First, I would like to say that I never wanted fish. And I fully expected them to die quickly. However, after we picked out fish I discovered these little guys (betas) are going to live up to around 7 years! WHY?!
Why indeed. We got the fish to teach the 5 year old and the 6 year old responsibility. They have to take care of the fish in order to 'upgrade' to other types of pets. Gerbils are next on the list. Daddy is going to be cleaning it - because Mommy has been cleaning up after the fish since day 1! Anywho - that is the point - too much cleaning!
Anyone that has a fish will tell you fish are easy to keep. They are lying in hopes that you will suffer through water changes as they have. The betta fish require especially require a great deal of water changes the smaller the bowl. And then as you research you find that you are a horrible person if your fish is in a bowl smaller than 2.5 gallons. This is where you feel guilty until you upgrade.
Things are complicated when you have more than one child - it is a rule of the universe that they will want the fish that cannot be placed in the same tank. Let us look at Betta fish math: Male+Male=Dead fish. Male+Female=Dead fish. Female+Female=Dead fish. Female+Female+Female=Your only one tank solution. Well. That sucks. Moving on!
In order to get a larger tank that would keep both fish happy and keep them in the same tank without them dying (We have one male and one female, I wouldn't recommend this with two males since they would stress each other out until one dies) I got a divider and split the new 10 gallon tank. I probably should have split it LONG ways but...I wasn't thinking at the time. Should have, could have, would have. Now I'm glad I didn't. Because it means a better way to deal with water changes.
Before the bigger tank, I was doing a water change every other day (All the water) for both fish bowls (1 gallon). The fish were boring and didn't have much room to swim. Enter guilty feeling mommy. After about two months of this - I was really sick of water changes. I upgraded to the 10 gallon tank. Now, I do a 10% water change...um, every day or every other day. "This is getting old fast" I have been saying for about 4 months.
I have looked into a lot of stuff - all things that complicated things and cost even more in maintenance, equipment we didn't plan to need for 7 years and lots of science. I'm a smart mommy - but I don't want to get all sciency up in my fish tank that I hate cleaning. I needed something EASY that required little or NO cleaning. Enter "the clams".
I got clams for the tank, fresh water. It was really strange ordering 'live clams' on ebay but whatever. They got here - the female fish ATTACKED one and killed it about thirty seconds after I put it in the tank. We figure the female has some suppressed aggression issues she's struggling with. I think she needs help. But for now, I moved all the clams into the male side of the tank. His approach is "Whatever" and leaves them alone.
This has increased the 'bioload' of the tank which means I'm still doing daily water changes. Bioload - the simply explanation, is a bunch of animal waste in the water. Fun. The water on the male side of the tank is very clear. The clams are really doing their part! But for whatever reason, it's not helping the female side of the tank (Probably the divider) and there are still large particles caught in the rocks on the bottom of the tank. The problem? The clams need a current and I don't have a 'current' in the tank and I hadn't really planned on giving them one. When I add water to the tank, I do it on the male side to kick the water up and give them a daily current so they get food floating by them. So far it is workin g a bit. But not was well as I wished it was.
Now - what is a Minimalist Martha like myself to do?! I have all these water changes I'm doing, still siphoning water out of the tank almost daily and I have to haul a bucket of (slightly appreciated) nutrients out to my balcony garden. Personally, the garden doesn't *need* it and I don't need to carry buckets of water like this is the 1800's. I'm not wearing a prairie dress here, am I? I didn't think so.
I have been researching aquaponics for a few months. My over all opinion is the following:
- No more water changes - OH MY GOODNESS WE HAVE A WINNER
- It takes care of itself - YES!
- No need to water the plants - This is AMAZING!
- The set ups are ugly - Oh. That sucks.
- It's not really designed for a livingroom side table - Double bummer.
- The set ups are notoriously expensive - Not cool, man.
- They require a bit of engineering - Hmmm...I have some brain power.
- They are a more substantial investment then just getting the filtering system for the fish tank and maintaining that. - Extra not cool. More money, different science, same maintenance almost.
Then you go the DIY route and the aesthetics gets REALLY unsightly. I did find this cute little number and I *WANTED* it, almost ordered it but the thing is - we would need TWO. That means roughly $120 for two. Hmm....not cool.
We're back at the same investment as just getting the tank filtration system and cutting the betta's water down a bit. That would bring back the 'small tank guilt syndrome'.
But while watching the video they provide, I saw what essentially made it work - a tube leading up is pretty obvious but the part that is difficult is the container on top. How do I suspend the plants above the tank without a really ugly look. It doesn't have to look space-age, but I don't want a wooden structure build on top of my fish tank in the livingroom. During some of the footage, for about 5 seconds, you see someone place a board on the top of the tank with holes cut into it. It is just barely bigger than the tank and that's how it stays up. Lightbulb moment for anyone else?
I had some foam board I save for random projects - well, this seemed worthy. I got the DIY bug and started looking at how I could grow stuff with this information.
Then I came up with the following in about 20 minutes:
That is a piece of foam board ($1 at the dollar store - I love making stuff with foam board) cut slightly larger than the top of the tank and with a place cut out for a 'disposable' strawberry container. I plan on cutting the lid off incase you were wondering! I also wanted to make a shell that comes down about 3 inches all around the tank out of foam to sort of hide the hanging strawberry baskets. I'm not sure if I want to put that much effort in just yet.
Now I still need a pump (being ordered) and some tubing for the pump, and a 'tee' split for the hose so it can water both strawberry containers - but in general, I hope that the finished project really will result in ZERO water changes ever again and lettuce/spices growing out of the top. Hello! I can get behind that!
Lastly - I still have to cut a hole in both sides of the little white 'frame' to feed the fish. Not a big deal!
My roughest estimate is that the pump, the air/water hose, the tee split and maybe some little clay bead things to place in the containers will run about $40. Not bad. No maintenance beyond feeding the fish. If I decide I don't want the pump on all the time, I can set it on a timer to run for 15 minutes on the hour.
So far - Minimalist Martha is planning on crossing "Clean Fish Tank" off the list of things to do - Forever!
I hope that this has sparked an idea or at least given you a warning about the illusion of 'easy to care for fish'! My suggestion? If you really are going to get a tank - start with this optional DIY add on and save yourself the daily chores that goes along with fish!
Get Smart - Get Lazy - Take back some Mommy time by getting rid of or simplifying one chore at a time!