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Dedicated Aquarium Stands: Goood

Cat aquarium balancing act

If you read my previous build article on my 29 gallon creek tank, you may have noticed I took a shortcut in the aquarium furniture department. I warned against doing so, but I kind of learned the hard way to take my own advice.

No, the fish tank didn’t come crashing down in a tidal wave of broken glass, water and flopping fish.  I stand by my assertion that that you could park a car on that thing. No, instead something more unexpected happened.

Cat aquarium balancing act

Yes, that’s my acrobatic manx cat balancing along the edge of the aquarium.  Since the desk is bigger than the tank, he was able to hop right up and get an up-close view. A later census of the tank inhabitants confirmed that he had a small snack while he was there as well.

Fortunately, the stars aligned and that same day one of Petco’s 20% off deals landed in my inbox.  I got a pretty sweet deal on a simple, but not bad looking metal aquarium stand making it less than $40 shipped.

Putting the stand together was simple.  Moving the fish tank to it, not so much.

Here’s another word of sage advice that I actually followed:  Always completely empty an aquarium before trying to move it.

So I pulled out all the plants, transferred the fish to a bucket of aquarium water and got the sand out.  Don’t forget the substrate, that stuff can be heavy.

That was a pain in the butt, but the biggest problem was the creek chubs kept jumping out of the damn bucket.  One of them very nearly met its fishy demise.  I found it when I moved the desk out of the way to place the stand.  It was barely breathing by the time I got to it.

Fortunately, the fish seems no worse for wear after jumping over the Great Wall and is back to mercilessly harassing its tank mates.  That wasn’t even the only jumping incident.  Another of them made the leap while I watched.  At least after that I got smart enough to cover the bucket.

One re-scape later, and we’re back in business.  I need to clean up the wires since they’re visible now, but the setup looks pretty nice.  The cat is relegated to watching the action from the safety of the floor.


The moral of the story is do it right the first time or else it’s way more work down the road.  Either that or, don’t have an athletic cat.

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Disaster Strikes: The autodoser incident

Sooner or later it will happen to you. Something will go awry and turn your beautiful aqua eco system into a nightmare scenario for your fish, and maybe your whole house.

I was lucky that this wasn’t one of those incidents that required some kind of insurance claim. Some of the inhabitants of my planted 60 gallon aquarium, they weren’t quite so lucky.

I’ve been using a DIY fertilizer dosing setup successfully for some time now.  But, recently, I tore the setup down to rearrange it and top off the liquid fertilizer.  I moved the dosing pump to the outside of the tank near the water line.

After a bunch of testing and re-testing I finally got the system to prime and flow like I wanted. That night I headed off to bed and awoke to the horrifying noise of an air pump running in my cabinet.

The only air pump I have set up in my 60 gallon fish tank is the one used to keep the fertilizer mixed, and it only runs for 5 minutes while the lifter pump is running – at 10 PM.  Here it was 7AM, the 1 liter bottle of fertilizer was nearly empty and the water column had a distinctively tannic look to it.

Then the panic set in.

I quickly performed a 50% water change and unplugged the system. Some of the fish were at the top of the tank, but many of the livestock didn’t seem too bothered by the rich environment.

Later in the day, things weren’t so good.  I saw the ottos were lethargic and looking rough, and there was a dead white cloud minnow on the bottom of the tank.  I transferred the ottos to another tank and did another 50% change

I’ll probably keep doing at least 20% changes regularly this week to make sure all the excess nutrients have been removed, and hope no more fish succumb to the water quality.  One of the ottos sadly did not make it through the night.

I did a post-mortem and found that the timer I use for the dosing system has two on/off settings.  Somehow, I accidentally enabled the second on timer without enabling an off timer.  Essentially the system was programmed to come on at midnight and never turn off.

The takeaway from this is when setting up your equipment, double check everything.  Make sure it works as intended.  Take your time, the results of this simple mistake could have cost me my entire population.  While this was a DIY setup, the same can be said about commercial products as well.

I’m just lucky this didn’t happen with an overflow system or something like that.  It doesn’t take much water leaking to ruin a floor or more.

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Use Inexpensive Equipment for Automatic Aquarium Dosing

If you regularly add anything to your aquarium like fertilizer for planted tanks, you know what a pain doing it every day can be. There are sweet precision dosing pumps available online, but they are expensive. There is a cheap pump out there called the Aqualifter.  It’s less than 20 bucks, but the problem is it’s not metered, it just continues to pump about 3.5 gallons per hour. But, with a few additions, you can set up one of these pumps to dispense much smaller amounts of liquid for a shorter time.

DIY aquarium dosing pump setup

Here’s a list of what you’ll need (there’s a link to Amazon at the end of the article too).

  • Scissors
  • Small measuring cup to measure the dose you’ll need
  • Aqualifter pump
  • Airline tubing
  • Air control valve
  • Digital timer
  • Bottle or other container
  • Air pump (optional)
  • Extension cord or outlet splitter (optional)

The basic setup is pretty simple.  You just connect the inlet port from the Aqualifter to the bottle with air hose.  Run tubing from the output port to the top of your aquarium and connect the valve.  You can add additional tubing after the valve if desired. 02021401 I recommend you do not put the tube in the aquarium water.  When the power is cut off, tank water might siphon back into your dosing system and make a big mess.  If you need to do it that way, add a check valve to your setup.

DIY Dosing Pump Calibration

IMG_8497Once you have everything where it’s going to go, it’s time to test and make adjustments.  Close the air valve and then plug in the pump.  Slowly open the air valve until your liquid starts dripping out.  I used water during the calibration. Make sure there is additional space in the bottle for air to enter.  If it’s perfectly sealed, it will create a vacuum and nothing will flow. Adjust the outflow until the setup dispenses the amount of liquid you want in the time span of 1 minute. Once you got it dialed in, put the pump on the timer and set the timer to come on one minute per day at the desired time. IMG_8499Now your dosing will happen automatically.  Pretty sweet. One note, when you do the calibration step, it’s important to do it with everything in the place it will be permanently.  If you test outside the tank and then move it, the difference in height or tube length might alter the liquid flow.

Add a mixing pump to dosing setup

Ok, I have to admit, this isn’t new ground, I found these tips online in plenty of forums.  My addition is the optional steps I’m going to share now. IMG_8498I use dry fertilizer mixed with distilled water.  As a result, things tend to settle.  Since I probably won’t shake the bottle regularly, I need something to occasionally stir up the solution. That’s where the air pump comes in.  All I did was plug an air pump into the same timer as the lift pump using an extension cord.  Then I ran the tube into the bottle. Now, when the timer kicks on, so does the air pump.  Since it’s just a tube in there, it generates huge bubbles which stir up the liquid just fine. To be honest it kind of sounds like the engine from a 1978 Buick when it’s running, but it sure gets the job done. I pretty much had the gear laying around already, so for just the cost of the Aqualifter I got a nifty setup that did the same thing for me that a much more expensive metered pump does. You wanna do this project yourself?  Hit the link below for an Amazon list of all the stuff you’ll need.  (I get a small commission for anything you might buy) Equipment List for Project

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Cheaper Flourish Excel: Generic at a Fraction of the Price

Metricide BottleIf you have live aquarium plants in your tank, you are probably familiar with Seachem Flourish Excel (or just Excel). It’s a liquid-based carbon source that helps boost plant growth and can help reduce algae.  I swear by the stuff, but it can be seriously expensive.

It turns out it’s the same chemical as found in the industrial sterilizer Metricide.  Hat tip to the good folks on Reddit for pointing it out in this thread.

Industrial cleaning chemicals are way cheaper than aquarium ones apparently.  You can get a gallon jug for 20 dollars including free shipping on Ebay. Talk about cheap Seachem Excel!

Important tip: the Metricide comes with an activator solution.  DO NOT USE IT. That activates the chemicals for sterilizing and would be very bad for your fish tank.

Click here to see the auction page on Ebay.

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Your Test Kit May be Lying to You: Fix Nitrate Readings

api kit

I’m a big fan of the API master test kit for testing the basic water conditions of my fish tank.  You test the water in your aquarium too, right?  If you don’t you should start, I highly recommend the API Freshwater Master Test Kit.

The problem is, my nitrates always read 0ppm.  For an established tank, that can’t possibly be right.  The nitrogen cycle should be converting waste and everything into nitrates.  I have a lot of plants in my tank, but not that many.

It turns out there may be a problem with some of the test kits where the liquid in bottle #2 settled.  Fixing it is easy enough. Just bang the bottom of the test solution bottle on a table or something a few times and shake well for a minute or three.

When you run your test again, you’ll find your nitrates no longer read 0.  Mine went from zero to about 15-20, right where they should be.  Hat tip to Fishlore for this one.

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Find Craigslist Aquarium Deals Faster with This Improved Trick

A while back I posted a nifty trick to combine an RSS feed for a Craigslist aquarium search with Google alerts to get notified when a new deal showed up.  If you’re not sure why you’d want to, read that article to find out why that’s a good idea.

It seemed like a good idea, but I noticed at times the Google alerts were coming out days after the deal showed up which might result in losing out on the deal of a life time.  After implementing this new setup, I even found out Google was often missing deals altogether.

The new method is much faster and doesn’t miss a thing. It works similarly using the search RSS feed from Craigslist plus a service called If This Then That (  If you’re not familiar, IFTTT is a really cool service, it lets you setup actions based on certain events. These are called recipes.

Getting into the recipes is a little beyond the scope of this site, but you can check out the link above for more info.  I’ll just outline the steps below on how to set up your alert. You’ll need to sign up for a free account to get started, then follow the steps below to get rocking.

  1. clrss2First locate the RSS link for your craigslist search.  You can do this by going to ( and then search for “aquarium”.  Scroll to the bottom of the page until you see the orange RSS button in the lower right corner. Click that button and then copy the URL of the page that pops up.
  2. Click this link which leads to the recipe we’ll be editing to create our custom aquarium deals e-mail alert:
  3. Click on the big blue “Use this Recipe” button to get started.
  4. You’ll get a message saying the recipe was created along with a random number.  Click the My Recipes link at the top of the page.
  5. Your new recipe should be the first item in the list, click it to go into edit mode.
  6. Rename it if you like, then scroll down to the “ingredients” section and change the URL in the triggers option to the Craigslist link you copied in step 1.  You can leave the e-mail step alone, or mess with the formatting if you really want to.  Click update and you’ll be ready to go.
  7. As new items get added to Craigslist, you’ll get an e-mail for each item like in the screen shot below.  I’ve found that there tends to be a delay of an hour or two in most cases, but it’s still much faster than Google.


Happy bargain hunting!

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Get Rid of Aquarium Snails with a Trap


If you have a planted tank, or any live aquarium plants, you probably also have aquarium snails.  A couple are no big deal, but a couple snails will quickly grow to way too many in your fish tank.  They always seem to be a pain to get rid of too.  There’s chemical treatments that contain copper, but it can harm things like shrimp and I don’t like to add chemicals if I don’t have to.

Another option I tried to get rid of aquarium snails is to get an assassin snail, which hunts and eats other snails.  I got one of those and it quickly disappeared into the jungle at the back of my tank. I have no idea what it’s up to.

Finally, I saw this gizmo on Deal Extreme today.  A snail trap! It’s a simple design really, the snails are able to creep into the dome shaped container, but then can’t navigate out.  Just let it collect your problem mollusks in the dome and then dump it out.

Check it out at

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Tip: Try Home Improvement Store for Gravel & Harscape

9cb22db5-2098-4399-8c2d-675c739675ab_300Here’s a tip that I wish I had thought of before I dumped about 100 dollars into aquarium gravel and rocks at the local pet store.  Unless you’re looking for bright pink aquarium gravel or something, chances are you have an even better source than the pet shop: your local home improvement store.

Places like Home Depot carry gravel of all sizes and colors in their landscaping section.  Some are even available on their website. And it’s a heck of a lot cheaper, you could end up paying a fraction of the cost for the same stuff because it’s not in a smaller bag marked as aquarium substrate.

Landscaping stones and lava rock also make for excellent and inexpensive aquarium decorations.

Of course that only applies to regular gravel, rocks and sand. If you need something more specialized like planted tank substrate, you’re better off sticking to aquarium stores (and watching this site for deals on the stuff.)