Setting up a freshwater aquarium is a process which can be systematized to save effort. If you follow the sequence given below, you will save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and work.
Wash your hands well and rinse them very thoroughly. It is not dangerous to put your hands in the aquarium even after the fishes have been put in, but it is only reasonable to have them clean to avoid the possibility of introducing toxic materials. Wash the tank thoroughly, using rock salt on a clean rag in place of scouring soap. Never use soap or any detergent to clean the inside of an aquarium. While they are not as dangerous as most people believe them to be, sufficient soap residue might very well cause trouble for your fishes. The little salt which might remain after the tank has been rinsed several times will do no harm.
If a decal or paint is to be used, now is the time to apply it while the tank is empty and easy to move. Positioning a mirror can be postponed until after the planting has been completed. Be sure that the background paint is dry before standing the tank upright.
Set the tank in what is t be its permanent position or location. Once the tank is filled, it is difficult to move without causing leaks. If moving the tank is necessary, siphon out at least three quarters of the water first. Make certain that the tank support is strong enough to hold it, and be sure that the surface is level.
Well washed gravel should now be spread out in the tank. It should slope from a high. Point along the back and sides to a lower area at front and center. The under-gravel filter, if one is to be used, must be placed on the bottom of the tank before the gravel is added, of course. In placing the gravel, a depth of 21/2 to 3 inches along the back and sides, sloping to 1 to 11/2 inches along the front, is satisfactory. If an under-gravel filter is used follow the manufacturers directions about the depth of gravel to be placed above the filter.
Now set in the objects you have chosen for your underwater scene. If a diver or other ornamental aerator is to be used, attach the tubing to it before putting it into the tank. See that no crevices are left for dirt to drift into. Draw an imaginary line along the bottom from the center rear to each front corner. All rocks and ornaments, and, later, the plants, should be set behind the two lines, larger items in the rear, and smaller ones toward the front. This makes a pleasing arrangement, assures an even lighting for the plants, and allows for a clearing in front so the fish may easily be seen.
A sheet of brown paper, or wax paper, or several layers of newspaper are now placed over the gravel. Stand a saucer or cup on this, and pour the water gently into the cup or saucer.
It is best to use water of about 75° F. for filling. Where the water is too cold, heat some and mix it with the cold water. This should be done in a separate container before putting it into the tank. Adding hot water to the tank can crack it. Usually running some hot water from the tap as the cold is drawn is the most satisfactory method of tempering the water.
For a large tank (larger than 20 gallon aquarium) it is best to fill it only half full and postpone the balance of the work for a few days to allow the cement to settle. Smaller tanks may be filled to within a few inches of the top. The cup or saucer is then removed, and the paper drawn out by d. edges. Do not wring the paper out in the tank.
Straighten out any pockets in the gravel caused by /hawk filling; rearrange any rocks that may have moved.
If you have followed these instructions, the water will be reasonably clear and easily seen through. If it is gray or muddy, the gravel was probably not washed well enough. It will settle out if it stands, but any disturbance of the gravel will roil it up again. Under these circumstances it is best to empty the tank with a siphon and rewash the gravel.
Plant the larger plants in the corners first. One large, bushy plant, such as the Amazon Sword Plant, or a Cyptocoryne may be used as a center plant at the apex of the imaginary triangle.
Trim off any dead leaves and rinse the plants well before putting them into the tank. A good light on the tank while working makes planting work easier.
To plant, use planting tongs, or hold the plant an inch above the crown, between the tips of the thumb and the middle finger. With your hand held fingers down and the roots pointing down, the body of the plant now extends into the palm of your hand. Place the ball of your index finger on the crown of the plant. Then place the plant on the gravel a few inches away from the desired location. Slide the plant forward and down into the gravel so that it ends up in place. Should it be rooted too deeply, tug it up gently. Exceptionally long roots may be trimmed down to 2 or 3 inches. If you do not care to cut them, then gather them up into a more compact mass for ease in handling and planting.
Some particularly buoyant plants, such as Sagittaria and Watersprite, should be left planted deeply for three or four days. When the roots have had a chance to spread out a little, the plant can be pulled into position.
Hold your left hand, palm up just under the surface of the water. Hold the pitcher or bucket in the right hand and gently pour water into the left hand until the aquarium has been filled to a point just above the lower edge of the frame. A tank looks prettier when the waterline does not show.
Start the filter going, and plug in the heater. Be sure that the thermostat is set properly. If you must put the fishes right in, add chlorine neutralizer to the water. Check the pH, which has not had time to adjust itself. If necessary, adjust it to neutral. If you are going to wait a few days before putting the fishes in, do not check the pH until then. The chances are that the pH will adjust itself, given a little time.
Many fanciers advocate the addition of 1 teaspoonful of coarse salt to each 5 gallons of aquarium water when setting up a tank. This need not be repeated, unless water is drawn off and replaced when the same proportion of salt is replaced with it. The reason is that salt does not evaporate, but remains permanently in the aquarium.
Within a few hours after filling, tanks filled from the tap will have bubbles formed on the glass. These are excess gases which were dissolved in the cold water. The same gases may be seen forming bubbles when water is heated on the stove. These bubbles may cover everything, including the fishes. They are frequently mistaken for signs of disease on the fishes. The bubbles will disappear permanently within forty-eight hours.