Small stuff. Huge impact.

Recently , I gave a talk at a hobby club meeting and the topic was "Nutrient Control and Export.” I’ve given this talk at freshwater and marine clubs around the nation many times before, as well as at major conferences, and I’m frequently surprised by how much hobbyists like it. Although we touched upon such seemingly basic aquarium husbandry issues, the talk (and ensuing dynamic discussion) made me once again realize that there is a definite “philosophy” to husbandry that seems to be shared among the most successful hobbyists that I know:

“Doing the correct things in small amounts regularly and repetitively.”

Simple words, but what do they mean to the successful aquarist? A whole lot, actually. 

The key to ultimate long term success in the hobby is not just having the ultimate system and the latest, coolest equipment- it’s the effort that you put in as a hobbyist to provide your animals with the best possible care. 

The interesting, common thread seems to be that most of the successful hobbyists that I know share that basic philosophy in one form or another. Instead of panicked, knee-jerk reactions to problems, like fishes dying or water quality declining, they proactively avoid many of these issues by following a regular husbandry regimen. Typically, this consists of stuff like modest (like 5%-10%) weekly or slightly larger (20%) monthly water changes, daily observation of major life support systems, frequent cleaning/exchanges of chemical and mechanical filtration media, and regular, but not obsessive water chemistry tests. 

This stuff is really basic, but I am frequently surprised, when brought in to troubleshoot an “anomalous” tank “crash” or other issue, of the seemingly complete lack of regular husbandry procedure in some instances. As the sayings goes, “Nothing good happens quickly in an aquarium”. More often than not, in my experience- neither do bad things! They happen (in a lot of cases) over time, and the cumulative effect is what causes the ultimate decline in many cases. 

Algae problems, for example, aren’t typically caused by sudden, isolated events. Rather, they often have their roots in something simple, like bad feeding habits (just dumping cubes of food, packing juices and all) right into the tank in large quantities over time, failure to execute water changes with any degree of frequency, allowing filter socks and other mechanical media to become saturated with detritus or organics, or the hobbyist forgetting to change the membranes and on his/her RO unit (I can’t tell you how many times this has been the cause of gradual declines in water quality). 

Sure, sometimes there is a rare case of something that was introduced inadvertently to the tank with horrible consequences: A piece of rock that leaches dangerous chemical  substances,  a ‘toxic “batch of salt mix, a prolonged power failure that killed the biofilter, or a genuine, downright poisoning (inadvertent cleaning spry, etc. are common), but typically, many water quality (and therefore environmental quality) issues result from lack of consistency in our husbandry practices.

My point of this rant is not to beat you over the head with the basics, but it is to imply yet again that a simple, consistent effort on your part will lead to greater system stability, animal health, and ultimately greater success as a hobbyist. I know we’ve been discussing how important it is NOT to obsess over squeaky clean aquariums, and that things don’t have to be fanatically-maintained…However, it IS important to simply develop good habits. 

The rewards for consistent husbandry are obvious!

Force yourself to adopt good practices-most of us already do, but apply them in manageable tasks (many of us don’t- for example the “every 4 month water change” or “spring cleaning” of the tank). And do them often! It’s so much easier! A 5% weekly water change can make a huge difference in long term stability of your system. If you don’t believe me, give it a shot for a month and see if you notice a difference in your system…I’ll bet that you will. Oh, notice I said “stability”- not, “…will get your nitrate and phosphate to zero!” We’re not going there any more…LOL. We’re just talking about good habits, consistently executed.

So get up, look yourself in the mirror, and then look at your system. Ask yourself if you are making the hobby easier for yourself by following a sporadic husbandry program, or making it harder. I’ll bet that, after adopting a more regular, frequent maintenance schedule, you’ll be asking yourself more “unusual” questions, like “Why did my Pencilfish spawn again?”, or “Man, I have to prune that Bucephelandra AGAIN?”

Good “problems” to have, huh? Think about it.

So tell us- what are the husbandry tasks that you do most consistently for your tanks? Which ones do you feel are the most useful and important?

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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