Friday, October 12, 2007

Substrate In

My good friend and his aquascaper rocked up last night with 10 bags of substrate (each bag weighs 9.075kg - I forget the name and details.. will post it later) and some rocks and hair grass for aquascaping.

Each bag of substrate cost me $32. Thats $320 blown on just soil for the tank. Good grief. The wifey is not going to be pleased. But if its any consolation, the retail price for that soil is normally around $59.95. I think I'm in the wrong line of business.

Anyway its supposed to be pretty good substrate. Good nutrients for the plants... should last around 5 years or more. Looks good with high contrast coloured fish and suits catfish with sensitive bristles... ok ok.. help me out here.. I'm trying to think up as many positives as I can to justify the expense. :P

and the hair grass and rocks cost me $20. Not as bad. I'd hate to think how much I woulda spent going to the shops and buying at retail.

Well,.. Tank 3 already had water and the neons and the peppermints in it, which was a bit inconvenient since for this type of soil substrate, we really needed to start with a completely empty tank. Otherwise, dumping the soil in a pre-filled tank would create a huge mess of fine soil floating everywhere and a lot of surface froth. Not ideal.

So, we went about transferring the neons and peppermints too Tank 2 and emptying 250L of water from the tank 3. I tried saving as much of that water in buckets as I could and we piped the rest into the garden. That tree in the yard is going to grow hell big.

Once the water was drained, our aquascaper carefully emptied 8 bags of the substrate into the tank.

He'd brought 10 bags for us because he originally thought I had a 6Ft tank. Unfortunately I gave that to my brother earlier last year because he needed some emergency storage for his Koi... yeah Koi... in an aquarium as opposed to a pond... lol... well it was better than letting my bro keep his koi in his bath-tub which he had actually been doing until I gave him that tank. What a nut! His kids must have had fun in the tub tho... hehe.. well these days he has an above ground pond in his yard and I really can't be bothered carting that 6 footer back here. It takes 3-4 adults just to move the darn thing.

Well anyway, my aquascaper started moulding the soil into two hills with a dip in the centre. Then we used a plate and partially filled the water until it just covered the top of the soil. The plate was used to diffuse the water so it didn't splatter the soil everywhere. We let that sit for about 2 hours so all the air had time to bubble out of the soil. After 2 hours, he used a little spatula and slid it into the soil, which seemed to release quite a bit of the trapped air pockets, and the soil compacted down nicely.

Then he placed the rocks and hair grass into the tank. The theme is going to be a japanese rock garden. Yeah I know... it kinda strayed away from my original plan of a driftwood type tank. But his specialty was japanese rock garden and he happened to have the rock, so we went with that. I figure we can always re-do the landscape later if we decide we wanted a change.

Once the hair grass and rocks were positioned nicely, we used the plate again and completely filled the tank with water.

Now its just a matter of waiting for the substrate to settle and clear up. I'll also need to monitor the PH level, because the rocks will most likely make the water a little acidic.

By tomorrow, I hope the water will have cleared up and the water condition is at a state where I can re-introduce the neon tetras back in. They are my guinea pigs after all, and as long as they survive, I'll be confident that I can slowly add the other fish to the tank.

Here are some previews of the Tank 3 right after we filled it back with water:

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Filter fixed and more $$$ sunk!

Yep, picked up my filter from Vebas last Monday and it was all fixed up. No more leaks. Hooray! ... and then of course, like who can go to an aquarium store like Vebas and not spend any $$$?? ... Well obviously I can't!

... Anyway to cut a short story shorter:

I went. I saw. I bought. A raw pine aquarium hood that is,... oh and also a Jager 200W heater.

Cost of the hood: $135 - not too bad, the shopkeeper was nice enough to discount it a little (the original price was $148.50). Could have probably been cheaper if I made it myself.. but hey... I'm not a very handy man and I don't think a hood made by me could be very symmetrical or even functional for that matter... (I'd be better off putting a flat plank of wood on top of the aquarium and calling that a hood!)

The Jager 200W heater set me back $55. Inevitably the heater is essential if I want to keep tropical fish.

The cost of this project is starting to add up. Might need to live on bread and water soon if I continue to spend like this.. heh.

Anyway, brought the hood home that night and showed the wifey... Obviously she wasn't impressed with the fact I spent more $$$... but she agreed we needed to get a hood. And seeing it was a raw pine hood, I figured it'll look nicer if we gave it a stain and finish to water proof it, and then install some lighting directly onto it.

So on Thursday night, off to Bunnings we went! ... Now all those who know me well... well... they know its kinda dangerous for me to go to Bunnings... especially with a wallet full of cash or credit cards full of credit! I've been known to buy things no man really needs but every man knows will be useful sometime within his lifespan!

Luckily, I managed to maintain some self-control... albeit mainly because my wife was with me. We went in. We bought a tin of stainer (jarrah satin) with finish all in one, and 2 paint brushes and 2 sandpapers. All up about $25.

That night, we sanded the hood down lightly to remove any dirt and scratches. Then wiped it clean and started our first coat of staining.

Both my wife and I painted it at the same time, starting from different ends.

Now,.. I have to say, my wife is Pro Hart when it comes to painting. She had just recently come home from work a few days ago with a canvass painting she had done of a vase and flowers that were really flash. (God knows why an accounting firm makes their staff paint... must help with the imagination for making up numbers??!?) I don't think she's painted in a decade. But she certainly has some skill. I told her I reckon her painting was on par with Grade 1,.. maybe Grade 2 student level... but I don't think she saw the humour in it. and I was seriously giving her a compliment! Not many adults can paint past kindergarden level... myself included! Well.. anyway.. painting looked to come to her naturally and the side of the hood she painted was quite well done and smooth and even.

But by stark contrast... the parts of the hood I painted, probably ranked down there with the greatest natural disasters of all time. I was like a painter trying to paint during an earth quake. All blotchy, streaky and not even following the grain of the wood correctly when I painted. Wifey kept telling me to slow down and use a light touch over small sections each time... but heck... I can stand on a beach with a fishing rod all day with no Aussie Salmon biting... but patience at paintng is not my forte. I constantly picked up too much paint on the brush and tried to spread it over too large an area too quickly. Someone remind me to buy a pre-stained hood next time. A professional job this is NOT. Well atleast my wife managed to salvage some of my errors and pretty up the piece a little.

We left it to dry that night and the following evening I applied most of the second coat by myself before my wife arrived home to again salvage what damage I had done. We needed to re-sand it a little bit in areas that were seriously bad, but apart from that we managed to complete the staining and finishing by Saturday.

On Sunday, I brought the hood over to a friend who runs a lighting company and he helped me fit and install 3 rows of fluro tubing lights directly onto the hood. And by help... I mean, he did EVERYTHING. I just stood there and looked pretty. I must say he did a fantastic job. I can pull computer systems apart with my eyes closed right down to their individual components and reassemble them again in a few minutes, but don't ask me how to hook up a light bulb. I'm hopeless at that sort of thing.

Well, now that the hood was finished and fitted with 2 x Growth tubes and 1 x Daylight tube (actual light requirements still to be formally calculated) and the tank is filled with water and up and running with a functional filtration system.... I decided it was time to put some guinea pigs in the tank. Expendable fish that would be used to test if the water conditions were ok and to begin the biological cycle that will help the tank sustain aqualife.

So... off to a fish store we went. This time we went to Pisces Aquariums in Willetton. A cosy little store run by an old guy that keeps a cat inside the store. Yes thats right. A cat! In a fish store! The first thing my wife exclaimed to the shopkeeper was: "Your cat must have a feast every day!!" ... to which his response was: "Yeah, the first critters to go are usually the Siamese Fighters.." probably because they swim in such small containers that are so easily tipped over. That cat certainly didn't look anorexic!

Anyway, after browsing around, I started making a list of the types of fish I plan to keep in Tank 3 (apart from the wonderful peppermints):
- atleast 5 x dwarf loaches because they are so active and swim in shoals which really looks quite cool
- 2 x panda coreys .. these guys just look so cute
- around 5 x cardinal tetras - their colours always jazz up a tank
- atleast 1 eel of some sort.. maybe the spiney nose... just have to check how peacful they are first.

Anyway its just a list. I can't really put anything serious into the tank until the substrate is in and the plants are set with the water conditioned correctly.

For now, to get the bio-organisms fired up in the filter, I decided to purchase 10 neon tetras for $18. ($1.80 per fish)... Not too bad for expendable fish.. and if they all survive it will be a bonus because grouped with the cardinals I intend to get, they will look quite good.

Well the neon tetras were added to the tank on Sunday and seemed to adapt to the conditions quite well.. So late on Monday I decided to add 5 of the peppermints to tank 3 as well. I figured Tank 2 was a little over-crowded with peppers and the sooner I could give them more space the better. I'll just have to keep a close eye on the water quality and make sure nothing gets critical.

So far so good. The peppers seem to be feeding normally on zuchini and the neons look quite healthy and active swimming as a school.

Tank 3 does look a little barren though without any substrate and only a few potted plants that I salvaged from tank 1 (which did not have adequate lighting for plants).

Now I just have to wait for my aquascaper to visit and recommend the appropriate substrate, plants, drift woods, etc. I can't wait to get all that stuff done so I can finally add the fish proper!

Monday, September 24, 2007

More Peppermints!

I received a call from a friend while I was at the Wildcat's game yesterday (the wildcats thrashed the slingers btw!). He was visiting an aquarium store in Southern River and they were selling small peppermints for $20 each!!! $20!! Apparently they were discounted 50% to make way for new obviously I got greedy and told my pal to buy me 5 more.

Now, I just need to work out where to put them! I'd been trying to prep Tank 3 since Saturday, but have run into one major hiccup. Namely the filter. A 4yr old Eheim 2026 Filter that I set up on Saturday and seemed to start off ok. But about 2 hours later, I noticed dripping at the bottom cabinet of the tank and found that the base of the cabinet was flooded with water... due to a dripping leak from somewhere at the top of the filter. Oh Sh#t!!! *I thought to myself*... and quickly turned off the power at the wall and unplugged the extension board. Let this be a lesson to all you fishy ppl.... always keep your power plugs in a position that will keep it dry in the event of a major flood!! and never ever touch the filter or water until you have turned the power off and disconnected it from the mains.

Anyway, my brother-in-law tried rubbing some Eheim gel (the tube came with the filter when I bought it) onto the main O-ring seal between the head and the filter box thinking that was where the leak was coming from... and we plugged it back in and tried again. But almost immediately the leak started dripping again quite rapidly. So with not much of a clue as to how these filters work internally, I disconnected the whole setup, packed it into the car and took off for Vebas first thing on Sunday morning.

The guys at the shop were very helpful and friendly and almost immediately came to the conclusion that a worn-out o-ring at the filter head was causing the problem. It appeared to be a problem with the o-ring at the hose-end of the connection. So we changed those. Total cost $6.60 for 2 o-rings... which seemed reasonable.. actually quite cheap considering the amount of time they spent looking at it... and the dread that I thought something worse was wrong with the filter.

Anyway, after the o-ring was changed, we plugged it back in and tested the filter on one of their planted aquariums. We left it running for a good 15-20 mins. Allaleuyah! No leaks!! So,.. thanking the guys profusely, I drove home in a jolly good mood and even decided to do a u-turn to maccas to pickup some surprise breakfast for my beautiful wife who was probably still in bed sound asleep.

Well... I got home and plugged the filter in,.. this time placing it in a rectangular bucket to catch any leaks ...and it started off well ...didn't look like any water was dripping.

So I ate breakfast with my wife who was actually already awake in the kitchen and preparing breakfast for me... hehe so much for my idea of a surprise by waking her up with the smell of maccas wafting into the bedroom.. lol..

Anyway, we had breakfast.. and after about an hour, I went back to check on the tank.. and holy cr#p!!! it was still leaking.. although this time the leak was significantly slower and dripping under the plastic bits of the filter.. which is why I didn't notice it at the start.

So back to Vebas it went. This time I left it there because they were quite busy with customers by that time of day... Sunday's are always busy at that place.

..Well now.., I just got the call from them as I was typing away on this blog during my lunch and it looks like its been fixed. The problem appears to have been the double tap that connects to the hose... some plastic bits were found broken on the inside. Go figure... I must have damaged it at some stage from rough handling or a hard bump when we were moving house (more likely cause).. hard to tell. Anyway, they swapped it with a new one and it appears to not be leaking anymore. Cost of the new double-tap was $55. So all up it'll have cost me $61.60 to fix the leak. Still reasonable I guess... as long as it ain't going to flood my house I'll be happy.

Will head down to pick it up later today. Yippee. The 10 peppermints will finally get to move into their new home sometime soonish.

I still need to get the substrate for the new tank and all the plants and driftwood for the final setup. Well actually, a 'friend of a friend' has offerred his services to aquascape for me in return for entering the tank in a competition. So that will be interesting... I still need to discuss the finer details with him first but it'll be good to see what he can do. He already setup one of my friend's tanks and it looks awesome!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Finally Eating!!

Yay, finally caught one of the peppermints feeding on a thin slice of raw squash (un-blanched).

Here are some piccies I took tonight of Tanks 1 & 2:

This is Tank 1:

This is a couple of close ups of my Kenyi:

This is my regular bristlenose. He is about 4 years old:

Here is the regular bristlenose feeding on a slice of squash:

This is the entire Tank 1 community:

And here are a couple of photos of the peppermints in Tank 2. They are still very shy, so its been hard to get some decent shots of them before they sprint into hiding:

The water in the Peppermint tank is starting to go yellowish/brown quite significantly now because of the tannin being released by the driftwood - which I have been told is generally good for the tank. In any case, I'll be making the weekly quarter water change tomorrow morning just to lighten it up a bit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Following Morning

Checked the Peppermint tank this morning. The end of the zuchini piece looks like it 'may' have been chewed on. Hard to tell. I'll leave it in for one more night just to see. Maybe I've put too thick a piece in. Will slice a thinner piece of squash up tomorrow.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 1 - technically day 5

Yay, finally found some time to generate a blog.

FYI, I've been thinking of keeping a diary of my little Peppermint Bristlenose Project and finally decided the best way to do it is through a blog. Simple. Easy. No fuss to manage.

Anyway, some background info:

I've always wanted to buy peppermint bristlenose catfish (Ancistrus hoplogenys) and attempt to breed them. But until now, I've always balked at the expense of these little critters. At $65AUD a pop for a 2cm peppermint bn, its just nuts.

Well anyway, I went a little nuts on Sunday 20th September 2007 (5 days ago) when I went to Vebas in O'Connor (Perth, Western Australia for all you people not living in the centre of the universe). I managed to convince my wife to come along and whilst browsing around at all the fish, I spotted the peppermint bn and started drooling like 1yr old Aidan (a close friend's first born). Typically my fiscally shrewd wife shot me down when she saw how much they cost ($65AUD per fish, ouchies!! cough! splutter!), though she did concur that they were darn nice lookin fish! I begged her to let me burn some $$$ and buy a few, but she held her ground and said we should keep an eye out for cheaper ones to make sure we aren't paying through the nose!

At that, I managed to convince her on the way home to stop by the Perth Aquarium Display Centre in Cannington just to see if they had any there at a cheaper price. Reluctanctly she agreed and we entered the store and browsed the displays. As I went rapidly searching through each of the displays, I started to get disheartened when I didn't see any. Finally I got to the end of all their displays and not one did I see. So discouraging that was. But then my wife came to my rescue. I love you wifey!!! She had been taking her time browsing and found the peppermints that I had missed in my overzealous search... then again.. I should have stopped to ask the shopkeeper first... heh. Ah... who asks for directions anyway!

Well they were priced at $120 for 3 ($40AUD each)... which was definitely cheaper than Vebas, but they only had 3 in that tank. Since I appeared so smitten by them, my wife agreed to let me burn the $$$ and we bought them all. Woohoo!! I finally get to own peppermints!!!

Now, at home, I have 3 tanks:
Tank 1 and 2 are 24x12x18 (inches) - 80L capacity
Tank 3 is 48x18x18 (inches) - 247L capacity

Tank 1 contained a single female Electric Blue (Maingano).

Tank 2 contained one Kenyi (Maylandia lombardoi) and 3 offspring (from an inadvertant crossbreeding with the female maingano up top), and also includes 1 regular bristlenose.

Tank 3 sits empty and barren. The oscars that used to live there passed away several years ago sadly.

My interest in this hobby revived again with the peppermints, I eagerly booted the current occupants of Tank 2 up to Tank 1 (a little crowding I know.. but its only temporary once I get Tank 3 setup soonish), and that afternoon, after buying the peppermints, I prepped the newly vacated Tank 2 for my latest favourites. The prepping involved gravel vacuuming the vacant aquarium and then changing about 70% of the water using fresh tap water with some general water conditioner (removes chlorine and harmful metals etc). Theres probably better and safer ways to prep a tank... but I just wanted to have a relatively clean tank... and never had a problem doing this with my existing fish... though I knew I was taking a bit of risk with the new fish... thinking back, maybe I really should have taken the time to minimise the shock.

After 20mins of adjusting to the water temp in a bag floating around, I slowly started to mix the aquarium water into the bag and eventually when the bag was filled, I turned it diagonally downwards and the peppemints swam out on their own.

They went a light brown colour initially, probably unhappy about the sudden change in water condition and temperature. But after about an hour, they changed back to their normal colour and started to settle in. Phew... I was relieved that they seem to get their color back so quick... I would have been spanked by my wife if one of them carked it straight away... well .. we ain't out of the woods yet... it'll be several days/weeks before we know if they adjust ok to the change in environment.

As usual, I tried to resist feeding them after just introducing them to the tank. Generally I find most of the fish I've had, never seem to start feeding until they've settled in around 24hrs later. Especially the smaller guys.

Well that was that. Finally I had some pepperints... you'd think I was satisfied. My wife thought I'd be... but little did she know, that she released a monster spender :P

That Tuesday 18 September 2007, I went back to Vebas, with the intention of just buying a cheap piece of driftwood to help the little critters digest their vegetarian diet.... but not satisfied at just having the 3,.. I had wanted to have around 5 all up so that I had a better chance of having mixed sexes for breeding purposes down the track. Anyway, I decided, if I could convince the shopkeeper to sell the ones he had to me at the same price as the ones I bought at the other store, that I'd buy 2 more. Well, the shopkeeper told me he couldn't sell me those ones I'd seen, but he had another batch in another display that I had missed, which were identical in size to the ones we already had and they were going for $45 each. Not too bad, I thought, and decided to buy them and add them to my little peppermint pod.

But wait! Theres more!... well I kinda spotted a two piece shipwreck for $32 while I was in the store and thought it'd fit nicely as hidey holes for my peppies... so ...well.. I sunk more $$$ into this new little peppermint craze! ...

Lets just say my wife was probably gonna spank me when I get home... and not in the kinky kinda way! :P But actually, in the end she was kinda cool about it... relief!!

So that night, into the tank the new additions went, along with the cheap driftwood... which turned out to look quite good.

Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm to have a cool looking shipwreck in that tank, i didn't stop to think whether I could fit it through the gap into the tank. You see, Tank 1 & 2 sit on top of each other on a metal stand. Tank 1 at the top. Tank 2 with the peppies at the bottom... with very little gap between to put stuff into it. Silly me... anyway, I ended up having to extract 90% of the water out.. leaving the peppers in there with shallow water... pulling out the aquarium and inserting the shipwreck, then moving the tank back into the stand and returning the extracted water... so much effort...due to thoughtless impulse buys... I need to slow down and think before I pull tat wallet out :P and here I reckon my wife would chuckle to herself and agree with me... one of those rare moments! :P

Each night, I'd been putting either one piece of sera catfish chips into the tank or a couple of small protein pellets into the tank to see if the peppies would eat. But so far they hadn't appeared to have eaten anything (that I could see anyway... there could have been algae in the tank that they were feeding on... hard to tell).

On Wednesday night I put some lettuce into the tank (blanched for like 10 mins - well literally cooked lol)... didn't really know whether I was preparing it right. Well obviously the peppies didn't like it because they didn't seem to have eaten it.

Anyway, we are now at today. This morning, seeing as they didn't appear to have eaten the lettuce, which I had had trouble sinking down the night before, I decided I'd go back to Vebas once again... oh the dread! my wife should be,.. IS worried!! I decided to buy some veggie clips that I had read about on the net. They're about $4 or so. Pretty good simple little gadget. its just a plastic clip for holding your veggies and has a suction pad to stick to the glass. Simply use it to hold the vegies near the bottom of the tank for the catfish. I figured this would encourage them to 'take the bait'. Then I dropped by Woolworths on the way home and picked up some Zuchini and Squash. I figure they must be hungry by now if they haven't eaten anything all week... and all over the web i seem to read about ppl feeding their peppies zuchini and them loving it.

Well I sliced a piece of the zuchini and blanched it for about 60seconds tonight... just to soften it up... and inserted it into the bottom of the tank with the veggie clip and switched off the aquarium light.

Now, here I am, typing this blog on my laptop, whilst lying beside the peppie aquarium waiting patiently. Waiting. Waiting to see if they'll take a bite on the Zuchini. Comon please eat it! Please let me see you eat it!! Waaah.. 5 peppies and not a single one of them with the courage to come out of hiding to eat it in front of me.

Ah well.. I better stop typing here. Time to spend some quality time with my wife before she asks for a divorce because I'm so obsessed with these peppies.

Will try to post some piccies of the tank and peppies soonish.