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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hello! I am excited to find this forum. I have so much more to learn about fishkeeping and aquatic plants. I was tempted to skip the intro because I didn't know what to say, but I guess I can share about my journey so far--and be warned, when I write, I tend to write a lot.

I was lucky to grow up with lots of animals, and at one time that included a small fish tank with beautiful mollies. I remember sitting and watching them often, and one day excitedly discovering a tiny fish that my mother at first insisted was just a piece of flake food floating around. Ultimately she was convinced it was a baby fish. That tank had a screen over the top, which the cat liked to lie on top of and also sit and watch the fish all day.

I don't remember what happened to that tank. I went many years without another fish, until I moved to LA by myself and came across a shelf full of bettas at the Dollar Store. I felt really conflicted about buying one and supporting what looked like at-best-questionable animal care, but in the end I couldn't resist trying to save one of those pretty little guys. I moved my betta Rufus into a 5 gallon repurposed glass water dispenser from the thrift store and added some pothos to the top. He kept me company in my studio apartment, swimming excitedly when I got home from work and hanging out next to me (willingly or not) while I watched TV.

After I got married and moved to another apartment, he kept getting sick no matter how often I changed the water. I suspect his new location was too bright or warm, not to mention (as I now know) his tank wasn't really set up well. I didn't know how to help him, and sadly he eventually passed away. I gave away all my fish supplies, doubting I'd ever venture down that path again.

But several years later, I received a couple of free goldfish as part of a store's holiday promotion. I should have said no, but there they were, swimming around in a tiny cup, and I couldn't forsake them to the store. I consoled myself that I wasn't financially supporting the practice this time since they were free. A neighbor gave me a 10 gallon tank and some of his pond water to get me started. Unfortunately those two little fish didn't live long in their new home. But it turns out the pond water contained a tiny baby goldfish, that looked like no more than a hair with big black eyes. That little fish, "Baby," launched quite a saga of fishkeeping efforts.

I watched over Baby carefully, tried to learn about responsible fishkeeping, learned about the role of gravel as a home for beneficial bacteria and to not wash filter media in tapwater, etc. I always had at least a few pothos growing in the tank. My neighbor later gave me another baby goldfish (Noruz, New Year) from his tank, and I ended up with a third (Liberty) on the Fourth of July when my parents adopted some little turtles that came with a survivor feeder fish. I had learned enough to know a goldfish can't live in a 10 gallon tank for long, and suddenly I had 3 small goldfish. So I found a 100g tank for sale nearby, pretty cheap. When I arrived to pick it up, I discovered it came with another dozen or so goldfish, already moved into buckets, gasping at the surface, and starting to die. I panicked and got them home and back in the tank as soon as I could. Several didn't make it. My new big tank was already overstocked, and I hadn't even moved my little fish into it yet.

By then fortunately we were living in a house with a yard, so we started planning to build a pond. It took a long time to plan and actually dig and set up, and then I insisted on leaving it cycling for a while before daring to move the goldfish into it. I'd learned about gravel and beneficial bacteria, so we added copious gravel to the bottom and lined the edges with large stones. The design included a "bog" pool in which I planned to grow plants to help filter the water--in the gravel, because dirt would make it muddy, right? (How little I knew.)

Eventually we got all the goldfish moved over (sadly not before several additional deaths from unidentified causes--I fear I may have unintentionally starved them trying to control algae breakouts). I don't actually know how large the pond is. Initially I roughly estimated about 300 gallons, but based on the water department data on the days we top it up, it might be closer to 500+ including the additional pools and waterfall. Plants have included watercress, lilies, mint, water lettuce, duckweed, water hyacinth, hornwort, azolla, seep monkeyflower, and others. The floating plants don't seem to last long. The water hyacinth is the hardiest, though it also fades away in the (Southern California) "winter." We added a shade cloth over the main pool hoping to shield the plants from the worst of the sun, and fold it back in "winter."

Fortunately for the goldfish, they seem to be doing pretty well in the pond now. We've had some trouble with racoons tearing it up, recently decimating the "bog" pool, which I'm kind of worried about. There are already some little plants sprouting in the muck, but I'm worried that they unleashed a bunch of decomposing detritus on the fish.

Anyway, that 100g tank got reoccupied pretty much immediately with fish other neighbors were trying to rehome. It now contains 4 zebra loaches, 1 lonely and very shy clown loach, 2 otocinclus, 1 molly, 4 guppies, 1 clown pleco, 1 neon tetra, and tons of snails, mainly Malaysian trumpet snails. Oh, and a handful of blue shrimp from the original neighbor with the little goldfish pond.

Before adding any fish to the tank, I ran off to the petshop and bought about $100 worth of aquatic plants and awkwardly tried to push them into the gravel. Most of them popped back out of the gravel within days and floated about until they disappeared. The winner has been hornwort, which has grown exponentially and is probably the tank's primary occupant (floating unmoored). The tank is on the back patio where it receives limited but nonetheless ample sunlight. It was pretty well balanced for a few months until I went camping, and when I got back it was filled with string and green water algae. I've more-or-less been in a perpetual battle with the string algae ever since, but sort half-heartedly because I'm not sure if it's actually bad for the fish or aesthetic. I've read conflicting opinions and know some kinds of algae are problematic but am not sure about this one.

So..... recently I found the Ecology of a Planted Aquarium book and wish I'd read it a few years ago when we were planning the pond and before resetting the big tank. Sadly the book's basic chemistry is just whoosh over my head (I haven't studied chemistry since high school, which was [redacted] years ago), but I learned that 1" dirt + 1" gravel = good. I started googling to try to learn more and find out if there's any way to convert an established tank, and landed here, where I was starstruck to see that The Diana Walstad and other experts are actually active on the forum. I don't know what to do next with my pond and tank, but I know there's a lot of room for improvement.

TLDR: I love animals and am suspicious of the pet fish trade, I also love plants, I still don't really know what I'm doing, and I want to do better.

Yup, so, now you know a little (too much) about my fishkeeping journey. Thank you.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Welcome! It sounds like you’re off to a good start. Diane’s book is great but don’t let it overwhelm you. It’s not meant to be overwhelming. My way of using the books is to read it through end to end, then I “read it backwards” 😂 Let me explain:
The way I see it you need to read the book to understand it, but what I mean by “reading it backwards” is after you read the book, go to the section about setting up a planted tank. THEN you read the former chapters if any problems arise. Does that make sense? It’s not about doing everything all at once, it’s about setting up the tank properly with understanding and using the information in the book to problem solve as they arise. Eventually the tank will be stable and you have no problems! You can happily feed your fish and prune your plants.

Good luck!
Thank you! That's a good way to think about the book. I look forward to someday having a stable, natural tank. :)
 
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