KNOW-HOW: SPICE IT UP!
Do you sometimes feel you could be doing more with your hobby exploits? Ingrid Allen offers 10 ideas to enhance your fishkeeping.
Ten terrific ways to enhance the fun of fishkeeping.
1 Get the biotope bug
You only need to pick up a back issue or three of PFK to have beautiful biotopes at your fingertips – it certainly is a growing trend at the moment. Far from just looking great, these naturalistic aquascapes allow you to watch your fish exhibit intrinsic behaviours that you would never in a million years witness in a shop tank.
If you’ve always wanted to do a biotope (or the slightly easier ‘communitope’ which mixes fish and plants from the same continent, region or habitat type), now’s your chance. It doesn’t have to be sand and roots; there are all sorts of fun ideas to try out from flooded rice paddies for mid-sized gourami, South American paludariums with orchids, or fast-flowing rocky hillstreams for gobies. Such set-ups may at times look too good to be true, but with a little research and planning (which can be enjoyable in itself), they’re actually easy enough to put together – especially if you choose a South American or Asian set-up as the fish and plants from both areas are in plentiful supply in aquatics stores.
2 Add some variety to their diet
in the last decade, our collective desire to eat a healthy, balanced diet may have extended to our four-legged friends, but those who take every care to give their fish the highest level of nutrition are still the exception rather than the norm.
there’s no real reason for this beyond a lack of information, as species-appropriate feeding doesn’t have to mean expensive pre-prepared diets. Many herbivores from plecos and otos to silver dollars and kissing gourami will be just as happy chowing down on iceberg lettuce, spinach, courgette and other cheap greengrocer staples.
carnivores can be trickier (not to mention smellier) to feed, but if you have an understanding partner/parent/flatmate, there’s no reason you can’t set aside some space in the freezer for blocks of brineshrimp, bloodworm, mussels and other seafood.
3 Study habitats at home or abroad
we can all take inspiration from nature on different levels, depending on our budget.
if you don’t have the money for a luxury underwater-themed holiday, scuba-diving off the great Barrier reef or snorkelling in the pantanal, no problem! rediscover the joys of rock-pooling or pond-dipping and see what oft-overlooked creatures you can uncover.
alhough it may be illegal to remove sticklebacks and minnows from native streams without permission from the council or landowner, many pond specialists can order them for you.
native projects are easy, fun and cheap to put together, plus it’s something to keep the kids entertained – so what’s stopping you?
4 Try out species-only tanks
Many of us have that one species we’ve always wanted to keep, but it was either too difficult or too aggressive, or you just couldn’t find one anywhere. Excluding those fish that really aren’t suitable for the home aquarium due to being the size of a small vehicle or capable of serious electric shocks, a good aquatics shop can special order a huge variety of more unusual species. If you’ve always fancied a particular ‘character’ fish – more as a pet than part of a display – ask them to check their supply lists and give you a quote.
Make 2019 the year you finally create a set-up for that dreamed-of Parachromis dovii, Potato puffer, Black piranha or sparkly shoal of Tanganyikan killifish.
5 Meet like-minded aquarists
In the pre-internet era, aquatics clubs and societies were pretty much the only way to meet and share knowledge with other fishkeepers. In these days of forums and Facebook they may no longer have that essential role, but a stack of scientific studies have highlighted the fact that we still get more of a kick out of interacting with other enthusiasts face to face than from behind a screen.
The internet can, however, be a help rather than a hindrance in reversing the decline of fish clubs. If there isn’t one in your local area, why not use social media to start something up? You’ll have a lot of fun while helping to preserve local auctions, fish-swaps and general gatherings for the next generation of fishkeepers.
6 Scout out a new LFS
A great aquatics shop can be the lifeblood of any local fishkeeping community and without them, the hobby would surely disappear. With that in mind, it’s always worth keeping an eye on what’s out there. If you live in a medium-to-large city, chances are you’re never more than half an hour away from some form of aquatic pet shop, but if you live in the countryside, don’t despair; some of the best shops I’ve ever visited were smack-bang in the middle of nowhere.
If you’ve recently moved house or changed jobs, a well-stocked LFS with knowledgeable staff could be just around the corner, but as someone who walked past the Aquatic Design Centre in London six times before realising it was there, I can confirm that the finest gems aren’t always well signposted.
Get to know the staff too – most will be enthusiasts first and salespeople second, so you could learn a lot from a long chin-wag over the new stock.
7 Up your hardscape game
New Year isn’t just a good time to make the necessary changes in your own house; it’s well worth giving your fishes’ home a new look too. When it comes to decor, bolder is often better, so invest in striking hardscape and build dramatic structural forms that not only provide enrichment for your fish, but turn your tank into a living work of art.
If your tank still holds the plastic plants, miniature castle and Dorset pea gravel you bought in 1998, it’s never too late to start experimenting. Black or dark grey sands will make the colours on your fish really pop and 3D backgrounds can create the impression of a beautiful underwater cavern. Lava rock is lightweight and easy to stack. while jagged pieces of slate and marble can nicely complement monochrome living room furniture.
Last year I cheered up my planted community with 30kg of lovely orange sun-stone and have never looked back. An aquarium can be a standout feature of your home, so why shouldn’t it reflect a bit of your personal style?
8 Go Dutch
It doesn’t matter whether you show a photograph of a Dutch-style planted community tank to an experienced aquarist, or a total novice or non-fishkeeper, the general expression of awe and envy will be the same.
Differing from the usual ‘this ‘n’ that’ planted set-up, the Dutch-style aquarium mixes blocks of contrasting colours, leaf shapes and textures, keeping hardscape to a minimum and allowing the variety of foliage to take centre stage. They can mean a little more work and cost than the average community tank (especially if you plan to use a CO2 cannister), but it’ll be worth it almost immediately.
Give one of these magnificent underwater gardens a try – the display could be so spectacular, you’ll forget you’ve even got fish in there.
9 Out of the tank and onto the walls
Fishkeeping is no different to any other hobby in that if you love it, you want to go all-out in a been there, done that, got the t-shirt sort of way. With this in mind, anyone looking to build up an art collection should look no further than the sheer scope of beautiful imagery that has sprung from the world of ornamental fish. You don’t need a particularly massive budget – antique prints and colour plates from old aquarium books start at very modest prices, while the market for fish photography consists mostly of enthusiasts selling to other enthusiasts. If you love a species, celebrate that species on your walls, as well as in your tank. Websites like Etsy can be very handy for bespoke illustration and sculpture (especially if you’re a Betta fan) but you can always try your hand at creating your own aquatic artworks. A word of caution though – it’s always good to get feedback from your partner/parents/housemates before redecorating on a theme. You may love it, but not everyone wants an enormous Koi carp mural right across their living room wall. Which brings us on to…
10 Spread the love
I like to think otherwise, but I would never have progressed on my fishkeeping journey without the support of a great many friends and family members willing to be dragged into aquatics shops, listen to me drone on about fish for hours, and help me lug many a tank through improbably narrow doorways or down multiple flights of stairs. We owe a lot to those who put up with us (and our fish), so let’s resolve to make 2019 the start of a conscious effort to include our families, friends and kids in our hobby. We can help those of all ability levels feel confident in enjoying all the things we love about fishkeeping just as much as we do.
That spirit of inclusivity might come in the form of setting up a nano tank as a present for an older relative (while patiently explaining they really shouldn’t feed more than every other day), or letting your other half actually pick something at the LFS without rolling your eyes. But however it manifests, let’s be kind, be welcoming and be the best ambassadors for a new and inclusive way of keeping fish.
Biotopes add a certain extra interest.
A freelance writer with a day job in aquatics retail, Ingrid is a huge fan of anabantoids and biotopes.
Improve their vitality, improve your engagement.
You’ll remember how fun it was.
Fishy events make a great day out.
Bold hardscape can look amazing.
Species-only tanks can be surprisingly interesting.
Do you know all your local shops?
Try different styles of planting.