Straight Drama

By: Kevin | June 27, 2011



Drama. I hate it, yet it has plagued my fishin’ experience more regularly than ever. Though this wasn’t as bad as the time I walked down to the basement to see 75 [of my monster 150] gallons of water on the ground, or losing my beautiful South American Discus (RIP). Let me speak at you.
            I sat down on a work night to watch some Netflix with my better half. All was normal, Kibby’s kickin’ it E-Z style in her CVS Pharmacy bed, fish doin’ their thing with belly’s of brine shrimp, beautiful breeze coming in through the sliding door. As one, of many, Lost episodes starts streaming over the PS3 I hear a “CRACK”, then the sound of water gushing to the ground. I jump up and run over to the tank to find my overflow plumbing had broken off and water was dumping onto my living room carpet. My better half ran to get some towels while I stopped the ‘bleed’. All said and done, there was a gallon or two of saltwater on the living room carpet.
            Nearly 24 hours prior, almost to the minute, I had taken this piece of plumbing apart to clean and then tighten it because a slow leak had developed. That did the trick, or so I thought. Apparently I tightened it too much and unfortunately it was almost 9 P.M.  so I couldn’t run out and get replacement plumbing. If you have been following this blog, you know I couldn’t let my hard work, and money, go to waste. I called my friend Troy from The Greater Iowa Reef Society to see how he would handle the situation. I was advised, then recalled reading an article, that it is important to keep the water aerated. My sump, which houses my skimmer, was out of commission that normally aerates my water (in other words keeps it oxygenated).  Lucky for me I had an extra air pump from my discus tank (RIP) which I used to keep it oxygenated. Of course I kept my power heads going to maintain water current and had to move my heater to the display to keep the temp at a solid 78 degrees Fahrenheit. These easy actions stabilized my tank until I could get new parts in the morning.
Then it was time to fix this sucker! I went to see my friends at Ace Hardware to pick up some replacement parts; I ended up getting a tub drain fitting that had rubber washers to lock into place. A key part about this was that the drain fitting is metal, NOT PLASTIC. The last plumbing was plastic with rubber fitting and I saw how that ended. I got everything back in place, FINALLY.
As much as I love having my tank in a living area the biggest drawback is the noise. The water overflowing down into the sump is almost obnoxious. Being the 21st century I figured someone out there has a similar problem. I did some google’n and consulted some friends. I was directed to a homemade device called a Hofer Gurgle Buster, some people call it a bubble buster. I thought about putting together a tutorial but of course someone has already done that. So, instead of wasting my time, just check the awesome work jrobertson did on how to construct your very own Hofer Gurgle Buster.

My Hofer Gurgle Buster.

My Hofer Gurgle Buster.

The entire PVC piping for this device cost me around $4. A small price to pay for such a HUGE improvement. It does a killer job and now I don’t have to max out my TV’s volume as a compromise for the tank. I highly suggest this to anyone who has an overflow box on their tank. I couldn’t live without it now!!
Now, this post is entitled ‘Drama’ and unfortunately it isn’t over. If my blog takes over the airwaves it could be the next big reality show… Snookie meets Operah? At this point I have my overflow box repaired, new Hofer Gurgle Buster installed, life is good right? Yeah well it was for a couple days. I came home for lunch on a lovely Friday afternoon last week to find my friend Clyde, my smaller clown fish, missing. Sometimes the fish will be hiding quit cleverly in the rocks. I decided to give them a little brine shrimp to entice him out for a bite. I began to look over my system to make sure everything was in check, sump had enough water in it, no leaks to be found on overflow. Then BOOM, an orange speck caught my eye. It was Mr. Clyde himself stuck in my Hofer Gurgle Buster!!! I pulled it out and discovered he was still alive inside. I put him in the tank and he attempted to swim however was all over the place and I knew his time was limited. I scooped him up in my net and hung it on the side of the tank thinking maybe he would pull through. When I returned from work, I was sad yet not surprised to see him dead.

Poor guy, $20 down the toilet. Literally.

Poor guy, $20 down the toilet. Literally.

Feelin Fishy!!!

By: Kevin | June 12, 2011

Now that my Discus have been laid to rest in their Hefty bag, it’s time for a fresh beginning. My focus: 55 gallon saltwater. Psyched. In all my years ‘fishin’ I’ve never had a saltwater tank. My live rock has come along nicely; I took most of the pieces out and gave them another scrub last week since the initial scrub and I think the rock will be fine. It’s beginning to get some algae growth – sort of looks like a toasted marshmallow color. I was a little worried at first because I thought it might get out of hand! After consulting some peeps over at The Greater Iowa Reef Society (GIRS) I calmed down as many people said this was a normal and I will likely get a few more ‘blooms’.

The tank has been cycling empty for about two months and its been driving me nuts to see it so lifeless. I’ve been cautious to run out and buy fish because the average price for saltwater fish is close to $25 and that’s probably being generous. Like my freshwater tanks when I would start them I’d always get some ‘junk’ fish like goldfish to throw in the tank for a few weeks to let the tank cycle. I wanted to do the same for my saltwater and it was suggested I try yellow tail damsels. At a cheap $4 apiece I was willing to start there. Within the first week, two of the four had died. I let another week go buy and the two yellow tails were eating well and I wasn’t worried about losing the. The other day my better half suggested I bite the bullet and go get a couple more fish. We hopped in the whip and ran over to Petco thinking I’d pick up one clown that runs about $20. Like shopping with any women, I walked out with a tab of nearly $80. DISCLAIMER: my girlfriend did not entice me to spend more money, the beautiful fish did. I walked out with two Clown fish, one Royal Gamma Basslet, two red-legged hermit crabs, oh and Kibby food I guess. I’ve Had them for a week now and they are alive and kickin’. Chillin n’ McGill’n!
Royal Gamma Basslet

Royal Gamma Basslet

After having the fish and crabs for a bit I noticed my algae kicked it in high gear! It started growing on my sand! I went on the GIRS tank tour and talked to a few people about the bloom and learned another striking difference between fresh and saltwater tanks. In freshwater tanks I would always have at least one bottom or algae eater to act as a clean-up crew. Well, in saltwater tanks, most of the so-called clean up crew aren’t fish, they’re crabs, snails, ect. Only having two crabs, as it turns out, isn’t nearly the clean-up crew needed for my 55. I got suggestions for 1-2 snails per gallon of water. Basically, you can’t have to many. Coincidently, before I had left for the tank tour I took a picture of the algae. Take a look.


When I got back from the tank tour, (3-4 hours) I was stunned to see the crabs had already gone to town on the stuff!! Now look.


I’m completely sold. I need to get some more of the clean up crew!!! Further coincidently, I won 12 snails as a door prizes from the tank tour!!! haha!!

Discus Rapture!!! ;(

By: Kevin | May 29, 2011
Tragedy has struck. This news is a bit past due for a few reasons; one, I don’t tweet. And two, it’s been hard to swallow. All four discus have died! It started off like any other day; the sun shining, birds chirping, Kibby stepping out for a smoke. May 12th, 2011 is the day I’m speaking of. I fed Miguel, Rondo, Gloria, and Willow for the last time that morning.
            I left for work and began the daily grind. May 12th was a busy day for me, so busy in fact I had decided not to go home for lunch, (something I normally do). May 12th was also different because I planned on attending a work function that evening. However, I had decided to run home to quickly feed my gilled friends before attending this function.
            I got home, kicked my shoes off, and proceeded to the freezer to grab some bloodworm to begin the feeding. I didn’t notice anything wrong immediately and poured some food in. As I stepped back to watch the feast, it hit me, “Why are they breathing so heavily?!?!” I quickly opened the lid again and dipped a finger in and WHAMMY!!! The water was so hot it might as well have been boiling. L. I grabbed my thermometer and it was off the charts, easily 110+ F (that’s hotter than a hot tub people). In a frantic frenzy I turned the light off and took the lid off to let some heat out. Water doesn’t change temperature very quickly as we all know so I poured in some cool water to help out. There was nothing more I could do at this point.
            Sure, I could have taken them out and threw them into a 5 gallon bucket but I didn’t have much time between running home and making it to the work function I had committed too. There is no way of know how long my dear friends were cooked alive. I guess that guy in California predicted their rapture date correctly. R.I.P.  When I returned that evening, they were all goners. So what happened? After much deliberation, it was determined my heater’s thermostat malfunctioned. Just like any other thermostat, once a specified temperature is reached the heater is designed to turn on or off. Well, on May 12th, 2011 (fish rapture day) that didn’t happen.
            I was mostly mad but I proceeded to do I what any Irish man would do, I had a scotch in their honor. While sipping my cold beverage I decided I had to get rid of the fish before they stunk up my place. That or Kibby might learn to swim for some fish filets.  I know what your thinking… ‘Kibby plotted this whole thing didn’t she?’ After all, she does have striking similarities of Stewie from Family Guy. Of course I have my suspicions at first too, however, I had proper precautions in place to prevent this scenario. I had a guard on my heater so she couldn’t inadvertently change it. Tragic event like this happen. It could happen to you.
            I enjoyed my time with the discus, however short it was. L They were a very temperamental fish that challenged a novice like myself. If you were looking to get started in the hobby, I wouldn’t start with discus. Get yourself accustom to the hobby and work your way up to them. I’m still grieving but am getting stronger. Please refrain from sending your condolences. 
I have decided to tear down my hexagon tank and it is currently listed for sale on craigslist. I am now focusing all of my time on my saltwater tank, and Kibby.

Saltwater Mister Bar Build

By: Kevin | May 14, 2011
Ever heard of Google Sketchup? I hadn’t either, Bing it (see what I did there?). Sketchup is a free program that allows you to do some pretty amazing design techniques otherwise known as CAD (Computer Aided Design). After my first experience, I can honestly say that I will use Google’s Sketchup for all future projects. As I mentioned in earlier posts, I’m creating my own return mister bar. I’ve been so inspired by Sketchup, that I will potentially design a full aquarium hood with a jazzy LED lighting system (as it turns out, LED’s can also be custom built) here in the near future. However, for the purpose of this post, I’m going to focus on the mister bar. No worries though, I’ll get to the LED’s ;-). I love technology!!!
Like most new things, I didn’t read the directions and just decided to jump into Sketchup. I’m still learning but have gotten the jist of it…I think. While fooling around with the program, a fellow enthusiast and friend of mine, (who originally showed me Sketchup), took the liberty of designing the mister bar for me. He did a great job! Take a look at his work.
Couldn’t of done it better myself. I will be following Troy’s design and attempt to document the process. Check out this DIY video…

Discus Water Change – A True Story / Saltwater Next Step

By: Kevin | April 27, 2011

So, I may enjoy my free time entirely too much considering this video I made. There are two hobbies I enjoy more than any others, 1) Aquariums and 2) Technology! Clearly I had to put them together. (Please note, music is high on the list too!) Anyway, I have been struggling to keep my discus tank’s ammonia level down. I tried live plants in the tank for the first time and although they were very cool, I believe the plants had small amounts of decay which added up and forced me to do water changes 1-2 times a week. In the end, I decided to ditch the live plants to get my ammonia level under control. I’ll keep you posted on the progress…

Be warned this is a bit cheesy but it cracks me up. Enjoy!

Back to business – Next Step: To My Saltwater 
My live rock is nearly ready for the 55 display. I have been cycling my tank for nearly 4 weeks now and have noticed that the return pump from my refugium to the display is a bit weak. After consulting some of my peeps over at,  it was generally accepted that I need to cycle my tank through my refugium 5-10 times an hour. Go say hi to my friends over at girs.

You may be asking, a refu-WHAAA???? The dictionary definition really sums it up.
refugium |riˈfyoōjēəm|
noun ( pl. -gia |-jēə|) Biology

an area in which a population of organisms can survive through a period of unfavorable conditions, esp.glaciation.ORIGIN 1950s: from Latin, literally ‘place of refuge.’So its a safe place for bacteria to hang out and do their thing and by that I mean break down (eat) fish waste. They are the same bacteria in the display, however, the refugium is specifically intended for high concentrations of our little friends. 
My modified 10 Gallon refugium. Quickly; water comes in on left hand side form the black tubing. Water is skimmed there; passes through the actual refugium in middle; finally hits the far right where it is pumped up 4ft back into my display.

My modified 10 Gallon refugium. Quickly; water comes in on left hand side form the black tubing. Water is skimmed there; passes through the actual refugium in middle; finally hits the far right where it is pumped up 4ft back into my display.


Already have some life showing in my refugium sand!

Already have some life showing in my refugium sand!

Ok, back to pumps. Like I said, I need to cycle the water through the refugium about 5-10 times an hour. To do this I need a pump that can keep up. The trick is, I don’t want one that is too powerful otherwise it begins to defeat the process of being a ‘safe zone’ and the water will cycle through too quickly. A bit of simple math will get me to my answer. Ok lets think, I have a 55 gallon aquarium therefore, 55 gallons x 7 cycles an hour = 385 gallons an hour (I chose 7 cycles as a middle ground).  I am now in the process of scouring the internet and local pet shops for the perfect pump.Once I have a new return pump I’ve been advised that it might not be a bad idea to get a Mister Bar. Instead of having the water return in a single hose with one point of return entry, the Mister Bar disperses the water out over a wider surface area. Some pvc tubing from good ole Home Depot or Lowes should do the trick and yes you guessed it — I’ll be posting my Mister Bar build soon! 
ttyl world.

Live Rock,…it’s what?

By: Kevin | April 20, 2011

The Rock

I know what you’re thinking. How can rock be alive? That’s the first thing I asked too. Well I’m here to tell you that the rock itself isn’t actually alive–it’s what’s ON the rock that is. There are millions of micro algae and some macro algae, invertebrates, etc.  The algae is the essential part of the tank because it provides a diverse eco system. Most importantly the algae is the tank’s main filtration system. Millions of these little guys break down waste (ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites). The waste comes from a number of things, including fish waste and over feeding.
Green Macro Algae


Where to get rock?

After searching all of the local pet stores, I discovered that cured live rock would cost me an easy $7/lb.  The suggested ratio is 1-2 lbs of live rock per 1 US gallon. Since I’m setting up a 55 gallon tank, this was going to add up in a hurry. 55 x $7 = $385. Ouch! Aside from being out of my price range, this option would be the easiest since the seller has already ‘cured’ the rock and it would be ready for my tank. There are many sites out there where you can buy live rock and have it shipped to you. I was a bit speculative of this option.  I can’t drop $7/lb for my rock so I ended up ordering from I ordered 50lbs at $3.50/lb = $175 AND free shipping. operates near Miami, FL. Their site was quite plain, but effective.
My order showed up and needed a lot of TLC. The rock was very silty and had lots of undesirable macro algae on it.  All the stuff currently on the rock I DON’T want. The algae isn’t bad but it’s not as pretty as the corals I will be getting, so I need to clean off all the algae.


The Curing Process

The rocks I purchased were cheaper because I decided to cure them myself. Time–I have, money–I don’t. Since the rock was shipped via FedEx ground, it had been somewhat damp for a few days, but was not completely submerged. This caused some kill off of bacteria.  Kill off = Ammonia, so much ammonia that multiple water changes are needed to assist the surviving bacteria that can’t keep up. Since the rock is no longer in the ocean, mass amounts of water can’t dilute the ammonia. The killed off bacteria spark the remaining bacteria to multiply and consume their waste (ammonia buffet). The ammonia level gets so high during this time that it would be fatal for any fish or coral. This bloom and kill off of bacteria can last anywhere from 4-6 weeks

First scrub. I scored a lot.

So to sum it up, I need to ‘cure’ the rock and let the bacteria runs its course to stabilize to a point of equilibrium. I am changing the water once a week to help speed up the process and lower my risk of complete kill off.  I put all the rock in a Rubbermaid 25 gallon storage tub.  I chose not to cure it in my tank because that would require a lot more water and sea salt. Remember I have time, not money.

Take a look at my first curing water change with notes explaining what I’m doing.

REMINDER: Always unplug your aquarium heater when doing water changes. Allow your heater to acclimate to the new water temperature before plugging it back in. I pulled a rookie mistake while making the above video and plugged in my heater too soon. Not only did I take 120V but I busted my best heater.



Discus Water Testing Experiment.

By: Kevin | April 13, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome to my first blog!

I decided to start blogging about my fish tanks after posting some updates on facebook and talking with friends, most of which appear interested or at the very lease humor me and listen. So what the heck I’ll give this a go.

Quick history: I grew up with fish tanks and have had them around nearly all my life. Tank sizes have ranged from 20 Longs all the way to 150 gallons. 🙂 I have to credit my father, Mark, who got my going in the aquarium hobby. It was a nice father-son bonding experience I hope to share with a son or daughter myself someday.  Mark, Daddio as I like call him, and I have always had African Cichlids. Very beautiful freshwater fish. I’m not going to get to much into them as my current mission is South American Discus Cichlids.

Take a look at these bad jacksons!!


I scored four (2 Males; 2 Females) discus for FREE from a guy in Spencer, IA. These are two breading pairs that I’m attempting to get them to do just that.  My ultimate goal is to have these bread and sell off the babies. A 1-3” baby would easily cost you $30-$60/piece bones at your local pet store. That’s IF they even have them.

Now that I have you up to speed a bit let me get to what I’m currently up to.

Discus like their water uniquely different from most other freshwater fish.
They like water conditions to be:

  1. 82-88 degrees F
  2. pH more acidic; 5.5-6.5
  3. dKh (water hardness or carbonate hardness) 5-10 dKh
  4. TDS (Total dissolved solids; i.e. copper, iron, ect) at 0 TDS
  5. And like all other aquariums:
    • 0 ppm Ammonia
    • 0 Nitrates
    • 0 Nitrites

Most people just throw tap water right into their tanks and make sure the temp is right. This works for most ‘junk’ fish that don’t take much to live. I have come to the conclusion that the more beautiful the fish (fresh or salt), the more water parameters their is to pay attention to. This is partially what attracted me to discus. A new challenge. I’ll admit I have been struggling to get my water conditions correct. The closer I can get them to the natural habitat the more likely they will bread for me.


Now lets talk water.

I, like you, thought all water for your aquarium is created equal. Well,… I was wrong. There is sooo much more to it than you think. For many years Daddio and I would just use tap water and add some water conditioner to detoxify TDS, ammonia, and ect. I’m starting a saltwater tank which has really opened my eyes to different water options.

There is Tap water, RO (reverse osmoses) water, and distilled water. Tonight I took the liberty of testing RO, Tap, and Culligan distilled water.

I used Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, Inc or API freshwater master kit for all tests.

My Results as pertains to my Discus tank.

1st place – RO water. Reading were perfect for discus liking. pH 6.0, Ammonia 0 ppm, Nitrates 0 ppm, and Nitrites 0 ppm and 0 TDS. Everything I’m looking for.

2nd place – Culligan distilled water reading pH 6.6, Ammonia 0.25 ppm, Nitrates 5 ppm, and Nitrites 0 ppm. I don’t know for sure what TDS is but I’m thinkin between 0-50.



3rd place tap water reading an  undesirable 8.2 pH, Ammonia 0.50 ppm,  Nitrates 0 ppm, Nitrites 0 ppm and TDS near 170.


I did two pH tests on tap water. The blue is for testing the low range pH. Once I saw how high it was I had to get out the High pH test kit.

To put all these number into perspective today my tank read 6.0 pH (I used API’s pH down), Ammonia 0.50-1.0 ppm, Nitrates 5 ppm, and Nitrites 0.50 ppm.


Tank tests

So clearly I am going to start using more RO for my discus tank!! 🙂 Well thats enough for now. Hope this helps someone.

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