“I Know Funny. I’m A Clownfish.”

Marlin from Finding Nemo

So I consider my aquariums to be one of my two hobbies:  Warhammer 40K is the other.  Currently I have three aquariums in full operation that I maintain with parental love and the muse is upon me to up my game.  It is not that I am going to have four aquariums, but that my smallest aquarium will go to live with my oldest daughter and I will set up a bigger tank in its place.

What a glorious way to dispose of that disposable income.  I love to tease my daughters that they need to love the fish since they are what I have bought with the money that should be going to their inheritance.  One daughter laughs and the other daughter does not.  I laugh both ways.

So back to the plan – after all, I am the “Man With The Plan” in how I choose to live.  The African Cichlid tank is mature and looks great- if a bit bland.  I am in the process of adding more fish to it now but that is a minimalist exercise at best and is the work of five minutes and $50.00.  What I do need to do with this set up is to replace the tank.

This was a tank and stand that I purchased second hand and the plastic rim on the tank has begun to split which is creating issues with the cover fitting correctly and could lead to the structural integrity of the tank being compromised by the water pressure within.  Again this is just a matter of time and money and while costing more than just adding the fish, it is not overly excessive.

The only question that really needs to be answered on this phase of the project is whether or not to move the tank into the dining room.  This is the spot that will be vacated by the smallest aquarium and a 55 gallon tank and stand will fit in their just fine.

This opens up my prime location which between the dining room and living room.  Ideally I would find a used 75-90 gallon tank and stand to go in this location.  Currently my discus are in a 46 gallon tank and if that size of discus tank looks good then a bigger tank would just be better.

Considering that I already have the bogwood, the plants and the fish, this is quite feasible to do on a limited budget.  I would need to add another filter and a decent CO2 system but these are easily and locally obtained so “no big whup”.  This brings me to the subject of the soon to be available 46 gallon tank.

What is it that is uttering a siren call to me to put in there?  I am looking at building a coral reef tank.  I have never messed with salt water and my pal Eric at the fish store thinks that it shouldn’t be too much more of a stretch beyond what I am already doing.  I, on the other hand, am more than a little bit dubious about this.

So I do what I always do when confronted with a new project:  reading and research.  There are books winging in to me from every corner of the Washington County Community Library system.  The ones that have already been picked up look really intimidating (and they all contradict each other).

But then again, the greater the risk, the better the reward:  and I am saying this as I sit here with my four discus fish swimming about their fully planted tank.  The discus’ colours are amazing with blue and black stripes swimming around with a red and turquoise snakeskin and the orange and black fish messing about with the white discus with the pigeon blood markings and blue fins.

Why do I rhapsodize about the discus tank so much?  It is because it is fantastic.  And fantastic as this tank looks, it would pale in comparison to a coral reef tank.  I know some of the fish that I want.  I have to have some clownfish:  anyone who ever saw Finding Nemo would want to have a clownfish.  And since there will be corals and anemones, there can be clownfish (hopefully they are not the “crying on the inside” sad clownfish).

And there would need to be a starfish – probably a blue sea star as these can live compatibly with the coral and the anemones.  As a starfish is the favourite creature of one of my closest friends, it would be cool to have one.  But this one will not be friends with a sponge or be named Patrick.

Really the biggest question on the reef tank is whether or not to build a three chamber sump tank at work to handle the skimmer and such.  But these are some of the technical questions that I will answer as I get more and more into the “technical development” phase.  Right now it is all about the dreaming phase (this is followed by the reality phase (budgeting)).

So let us summarize to conclude.  The small tank goes to my daughter then the cichlid tank gets a facelift and moves into the dining room then the discus get a new habitat and a prime location and then their old home gets a complete scrubbing and makeover complete with sump tank, live rock and sand, corals and other select invertebrates and then some small reef fish.  It’s a done deal: piece of cake!

Drying Off From The Wet Spot

There is always a sense of profound sadness when you go into one of your favourite places and everything has changed:  it is just like learning that Santa is not real and that it’s actually mum and dad putting the presents under the tree and in the stocking.  But I never, ever, expected to find myself walking out of The Wet Spot, my (ex)favourite tropical fish store, pretty much promising myself to never set foot in there again.

Now managing to stick to that promise is another thing entirely since specialist tropical fish stores are not exactly on every block.  But fortunately for me, and unfortunately for The Wet Spot, I do have the luxury of being able to go to another tropical fish store that while not necessarily as well stocked as The Wet Spot, is closer and much, much friendlier to be inside.

Dare I say it; they actually want to provide service and answer questions and even ask about my tanks.  So why I didn’t just go to The World Of Wet Pets in the first place is now a question that I am asking.  The simple answer is that my daughter wanted me to take her out to breakfast and then she wanted to go clothes shopping and shoe shopping.

And since her tastes are rather eclectic and tend to the used and vintage, we decided to make the trek to the east side of town and have breakfast at the Hawthorne Café and then check out Buffalo Exchange and Red Light.  All in all, she was most successful in her endeavours.

On the other hand, I had a most unsuccessful journey to the other side of town.  My sole reason for agreeing to go to the Hawthorne District was so that I could swing down Cesar Chavez to Sandy and on to The Wet Spot.  This was done after a rather good breakfast of smoked salmon eggs benedict and coffee; followed by the privilege of pretending to be enthusiastic about vintage t-shirts and high heel boots, rare Converse All-Stars and most important of all, the light up Skechers in an adult size.

Half the fun of going to the tropical fish store after clothes shopping with a hyperactive eighteen year old is that it is such good payback for that time spent sitting outside the changing room waiting for her to try on all of the clothes she took in, and take pictures and text them to her thirty or forty closest friends:  honestly, there are so many flashes from the changing area that it looks like the night sky over Baghdad during the bombing.

She has long curly red hair that the 275% humidity in The Wet Spot immediately “poodlizes” and she ends up with Texas Big Hair.  Having sweat beads running down my arse crack from the heat and humidity in the store is a small price to pay for her turning into Fifi.  And for some reason, even though it was still a mild 60 degrees outside today, the heat and humidity inside the store was far worse than usual.  The store was not even crowded today either which is rather unusual on a Saturday afternoon.

And yet, I could not get any help from the employees. I consider it a major victory that I even managed to get the churlish individual running the front counter to even acknowledge my presence.  Of course the acknowledgment was accompanied with a deep sigh to make sure that I understood how much I was inconveniencing her. But I have an eighteen year old daughter, and one who used to be eighteen, I can slough off the deep sigh, stamped foot and pouty lips and go back for seconds any day of the week.

The second time I went to the counter I did not even warrant this treatment and was ignored for several minutes.  This was probably to show me who’s the boss.  So I went back and camped out by the fish tank from which I really wished to purchase some of its piscatorial contents along with several other (not inexpensive) items to help buffer my discus tank.  I was then in danger of getting whip lash as employee after employee went by and refused to help.  It was suggested that I go ask for help at the front counter – hmmmmmm, how well did that work the first two times?

And identifying Wet Spot employees is not difficult as they tend to be individuals with a preponderance of body art, piercings, funky hair and wearing a t-shirt proclaiming that they “work” at The Wet Spot.  But trying to get one of these individuals to actually stop and help is a whole other issue. So I ended up putting most items back on the shelf and bought the one thing I knew that I could not get that day at World Of Wet Pets  and then me, myself and the not inconsiderable wad of dollars in my back pocket and pissed off back across the Marquam Bridge.  (No worries though, I did not forget the daughter.)

When I first started getting into aquariums and tropical fish ten years ago, a trip to NE Portland and The Wet Spot was an adventure and the experience of going into the store made me want to get more and more into being an aquarist and really getting into the art and science of having fish as pets.  And it is a commitment of time and money – do not be under any illusion about that.

And a large quantity of that money has been spent at The Wet Spot in my attempts to recreate something that Takashi Amano would be proud of.  Thousands of my hobby dollars have been gratefully given over as I strive to create something special.  But several years ago, I began to find my trips there less and less productive.  Getting help from the help was not so easy.  And so it progressed in a downward spiral.

It is a shame really. There is so much that they do right.  Their website is awesome and the weekly blogs spots are brilliant.  The store has an incredible selection of fish:  African Cichlids, New World Cichlids and discus fish, tetras of every imaginable flavour and colour.  But if no-one will give a customer the time of day then it is all a waste.  I used to go to The Wet Spot twice a month but now it is more like once every three months or so.  And this is all due to what I perceive to be a lack of service in the store.

Everything has to revolve around service in something that specialized.  This was apparent when I went to World Of Wet Pets this morning and got the fish that I originally went over the bridge to get.  As soon as I walked in, I was welcomed by name and asked about my fish tanks.  We discussed what I was looking for (and why) and my Cory Cats were procured and my discus tank is getting cleaned by them even as I type.

There were also some new plants that came in last week that she showed me and so I got several new types of plants for the two planted aquariums and we discussed some of the issues that have been plaguing my tanks; most notably buffering the discus tank to keep the pH low enough.  This has been a growing problem as my wood has aged.  They will now stock the black water extract for me that I like to use.

We then discussed what I was looking to do later on in the summer to the tanks and the girl took some notes so that if she or Eric got something in that I might want such as a rare discus fish, they could get hold of me.  This store probably gets 80% of my fish dollars now and it looks likely to be getting 100% of the dollars soon.  And to think that I discovered it by accident… what now seems to be a most fortuitous and happy accident.

Like I Said ….

Pythagoras is so tiny.

And it is hard to believe that the other three were this size just a year ago.

Bringing Home The New Baby!

So it had been a long time since my daughter and I had wandered over to the other side of town.  In particular we wanted to look around on E Burnside and SE Hawthorne as this contains some of her favourite vintage clothing stores.  The plan was to also go to The Screen Door (her absolute favourite restaurant) for breakfast if we could put up with all of the Portland Hipsters that were standing in line to get breakfast while managing to look aloofly cool. 

After a good breakfast and some shopping at Hippo Hardware for light fixtures and three or four hours spend wandering along Hathorne in the rain, it was time to head over to The Wet Spot (not a strip club) to eyeball their discus fish stock.  And we found us a new friend  there – he is a Red Marlboro Discus and his name is Pythagoras. 

In the words of my daughter, “Oh my God he is so tiny!”  Compared to Aristotle, he is diminutive.  It is really amazing to see how much Aristotle has grown in a year.  I would say that he is eight to ten times the size of Pythagoras: and is a good six inches in diameter now.  But one day, Pythagoras will be all grown up and as big as the others.  I can probably add one or two more discus fish to the tank yet.

Right now, Pythagoras is hiding in amongst all of the tall Amazon Swords that I have in the back of the tank.  When he stats assimilating himself into the general population, I will post a picture showing the amazing size difference.  When he is all grown up, he will look like this.

Greetings From The Three Wise Guys

Hellooooooooooo….

It’s extra-special holiday wishes from my three wise men:  Messrs. Archimedes, Aristotle and Socrates.

(Either that or they are thinking “Hungreeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and “Feed us, fuck-face, we can’t remember back to when we was fed last”.)

Also, I had thought about putting up Christmas stockings for all of the baby cichlids in the Lake Malawi reef tank, but after three months of manifestations (they are literally sprouting from the rocks), it would break me to get a sock for each one….

“Jambo” Says The Fish Whisperer (Very Quietly Though ‘Cause He’s Whispering)

So what did I do this year to celebrate the anniversary of my birth?  Usually I head off to the coast and do some fishing or I head off to the mountains and do some fishing or I might even just go down to the Willamette and do some fishing.  But now that I have my daughter living with me, I can’t just take off and go fishing for a few days on a whim any more.  So what to do, what to do?

Well, I was not going to break with tradition and work.  That would be inconceivable.  I have managed to indulge in not working on my birthday for the past twenty years (since I was but a wee bairn) and I saw no reason what so ever to break with tradition.  I might be a staunch Bolshie, but don’t get between me and my traditions.  At least I do not indulge in a display of military might through Red Square on my birthday – although that would be kind of fun in an egotistical, monomaniacal sort of way.

But no, no parades for me this year on my birthday:  for me it was a fun four to five hours spent tearing down my Rift Lake aquarium and conducting repairs and cleansing on a massive ecological scale so it looked all pretty again. Oh that one could accomplish in nature what I did to faux nature in a morning.

This is not like cleaning out the goldfish bowl.  It requires planning and concentration and the use of all available space and just about every cleaning supply in the place and buckets (and buckets and buckets) for holding water and towels and limitless patience and, preferably (which is why I chose my birthday for this) no other person within sight to interfere, kibitz or generally be close enough to hear the vast and colourful array of profanity that is generated.

Having all of my requirements met , thus setting up the perfect aquarium cleaning situation, it was time to lay out the complete plan (and set up contingencies – just in case).  Unfortunately one of the key goals in all of this was to remove two rather militant blue cobalt cichlids that had not only driven all of the other fish to living behind the rock reef but who indulged in constant fighting with each other.

As a result of this squabbling, they now looked like a pair of second rate boxers:  they had chewed each other’s dorsal fins off and generally looked completely beat to shit. The best way to accomplish the removal of the fish was to drop the water level as low as possible without killing any of the other fish in the tank and then remove all of the rocks that I have in there for the reef.  This served a dual purpose since I wanted to remove everything for cleaning anyway; plus, in order to remove the filtration units, the rocks that surrounded it would need to come out (and basically the reef is a house of cards so if one is pulled, they all must be pulled).

My overriding concern was to save as much of the water in the aquarium as possible since the water chemistry is seemingly ideal and the fastest way I know of to fuck up an aquarium is to get a case of the clevers with the water.  I was already taking a controlled risk with the amount of maintenance that was planned.  After removing 10 gallons (20% and the upper limit of what I would risk removing at any one water change) from the tank and dumping it, I was able to fill three more buckets and set them aside to go back in the tank as soon as possible.

I had old towels at the ready to protect my carpet and started pulling the rocks from the top layer.  These were then soaked in fairly weak solution of bleach and water to get any algae off of them.  Fortunately this tank is set in a location where it gets no sunlight, plus there are no plants in the tank so it never gets fertilized: the fertilizer feeds algae as well as it does plants.  My kitchen sink could take about five of the rocks at any one time; so this would be a fairly arduous process. After about fifteen minutes or so, the first batch of rocks was pulled from the water and then rinsed off really well and set aside to dry.  Another batch was loaded to bleach.

I did have to leave the foundation rock layer in place in the fishtank as I did not want to uncover the plastic light grid that I use to support the rocks and distribute the weight. All told it took about two hours just to remove, clean rinse and dry the rocks.  Once they were all dry, the rocks were laid out on the floor so that I could visualize (being the artiste, that I am) and rebuild the reef.  One of the most important lessons learned from the original set up was to create more space behind the reef and more, and larger, passages in the reef.

The tank is kept at a pH of about 8.2. Because of this alkalinity, lime build up has been an ongoing issue with the filters.  So both of these were pulled along with the heater.  First it was necessary to pull the bio-wheels and set aside so that nothing would inadvertently happen to them.  Then all of the “yuk” was washed off of the filter and cartridge.  New charcoal was added to the secondary filter cartridges as well.

More “yuk” was cleaned from inside the plastic housing and from inside the water intake and a wire brush was used to clean the “yuk” residue from inside and hard to reach areas.  Then I used CLR to clean the lime build up off the plastic and also from the glass of the heater.  This worked really well but I also had to make sure that all of the cleaner was removed so that I did not contaminate the tank (Love Canal was not what I was looking to achieve here).

Then it was time for the epic battle of man against fish.  I have tried many ways to get the fish out of the tank.  The Old Man did not have half as epic of a battle with the Sea as I have had with these cichlids.  I looked more like Carl Spackler chasing gophers (“Not golfers, you great fool! Gophers!”).  But necessity is the mother of all invention – or more correctly – I am a lazy bastard so I combined all of my chores into one frenzied orgy of tank cleaning.

I was able to corner the two fish that were living the thug life and then I was able to remove them and euthanize them.  There was no point in trying to trade them in at the fish store as they had faces that even their mother would not love.  They were incredibly beaten up and ratty looking.  All that was missing was a gold chain and Rocky Balboa pork pie hat.

Since I was feeling my oats and oozing testosterone from defeating not one, but two, fish in a battle of wits and strength, I decide to remedy one of the original problems with the tank and make sure that it was level.  It was not until I had everything in place and had filled the tank that I discovered that it was fractionally off from being level.  And since water weighs 8.5 pounds per gallon and there was an additional 300 pounds of rocks, just the thought of trying to lift the tank gave me a hernia. The tank and stand probably add another 200 or so pounds as well.

Now that the tank was mostly empty, the tank, oak stand and water, rocks and sand that were left probably did not weigh any more than 300 pounds (mere bagatelle for a 48 year old stud muffin like me).  I lifted the tank high enough to put a shim under one (the correct one, no less) end.  Then with a high pitched sigh, and after several careful steps to see if anything fell off that shouldn’t, I congratulated myself (carefully) on a job well done while avoiding patting myself on the back just in case that pulled something (though there really is not a lot left to pull these days).

With everything cleaned and pressed and washed and waxed – martinized even – it was time for the rebuilding.  I will spare you the fables of the reconstruction, but within an hour, the reef had been rebuilt, the filters were reinstalled (with bio-wheels spinning) and the three buckets of water were back in the tank.  I did have a minor tete a tete with a heater that did not want to suck up to the aquarium back.

By the time the water change had been completed and the chemicals had all been added, it was about five hours worth of labour that had been expended:  without a tea break even.  The Bolshie in me wanted to complain to the shop steward about what an arsehole I was working for …. But then in a lucid moment I remembered that I was self employed on this project.  Like I said, I was working for an arsehole.

The results of this work have been positive:  not the least because there is nothing poking through my abdominal wall that shouldn’t, and nothing pulled that was pushed into the power lifting after running wind sprints with rocks first.  I had more surviving cichlids than originally thought now that they are coming out of the rock work (literally).  And the kiddies seem quite happy about the new situation.

I do intend to get some more fish for the tank, and I am going to fly in the face of convention (who me?) and only buy them in pairs rather than threesomes.  For some reason, my fish survive in pairs better!  I buy three and next thing I know there are two.  The tank is clear, and functioning.  The pH is 8.2 and the temperature is 84 degrees F as my African fish like it.

The reef is working well and the fish are moving in and out nicely and not chasing each other around the tank.  But, best of all, when I was sitting there with my daughters, and sometime future son-in-law, eating my birthday dinner that was cooked by my oldest daughter (under close supervision as she has inherited the cooking issues that afflict the female members of my side of the gene pool) when all of a sudden my youngest daughter noticed a school of little half inch long baby cichlids.  At forty eight, I am a daddy again!

The Kids Are Alright

Life has been rather hectic of late – so many people disappearing at work all the time that it’s like a fuckin’ Agatha Christie novel:  Ten Little Office Workers.  Add to that the need to try and keep up with my seventeen year old roomate to whom I serve as chief factotum, chef, washer woman and tea-wallah and as all can see, my time is well used and abused.

However the fishes are still fishy and here is a picture to prove it.

Archimedes has buffed up into a true stud muffin discus and his days of being persecuted by Aristotle have long since passed.  He is half again the size of Aristotle.  In fact Ari’s days of bullying seem to be just about over as the newest discus fish, Socrates, is now big enough and confident enough to pay back anything that Aristotle wants to dish out.  I guess it is about time to go and get another small discus to serve as Aristotles prison bitch for a while.

My daughter redesigned their tank interior about a month ago using a lot of the principals of plant design set forth by Takashi Amano in his amazing, and inspiring, book Nature World Aquarium.  It will be a while before all of the plants have established themselves and filled it the way that the tank is envisioned.  But that is the beauty of having an aquarium – you are always waiting for something.