We all have to start somewhere. Unlike other hobbies, the world of aquatics is not necessarily self-explanatory and is not always forgiving of early mistakes. That's why it's really important to do your research beforehand. Of course you can’t expect to get it all right from the start and just in case you’ll need a watchful and enthusiastic eye to ensure that your dwellers are okay.
Based on our own experience in customer service and the many messages and questions we receive, we have put together the typical mistakes beginners may make. The experienced aquarist might well smile, but if they are honest, these are mistakes we all made at the start, aren’t they?
A simple timer can greatly simplify the life of an aquarist. With it they can control the illumination time, the CO2 supply and the dosing pumps. It is easy to forget that a filter isn’t just a vacuum cleaner which only occasionally siphons "dirt", but is the heart of the aquarium where biodegradation processes are largely done. For this task the bacteria need to be continuously supplied with oxygen and "work". That’s why a filter should never be turned off for more than a few minutes, as the bacteria die off and the toxins nitrite (measure with JBL PROAQUATEST NO2 Nitrite ) and ammonia ( measure with JBL PROAQUATEST NH4 Ammonium ) increase within a short time. Typical effects of this are cloudy water, the apathetic behavior of your fish and their gasping for breath at the water surface.
The illumination time
It’s normal that we want to enjoy our fish to the full: before work, after work and when dropping off to sleep. But if we did this the light would be on from 06:00 in the morning to midnight. This not only causes stress in your animals and thus frequent outbreaks of disease, but also an unwanted growth of algae. Let nature serve as your model for the illumination time. In the summer months, when the hours of sunshine are highest (longest day: 04:40 am sunrise and 09:36 pm sunset – total: 16 hours and 56 minutes), there are nearly 9.3 hours more sunlight than in winter (shortest day: 08:15 am sunrise and 03:54 pm sunset – total: 07 hours and 39 minutes). Now if we meet in the middle we’ll come to about 12 hours a day. This means the lighting period in the aquarium should not exceed 10-12 hours. Personally I only have the light on for 6-8 hours a day. One commonly practised trick is to introduce a break from lighting, so that the lighting time is split into 50% in the morning and 50% in the evening. The break lasts at least 3-4 hours. You can read more about lighting here: Lighting .
The fish are hungry
You throw food into the aquarium and the fish rush towards it – you can see that they are hungry. If you repeat this procedure, the effect will not change. So are fish always hungry? In a word, yes, because fish never feel satiated. That’s why you need to feed them daily with 1-3 small portions - even a fasting day is fine. Overfeeding can be recognised by food residue lying on the ground and heavy water pollution. Conductance and nitrate levels start to rise rapidly. Over a long period, your fish will become fat and have physical problems. Here we inform you what a good diet for fish looks like: Fish nutrition .
The water change
We aquarists know that by a water change a partial water change is meant. This does not mean cleaning the aquarium completely and other activities, such as rinsing the substrate or cleaning the filter, are certainly not involved. This would inevitably lead to the destruction of the bacterial culture and to sudden problems with the water values. Here you can read how a correct water change works: Water change .
They are really guaranteed to drive any aquarist mad. However, they are part of an intact biosystem – when they occur in moderation. Algae often enter as “stowaways” and seem to spread like a disease. "It's best to restart the aquarium from scratch” is then recommended as the only solution. Nobody mentions that this neither solves the problem permanently nor deals with the cause. Every alga has its cause and can be remedied by correcting the water parameters, the lighting, or the CO2 supply. Even the addition of new plants can help. A restart is always the worst solution. You can read more about successful algae control here: Algae control .
They are not only unpopular in the garden. Snails are often introduced by plants and continue to live in the aquarium. This isn’t always a problem, because snails are good residual eaters and help to "clean up" in the aquarium. Many species are hermaphrodites and can easily reproduce in the aquarium. When they become a plague we often forget that overfeeding and thus an excess food supply is to blame. Again, the introduction of "snail eaters" or a "new setup" is often advised and in our eyes these are the worst solutions. Instead, the excess food supply needs to be reduced and the substrate thoroughly cleaned. With JBL LimCollect , you can collect a lot of snails every day and you will have permanently eliminated the problem in just a few weeks.
Clear water = good water
You might think this statement is true, but a lot of toxins are not only invisible but also odourless. So regular water testing (we recommend once a week) is essential. This is the only way to tell if your fish are doing well and if there are any problems pending in the future. That’s why we humans have a blood test to provide information about our health every two years, even if we feel well. You can read everything you need to know about water here: Water values .
If you insert too many plants, you won’t see your fish, said a customer at the plant sales display. Any aquarist will soon see that this is complete nonsense. A lot of aquarium dwellers only develop the courage to show themselves in their most beautiful colours in dense planting. In addition, plants have a positive effect on the aquarium, because they produce oxygen and prevent unwanted algae growth. It is always a good idea to fill at least 50% of the area with plants.
Fertilisation of plants
Plants get hungry too and need nutrients (micro- and macronutrients), plant-suitable light and CO2 for vigorous growth. These substances and elements are also found in the wild where they are available in sufficient quantities. In an aquarium, these substances are usually in short supply, even when there is a strong fish stock. Micronutrients such as iron and CO2 especially need to be added. There are plant species which can manage with little CO2, of course, but these will flourish more with an additional supply. An overview for the plant selection can be found here: Plant species . Lots of information about CO2 here CO2 plant fertilisation and the fertilisation here Fertilising .
Fish, like humans, have an immune system. Good nutrition and ideal keeping conditions will keep your animals healthy. Unfortunately, it’s the two simplest points that are usually the cause of common diseases. Wrong water values, out-of-date food, poor food or a too long illumination time and noise are a permanent source of stress. But also territorial struggles and permanent disputes between the fish, incorrect planning of stock or missing caves and territories can be the reason. If diseases occur frequently without new fish being added, one of these factors mentioned will be the cause.
The retailer is often accused of having introduced "diseases" after a purchase, but we often forget that transport is stressful for fish and that the customer can have vastly different water values at home. In the shop, all fish were and are still healthy. Ensure quiet and short transportation and a long and slow familiarization with the new environment. You can find much more information about diseases here: Diseases .
An aquarium is quiet. There is no shouting or nocturnal rustling. Yet it is not silent. You may hear a soft splashing or the humming of the filter. What’s calming for one person, can drive the next one crazy. If you are sensitive to noise, don’t position your aquarium in the bedroom. The aquarium will seem quieter in the living room and real aquarists only sleep peacefully within sound of the steady "bubbling" of a diaphragm pump anyway. Believe me fish belong to the quietest animals.
Is it bad to spend time on your aquarium? It’s your hobby time and it sounds good and fulfilling to me. Whether you’re feeding the fish, carrying out a water change or just regarding the aquarium scenery, all of this will have a relaxing effect. An aquarium with a content of 60-450 litres will not take more than 30 minutes (that's an average of 4.3 minutes a day) of your time each week.
Examples of aquariums and their maintenance can be found here:
I hope this little overview has helped you and that you can identify with the sentiments expressed. We have provided links to a lot more information to help you get the problem under control. Always try to solve one problem at a time. Never change more than one factor at a time and observe the change for at least 7 days. Only then consider any further aspects. Aquarium keeping requires a little patience and will reward you in the end with colourful fish and vigorous underwater forests. Do not panic, because just as problems creep up on you, so they will slowly disappear again. One ”foul swoop“ rarely leads to a solution and certainly not to a permanent one.
If you have questions or suggestions, please use our comment function. I look forward to your feedback.