few rainbows, gobies, loaches and catfish, even a couple small cichlids and some of the more common fish found in pet stores.

I don't keep large fish, or fish that will only accept live foods, or fish that live only in soft water. No matter what kind of water you have, you should make sure you keep fish that will live happily together in the water you have or can provide.

Want Your Own Fishroom?

Maybe you'd like to have more tanks too but you don't have the room, or know how to build shelves. Or maybe you're worried about equipment costs. There are ways around some of these problems that could allow you to fit more tanks into your living space.

First of all consider places like back porches, sheds or garages, depending on how sturdy the buildings are and your climate, and of course if you're a good handyman or have one handy. Remember to consider things like electrical outlets and the weight of the tanks. The attic may not be the best place. Basements can work much better.

You may not have access to a whole room or small building but you might be surprised at how many tanks you can fit on one wall, or even in a closet. Consider putting some smaller tanks of 10 gallons or less with the small end out to save on space.

Shelves are as easy to build as stacking blocks if you use concrete blocks and 2x4's. Many hardware stores will even cut your boards for you for a small price, how much easier can it get? Be sure when you're measure to take in to account the space that the concrete blocks will take up. If you're a little more brave or already know how to use a hammer, drill and screw driver, then you should be able to make your own shelves out of 2x4's and 2x6's.

The cost of your equipment per tank can go down if some tanks share equipment. One large air pump can supply air to quite a few tanks. 4 foot lights can be used to cover several smaller tanks. Decide what equipment you'll need and then plan carefully.

Get a good water changing vacuum. They are so great for helping get those water changes done quickly and easily.

Planted Tanks in the Fishroom

Another great advantage to having multiple planted tanks is that it makes it so easy to set up even more planted tanks. You'll have a great advantage in planting new tanks because you can just pull how ever many plants you want out of your other tanks. That's what I do. Every time I can afford another tank or find a place to put one, I can just fill it with plants from the other tanks.

When planting tanks I like to use enough plants so about 2/3 of the volume of the aquarium is full of plants. With much less plants you'll probably need some form of filtration, or have to keep fewer fish.

Once those plants start to grow they'll need to be trimmed no matter what method you're using. If you aren't trimming you probably have some problems, because plants are either growing or dying. Now there are a few plants that do tend to grow more slowly and can give you less trimming, but many aquarium plants grow quite fast, and even the gentle seeming Cryptocorynes will eventually take over an aquarium.

You have to trim your plants otherwise they will block out the light of the other plants. This will cause problems. The plants want to be the ones on the top getting all the light, and you're trying to keep things balanced out enough so all the plants will get enough light. This should be your main and happiest battle waged in your aquarium. It means your growing plants successfully.

Stemmed plants are generally trimmed by pinching or cutting the stems, and replanting the cut portion. Old stems left in the gravel will usually also have new growth. Other plants like Valisneria and Sagittaria will grow new plants on runners that can be pinched off the parent plants, or left to grow. Some plants, like the Potamogetons can be started both from a stem trimming and will send out runners under the gravel. Crypts send out new plants on runners but ones that are shorter. They can also sometimes be trimmed and replanted, particularly if the stem gets very long. Swords will sometimes have baby plants after blossoming and sometimes will grow small plants next to the parent.

I think the easiest plants to grow are the mosses, Java, Christmas tree and Fontinalis. Of those the Fontinalis is the most difficult. The Java and Christmas tree mosses seem to grow like weeds in almost any conditions. If you're really having problems or can only try one plant try a moss.

For More Help

Local clubs are one of the best resources for any aquarist. Whether you need a plant or animal, advice or social group, I can't recommend your local aquarium clubs more. This will also be your best resource for plants and fish that will thrive in your water conditions.

Having a fish room has been part of a lifelong dream. I love the extra abilities it gives me as a hobbyist. If you really love your aquarium and would like to try some more, then I'd really encourage you to try to find the space for your own fish room, a little project for the New Year.

Questions or Comments?

If you have questions or Comments about this column, join the Natural Aquariums Forum and post them here.

Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips

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