30 January 2014

flies, yum yum

I've begun feeding gnats and fruit flies to my fishes once a week. This is purportedly an excellent, natural food for them and of course I've always got a minor fly population in my home. Always a few fruit files around the worm bin, and fungus gnats hatch from the houseplants' soil. Whenever one is annoying flying in my face I automatically swat it, no more trouble to simply drop these into a baby food jar that goes in the freezer. At the end of a week I tipped them all out onto a piece of paper (to warm up a bit) and then gave to the fish.
The Bettas seemed a bit uninterested, eyed the flies for a long time before finally eating them. My Danios went crazy after the flies, dashing about so fast to gobble they were all gone in seconds. Definitely something I'm going to keep doing!

29 January 2014

planting day

Today I started seeds! Yes, in january with bitter cold and snow outside. I'm trying out a new method of winter sowing, read about it here. Basically you take empty, rinsed out milk jugs and cut them nearly in half, leaving an inch attached for a hinge
punch drainage holes with a hot phillips screwdriver
fill with a few inches of soil, plant your seeds and set them outside to be tended to by mother nature. The soil is supposed to be well-draining and mine felt kind of heavy, so I amended it with some cactus mix and crushed eggshells.
I got a little ambitious, even with my small space. Supposedly this method results in higher germination rates and sturdier seedlings, and if it doesn't well then my balcony won't be overcrowded. I only sowed a few of each seed type- no more than four or five. In the four jugs I've got:
Hosta, Echinachea, Cosmos, Marigold, Romaine Lettuce, Simpson Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Dill, Oregano, Cilantro, Green Onions, Parsley, Rosemary (a long shot, they don't germinate well) and Summer Savory.

I need to clean more jugs! I want to start a few more flowers, and some Thyme. Want another Stevia plant but that's notoriously hard to germinate so I'm going to look for a grown plant when the nurseries get stocked in the spring.

vacation plant care

I was recently gone for a week, and once again rearranged my plants for the interm. Most do fine a week without water, but the few that need constant, light watering or humidity simply got set atop one container inside another, that held water to evaporate gradually onto their leaves.
The fern of course got the biggest humitidy reservoir. It still dried up a bit.
Only my Coleus seemed to suffer, it lost a few leaves.
I used to fret more about leaving the plants, tying them into plastic bags to hold humidity in. I find setting them over a tray of water works just as well and is less trouble.
Plants that stood furthest from windows I moved into the kitchen, where they could get ambient light (as I wouldn't be home turning on lights in the rooms where they normally are).

28 January 2014

driftwood pitfall

My driftwood grew fungus. White fuzzy stuff. Eating the soft parts of the wood that is slowly decaying in the tank. I've read that this is normal, harmless to the fish, some actually like to eat it including otocinclus, which is a fish I wanted to get anyways. But that fish is also a little sensitive to new tanks, so I think I need to wait still before adding them. In the meantime, it's starting to look real nasty and spread onto nearby plants, clinging the gravel below the wood.
Today I took the trouble to pull out the two large driftwood pieces and scrub them off. Removed a lot of loose bark. I had tried to peel off all the bark and dig out soft parts w/pocketknife before, but apparently didn't do a good enough job, or more stuff loosened in the meantime.
The fungus removes easily enough. The plants had begun rooting themselves, but were clinging to the bark so of course they came off and I had to tie them on again. I don't want to do this a second time, so scraped and peeled w/pocketknife as thoroughly as I could. Hopefully by the time the fungus builds up again (as it's bound to do, I couldn't get all the bark out of knots and crevices) my tank will be established enough to introduce the otocinclus.

It looks much better now! Not only because the offending fungus is gone, but also the peeling of bark revealed more pretty wood grain. Unfortunately removing so much surface of the wood probably also got rid of a portion of my bacteria colony, so I'll have to be careful w/feeding and not add any new fish for some time, give it a chance to build back up again.

quarantine tank

Planning to add more fish to my aquarium, but I want to do it properly and give them a quarantine period, as the pet stores always have some sick/dead fish in the tanks so I worry about disease (even though I avoid buying fish from any tank that actually has sick or dead fish in it, I know they often share water systems). So I've set up my plastic bin as a temporary fish home. It's very minimal, but if I need to use it as a hospital tank that's preferable.

25 January 2014


The Danios have begun to hang out together, instead of sparring and chasing so much. At least, that's how it looks to me.
They don't exactly school yet, but during their daylight hours are all usually swimming about in the upper part of the water column. I was wondering why in the mornings one or two of the fish tend to stay close to the substrate but then realized those are their twilight hours- I have the aquarium lights on 8 hours a day now (minimal algae)- and their proper day starts at 3pm. So when it is dim some of them seem more timid, when the lights are on they are all out and about. In the afternoon/evening I can glance at the tank and quickly count all six fish:
They are learning that lifting of the hatch often means food- if I want to see all the fish I just have to open the cover and then all six are right there at the surface, darting around expectantly.
Plants are growing well! Especially the Watersprite and Java Fern- their younger leaves have doubled in size. I like the delicate, ferny appearance of the Watersprite. My photo isn't very good, but the plant is really quite pretty.

24 January 2014


This plant just hangs on forever. Every time I get dissatisfied with its looks and chop its head off, it springs back with new huge leaves, but never spreads out. I have to remember to water it frequently, or it gets droopy. My little girl notices this right away, she says "Your plant is sad, Mommy! Look, those leafs is sad."
Well, it's now over four feet tall, up to my chin.
The newer leaves are even larger than the older ones.
They have some odd pockmarked bumps on them but I look close and don't see any signs of insects. I'll have to look up what that might be.

23 January 2014


Hector is a half-moon betta with the long, flowing fins and I've noticed he struggles a bit to swim around his tank. We had to turn the filter off at feeding times or he missed half the food, and he spent most of his time in corners or resting in the upper half of the japanese temple thing (yeah, it has a broken edge. I'm hoping eventually the Java Moss will grow over that).
So I made a baffle for his filter. I have several fish cups sitting around and one had cracked in half. After reading some tutorials online, I broke the bottom out of one half and taped it across the outflow of the filter.
This diverts the flow to the sides so it has a more gentle current, but still filters the water effectively. I ought to use a plastic water bottle instead, because I worry a bit about the rough edges from where the cup cracked. However, the fish stays well away from the ends of it where the flow is strongest so he might be okay for a while. And as soon as I have a water bottle on hand, I'll make a new one for him. It was such a simple thing to do, but has made a lot of difference.
Hector swims all around the tank now, instead of hanging out in sheltered spots. He inspects things on the bottom of the tank and is even building a bubble nest, which is a good sign the fish is feeling good.
He does have a few torn ends to his fins because at first the three-gallon had plastic plants and the edges were too spiky. Live plants are so much better. I'm keeping a close eye on his fins, so far there is no sign of infection or fin rot.

22 January 2014


My Ginger plant seems to be fading. I know that in cold climes (colder than the warm places where it grows naturally) it should be kept relatively dry in winter, and will die back some. But mine has dried out so much between light waterings, that only one small stalk is left now. I'm not certain if this is normal and I should expect an entire die-back, or if it will still revive in spring. I've had other plants that I thought went dormant but they were just dead. Never came back.

Right now outside my Hibiscus, Mimosa and Dogwood are just bare stems. I have not given them much winter care, aside from occasional watering. I hope they will regrow but not sure. I also think I might have lost my Rosemary to the extreme cold spells we've had this winter. The foliage has all suddenly turned a very dull, dark color and begun falling off. Sad. (Pot of Sage next to it is still alive)

Also threw out the Mint which was indoors. I had been enjoying an occasional cup of tea from the clippings but lately the foliage has been very small, growth slow and when I look close it has that dreaded pale, sickly mottled discoloration and webbing under the leaves. I had no choice but to throw it out. Could spread to other plants. Ugh.
Particularly upset to loose the Stevia, which was just beginning to flower again. I had taken it into kitchen to cut stems to dry, and then noticed the damage. Same as the mint. I failed to look close enough to see before. It's advanced up all the stems, I don't think I can save the plant. Not sure if it caught the ailment from neighboring mint on the windowsill, or if it was from something in the potting soil, or from being exposed to things outside on the balcony in summer... regardless, this one has to go too. Blah.

20 January 2014

introducing Hector

I've never posted about the third betta that lives in our house, Hector, even though we've had him the longest. He's my daughter's fish, but of course as mom I am very involved in his care, and feel pleased to see him finally in a proper home. So here's some notes about that.
Hector had been living in a one-gallon bowl like our other bettas, until I bought my daughter a small tank for christmas. It was a three-gallon but I didn't realize needed to cycle like the bigger fishtank, so we had some problems when first put him in. He was getting sick from high Nitrites so we moved him back into the bowl, I switched the small tank for a slightly larger one, and seeded it with media, gravel and cuttings of live plants from the established tank to help jump-start the cycle. It didn't take long for that to become relatively stable, and now he's moved into the five-gallon and seems happy so far.
He's got a heater, about an inch of gravel, a few items of decor, some Java Moss, a bit of Java Fern and an Anubias plant tied onto his log. He can rest on the large, broad leaves. We plan to add a snail to his tank, and my daughter would like to put in a few other fish as well, but I'm not sure about that yet. He might not like sharing his new spacious home! So for now he lives in solitary splendor.

18 January 2014

pretty with pink

It seems I am finally doing something better for this plant. It needs more frequent watering than I had given, and likes the light in the kitchen. I am pretty sure now it's a variety of Rex Begonia Coleus but the ones I see in pictures are darker in hue and fuller growth habit. Mine is pale by comparison. I think I have just not got the conditions quite right for it yet.
It is looking better every day, though, and growing faster now too. These photos are just a few days apart and you can see the small leaves in the center have doubled in size already. I've learned it likes to stay humid but not soggy. I think once this plant has grown more it will be a good candidate for a SIP planter like the one my Pothos is in. But it likes to stay root-bound a bit before moving up a pot size, so I have to wait for that.

16 January 2014


Flash looks much improved this morning. I have to be sneaky to see him relaxed, because once I walk past his bowl, or he spies me in the doorway, he dashes to the near side of the bowl and starts flaring himself all over the place. Definitely feeling feisty again!
He still holds his fins a bit pinched when at rest, but is more active and spunky again so I'm no longer worried. His torn scales are nearly healed, although now I notice a wound on his left gill cover. Once again I looked through past pictures and saw that it must have happened sometime early december. He hasn't got any new injuries since I removed the planted lid, and his scales seem to be healing well so I hope he will get over this soon.
Maybe he's been in pain and that combined with the shock of a recent change in his little sphere caused the clamped fins? I hope he contines to improve. He's such a beautiful little fish.

15 January 2014


Flash does not look well. I tested his water and there is nothing wrong with the levels. I thought perhaps removal of his planted lid threw off the balance, as of course it used to take up Nitrates, but those are still below ten. Then I thought perhaps he is feeling insecure and exposed without the roots to hide among, so I added a plastic plant.
He is still looking poorly this morning, holding his dorsal fin pinched and caudal slightly clamped. Only when at rest. If I approach the bowl he opens his fins with interest and approaches like usual. Eats fine, too. Displays excitedly if he catches a glimpse of the other betta.
I suppose it could be a bit cold- the weather has warmed enough that my heat doesn't turn on quite as frequently, but Pinkie right next to him looks just fine.

I don't know what else could be wrong- I did a partial water change this morning but don't know what else to do for him. He shows no other signs of illness- no spots or fungus or abnormalities on the body. The oldest injury on caudal peduncle is nearly healed- I can hardly see it- and the other two are improving as well.
I would feel better if he were in a proper heated filtered tank, but that's just not a possibility right now though I am planning for it.

In other news, my daughter's betta Hector has moved into his new home - a five-gallon tank- a few days ago. I am keeping his gallon bowl around for a few weeks in case something goes wrong and we have to move him out again. But once he looks settled and the small tank very stable (so far water parameters look good) I am getting rid of the fishbowl so that we won't be tempted to house any more fish in it!

13 January 2014

new danios

Two newbies in my tank. I thought they would be fairly indistinguishable from the others, but one stands out. He's got a blue speck in the middle of a white stripe near the tail, and a white speck interrupting a blue stripe above the anal fin. Color variation or a missing scale, I can't quite tell.
But it's pretty easy to spot him. I call him Blip. The other new fish I can't tell apart.
The resident Danios were pretty excited about the newcomers. They were swimming close all around the bag while it floated to equalize temperature.
Once I let them out they darted all over the place. One fish was clamping fins for a while- but this morning they all look fine. Alert, good color. I fed them peas this morning (yesterday was their fast) and they all ate. But I think Zippy is stressed out by the newcomers. He's easily the smallest fish now and doesn't swim around in the upper water with the others, but weaves about through the plant stems on the bottom. I'm hoping once the others are done vying with each other and settle down a bit, Zippy might feel calmer too.

12 January 2014

worm update

So, how are the worms doing? Well, they are still alive, and none are escaping so I think I have given them the right conditions. Better yet, when I gently pull aside some bedding I see most of them have found the food source. I have noticed a few things: there is condensation on the sides of the bin. It might be too damp? I've adding dry bedding on top. There's a bit of mold on the food I added, also some fruit flies. I think this is normal, but I don't like seeing either so have to remember to bury the food deeper. I also think I might be feeding them too much- when I gently lift up some bedding to check on the worms, a faint warmth comes up. I guess this means my bin is "cooking" like a regular compost pile, but that might be too warm for the worms?

Well, here's my simple method so far. I collect the appropriate food scraps in this copper pail that sits on my countertop. (It came to me with a plant in it that would have drowned, no drainage!) I want to find a copper or brass saucer, or lid with a handle to cover it, but for now just use a plate. I lined the small pail with newspaper but discovered that it gets a bit soggy and can't lift it out without a mess falling apart. So there's a plastic lining under the newspaper, and then I can remove it easier to tip into the bin...
It takes me two or three days to fill the copper pail, thus the worms get fed a few times a week. The volume of the pail fits neatly six times in the bin, so I just bury it in a different spot each time. When I get back to the first space, I'm hoping the worms (or their friendly co-habitating little organisms) will have consumed the stuff and the space will be available for me to add more food. If not, then I'm probably feeding them too much and will be more choosy about what I collect to give them. So far this includes food items like pear cores, apple peelings, bread crusts the kids didn't eat, coffee grounds, raisins that fell on the floor etc. - but also used kleenex, paper towels from wiping up food spills, dryer lint, dead leaves and trimmings off my houseplants.

It's satisfying to not have as much stuff going into the trash bin. Also, less fills up my recycling box now too because I keep out the brown cardboard, clean paper and cardboard tubes to shred for new bedding. This goes on the top whenever I add food.
Learning process, so might change how I do things but that's it for now.

11 January 2014

parameters on betta bowls

While I was at fishkeeping chores yesterday, I thought to test the water in my Bettas' bowls. I've been thinking maybe I should change 50% of the water once midweek, in addition to the 100% change I do on fridays. To keep it clean enough. So on tuesday I tested, but everything was perfect. No bad levels. Today before cleaning I tested again. Quite surprised to find that the numbers were still all perfectly safe.

Pinkie's bowl had below 0.25 Ammonia, 0 Nitrites and only 5 Nitrates. This is amazingly good for an unfiltered bowl.
Flash had 0.25 Ammonia, 0 Nitrites and 10 Nitrates. Just as safe. Of course I did their water changes, but puzzled at how the bowls could be doing so well when I constantly read online and in books how unsuitable a bowl is for the fish, they really should be in an aquarium with a filter.
My fish have, for the most part, always seemed to do just fine. I think there are a number of reasons why this is working. There is a small layer of gravel in the bottom of each bowl, which probably at this point hosts some beneficial bacteria. Each fish also has a decor item with Java Moss tied on it, and Pinkie also has a fake plant. I always rinse debris out of the gravel with hot water, and rub the sides of the bowl clean, but I don't scrub the decor items. So I think that the surface of the decor, plants and gravel hosts just enough bacteria to handle the amount of waste from one fish. Plus I tried to feed them lightly, which keeps it from getting polluted, and the moss plant consumes Nitrates. It seems that even though I probably kill some bacteria when I rinse the gravel (it would be far worse to leave the food waste and fish poo in there) enough is alive in other areas of the bowl environment that things stay in balance.

At least, this is all what I think is going on. Someone do correct me if I'm wrong! Regardless, the fish seem healthy and content, the numbers are safe, and I am going to keep maintaining them this way until I can afford to house both bettas in filtered tanks. I feel like it is not good for the betta to be in such a small home; they would be better with more space and consistent heat (they stay just warm enough on top of my fridge, usually at 74° when I test the water but I know that a steady 78°-80° would be much better for them).

An interesting side note. I have noticed that Flash is definitely more feisty than Pinkie. When I approach the bowls all the fish swim to the near side to investigate. Pinkie moves back and forth curiously, but Flash displays and even flares his gill covers wide. When I set the test tubes near his bowl today for a photo, he swam back and forth in front of the glass where the tubes were set. It looked like he was displaying to the colors in the test tubes! I stepped back to make sure he wasn't displaying at me, and he kept darting back and forth near the colors. Flaring his gill covers as well which you can see in these shots:
My long-term plan is to integrate one of the bettas into my larger, community tank and to give the other one his own small tank. I will try at some point to see if Pinkie can safely coexist with the other fishes, but I think Flash is probably too aggressive and will have to have his own quarters!

parameters and other fish notes

Friday was maintenance for our fishes.
First routine water change I've done on the big tank, so I thought to make a note for myself. It looks like my biological system in there is stable. The water parameters are great: Ammonia below 0.25, Nitrite 0ppm, Nitrates less than 5. I was surprised the Nitrates were so low- either because my few small fish don't produce much waste so there's not a lot of end product in the system, or that the plants are consuming all the Nitrates. Either way, a good thing. I intended to do a 25% water change. Removed 4 gallons (out of a 20 which probably actually only holds 18 gal, if you account for the space taken up by substrate, decor and equipment) but I put 5 back in to get the water to the level I wanted. I think I loose about 1 gallon a week to evaporation. I want to figure out at what point to fill the tank on maintenance day so that I don't have to add any water before the next maintenance day, to keep it at the safe level (if the water level too low filter doesn't work properly, and heater can overheat and crack). Next time I think I will only siphon off 3 gallons and replace 4.

I did make a mistake. The new water I put back in was too warm- even though I had measured with thermometer and tested for sameness with fingers, after adding the new water the temperature rose three degrees in about five minutes. If adjusting temperature, it's supposed to only change by one degree an hour. I was anxious especially for the snail, but both Snaily Snail and the fish seem fine. I kept a close eye on them for a while.
However, something else happened! My fish changed color. It looked as if the tops of their bodies, and the fins were turning a greenish-brown tint. As if the fish had algae on them. My water did have a slight green tint the other day, so I caught two fish in a clear cup and briefly held up to light in front of a white background. No tint to the tank water, definite color on the fins. I swear they used to be clear.

I was alarmed but went to the computer and a bit of searching discovered that a lot of fish change color when they get home and settled in, away from the stress of being in crowded, poor conditions at the store. Also, I gather that with danios, the males turn yellow or greenish color when they are healthy and preparing to spawn. And sometimes the dominant male in the group will have the strongest yellow color. So- my fish are happy! I'm guessing the addition of new water may have triggered the color change.

While I'm mentioning stuff about the tank, I also gave the plants some fertilizer in the form of root tabs pushed into the gravel. I made an error in buying Amazon Sword; I've been informed that this plant can grow up to three feet tall! My tank only has ten inches of height above substrate, so the plant will definitely be too big. Also it needs more food than most of the other plants I have, so I wanted to give it a boost with the root tabs. I don't want to pull it out now but when it gets too big will probably either give it to another aquarist or feed it to my worms.

I have so much to learn about fish still!