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One of my other hobbies : Aquaria

Pete Brown - 30 December 2009

I have way too many hobbies. If I retired today, I’d still be really busy :) Among my hobbies is taking care of the three aquariums in the house. I have my 55 gallon tropical tank upstairs in the transition from the hall to the living room, a 55 gallon goldfish tank in my basement home office, and then my wife has a 20 gallon guppy tank in a corner of the dining room. As the 20 gallon is really hers (I clean and maintain it, she stocks, picked decorations etc.), I’ll leave that out.

Goldfish Tank

The media and big box stores often show us pics of goldfish in tiny bowls. What isn’t pointed out is that 1. goldfish are incredibly dirty 2. goldfish can sometimes suffer through their own waste, but aren’t healthy and 3. goldfish, when taken care of, typically live decades.

For those reasons, you need to allocate 20 to 30 gallons for the first goldfish, then 10-20 gallons for each additional goldfish. Within the first year, the three I have went from a 10 gallon tank to a 20 gallon tank and then to the 55 gallon tank. They really do grow that quickly.

That 55 gallon tank gets very polluted in just one week, even though I have a quality filter sized for a 110 gallon tank. Each week I do an almost 100% water change (I get it down to about 20% left then start filling at one end while I still siphon from the other. I never change all the filter media at once as that would kill the bacteria that break down the fish waste. I don’t over feed. In fact, I don’t feed them every day, I usually skip one day per week.

The 55 gallon tank is as small a tank as you should have for three growing goldfish. Fancy goldfish can usually go with a slightly smaller tank as they don’t grow quite as large. For an interesting FAQ on goldfish, check here.

Of course, they're all hiding in this photo

Not to harp, or appear judgmental, but if you can’t allocate that kind of space, you really should consider fish that stay small and aren’t so dirty. Danios are great, as are many other smaller tropical fish.

Using a test kit, if I check the water in the goldfish tank after letting it sit for a bit more than a week, the Nitrate pollution approaches levels toxic to most other kinds of fish and the goldfish appear distressed (staying still on the bottom). Many tropical fish are much easier to keep and require only the addition of a heater (often included with starter kits)

For more information on the Nitrogen cycle and why you can’t just put fish in the tank the day you set it up, and why fish need regular water changes, read here.

Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle


What’s in/on my goldfish tank:

  • Three goldfish (two commons and one comet, each of which will grow up to 8-12” in length)
  • Several olive nerite snails and a bunch of malaysian trumpet snails
  • One small female bristlenose pleco *
  • Aquaclear 110 filter (smallest filter I’d recommend for a 55g goldfish tank)
  • Rena air pump with a bubble wand in the back (oxygen is very important in goldfish tanks, and a bubble wand will agitate the surface to promote air exchange)
  • Coralife light to promote plant growth, with third-party blue moonlight LEDs on at night
  • Driftwood, plants, rocks and substrate
  • Big ugly fake driftwood decoration that the pleco loves
  • Two clear glass lids. Goldfish can be jumpers.

The three goldfish I have in the 55 gallon tank were carnival feeder goldfish dumped into a creek after the carnival was over. My wife brought all three home in a cool-whip container in the fall of 2008. It’s now the end of 2009 and the largest of the three is a solid 6” long.

Photo from October 2009

The fish are fun and have a lot of personality.

* She (the bristlenose plec) shouldn’t really be in there as she is not a tropical fish, and won’t thrive if the temperature drops too low. My tank originally had two common plecos that the local Petco sold me when I knew less about the hobby. They neglected to point out that they produce a ton of waste and get to be up to two feet long. Earlier in 2009, I gave them to the pet store I do most of my business at now. As you can imagine, the store gets a ton of plecos in from people who didn’t realize how huge they get or how messy they are. Well, immediately upon their removal, my goldfish tank kept filling up with ugly brown diatoms (often mistakenly called algae). This is a common problem in goldfish tanks with large fish, as they produce a lot of waste with produces a lot of nitrates which diatoms love.

I couldn’t keep up with it, it was choking the water and coating every surface. Snails wouldn’t touch it. Finally, I broke down and got a type of pleco that stays small. Within two days, all the diatoms were gone. I know she won’t thrive in the lower temperatures of the goldfish tank, but she does well enough. I feed her regular algae tabs to ensure she gets enough to eat.

Female bristlenose pleco in goldfish tank

So, those three tiny (1” long) free goldfish my wife rescued from the creek (there were tons more) turned out to be pretty big and expensive after all ;)


Tropical Tank

The tropical tank is my show tank. It’s upstairs in the living room area, right at the top of the stairs that lead into the house, so it has to look decent. I decided to go with a heavily planted aquarium for this one.


The fish in there change from time to time, but are all tropical species. My favorites are the four Bolivian Rams (mikrogeophagus altispinosus), two of which paired up just after I got them in December 2009. You can see one of them peaking out from under the driftwood and plants just to the right of the three stones stacked on the left of the tank. Another fish in here I really enjoy is the Danio Dangila. I have three of those in here, and boy are they fast. I only wish this was a 125 gallon tank so those guys had even more room to move. The tank is understocked as I’m being really deliberate about what fish I get to go in here.

This tank is pretty easy to keep clean, as none of the fish are heavy polluters. I have the same AquaClear 110 that I use on the goldfish tank, and also have an aquaclear power head to provide current that the Danio Dangilas and the Ottos enjoy.

Unusual things in this tank are a bunch of baby apple snails (my female apple snail started laying eggs after the male got stuck on the (now covered with a sponge) filter inlet when I was interviewing at Microsoft in September), a bunch of red cherry shrimp, a couple nerite snails and a ton of Malaysian Trumpet Snails that I keep to keep the bottom aerated.

I do get algae in this tank, primarily the bushy stuff that grows on the driftwood and the green stuff on the glass. I leave the former and simply scrape the latter.

I used to have a number of danios in this tank, but they didn’t do well in the elevated temperature. Due to the light (even with an early afternoon switch-off period) and the location upstairs, this tank hits about 80 degrees in the summer, and around 77-78 in the winter. Great for rams, not so good for cooler-water fish.


Eventually, when I move my office, I plan to put in a larger tropical tank to act as one wall of my home office. I may do some more rams/cichlids or another tropical group. That’s probably a year or three away, though :)

posted by Pete Brown on Wednesday, December 30, 2009
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