31 March 2017

fish behaviors- and food

Well I think I was right. The female swordtail was more terrified than anything else. In fact, I think her fear had been influencing the other fishes- I'd noticed that since bringing the new fishes home (few weeks now) that all the fishes lay low most of the day, only getting active in the evening when it was darker. I thought they were just still getting used to the new surroundings. They were always a bit active after the partial wc in the morning (for the sake of the female sword I thought was sick), then lay low again.

One day when I removed the gallon of tank water I needed for her salt bath, replacing w/new for the water change, everyone hid from the disturbance. Had to do something else, came back 15 min later to catch the sick fish- everyone was still acting timid. After I caught the fish and put her in the bath, all the others were swimming around the tank acting perfectly normal. So I wondered if they had been cowering all day because the sick fish made the rest of them feel afraid? Because when I took her out of the tank all of a sudden there was all kinds of activity. She was in the bath for 30 min and then another 20min readjusting- I poured portions of tank water into her bath at intervals so just over 50min total. During that time I was often walking close to the tank and the other fish didn't startle, swimming around interested in each other, like I'm not there. The moment I dipped a cup holding her back into the tank, it's like I flipped a switch. All the fishes hid low in the plants again, and if some start to venture out, they darted back out of sight when I walked by the tank. Looked to me like her illness and/or fear was making the rest of them feel scared or stressed out.

When I moved out the serpaes, the swords lay low all the rest of the day- probably frightened by all the fuss when I lifted out some plants and caught the tetras. Next morning the female swordtail was swimming about in regular intervals, looking more relaxed. Picking at stuff on the rubber base of the heater, and even came up to feed. I offered them garlic-soaked betta bits. The lamp-eyes (who don't seem to intimidate the swords) cruise around lower regions of the tank eyeing the surface, then move up swift to strike a bite and dart back down again. Swordtails are much more leisurely about it- they wait until they feel safe, then drift up, take a mouthful, drift back down.
I have this feeding strategy I use about once a week to make sure the kuhlis in my 38 get enough due to competition from the barbs which readily feed off the bottom. I have a baby-food jar in the freezer with moth larvae in it - collect live food when I can from the garden (no pesticides) or in the house (my betta regularly gets small moths that I catch, and all the fishes get fruit flies out of the kitchen). These moth larvae are just big enough the barbs can eat them with an effort. I soak betta micro pellets in garlic juice (or just tank water) until they sink, then suck them up into a medicine syringe. Then drop the larvae into the tank for the barbs- they stuff their faces and sit around working on the mouthfuls, so I can squirt the betta bites into a thicket of dense plants where the kuhlis can easily go. Most of the barbs are busy with their stuffed mouths, and the few that aren't can't get into that thicket so easy. So the kuhlis get a really good feeding.

Yesterday I did this with the new serpae trio in the tank. Serpaes have a reputation for being extra aggressive at feeding time, so I prepared extra soaked betta bits to drop in the tank- I figured they wouldn't strike at the surface for the larvae yet. It all went as usual- and yes the serpaes got very excited when food was dropped in- dashing all over the tank. They are so luminous, so much vigor and shine! But they weren't going after food. They were chasing each other, and looked like a pair was spawning again- in the bacopa/elodea thicket. Blank flared and competed, but was excluded from the spawning activity- when I squirted in a few soaked pellets he did move curiously at them but some barbs dashed in and got them first. So all the extra food I put in was on the ground, and the kuhlis absolutely stuffed themselves. Their tummies were super full- I could actually see the pinkish, round shapes of the food through the belly wall - and they lay around afterwards as if with a stomachache. Good thing next day was a day of fasting for the fishes, and a water change to clean things up. (I tested the water next morning to see if an ammonia or nitrite spike from the increased fish load, all was fine. Although one of the serapes has a bit of cloudy eye).

Not sure yet how the aggression risk will work out. I saw one of the largest male cherry barbs displaying to Blank and chasing him around the day the serpaes were introduced. Day after I saw one of the serpaes chasing a barb. So far no actual injuries. It's very hard to tell the sexes apart, but I think I currently have two males and one female. If I can, will need to get more females when I increase the school.

And now that the serpae tetras have been out of the window tank for a few days, the female swordtail is like a new fish. She isn't sick after all. She was just feeling harrassed by the serpaes, I think. She swims all around the tank now, doesn't even hide when I open the curtains on cloudy days to let more light in. I've since fed them flake, fruit flies and algae wafers- they eat them all (lamp-eyes are quicker to get the flies, though- but that's okay because the swords go after the sinking foods more readily).

Serpaes in the bigger tank are still learning how things work- I remember when I had new cherry barbs, how it took them several weeks to start following the other fishes when they flock to the top for food at the opening of the lid. They approach cautiously when the barbs are swarming after food, so don't get as much to eat right now- but I have seen one get bits of flake, and another got a fruit fly this morning (spit it out several times, finally swallowed and then dashed around flaring its fins as if excited at the taste). They do not at all seem interested in sinking foods- when everyone else is piling around a wafer the serpaes approach but keep their distance- as if just curious what all the fuss is about. So perhaps when the cherry barbs get phased out (by age) and replaced by a nice school of serpae tetras, the kuhlis will finally have plenty all the time.

Too much about fish feeding, ha.

30 March 2017

more seedlings

I did something with them this year haven't before. Usually I sow one or two full trays with several herbs in each- because the seedlings come up so small and I don't need too many. Now it looks like the seedlings need more space, and nourishment from rich potting soil- they were still in seed-starting mix which is really sterile. But I don't have space in my coldframe or windowsills to have lots more little individual pots. Instead I pricked out the seedlings and put them into another set of trays filled with the richer soil. They're spread out more and hopefully will grow enough to go straight out of here into the garden in a month. (Or by that time coleus, tomatoes and nasturtiums will have moved out of the coldhouse making space for more pots to go in). All these seedlings were in one tray before I split them up.
Cilantro look the best
Dill! Can't wait for some eggs and fish flavored with this
Wish I had more summer savory. Not many came up. Probably going to sow another tray of them.
Green bunching onions (the kind that come back every year- only one made it to spring in my garden plot so I started more).

potted up

Yesterday I moved all my coleus
and sweet potato cuttings from jars of water into pots.
There are lots!

seedling progress

growing! I still have to bring the okra,
and basil in at night- forgot once and a few okra leaves looked a bit cold-damanged.
You can see in the tray of celosia seedlings, that all the ones from package grew splendidly (left) and the ones I gathered and saved, not so much (right).
Already the nice reddish stem contrast is showing.

29 March 2017

the new guys

Satisfied that they are doing well, I wasted no time transferring the serpae tetras into my main tank. Floating.
They look really striking in the planted tank. I am becoming more and more taken with their rich color. Their scales really gleam.
This one is Blank. None of them seem too distressed with the change in scenery- and so far are not bothering my cherry barbs. Sizewise they are just a bit more in length than the barbs, but have so much more height to their bodies they look a lot larger. I am going to keep a close eye- don't want them to bully the smaller fish, eat the plants or the shrimps (although I probably can't help that).
I do plan to get at least two more serpaes soon as I can, so they have a decent school, maybe up to seven. And the lamp-eye tetras will be coming over here in a few days, if all goes well.

28 March 2017

plan of action- notes to myself

I'm really focused on watching the window tank right now... Plants are doing great. Hornwort is growing at least half an inch a day. I've started seeing tiny baby malaysian trumpet snails in here. Tetras are more interested in eating- I lifted the lid to offer peas again today and the silver ones struck at the food right away. Serpaes hid at the disturbance but eventually came out to pick at pea bites on the bottom. Splishy the grounded female swordtail is most active of all when food comes- she sculls around the bottom methodically eating up all the pea she can find. Its kind of sad to watch but also heartening that she has so much appetite. While Fabio moves around the tank a lot more than Splishy, he is rather listless when it comes to food. Kind of just drifts around. At least I saw him definitely eating some pea this morning, not spitting it out. He's starting occasionally hanging at the surface gulping air. That alarms me, but none of the other fish do this. 

We had a brief, strong thunderstorm this morning. Tetras chasing each other around and flaring. Fabio seemed to feel the urge to mate- he was pestering the female more than usual, nudging her, doing this odd motion where he sits alongside her parallel and moves his body backwards and forwards in place. I saw him swing his gonopodium once or twice. Having not kept livebearers before, that was interesting.

Tetras are starting to bother the swordtails- I've seen them nipping at the trailing fins. Must move them out soon, but I want them to go through the parasite treatment first, just in case.
Yesterday I gave Splishy an epsom salt bath, she did not show any signs of stress. I'm going to do another one today- there's still a chance it could clear a blockage. First bath I did a low dose of salt, to see how she handled it- using one and a half teaspoons salt. This time going stronger, one tablespoon. Had to read up on it, since it's been a while since I had to medicate a fish. This was the procedure:

I clipped the baffle so could leave filter running while the lid was off (seems to alarm the fish less). Removed a gallon and a half of tank water, replaced in the tank with new, conditioned water. One gallon of the tank water went into my clean 2gal fish bucket. Half gallon held aside. Dissolved the salt into a small cup of tank water, poured into the treatment bucket. Caught the fish- I don't have room to use a net in there unless I pull all the plants (simple to do, but freaks out the fishes and these guys are still so easily alarmed). So I sunk the larger clear plastic cup in a corner, and used the long tongs to guide the sick fish into the cup- she moves away from it but not dashing frightened if I go slow. Put her in the bath for half and hour. Kept an eye on her the whole time- she sat still gently moving her pectorals, roving her eyes around, that's it. After the 30min removed and discarded half the bath water, put a cup of the reserved tank water into the bath. Added more tank water to the bath in 10 minute intervals, three times, until that volume of water was doubled. Fish remained calm. Easily caught her and returned her to the tank. 
But she didn't poop. So... if no response to a second and third bath, I'm going to assume it's not constipation and treat for parasites. Plan to use API General Cure which has praziquantel and metronidazole. This isn't supposed to stain the tank, harm the plants or the bio-filter. But info online is iffy about how it affects snails. So I would pick out as many trumpet snails as I can, they can go into my growout cup of subwassertang for a few days (which has just little bits in it now, as I recently sold the mass). When treatment is done I have a filter cartridge with activated carbon can clear the meds out...


All the seedlings are coming along. I now leave them outside in the coldhouse all night- except for the okra, basil and celosia- those come in if it's going to be below 55°. Tomatoes, coleus and sweet potatoes go out on the deck during the day for max sun, still tucking them in at night. Today some thunderstorms with heavy rain- enough to wash soil out of tiny pots- so I have lids shut on the milk-carton trays and all the plants under plastic. Coldhouse is holding up very well to the weather. I do think it is sturdier this year.

27 March 2017


New fishes seem to be finally settling in. Yesterday showed signs of hunger- Fabio frequently picking at plants, and one of the lamp-eyes struck at a bubble or bit of duckweed on the surface and bonked its head on the plastic lid! I heard a little thump. They weren't as fearful this morning- moving about and interacting w/each other when daylight arrived, instead of hiding. Still act terrified when I open the lid. Offered peas again and this time nearly everyone ate- Splishy was eager and definitely consumed the most. The lamp-eyes ate, the serpaes picked at things, Fabio is still spitting everything out. But at least he tries it.

They are still really timid about it, moving slowly down low shielded by plants and picking cautiously at the food. I had leftover cooked pea bits and dumped the rest in the main tank nextdoor. Reaction was instant- everyone dashing frantically for the food. Totally different!

I'm thinking of giving Splishy a salt bath later in the day, and offering garlic-soaked food tomorrow. I do see pale stringy poo on the bottom of the tank, so after seeing what effect the bath has, will dose the tank with anti-parasitic meds.

26 March 2017


Yeah I know I'm rather fish-obsessed lately, when really the garden seedlings need my attention... Yesterday the new fishes were active for a while after the partial wc, and then all day long they sat still. So motionless in corners, I started to think I had made a mistake with the water change or the ph had shifted from those rocks I put in from the yard. I tested all the parameters and everything is unchanged, nitrates just a little lower at 20ppm (from daily wc).
Later in the day I draped a cloth behind the tank.
Then all the fish (except that female swordtail) started acting normal- chasing each other, sparring, some even picking at the gravel and nipping a bit at plants- showing some appetite now.
Behavior response tells me that for most of them it's still just a matter of settling in and feeling safe here. After all, they've only been here four days.
I like seeing them in wispy green screen of hornwort stems.
Thought the windelov fern looked neat here.

25 March 2017

a little better

This morning I took the backdrop off the tank before it was quite daylight outside, left the curtains closed. Fishes were timid at first but I left the tank alone for half an hour before starting the wc- just 10% this time and I was able to do it without much fuss. Hooked a series of bulldog clips to the baffle (just while I have the lid off) so it stays in place and I leave the filter running while doing the wc. Soon after I was done all the fishes were moving around the tank actively- especially the tetras.

Even Splishy was up and about- for a good long while. It seems to take her a lot of effort to swim, still- after an hour she appears to tire and drifts down to the substrate again. But that's the most activity I've seen from her since she came home. I am going to continue with the small partial wc daily. Have not fed again since trying peas- maybe a few more days of fasting will do her good. Reading stuff online can be so conflicting. Grouping of symptoms between the two swords made me fear they have some kind of bacterial disease- but his morning their behavior looks so much better I am not sure.

I considered adding a very small amount of aquarium salt to the tank- starting with 1 tsp/10gal it could be beneficial for the swordtails, the type of hornwort I have and the windelov java fern should be fine with that. But I'm not sure it's good for the tetras, better to wait until I move them. Today the serpaes and lamp-eyes were displaying at each other for a bit, that was interesting to watch. A concern of putting the tetras into my 38 is will they eat the plants. So far they show no inclination in here, but maybe they will find something in my planted tank more tempting, when they have a real appetite.

underwater details

Just a few pictures from the main tank yesterday.
Plantlet under the java fern leaf has grown!
Young crypt retrospiralis I started off the rhizome fragment is big enough now to show the crinkled leaf texture. I like it so much. But the other piece seems to have died- found it floating with the bit of stem shredded and melted away...
Tethered hornwort has changed shape. All the needles are shorter, and lie flatter to the stem than they used to.
Newer zebra nerite snail.

Not much to note on the betta tank, except that it is definitely cleaner this week. Less mulm to siphon out, and it didn't stink as has for so long I was starting to think that was just normal for this tank. Instead a clay sort of odor. I am trying to be more diligent about rinsing out the sponge filter at least every other week, even though it doesn't collect much debris.

24 March 2017

all the plants

ready to go outside for the day. Prior three nights too darn cold, but tonight it's supposed to be above fifty so I tucked all the baby tomatoes, peppers, nasturtiums, herbs and all into the coldframe house. Got to plant beans, peas and all the rest soon.


Water tests on the window tank today- zero ammonia, zero nitrites, 30ppm nitrate. Did a 20% wc anyway. Removed the duckweed (most of it, that is) and added a dozen more hornwort trimmings.
Moved capuronii cuttings to the rear- I thought if the tall stems could make a screen it would give the fish more of a backdrop feel while still letting the light in? But there's not nearly enough of it. I think it looks pretty this way, but the fishes appear uneasy.
While at it I rearranged the hornwort stems in rows, so they have an avenue to swim between them, and another behind, hoping that would give them a sense of shelter. Maybe when the stems grow up tall it could, but for several hours after I worked the fishes all stayed low, and they've been skittish the rest of the day. I'd move the plants back the way they were- the tall foliage in front corner trailing across- but I don't want to put my hands in the tank and stress them out again right now... So while it looked nice and gave the plants more light for a while without it, I put the backdrop back on.
Fabio has not been very active today, just staying near the female. She is moving less than before. My youngest asked why is that fish not swimming around? and to keep it simple (and forewarn her of a possibly sad outcome) I said "well, she's probably very old and tired." Still just trying to keep the water extra clean. Unfortunately my kids are already getting attached. My five-year-old named the lamp-eye tetras Shimmer and Shine.

23 March 2017

the swordtails

are named Splishy and Fabio. Yeah, ridiculous I know. I let my kids name the female and that's immediately what they said: Splishy!
So I'm trying to figure out how to help this fish, if I can. It seems to have multiple health issues. I'm not even looking at the ragged fins right now. Most noticeable is the swollen belly. May be a chronic problem- I remember when I first visited the prior owner's house months ago I noticed this fish was always near the substrate and I asked about it. He kind of shrugged, said it was a regular thing, but the fish always came up to eat. When I adopted the fish and first brought it home it was so fat I thought maybe it was gravid, or possibly a "balloon-belly" variety
but the profile doesn't look like it now that I view more pictures- I think they're both hi-fin lyretails.
So my best guess is she's constipated and bloated from overeating. Or maybe has a swim bladder problem. I did not feed them the first two days here, and did 25% water change each morning. Today tried feeding minced peas. (Very small amount- less than a fourth of one pea. Left the bits in there for the snails, will siphon out remnants later today). Nobody ate- serpaes and the male swordtail tried and spit it out, female swordtail didn't even move from her grounded position. Lamp-eyes didn't seem to notice there was food on offer. Tomorrow I will try something garlic-soaked.
I just noticed today that Splishy's right gill looks swollen and lumpy- cancerous? or ammonia damage??
My daughter thinks it's real sweet how the male keeps following her around. If she's laying on the bottom he'll periodically drift down to the same level and nudge her.
I've got my own concern about Fabio. He has pale areas on top of the back and upper lip. I took backdrop off the tank in order to see the profile clearly against the light: it's not fuzzy. Looks like scales are worn off? or color is really faded. I don't know if this is just a mottled color pattern, or if the fish is loosing color due to age (at least 3 years, maybe 4), or does it have some disease. Asking the fish folks on the forum for input.

Wondering if a salt bath would help the female, if it can relieve some swelling, but I'm holding off another day before doing any kind of treatment. Today she is swimming around more frequently and for longer stretches, and breathing rate is normal (yesterday she lay on the substrate almost all the time and was breathing heavy). So I think there is already some improvement.... I realize I probably can't heal all her issues, but if there's something I can do... These fish won't be moving into my show tank, they're staying right here. If they need some strong meds I will treat them after the tetras move out...

little pots

Yesterday I folded a bunch of paper pots, and started moving up some seedlings.
All the nasturtiums, tomatoes and leeks. I need to sow fewer tomatoes- all but one of the seeds came up, and I think it was that way last year too. (I'll keep the nicest two or three of each variety for my garden, and probably craigslist the rest).

I was happy to move all these young plants out into the coldframe house (it's nearly full now) and envisioned putting tomato seedlings out for the day on the deck railing, into the coldhouse just at night (when the other seedlings still in trays come into the house)- because last few days it's been 35° or 40° at night so that's less shuffling in-and-out to do. Except then it got bitter cold around 6pm and I checked the weather- supposed to be in the low twenties! I brought all the plants back in. Sigh.

Today much warmer once again so hopefully they can at least stay outside under shelter.

22 March 2017

oh YEAH they did

I found fish eggs in my window tank. This should not be a surprise. Nor should it delight me, but I'm ecstatic. Even though my cherry barbs spawn all the time, I never see eggs- the parents often turn right around and eat them before they fall far, if not the kuhlis or shrimps get them I'm sure. So seeing eggs is something new for me.
Here's one though, on a bit of hornwort in the window tank.

I'm puzzled if it really was the serpae tetras, though. I looked very carefully to tell the males from females- but all my serpaes seem to have a lighter patch at the base of dorsal fin. If any of them is a male, it's Blank (the one missing an eye). Would the females go through spawning motions and lay eggs without a male? or am I misidentifying them. I suppose it's possible the pair of lamp eye tetras (the other common name for red-eye) laid these eggs- they're even harder to tell apart male from female but one does look a bit plumper than the other.

Regardless, I don't expect much. Both these fishes the parents usually eat the eggs, and I don't even know if they're viable- most of them look opaque. If it's serpaes the eggs will hatch in 24 hours, if the lamp eyes, a day later. So we'll see. Either one, I doubt the fry would live. This isn't a mature tank full of microscopic things for them to feed on, and no way am I setting up another tank to tend baby fish. I know how much crazy work that is.
But hey, if one survives on its own that would be super cool. Here's three in the rhizome of windelov fern.
At least, I think I see three- arrows indicate where.
Another one on the end of the rock.
Fish aren't the only things busy multiplying in this tank. Did you see how many new windelov fiddleheads coming up (2nd pic)? And I have not once dosed ferts in here. Not only are lots of new leaves uncurling, today I just saw the tiniest little bit of windelov with a root growing on the end of a mature leaf...