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A Beginners Guide to Freshwater Aquariums

Updated on March 6, 2016

Established freshwater aquarium with plants.

Things you will need.

  • 1 Fish Tank, 5-45 gallons
  • Gravel
  • Decorations
  • 1 Stand
  • 1 Power Strip
  • 1 package Test strip, All-in-one (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Ph)
  • 1 Gravel Vacuum/Siphon
  • 1 mechanical/biological combo filter, Undergravel filter or Hang on filter
  • 1 aquarium heater, 5 watts per gallon

Important Information

There are various fundamentals that are important for any beginner aquarium enthusiast to understand prior to attempting to create their own aquatic habitat.

The Nitrogen Cycle and You!

Fish excrete Ammonia(NH4), which can build up and is highly poisonous to fish. Bacteria present in nature break this ammonia down into Nitrite(NO2). Nitrite is still highly toxic to fish. Then even more bacteria(Nitrobacters) break the Nitrite into Nitrate(NO3). This is harmless to fish in small quantities and can be used by aquatic plants for food. Nitrates are removed from the tank via water changes(recommended) and plant exportation(more advanced). Ideal tank water parameters in an established freshwater tank are 0 ppm(parts per million) Ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite and nitrates < 20 ppm.

Ph Matters!

It is important not to confuse Ph with Alkalinity. Ph is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is, while Alkalinity is a measure of the ability of a solution to neutralize acids. Ph is important for freshwater aquariums, while Alkalinity is only truly important in "marine" or saltwater aquariums. The Ph range for most freshwater fish should be 6-8, but will be different between species based on where in the world they evolved.

Is It Cold in Here?

Due to the fact that most fish are cold blooded, the temperature of their environment is critical. Ideal temperature is 74-82 and will vary from species to species depending on native habitat. These will all be kept in check with conservative stocking and weekly 10% water changes. Aquarium heater size will vary based on how cold and humid a location is, but a good rule of thumb is 5 watts per gallon.

Wait... I Can't Breathe!

Fish breath oxygen just like a human, they just take it in differently. They take oxygen in the form of dissolved oxygen (DO) from the water via their gills. This depletes the oxygen that is dissolved in the water which must be replenished or your tank will become a copy of oceanic "dead zones" where all life has ceased. Bacteria involved in the fore mentioned Nitrogen Cycle, fish and plants all deplete oxygen, which must be re-added to the tank.

Contrary to popular belief, air stones and air pumps actually add very little oxygen in the form of DO. DO is most efficiently created through an efficient gas exchange, which involves maximizing the breaking of the surface tension of the water. This is best accomplished through water flowing over filters. Air stones can be added to assist in the oxygenation of the tank, or merely for aesthetic reasons. Fish lurking near the surface of the tank gasping for air are a critical sign of low DO.


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