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.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents - IN­GRID AL­LAN

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.

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