Furnishing the aquarium is straightfoward. If undergravel filtration is to be used (REMEMBER - it goes in before anything else!) then a fairly deep layer of substrate will be needed; this should be divided into two layers separated by a 'Gravel Tidy' to prevent digging fish uncovering the filter plates. Bear in mind that undergravel filtration often adversely affects plant growth.
After the substrate is in place, add the 'hardware' - heater/stat(s) and filters - then 'hide' them by using rockwork, logs and then plants.
Make sure the heater is positioned correctly and that water-flow to any filter inlets is not obstructed. Do not switch on any submersible aquarium equipment until it is covered by water (heaters get HOT very quickly!)
To avoid disturbing the substrate's contours when filling the tank, place a shallow dish or saucer on the substrate and pour water into it so that it overflows gently.
DO NOT FILL THE TANK COMPLETELY
You will need to plant the tank and your arms will displace water and cause the tank to overflow if you fill it right up at this stage. Add the correct dosage of dehlorinating agent.
Plant the aquarium using 'grassy' species such as Vallisneria along the back and sides: fill in the corners with 'bushy'plants such as Wisteria, Cabomba, Hygrophila etc. Leave some open swimming space at the front although you can plant low-growing species of Echinodorus as a 'lawn' and have one or two featured plants such as Aponogeton, larger Echinodorus, growing through it.
After planting, fill the tank up to the full level (just beneath the glass 'shelves').
Prime external filters (if fitted) and make sure there are no leaks from external pipework where fitted.
Fit cover-glass and reflector/hood.
Switch on the power.
Usually, there is a 'neon' indicator lamp on the heater showing that the power is on: after some time has passed, check the water temperature to see if everything is in order.
Preparation is everything. The 'furnished' aquarium must be allowed to mature before any livestock is added. This important period is often called the 'break-in period' and allows beneficial bacteria to become established (see Filtration Systems). You can hasten this process by using any of the biological accelerators available at your aquatic shop.
If you are sufficiently interested you can test for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate in the first days and weeks. Generally, there will be a 'peak' and rapid fall of ammonia first, followed by another 'peak' and rapid fall of nitrite and then nitrate levels will be seen to be gradually rising. Once nitrate 'appears' the bacterial colony has become established.
Even though the bacterial colonies may well be in place, you must not immediately stock the tank to its theoretically full capacity. The filter's efficiency must grow in step with gradual increases in livestock.
During this break-in period, treat the aquarium as if it were in daily operation; keep the lights on for say 6-8 hours each day. Soon you should see the plants begin to look more settled and the water clarity improve.
After about two or three weeks, it's time to think about getting some fish for the aquarium.
Hopefully, you will have used this break-in period to read up about the fish you think you want to keep and so have your aquarium suitably prepared for them when they arrive.
What Fish to Keep?
Aquarium Size & Water Preparation
Heating, Filtration Systems
Fish & Plants
Feeding, Water Management & Disease
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Last updated March 27, 2002