The Natural Aquarist

Gaiam.com, Inc

Like many other well-intentioned but ultimately lazy aquarists, I neglect my filter. Fortunately, I planned for my apathy in advance, and in fact paid a bit extra for a filter that would withstand more neglect than most. I bought a Fluval 305 canister filter when I obtained my 50-gallon setup. This filter is designed for a 70-gallon tank (over-filtration is always better than under, in my opinion,) and works wonders. I’m embarrassed to admit there have been times when I have not cleaned it out for eight months. I only replace the filter media perhaps every two years.

I am lazy about my filter, but it has served me well, and unflinchingly. I recommend Fluval products without hesitation. Working at Preuss Pets whilst getting an aquarium set up was a huge benefit – I had a plethora of experts right at hand to recommend The Best Stuffs.

In addition to the over-sized filter, I have a lot of plants in the tank. I like a natural, green, balanced environment. No plastic castles, no fake plants – they’re just not my preference. I like living things, and the species I choose require little to no additional care. A dose of Carbon in the mornings and they’re good to go. Although, I suspect, the plant substrate I bought some four years ago might need replacing… maybe. The plants seem happy, however, as do the various critters. This photo is from shortly after we moved into the house:

Things have gotten a bit out of control since that time, java-moss-wise.

It all kind of crept up on me. The cherry shrimp love to live and breed in it, and it does suck up the nitrates at a rate of knots. Were I to remove it all at once, I’m afraid there would be an enormous chemical bounce. So I remove it bit by bit, and it regrows almost faster than I take it out. But I’m making progress.

Anyhow, I was reluctant to remove it. Too, we run into the same problem as why I neglect the filter. Tiny critters live in it, and I have to pick them all gently out.

Thus, I am loathe to clean the filter because there are invariably dozens, nay, hundreds of shrimp and snails living inside it. They crawl or get sucked into the intake tube, and seem to thrive in the fairly hostile environment inside the dark, poo-filled can. They breed, even (although I suppose, what else does one do in there?

Thus, because there are a zillion little beings in there, I cannot blithely dump the canister water down the drain and be done with it – oh, no. I sift through it all, saving as many critters as I possibly can, carefully depositing them back into the tank and hoping they don’t have the misfortune of getting re-sucked into the damn thing.

When I free them into the brightly-lit, relatively open waters of the main tank, I always think of an Apocalypse Now quote: “The light and space of Vietnam really put the zap on his head.” I have to wonder – for those shrimp born in the canister, what the heck was it like, suddenly having light and green things everywhere? Awesome? Scary? Both?

At any rate, I save the shrimp and I save the snails. One could argue, “Erin, they’re only shrimp. Don’t stress it.” Their lives are pretty darned important to them, however, and I try to picture things from their perspective. So I save them. Most of them. Some manage to flip their ways down the drain, alas.

I decided today was Filter Day. The outflow from the mighty Fluval had been reduced to a mere trickle, and the waters were rather cloudy. It was overdue. I disassembled the main bits, rinsed the sponge media and carefully set it aside, inspected everything for life forms, and went about getting the impeller out of its housing. First one clip on its protective cover snapped and broke, then the other. Damn! I figured I’d give it a try without them – what’s the worst that could happen?

Well, I reckon the impeller could rattle apart and destroy itself, but they make replacements. Tally ho.

Reassembling, refilling and reattaching the hoses to the canister took a good ten minutes. I primed it, adjusted the flow, clamped down the newly-rinsed hoses, got everything Just So, and plugged it in, fervently hoping it did not make horrific grinding noises. It did not. The usual gush of brown algae spewed forth, muddying the waters further, but all was well.

Whew.

I went back into the kitchen to clean up the fish-poo-covered sink and there I saw…

The fresh and clean sponge filter media in their plastic housing.

SON. Of a bitch!


The Mighty Fluval is a multi-stage filter, and the spongy bits are important not only for mechanical filtration, but they also provide a growth medium for beneficial bacteria. Which were dying as I stared at the contraption balefully.

Nothing for it but to disassemble everything all over again and put the media back.

And so I did.

It is churning away as I speak, dutifully filtering out the dislodged poop, algae and other detritus, replenishing its bacterial supply, all quietly and without complaint. Also, without its impeller cover clips.

Fluval: Good, solid engineering.

I hope the critters in my little 50-gallon microcosm are relatively happy. They don’t squabble, they’ve only rarely gotten sick and they have a lot of places to hide. Still, I am conflicted about the entire exotic pet industry as a whole. Fish less than birds.

But this is a rant for another time.

Meanwhile, check out the cool homesteading blogs here:

Having a little luxury item like an aquarium goes largely against my homesteading inclinations. It uses power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It provides nothing tangible for our home, but I really enjoy gazing into it. I purchased the tank years before the homesteading venture and haven’t quite been able to part with it yet.

As much as I tout simplicity, there are plenty of times when I stray from the path.  I’m making my way, day by day, though – doing what I can, how and when I can. I think that’s probably a better way to succeed, rather than to try to deny myself all of life’s non-simple pleasures.

Perhaps I am rationalizing… but it works for me right now.

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3 responses to The Natural Aquarist


  1. Fun post! The last time I had any sort of aquarium was when I was around 8 years old, so this is fun for me to read about! Sounds like quite the project! Thanks for sharing this at the Homestead Barn Hop! 🙂

  2. Erin D.

    Generally it’s not too much work, but there are certainly Times. 😉 I’ve found so many nifty blogs via your Homestead Barn Hop, I’m looking forward to seeing this week’s entries!

  3. Bobbi

    So pretty and informative. Aquariums are so relaxing to me. Thanks.

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