Wow, seriously? Where did the year go?
Summer is finally winding down. The kids are back to school, The World Series starts in just a couple of weeks, football season is in full swing, and the Holiday Season is just around the bend. Craziness.
It’s what I like to call “Aquarium Season” again!
If you’re like many hobbyists- despite the very best intentions, your aquariums may simply have not gotten the same degree of attention that they did during the cooler months, when there were far fewer distractions pulling you away from them. Let’s face it, for many reefers who live in areas of the country that had ridiculously long and nasty “Polar Vortex”-influenced winters (and springs) this year had far less motivation to stay indoors this summer!
What that translates into is that your beautiful aquariums might be showing the subtle signs of benign neglect. You know, it’s not a wreck or anything, but some of the super vigilant care that you bestowed upon the tanks when it was -8 below zero outside and there was nothing to do but stay indoors may have fallen by the wayside a bit when attractive summer alternatives like barbecues, beach days, baseball games, vacations, and just plain hanging out in the backyard became available to you and your family.
What to do? How do you take back your aquariums from the “summertime malaise”, to get it ready for the hobby's prime season? Well, here are a few suggestions to get you started. I’m sure you probably have dozens more, so, in the finest tradition of open source modification, please contribute your ideas to this one!
Do some basic water tests- In order to assess just where you’re headed, you’ll need to know where you are. It’s never bad to have some good information about your systems available. By running some basic tests, such as Ph, Alkalinity, Phosphate, and Nitrate, you’ll be able to get a board “snapshot” of the condition of your systems. If you notice a lot of nuisance algae, poor plant growth, or general “malaise” of the livestock, it’s a good indication that the system is showing signs of benign neglect, and needs some TLC to get it back on track. Usually, it’s as simple as some water changes and/or a replacement of filter media.
Clean or replace filter pads and media- We all know how quickly these rings accumulate all sorts of nastiness. If you let the tank go for a bunch of weeks or months, the pads will be completely saturated, and will essentially become “nutrient sinks”, filled with decomposing biological materials and detritus from the tank, leading to degraded water quality over time. And, chemical filtration media, such as carbon, tend to lose their effectiveness as such after mere weeks, so simply changing out these media can give your tanks a shot in the arm, so to speak!
Check out your substrate - Yeah, if you have a sand or gravel, and you’ve neglected your tank for any appreciable length of time, the substrate can not only accumulate a small layer of “funk” and algae, in the case of sand, it can actually “clump” together to make an almost concrete-like block of substrate in higher pH situations, like in African Cichlid tanks. Not good! So, what you probably want to do is give a nice little stirring of the very uppermost layer of the substrate, to get this stuff into the water column, where you can physically remove it. Notice that I didn’t suggest stirring the whole substrate, as this could seriously disrupt the very biological processes that you’re trying to foster. Just use some common sense and you’ll be fine!
Perform a water change- Oh yea, the dreaded water change. You’ve put it off long enough; time to get “back on the wagon” with that. You don’t have to perform a massive water change- in fact, I’d advise against such a radical move, unless your tank is in extreme distress. Rather, I’d simply start with a 10-15 percent change, which will help “reset” your parameters and get you back into the groove of doing regular small water changes. Although the bane of many hobbyists’ existence, water changes are an essential part of basic aquarium husbandry, and the benefits are obvious once you embrace the process. and, you might just induce spawning in that stubborn annual killifish you've been trying to breed all year long!
Re-asses your foods- Yeah, you read that correctly! During the lazy days of summer, you may have just gotten a bit more “casual” about replenishing your supplies. Maybe you were a frozen-food-kind-of-aquarist, and ended up using mostly flakes and pellets during the summer. Or, perhaps you simply blew through your foods and thought, “I’ll stock up again in the Fall!” Okay, well- Fall is here! And, since there are a lot of really cool foods out in different formats, such as Paradigm crumbles, ZHF pellets, and Doc’s Eco Eggs, it might not be a bad time to try some new ones!
Evaluate plant growth- Let’s face it- in your “absence”, some stuff will inexplicably thrive, some will falter a bit, and some will simply crap out. It’s always a good thing to give your tanks a good, hard look to see what is thriving and what is on the way out. After this assessment, you may decide to prune or remove some of the stuff that is doing really well, and the same goes for the stuff that is doing poorly. If you’re dead-set on keeping a plant that is struggling, you’ll need to reconsider where you want to keep it in the future. If you’re cutting stuff, that’s perfect, because you’ll have plenty to trade with fellow hobbyists as the aquarium “season” heads into full swing. When stuff grows into something else (a problem, but a “good” one, at least…), decisions need to be made to ensure the future of the corals involved; the onset of Fall is always a good time!
Inspect equipment for wear and tear- While you were running around enjoying summer, your pumps, electronics, reactors, lights, and other equipment were doing their thing. What that means is that some of them may need service, cleaning, or flat-out replacement. In years past, I’d suggest checking lightbulbs, but this is becoming less and less of an essential task given the pervasiveness of LED’s. Do evaluate things like pumps, plumbing connections, and protein skimmers. Check for “mineral creep”, around your aquariums which may be indicative of a slow leak or overly-powerful pump return somewhere, as well as for any loose connections, dangling wires, etc. Clean your pump impellers thoroughly, to keep them in good operating condition. Pumps need to be clean in order for them to operate as intended. If you use an electronic controller, review your program to make sure it’s doing the things that you want all winter long.
Try something new!- Now is the time to try new stuff: New fish, new plants…a new tank! It’s a great time of year to acquire new broodstock for breeding programs, or to re-arrange your aquascape! If you’ve never tried our aquatic botanicals before, why not embark on a new adventure? It’s fun to start in new directions as we head into the stretch of the year when you’re most likely to spend a lot of “quality time” with you fishes!
In general- Just take a good, long, objective look at your aquariums. Fall seems to be a great time to set new goals and embark on new projects. Livestock vendors seem to have even more of a great selection. Club auctions and other events seem to pop up on an accelerated pace, and attention shifts back to your hobby. Think about the ideas that have been in your head all summer, and start planning to implement them. Try to attend a local club meeting or conference if you can, and hang out with local hobbyists. Trade some fry, Check out the LFS and all of the cool stuff they have in stock. Get on the forums and run your schemes by fellow fish geeks. To summarize, get ready to enjoy your tanks during “Aquarium Season.”
Let’s hear some of the things on your “get back to the aquarium” agenda this fall!
Share, inquire, enjoy…and stay wet.