Richard Brown, 1996
Cichlid Room Companion

The Healthy Aquarium

By , 1993. image

Classification: Captive maintenance.


Following is my personal philosophy for maintaining a healthy aquarium, arrived at over the years by trial and error, observation, and, above all, good old common sense. I believe in keeping it simple. You may disagree with my philosophy, and that is your prerogative, but all I know is that this is what has worked (and worked exceptionally well) for me, and I am passing it on in the hope that you may find something in it that is useful to you. Please read on, and I hope that you will benefit in some way from my experiences.

In Nature, the fishes that we keep in our freshwater aquaria live in rivers and lakes. Rivers and lakes are open ecosystems, in other words, they are constantly cleansing themselves by fresh water flowing through them and carrying away waste products. In addition, the population density in a river or lake is nowhere near that which occurs in an aquarium, so the build up of waste products is far less of a problem.

By contrast, an aquarium is a closed ecosystem, so, in order to maintain a healthy environment, we must attempt to duplicate the natural dispersal of waste products as nearly as possible to that which occurs in Nature as we can.

Water Changes

I believe that the single most important factor in successful fishkeeping is regular partial water changes. I must admit that I have an advantage over a lot of aquarists in this respect, because I have my own independent water supply with no added chemicals to worry about (rainwater collected from the roof and stored in a six thousand US gallon sealed concrete tank). Now I know that many of you will be thinking "rain water? filled with pollutants!", but here in Australia, we don't, at this point in time, at least, have that problem. The rain that falls here (and we're only twenty five miles north-east of Melbourne) is still very pure. However, as most people these days are reliant upon mains water supplies, complete with their accompanying chemical additives, I realize that big water changes may therefore present somewhat of a problem for the majority of aquarists.

Anyhow, the reason for regular partial water changes, (and I routinely do fifty percent water changes weekly on all of my tanks), is simply to remove as much of the built up dissolved waste matter as possible. Ideally, I should do a one hundred percent water change daily if I want to simulate a river system more closely, but I don't have that much time or water, so fifty percent weekly will have to suffice (and, in practical terms, this is more than sufficient).


The whole purpose of filtration is to remove the solid waste matter from the water, and my philosophy is "get the waste roducts out of the system as quickly as possible." For this reason, I prefer the external "hang on the tank" type of power filter. The filter media in these filters can be cleaned and replaced in a minute or two, and this should be done as frequently as possible. One of my personal favourite power filters is the Whisper. This filter indicates when the filter pads should be rinsed out or replaced by simply overflowing, as the system is not pressurized, so, as soon as the filter media begins to become clogged, it tells you so by overflowing back into the tank. Power filters also create a strong water flow, which, as well as aiding in increasing the oxygen content in the water, also stirs up solid wastes and circulates them, so that they are eventually picked up and removed by the filter.

By the way, I have only ever employed purely mechanical filtration methods (ie. no carbon, chemicals, etc.). I make up my own filter media, very cheaply, utilizing acrylic floss (obtainable by the square metre from craft shops, and cut to size and sewn up on the sewing machine), or foam rubber (also available from various sources) as filter media. In this way, I can afford to replace my filter media frequently and thereby maintain optimal filtration performance.

Varied Diet

It is my belief that we should feed as wide a variety of foods to our fishes as possible. Once again, it's only common sense that the greater the variety of foods that an omnivorous animal eats (and most fishes are basically omnivorous), the greater the chance it has of obtaining all of the essential nutrients that it needs to maintain it in the peak of health (by the way, this also applies to us Humans). Basically, that's it. Feed your fishes a variety of live, frozen, commercially prepared dried foods, and anything else that you can think of. Following are some examples:

Home-Prepared Fish Foods

Beef Heart

This is a favourite food with most fishes. It is high in protein and low in fat. It is a little time-consuming to prepare, but works out very cheap for the amount of fish food you end up with.

Obtain a fresh beef heart from your butcher, then carefully trim out as much of the lean meat as practical, being careful not to leave any fat, skin, sinew, etc. in the portions you are keeping. It may look like you're wasting a lot, but the amount of lean meat you get from one heart makes a lot of fish food. The dog or cat will relish the parts that are left over anyway.

Place the pieces of lean heart in a kitchen food processor and blend it fairly fine (but not pureed!), adding enough water to make the resulting mixture spreadable (you will work out the correct amount of water fairly easily). Spread the mixture, about half an inch thick, into a shallow baking dish and place it in the freezer. When it has frozen, you can break it into feedable-size pieces and store it in the freezer in a sealed container.

Green Peas

This is another great food for most fishes, particularly those which require a certain amount of vegetable matter in their diet. For a vegetable food, it is particulary high in protein.

Simply place the required amount of green peas in a saucepan or microwave-safe container, cover with water, and cook on the stove or in the microwave until they are soft enough. I find that the frozen peas tend to be the best, as they seem to cook to just the right softness.

Having cooked them, pop them out of their skins (you'll soon discover your own preferred technique for doing this), rejecting any really mushy ones, as these will end up as fine particles suspended in your tank water, and any that are too hard, as the fishes won't eat them.

Other Fish Foods from the Kitchen

  • Canned peeled prawns or crab meat (feed the fishes, then make yourself a seafood cocktail with the rest)
  • Canned tuna or sardines (in brine not oil) (use some in your seafood cocktail too!)
  • Cooked lean chicken, chopped to the appropriate fineness
  • Cooked spinach or silverbeet (particularly for algae-eating species)
  • Cooked pumpkin or carrot (also for algae-eating species)
  • Any non-oily fish, raw or cooked
  • Hard-boiled egg yolk (for newly hatched fry, but use carefully, as uneaten egg yolk will pollute the tank very quickly)
  • Cooked zucchini (not one of my personal choices, but a lot of people use it).

Frozen Cocktail

If you prefer to feed a variety of foods to your fishes all at once, simply follow the method for preparing beef heart, but also include prawn, crab meat, fish, peas, spinach, silverbeet, etc. in any combination that you like.

Good fishkeeping.


Brown, Richard. (Jul 23, 1996). "The Healthy Aquarium". Cichlid Room Companion. Retrieved on Feb 29, 2024, from: