Light shy?

I'm following the recommendations, leaving the tank lights switched off so that the fishes can settle in to their new home with a minimum of stress. So it was a bit of a surprise when all the cardinal tetras and hengel's rasboras quickly chose to move into the only corner of the tank that is getting a bit of sunlight through a gap in the curtains.

Closer observation solves the mystery. All the advice says they won't eat in the first 24 hours and it is no use feeding them, but I added three bags of live daphnia to the tank while the fishes were still floating in their delivery bags, just in case someone felt peckish after their journey. The good thing about live water fleas is that they don't rot if nobody eats them, they just keep on swimming around happily and maybe even making baby waterfleas. Daphnia are attracted by light, and it seems even shy little fishes will dare to venture into the light if the lightest part of the tank is filled with yummy daphnia. I hope this is a sign that they haven't been overly traumatised by their journey.

Now all I have to do is resist the temptation to turn the lights on in the tank so that I can see them better. Give them time to explore their new home in peace. Now that they've filled up on daphnia all the cardinals have found each other and are keeping together in quite a tight little group between two rocks. The rasboras have divided up into two groups, one group is swimming laps at the top of the tank and the other is swimming up and down from top to bottom along the far left corner of the tank. The bristlenose vanished into the undergrowth where it will find plenty of algae to chomp.

They're here!

Nasty panic here when I passed by the tank and noticed it had been loosing heat overnight. The fish are on their way, and will need a nice cosy place to recover from their journey. Why would this happen today? For a few horrible minutes it seemed the new heater was broken, but when I turned up the dial it started to get warmer, so either I moved the dial a tad yesterday when doing a massive pre-fish delivery water change, or it has already become unreliable.

Is this how the universe teaches new fish keepers to invest in back up equipment? Doesn't the universe know that some of us are already brassic? Is the universe going to pay the credit card bill next month? Am I so stupid that I ignore this warning only to watch the innocent fishes suffocate, perish from hypothermia or slow cook to death due to heater regulation failure? Too horrible to contemplate, surplus filter and heater ordered.

The temperature had climbed to 23.7 by the time the overnight courier rang the doorbell. Three large bags are floating in the tank, and in half an hour I shall start adding small quantities of water from my tank to the water in the bags. I've tried to count the teeny fishes, it's hard because they refuse to keep still and I don't want to frighten them with any bright lights. The green spotted ancistrus is looking more grey than green, but the multitude of fleshy bristles sprouting from it's head reassure me that the shop did follow my instructions and pick out a male. The rasboras are looking quite pale and stressed but the cardinal tetras are surprisingly colourful and lively considering they've spent the night packed into very little water, in a large plastic bag inside a box. Oooh the excititude!

First fishes ordered, hatched fishes vanishing

The tank has been ready since last Friday. I gave it a few extra days just to be sure, kept topping up the ammonia levels and testing the water, getting readings of zero ammonia and nitrite after 10 hours.

Didn't want to delay any further, with the Easter holidays coming up, and have just ordered 12 cardinal tetras, 12 hengel's rasboras and one green spotted bristlenose catfish. To arrive on Wednesday morning. The tetras and rasboras are tiny fishes that are happiest swimming around the mid levels of the tank, in groups of their own kind, so it seemed kindest to get a dozen of each. Only one catfish though, because they defend a territory, and I don't want any catfish wars. Only peaceful zen fishes allowed. I was going to order some tiny endler's livebearers for the top level of the water, but decided to wait and see if any of the newly hatched killifish survive to adulthood, because they're surface swimmers too.

Forced myself to stay away from the newly hatched fish babies in their little ice cream tray until late evening. Sad to report that not one of the slightly larger hatchlings was visible. They seem to have gone from 7 in assorted sizes to only 2 really titchy ones. They're so small that I don't think they'll be able to eat baby brine shrimp, or even decapsulated brine shrimp eggs. So small my eyes can't see them until they move. I'm clinging to the hope that the larger ones have got clever and gone to hide in the moss, but it's a pretty forlorn hope. Poor little mites.

Doing everything wrong

Wish I'd read this bit of advice yesterday. "Changing water, checking on the trays several times a day, overfeeding or moving the trays about unnecessarily can result in massive dieoffs." Hope it's not already too late.

Since spotting that first wriggle in the peat yesterday evening I have been back to check on the hatching tray 4 times, and each time have been unable to resist the temptation to stick a podgy finger into the water and stir it up a bit so that I can see which tiny specks are able to propel themselves against the current.

They really are minute. Much smaller than most of the peat fragments, and more or less transparent too, which makes them even more difficult to spot. There's a marked difference in size even amongst the fry that have hatched within hours of each other. Dunno if that means some of them came from smaller eggs, or if I couldn't spot the smallest ones until I'd seen a few of the slightly bigger ones and recognised the movements.

Poor doomed little fishlettes, born with only a tiny supply of nutrients and forced to swim off all their stored food supply by the evil fat finger of death. I vow not to poke or prod them again for at least 24 hours, and only to drop a couple of drops of baby brine shrimp into their tray later on this evening. Benign neglect, how hard can it be?

A wriggle in the peat

Remember those fish eggs I bought from Thailand a while back? The ones that arrived in a little pot of moist peat, and that I thought would probably be stone dead on arrival after flying in a cargo hold and being held up at UK customs for several days when they were supposed to be stored between 20 and 25 degrees celcius?

They aten't dead! At least one of them had hatched a short while ago. I followed all the instructions on this page and waited four hours before going back to inspect the little dish of water the peat has been mixed into. Was telling myself that I'd give it until tomorrow, when something moved in the peat. Too tiny to see properly, but a definite wriggle that wasn't there earlier.

Everything I've read says they are very susceptible to fungus so the odds are against the survival of any that do manage to hatch. I've given them a little wad of water moss to hide in, a fraction of a drop of fry food, and set the brine shrimp hatchery up in the aquarium for the very first time. The newly hatched fishes are supposed to be fed on baby brine shrimp, but since I wasn't really expecting the fish eggs to hatch I didn't bother setting up the brine shrimp hatchery beforehand. It is now bubbling away in a corner of the aquarium, making a delightful mad scientists laboratory background noise.

Since there's a high probability that any baby fish that do hatch won't survive to adulthood I have taken out my celebrations in advance and feasted on the first asparagus spears of the year with a couple of boiled eggs (chicken not fish).

Loads of nothing happening

No plants have died, the ammonia processing bacteria are in fine fettle, and the nitrite bacteria seem to be slowly starting to make a bit of a change to the nitrite levels in the water, I'm pretty sure the nitrite test is a lighter shade of purple compared to last week, but it has to turn blue before the tank is safe for fish and shrimp.

S'all a lot slower than I'd hoped, but that is probably due to keeping the tank at 24 degrees centigrade instead of the recommended 29-30 for optimal bacteria cultivation. I started out with the thermostat set on 26 degrees, the maximum comfort level for some of the plants, but lowering it a couple of degrees seems to have reduced the stress on the few plants that managed to survive.

The little plastic aquarium (ordered on the off chance that some of the killifish eggs in peat that are on their way from Thailand hatch) has arrived, and turns out to be the exact same tank that youngest niece has kept her goldfish in for many years. She won them at a fair when she was a little girl, she's at uni now but both fish are still going strong and have learnt how to beg for food whenever anyone comes close to their tank.

Oh dear, the sky is blue. I suppose that means I ought to go out and do something in the garden. I dunno what the weather is coming to, time was you could expect a reliable supply of spring rain to provide excuses for not getting things done out there. Pottering about on Saturday and Sunday I've pretty much worked my way through all the little jobs that allowed me to put off making a start building the new chicken fencing. I've got the wood, I've got the roll of chicken wire. I've even got the wire cutters and stapler. All that needs doing now is the mitre saw fetching down from upstairs, the work mate dragged down the garden and set up and some actual measuring, cutting and assembling. Gotta face it, I don't like working with pressure treated timber batons, nasty spiteful things, looking so innocent while slyly biding their time, never missing a chance to slide a horrid splinter under the tender integument of a lily white hand. It's no job for a lady, and hardly my fault if my language deteriorates accordingly when the electric screwdriver looses it's charge, the little drill for predrilling the holes has vanished, and the staple thumper refuses to cooperate! My sister had a Canadian lodger once, he built her a lovely high fence and topped it with a splendid trellis and when she tried to pay him for his time he refused, claiming that "it does a man good to work with wood". Where are all the Canadian lodgers when you need them?

growing fish from seed

I won the auction, 50 fish eggs in peat and a bottle of brine shrimp are on their way from Thailand, for a total cost of just under 7 quid. Then there's the extra cost of a little plastic tank to start them off in.

The killifish website said you can hatch the eggs in take away containers - if you've got an air pump to keep the water oxygenated. Not having any such thing it seemed wiser to shell out another 24 quid for one of these and attempt to justify it to myself by pretending that it'll come in handy later on as a quarantine tank for medicating sick fish, or a secluded breeding chamber for romantic fishie trysts.

Meanwhile I'm not doing a very good job of looking after the aquatic plants. They're such wimps! You can't hardly touch them without the leaves bruising, and then they start to rot. I've gone right off pretty feathery leaved things, they might look good swaying in the current, but once they start to die and the leaves drop they are a menace. Chasing floating fragments of decomposing plant up and down the tank with the little net on a stick churns up the water, and then the other not-yet-rooted-into-the-substrate plants to go floating off, and it's devilish hard to catch and replant them without bruising their leaves, which then rot and have to be chased around the tank with the little net on a stick...

You're supposed to go over it every day and snip off any leaves that are starting to look a bit past their prime. I've snipped off so much that the tank is starting to look bare. Poor frail plants, massacred by brutal handling and pH spikes. Turns out Swansea valley water has very low carbonate hardness and this somehow means that the water pH isn't properly buffered and easily goes scooting off up and down the scale in response to slight changes that wouldn't make much difference to other kinds of water. I've been trying to read up on it, but find all the details about KH and GH and TH slippery and annoying.

Anyhow, you can't have an underwater garden without any plants, so I cheered myself up by ordering a load more. I'm getting them in pots this time, so that they can be hidden in the gravel with a minimum of handling. A couple of little ferns, a miniature sword plant, some baby tears, more water wisteria, more moss, some plants that float on top of the water, and a red lotus. They won't arrive until this time next week, so I have plenty of time to learn how to keep the water parameters steady before then. Got to have loads of leafy shelter to welcome the fishes when they arrive.

more fascinating updates on the underwater bacteria situation

Just done today's water tests and have to share the thrilling news. Not a trace left of all that ammonia I dosed the tank with yesterday, which means the ammonia chomping bacteria are in prime fettle. The nitrite levels are still poisonously high, but is there maybe just a hint that the purple colour in the test tube isn't quite so deep today as it was yesterday? No doubt at all that the plants have been scoffing some of the nitrates, because the liquid in the nitrate test tube is orange with just a hint of salmon, nothing like the bright pink it was last week.

Testing the water is less of a chore than I expected. The water turns such pretty colours. The low pH reagent drops can turn the water yellow (very acid) orange (quite acid) green (around neutral) and blue (on the alkaline side of neutral). For water with high pH there is a range that goes from yellow through orange to brown and then purple. The ammonia test turns yellow if there is no ammonia, lime green for trace amounts and then deeper and darker shades of green for as far as it can measure (up to 8 parts per million). I'm a fan of the nitrite test, it starts out duck egg blue, turns lavender when nitrite is detected, then violet and finally 3 increasingly deep and dark shades of purple, very pretty for a noxious water warning system. The nitrate starts yellow if the water is pure, turns marigold, then orange, then apricot, then a surprisingly hot shade of pink, which is as dark as I've ever seen it, though the colour chart that comes with the kit shows scarlet and then deep red for water containing 80 and 160 ppm.

Knowing what kind of water you have got takes a lot of the guesswork out of keeping fish happy and healthy. Most of the more ordinary tropical fish can adapt to poor conditions, but they tend to get stressed, which makes them open to infection, and their lives can be shortened by several years just by having the water a degree or two warmer than really suits them. Not that most of them seem to live very long anyway, there's even a kind of fishes that are referred to as 'annuals', like plants, because they are designed to live for a year, breed, lay eggs in the mud and die as the drought sets in and dries out their pools. Then when the rains return the eggs hatch and the life cycle starts again.

I read somewhere that one of those annual fishes was considered the most beautiful freshwater tropical fish, had a look for them on youtube and have to agree that the males are quite splendid. but since they only live for a year you very rarely see any for sale, and they are expensive if you do find them. People who do breed them will sell you a bag of damp peat with some eggs in it, and you can have a go at hatching your own, which is what the person who made that youtube video had done. It all seems a bit like growing plants from seed, I'm sorely tempted.