After many years I am still a beginner, not a master gardener, nor a landscape architect, nor any other qualified expert. I simply love plants—all plants, from the Redwoods in the California fog to the moss in the cracks of my stoop. It makes for a big garden. I like to watch plants. They are such super-slow motion creatures. That gives us time. These pages are some of my watchings.
JAVA FERN ADDENDUM
How to Keep a Goldfish Alive in a Goldfish Bowl
The common wisdom among fish keepers is that it can’t be done–you cannot keep a goldfish alive in a goldfish bowl. They die within a week. Or less.
So many people for so long have been unsuccessful in keeping goldfish in a bowl that pet stores now advise against it, telling you to get a ten gallon aquarium, or better, a twenty. But all you wanted was a goldfish for the kids, not a major investment in a new hobby.
I have been able to keep goldfish alive in a goldfish bowl for years. You can too. It’s really quite easy.
Goldfish bowls come in different sizes and shapes. Some are spherical and others have flat sides. The ones with the flat sides are called “drum bowls.” Some sellers are calling goldfish bowls “betta bowls,” because bettas, the Siamese Fighting Fish, breathe air and easily live in a small space. Along with goldfish bowls pet stores also sell mini-aquariums with filters and lights. Pricey compared to a bowl. That might be the ticket for you, but I still prefer the classic “goldfish bowl”–a glass, 2.5 gallon drum bowl.
It has that wonderful sliced sphere shape, and the flat sides make a great window into the underwater world.
THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
Here’s the formula for keeping your fish alive and healthy in a goldfish bowl:
Change a quarter of the water twice a week.
Use aged water
It’s that simple. And it’s easy. Here’s how to do it, You will need:
1. a one gallon plastic ice cream pail
2. a siphon.
3. an old tooth brush
4. some sort of houseplant watering can.
The siphon and pail make it easy and fast to change water. It’s one of the few “ten minutes jobs” that really takes only ten minutes.
Siphon off 1/4 of the water into the plastic pail. Use the tooth-brush to clean the inside of the glass if necessary. Fill the bowl back up with the “aged water” from your watering can. Voila! Done, in less than ten minutes!
That’s all there is to it. The rest of this article is an explanation of why you are doing these things and some details about how to do them, plus a few tips on how to make a common fish bowl into a “Wow-Bowl.” When people see it they will say, “Wow! That is so beautiful.”
The only thing you may not have around the house is the siphon. You can find them in any pet store.
The siphon is billed as a “gravel vacuum.” Indeed it is. The large ones are for large aquariums. They will empty your bowl before you can clean it. Get the smallest one you can find. Push it gently into the gravel and it will suck all uneaten food and fish waste up the tube and down into the pail. You’ll be able to see it. The gravel is too heavy to go up the siphon so it just burbles and swirls on the bottom of it. Move the siphon around until you have vacuumed the entire bottom of the bowl. Time it so that you are done before you fill up the pail. Stop an inch or two below the pail edge. The waste water is great for watering plants.
Unless you have your own well or freshwater spring, your tap water is probably treated with chlorine and fluoride. Both are poisonous to fish. The good news is that both will evaporate from an open container if left to sit overnight. An added bonus, in the morning the water will be the same temperature as the water in your fishbowl.
Just fill up your plant watering can and let it sit until you do your next change. Easy. Your water is now aged.
When re-filling the bowl with your aged water, add it carefully, filling it up to the top of the circle portion of the bowl. The old wisdom was that you must never fill the bowl up because you will not leave enough surface area for oxygen. Don’t worry about that. By changing the water twice a week, you are supplying plenty of oxygen. In addition, if you don’t fill up the bowl, it will look unfinished, unkempt, un-cared for, unprofessional, and lacking all potential to be a submarine window.
WHY CHANGE 1/4 OF THE WATER TWICE A WEEK?
The water in a fishbowl or an aquarium goes through some dramatic chemical changes as you introduce fish. These changes are a nitrogen cycle, often simply called “The Aquarium Water Cycle.” There is no getting around it. The water in your bowl or aquarium will begin cycling as soon as you put fish into it. If you just let it sit empty for two weeks hoping the water will be good for the fish, nothing will happen. The cycle begins when you introduce fish. It takes about three weeks for the water to go through its complete cycle, and it is a dangerous time for the fish. After it’s cycled, the water will turn crystal clear and the fish will look healthy and happy,
Here’s what happens. Fish waste is full of ammonia. Goldfish put out more ammonia than tropical fish. A lot more. Ammonia is poisonous to fish and will kill them. That’s why so many people lose their goldfish in the first week. During the first week of the cycling process you need to change half the water every two days. That’s not hard. Ten minutes.
Thankfully there are bacteria that eat ammonia. But it takes a while for the those bacteria to grow enough to eat all the ammonia your fish is putting out. That’s the dangerous first week.
The problem is that the ammonia-eating bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrites. Nitrites, too, are poisonous to fish. But thankfully again there is another bacteria that eats nitrites. And that will take another week or so to get stable to where they keep the nitrites in check while the other bacteria are keeping the ammonia in check.
It almost sounds to good to be true. Almost. The nitrite-eating bacteria also produce something–nitrates. Nitrates are not harmful to fish in small quantities. In large amounts they will weaken and kill fish. And that’s where your bi-weekly water changes come in. You are part of the aquarium water cycle.
Fish eat and put out ammonia. Bacteria eat the ammonia, but put out nitrites. Other bacteria eat the nitrites, but put out nitrates. And you dilute the nitrates twice a week. Be religious about it–twice a week–and you will be able to keep your goldfish in a bowl for years.
CHOOSING A FISH
Most people think goldfish are those little orange fish they give away as prizes at county fairs. They are, but it you haven’t seen the “fancy goldfish,” you are in for a surprise. There are Fantails and Veiltails, Shibunkins and Ryukins, Black Moors and Orandas, Bubble Eyes and Lionheads, Celestials, and Pearl Scales, not to mention combinations of all of them. When most people see these fancy goldfish they don’t realize they are looking at goldfish. I once had an aquarium with a white goldfish with a red-orange hat, a yellow goldfish without a fin on top, a black long-fined, big-eyed goldfish, and one that was blue, orange, and white. People gasped when they saw them and asked what kind of fish they were.
Pearl Scale Calico
Don’t run out and get an expensive and fragile fancy goldfish for your fist attempt at goldfish keeping, But don’t settle for a 13 cent feeder goldfish either. You might want to start with a Fan Tail. They are fairly cheap–anywhere from 88 cents to a couple of dollars. My fish in the picture at the top of this article is a two and a half-year old Fantail. It’s actually older, but I got it two and a half years ago when it was small and cute.
It can take up to three years for goldfish to get their true colors, rounded bodies, and long fins. That’s when they become quite stunning. Sadly, most people never see their fish became surprisingly beautiful because the fish dies before it happens. But not yours.
Don’t try to keep more than one fish in a bowl until you are really good at this.
Goldfish food comes in flakes and pellets. Some pellets are large. They are for koi and pond goldfish. Some pellets float and some sink. Goldfish are really carp, so they are designed to eat off the bottom. They will have to reach in an unnatural way to get floating food. They can do it easily enough, but sometimes a fish will suck in air along with the food. This can create a bubble inside that makes it hard for the fish to swim. If you see them bouncing around and veering toward the top it doesn’t necessarily mean they are sick, it may simply be a bubble hiccup. I once had a goldfish that would sleep on top of a plant leaf at the surface. In the morning I would see him gone “belly up,” and would reach for the net. But he would wake up and swim away. I finally got some sinking pellets.
Lots of fish food comes with some kind of “color enhancer.” It’s probably carotene. Babes in highchairs can turn a bit orange if they eat a lot of carrots. Color enhanced food is fine for your goldfish unless they are white. The food will turn them a yellow-orange. I had to look hard to find food without color additives.
Some of the pellet food will turn the water cloudy. It’s meant for pond fish where it doesn’t have much effect. But in a bowl it ruins the clarity of the water.
Start with flakes. Go from there.
Don’t put your goldfish bowl in a sunny window. It will grow algae faster than you can clean it. The gravel will be green, the plants will be nearly black, the glass will be dirty green-brown.
Any light will grow algae in water. Even a table lamp six feet away. Like dust, algae is always there. We eat it and breathe it. That’s why you have a toothbrush in your goldfish bowl cleaning kit, to clean off the occasional algae on the glass. But if the light is too strong algae can become a plague in a goldfish bowl.
There are snails available that will eat algae. They really work and all you need to do is tidy up with your toothbrush.
Algae-eataing Tracked Nerite Snail
But if there is not enough algae they will vacate the premises looking for better pickings. You can get food for algae eating snails and fish.
If your bowl grows too much algae, and there is no helping it, you will have to take it all apart and clean everything. But save 10% of your old, cycled water. It will start your nitrogen cycle again in a few days. And try to reduce the light.
HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR GOLDFISH BOWL INTO A “WOW-BOWL”
You can make you goldfish bowl look like a glimpse into a natural looking underwater scene. It doesn’t take much, and when your friends see it they will indeed say, “Wow!”
You will need
1. some gravel
2. a plant
3. a background (optional)
4. a light (optional)
Gravel is available at any pet store. There are all sorts of colors, but I like something that looks natural.
Aquatic plants are available at pet stores. Ask for low light plants. You may want to start with a Java Fern or a small Amazon Sword Plant.
If you just really are not into water gardening yet, there are artificial plants available. Avoid plastic ones. Fish can tear their fins on sharp edges. Silk plants are better. Many are reproductions of actual aquatic plants.
If for some reason you don’t want a natural looking scene, you can get orange and purple gravel with yellow and pink plants. Oddly, goldfish seem to look good with almost anything. But remember, you are trying to highlight your fish, not compete with it.
But it’s the look through a little window at a realistic underwater world that gets the wows and people staring in delight. That requires making it as natural as possible. That will usually involve a background.
The simplest background is a black piece of paper cut to size and taped onto the back of the bowl. It hides what is behind the bowl–usually stuff that distracts from the fish, like lamp cords or wall paper. If the background is neutral enough or if you have your bowl in a sunless window for light, you can manage without a background. But the background makes the bowl its own little water room.
There are printed backgrounds available made for aquariums. It’s easy to make your own. Find a large picture in a magazine or put several together. They don’t have to make a scene, they have to make a background. The background in the picture at the top of this page is an old oil painting reproduction printed on cardboard. It got bent and I was about to throw it out, but I tried it behind the bowl. It had a nice mystery and rock feel. The actual picture is a city-scape of buildings. I turned the picture upside down and tilted it slightly.
If your bowl is not near a window, you will need some kind of light. It’s for the plant and for you to see your fish. A table lamp might work. A desk lamp with a 40 watt fluorescent bulb can do. I have an LED goose-neck desk lamp.
The LEDs were too strong and grew lots of algae, so I covered them with a blue plastic lid I found in our kitchen wastebasket.
I hide my lamp and distracting side elements with a piece of black foam board with a fishbowl window cut out of it. It just leans against the front of the bowl,
Experiment. Try different things. When you are pleased with it, and the water finally turns crystal clear so that the fish looks like it is floating in air, you yourself will say, “Wow!”
ADDENDUM TO THE ADDENDUM
My son sent me this:
“I can tell you haven’t bought your snail yet 😉 If you had, that section would have been much larger. There would even have been gushing. Is there perhaps an aesthetic speedbump on your road to snaildom? Nothing is more natural than a snail in a pond (see, it sounds like a colloquialism already!), and he/she will blend in very nicely with your rocks. If that doesn’t convince you, then consider that i haven’t touched a toothbrush in months, all the while handily violating the primary maxim of ‘never put your bowl next to a sunny window’!”
2. MATURE GOLDFISH
Fish, reptiles, and trees keep growing as long as they are alive. Goldfish in a pond can reach prodigious proportions. A small environment will stunt the size of a fish, but goldfish can still get mighty big compared to most tropical fish. If your fish gets so big that it can barely make a U-turn in your bowl, you will have a wonderful problem. By then you will be an expert at goldfish keeping and will love your fish enough to consider an aquarium. Or a half whisky barrel. Or maybe you could re-landscape and create a koi pond with a waterfall.
Meanwhile, as your fish grows larger, you may want to increase the frequency of the water changes–it only takes ten minutes. Just watch your fish–the way you watch your plants. If your goldfish is spending a lot of time at the top gulping air, change the water.
3. TROPICAL FISH
If you are interested in trying tropical fish, your room temperature should not go below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. White Clouds, Neon Tetras and Glowlight Tetras are a good choice. They are tiny and cute, and stay that way, and they have iridescent “lights” that charm children and adults alike. They look best with a dark background. White Clouds, like Goldfish, are cold-water fish, and are quite hardy. Neons and Glowlights are a bit more fragile.
White Cloud Mountain Fish
They are all part of “The Peaceful Kingdom,” which means they are perfectly friendly and get along. Many lovely tropical fish are territorial, which makes them surprisingly aggressive, mean, and pugnacious, especially in a small, confined space, and they often end up killing each other. White Clouds, Neons, and Glow Lights are not only peaceful, they are schooling fish. They look best and do best in a small group.
Betas, the Siamese Fighting Fish, will live in a bowl, or something even smaller, but they have to be kept alone. With their long fins and iridescent colors they can be spectacular. But to me they look more like a display than part of an underwater world.
Betta, the Siamese Fighting Fish