From beginner to now
I got into fish keeping in about January 2007. I started with a jewel setup (jewel 80) which I got cheap as the light was not working and I was told that I would have to buy a new top to get light into my new aquarium. Little did they know a sharp knife, trip to the local elect rician’s suppliers and ‘voila,’ one fixed light at the great cost of 8 euro and a dribble of super-glue.
I did the usual thing that I think most people do with an aquarium; coloured stones; plastic plants; stick on plastic background, and once it was up and running overfeeding and overstocking. Once I realised that with the internet there was too much information available if you looked everywhere I decided to just keep to two forums and get the information I needed there, reading and researching what I didn’t know. The overstocking problem was easily overcome.... I’d buy another tank the same size. ‘Yer right’ said the wife once it was home! But I needed to divide those fish especially as the Corys then started breeding. I will admit the front room didn’t look right with 2 tanks in so it was back to the drawing board. My local fish shop had opened 3 months after I started keeping fish so I went to see what they had.
There was the choice of two that would have fitted the bill; and again the wife spoke so I had to have the smaller of the two. At just under 200 litres all my fish would be able to go in together.
There was two problems now facing me and my fish. What to put the tank on and what to put inside it. I needed to make a compact stand incorporating a shelf and cupboard (I knew I was going to be getting an external filter). The tank measured 100x40x40 cm and knowing the weight of water, it was going to have to be a well made item of furniture. The next day a visit to the builder’s merchants got the wood and my fish stand was made in about 3 days (and met approval).
The next job was the decor especially the background.
I had been looking at different stick on backgrounds but none were as I liked. The idea of just painting the outside back black or blue didn’t appeal either, so back onto the net for ideas. Looking at many homemade and shop brought backgrounds I decided that making one would be my way to go.
That first background was concrete coated polystyrene with the last layer being tiling adhesive for a lighter colour then the whole thing being coated in 3 coats of epoxy resin. Once in the tank I realised there a problem as at every water change a white substance appeared in the tank. I later found out this was silicone which for some reason didn’t go off! Having no fish in the tank made these constant water changes a pleasant if not boring job. Morning and evening in the middle of winter (Dec 2007) water changes became part of my life. After 8 days the water stayed clear so I turned themain filter on and I started to test the water parameters. Up until now I had got the external filter plumbed in but wasn’t using it. I had a few plants in the tank and decided to put some flaked fish food in to break down and let the media build up in the filter. As there was no change in the water parameters in the first week I decided to do a massive water change and at the same time put the tank into the front room. The kitchen table now was not able to be used for Xmas as it contained 2 60 cm (full) tanks and a breeding tank with 35 Corys in and as it was the week before Xmas now I had to rush things so hoping all would be well I left the tank half full and used the water from the 2 other tanks to fill the 200ltr tank, and at the same time use a spare internal filter which had been running in one of the smaller tanks to ensure there would be a little help in the bacteria wars!
To my great relief nothing went wrong. In fact with in a week I was amazed to see my Corys had spawned again, and then didn’t stop for the next few weeks!
Xmas eve arrived and at 9pm disaster struck. The wife said is that background moving. It was! The silicone (€36 worth) hadn’t stuck to the polystyrene and the only thing that kept the carpet dry was the spray bar. Once I turned the filter off and unplumbed the spray bar the whole background floated, so it was relegated to the garage for the holiday period.
Family wasn’t arriving for Xmas dinner this year so I was able to look at my problems over a can of 4 of beer in the quiet of the garage (sobbing I think). St. Stephen’s day was going to be busy as I had a lot of cooking to do! (Menu available on request) Nursing a hangover and looking at a dripping background isn’t the thing to do especially when using a blow torch to remove more of the polystyrene. The next day was a black day as I misplaced the background on the workbench and when closing the door I heard a crash! Yep it happened. One broken background, I had tried to remove loads of the polystyrene but by doing so had created a very brittle background and......well the air turned blue!
It was off to the D.I.Y store again for more polystyrene but this time I had had a thought (hum beer again) I was going to get some chicken wire and make a reinforced double coated background, ensuring all the wire was coated. So back to the drawing board, but only for the right size this time: This background was made from the heart and heat of that new Xmas pressie, a kitchen blowtorch.
I got the shape sorted in the polystyrene after about half hour, the chicken wire on in about 3hrs, lost loads of blood from sharp wire and even got the first coat of concrete on that day. Yep I had to spend the rest of the day with family!
The following few days saw me in the garage morning and evening brushing on coats of very runny concrete nursing a beer at the same time. Once the concrete was 3mm thick (about 8mm in places) I put on the first coat of epoxy then made a box to put around the whole background. Once the epoxy was dry I split 2 black sacks and put the box over the background. The black sacks were put on top then a fine layer of wet sand. Now for the expensive messy part, 2 cans of expanding foam were sprayed onto the whole thing then left to go off. In the garage this took the best part of 3 days so there was nothing to do except look at a bare fish tank. I cut the top of the expanding foam straight and turned the whole thing over, and after a little persuasion got the background out, only to put it back in again but without the black sacks and sand. Now the fun started again. Me and my blowtorch! What a smell but never the less I thought I knew what I was doing!!
Removing all the polystyrene without melting the epoxy to the expanding foam was tricky but worth it. Recoating the inside with more concrete I knew would be the way to make the whole thing stay in place without floating. This part only took 2 days as there was no profile that needed to be kept. At this time I suppose I should say even though being between jobs, (yer ok I’m an unemployed ‘bmu’) talking to the right people gets you a few freebies (epoxy and boat builders!!). So it was back to mixing and applying epoxy. Now for a tip.... don’t throw away those epoxy brushes, put them on the garage floor and beat 10 bales of.... out of them with a hammer, they come out like new! 3 coats of epoxy with fibreglass mixed in to it were pasted onto the back/inside of the background.
Removing the background from the expanding foam was no problem and more epoxy was added to the front including the bottom. I didn’t want any water to be able get into the background my water ph is high enough already. To the last coat of epoxy I added some organic colourings to highlight different areas of the background i.e. under the shelves where the bog wood was going to go to make ‘cave’ areas. The final job was the worst, drilling holes for the intake to the filter and ‘flow’ holes to ensure water movement behind the background where the heater, pipe work and spare pump would go (to aid heated water transfer).
Leaving everything to dry for a few weeks gave me time to source aquarium silicone, and not at the silly prices the pet shops have it. €3.50 a tube, €36 for 6 including vat and delivery HAS got to be better, and go fishing. You got it; the wife was pleased to know the kitchen table was out of bounds again and the fish transferred to the old two tanks that had been empty and waiting. The water filled the tanks first then half the fish in each, just for a couple of weeks this time.
Washing, removing silicone then drying a 100cm tank is a hell of a job but it looked like new. Putting in the new background I found I had 3mm clearance at the bracing length of glass so I didn’t even silicone it to the back of the tank.
Water changes again the first two were 100%, the next two 50%, then one at 25% and then the filter turned back on (once again I was using that old faithful internal filter). Once up to the right temperature I did a final water change and added the fish and half the old water from the old tanks and watched all my fish find their own way thru their new territories.
What would I do different next time?
Can I say not listen to the wife?
Get the larger tank!
Bigger external filter!
Find some of these ugly fish instead of tetras!
Well I hope it’s been a good read. I’ve learnt plenty now my tank is up and running. I have a nice community tank with my own background, something that’s a real talking point in my front room.
And I must be doing something right as the Corys are at it again. This lot I’ll leave for the loach’s and black tetras. Maybe next time I’ll keep those eggs, and start a new project just for Corys!