Don't Buy Anything! (Yet)
It's important to sketch out on paper what you're trying to achieve before you run down to the pet store and just start buying things. Don't be a shopaholic. Take some time, see what's available, and start putting it together in your head. Then write it down. Include the gravel, plants, decorations, and backdrop when you do so. Keep in mind that fish require shelters as well as swimming space.
The worst thing you can do to your fish is to constantly change the environment. It makes them skittish and unsure. They won't be happy with you and you won't be happy with them. Therefore, visualize your aquarium with rocks, caves, and areas of refuge. After you've taken the time to think it through and commit it to paper, you'll be surprised how easy it will be to arrange and create, and how much happier you'll be with it when it's done.
After you set up your aquarium, you'll start advancing your knowledge of the hobby. You'll begin to accumulate various things that will make keeping your aquarium easier. Some of the following items will give you a head start in making your aquarium a healthier environment and easier to keep.
Water Quality Test Kits
We've already discussed the absolute necessity of water quality test kits. When you buy any prefab kit or purchase your aquarium materials, don't forget this important accessory. Test kits that measure pH, hardness, and nitrogen compounds are a must. Remember, the latter should test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.
Vacuuming is an important part of aquarium maintenance. However, if you have small fish, such as fry or neon tetras, make sure you don't accidentally suck one of them up into the vacuum. Try to steer clear of the fish, to chase them away as you clean.
One of the best things that will keep your aquarium user friendly is the algal sponge. You'll use this more often than you think, so you'll want to keep it handy. Why an algal sponge? Even if you keep your tank out of direct sunlight, it's important to know that algae will form. Any light whatsoever will lead to this green monster, the moss of the deep. A quick cleaning of the inside of the aquarium with an algal sponge will improve visibility immediately—even when you didn't realize that there was a problem. The algae can form a slight film.
There are many kinds of algal sponges. The most typical algal sponge or aquarium cleaner is a sponge attached to a long handle, which is used for scraping down the inside of the tank without having to empty the aquarium out. It will not scrape or leave scratches on the glass, but it will easily scrape off algae. Another, and more preferable algal sponge is the magnetized cleaner. This involves the use of two magnets with cleaning surfaces. One magnet is kept outside the tank and the other is driven on the inside walls of the tank by the outside magnet. These generally allow you to get into corners or behind plants more easily than the sponge on a handle might allow.
Yes, there's vacuuming too. As if it's not bad enough that you have to clean the plants and do the windows, now you have to vacuum. It's like having a second house! Whatever your distaste for vacuuming or at least the idea of it, an aquarium vacuum is a must for the beginner. Vacuums range from the inexpensive to the very expensive.
The vacuum is used to clean up any kind of debris that may be floating around in your tank, especially the kind that settles to the bottom and moves around the substrate. The less expensive ones operate via a hand pump siphon. The more expensive ones use a small battery-powered motor like a real vacuum. The hand pump is fine for the beginner, but as you move to larger and more complex aquariums, you may want to consider buying a more substantial vacuum.
Casting a Wide Net
You should always have at least two good nets and should probably be smaller than the other. The small net is good for getting into tight corners where fish will go to avoid just such an intruder. The large one should be large, but not so large as to make it unwieldy in the tank. The larger one is usually good for the quick grab. Many experienced aquarists use two nets when trying to corner a fish. They use the smaller one to chase the fish, driving it into the larger net.
What's the most important reason to have a fish net? So that you can handle your fish properly. To do the job right, you'll need two. Make sure that you get a net that will fit your fish properly. It should be roomy. The idea is not to injure the fish. You don't want a fish that's too big for the net, flopping around or trying to fight its way out.
You also want something that's long enough, so that you can dip deep into your tank when you have to. However, you don't want something too large, or it will be too difficult to maneuver inside the aquascape. Nets will come in more handy than you think. You'll use it to remove dead fish, to remove your live fish when you're going to do a full cleaning, or to rescue an injured or diseased fish.
A Five-Gallon Bucket and a Siphon Hose
One of the most often used items during the year-long maintenance schedule is the five-gallon bucket and siphon hose. You'll also want to keep this in a place where it's easy to reach. This bucket and siphon hose should not be used for anything else. Buy the hose or tubing from a pet store. Don't wash the car with the bucket, think you're going to clean it out, and then fill it up with water for your aquarium. There are always residual chemicals that you can't see. Your fish can't see them either, but they will feel them. Many fish have been accidentally killed by people's carelessness with residual chemicals. Use the bucket and siphon hose only for your aquarium. You'll be glad you did.