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Fish tank decorations and surroundings that my tropical fresh water aquarium fish will live in every day will be suitable for their physical and mental well-being, not so much that they match the room colour scheme.

That means – no unnatural fish tank decorations like coloured gravel and real plants.

Fish tank decorations for tropical fresh water aquariums are divided into three separate sections, the substrate, the backdrop and the internal furnishings.

Fish Tank Decorations: Substrate

This is the material covering the bottom of the fish tank.
Usually non-toxic gravel or sand. It is used to cover under gravel filters, for bedding plants and covering up the bare glass bottom of the tank.

Many fish like to move the substrate as part of their feeding behaviour and foreplay when about to breed. So, I need to make sure the sand or gravel has no sharp edges. Also true if some of my fish rest on the bottom or have sensitive barbels that can be damaged easily.

Also I need to consider the affects of the substrate material on the water chemistry. Hardness-free gravel or sand for soft water biotopes. Non-toxic gravel or sand for hard water aquariums.

Coral or limestone chips will affect the pH level.

Fish Tank Decorations: Backdrop

Fish tank decorations backdrop is the solid vertical background against which the internal furnishings is displayed.

For sure it is unnatural to have bare glass on all four sides of the aquarium. I wouldn’t like to live in a glass house.

Most freshwater aquarium fish live close to the edge of the river or lake in their natural habitat. Not often do they stray out into the open spaces of the main stream. So the freshwater fish aquarium decor should simulate an area of the river or lake that is close to the edge.

I can use specially designed backdrops made from plastic simulating plants, rocks and gravel, attached to the outside of the aquarium. Or, paint the outside of the rear wall a dark colour or stick on cork tiles.

On the inside maybe large flat pieces of slate can be positioned against the back wall.

Fish Tank Decorations : Internal Furnishings

Hard Decor

Water chemistry is the number one consideration when I select the hard decor – rocks and wood.

For rocks in freshwater fish tanks I will use inert materials like granite, slate and gneisses.

Also I need to think ‘BIG’. A collection of large rocks will be more pleasing and provide more nooks and crannies than a pile of small pebbles.

Bogwood seems to be the popular wood used as fish tank furniture. But the tannin in the wood can turn the colour of the water brown.

Whatever wood is used I will need to condition it before installation. Conditioning is usually done by immersing the wood in water for several months. Maybe this time can be shortened by boiling the water and soaking the wood in hot water.


A porous lightweight calcareous rock suitable for hard water freshwater aquariums.
Tufa rock can be built up into extensive aquatic rockeries.

Not suitable for soft water fish tanks because of its affects on water chemistry – hardness and pH levels.


A man-made by product of the smelting industry. Lightweight, porous and completely inert.


Heavy and mostly inert. Well suited as a surface for fish spawning.


Broken clay pots and pipes provide interesting shapes and hideaways. Make sure the pieces are clean and do not carry any horticultural chemicals and residues.

(Gneisses : a common and widely distributed type of rock formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from pre-existing formations that were originally either igneous or sedimentary rocks. It is often foliated (composed of layers of sheet-like planar structures) : Wikipedia – What !!?? ;[


To be avoided at all costs. Toxic…
Soft Decor
Again water chemistry is a major consideration when I select plants for freshwater fish tanks.

Fish Tank Decorations: Plants

Aquarium Plants are living things and sometimes more difficult to keep alive than the fish. I need to handle them with care and don’t buy until I’m are ready to install.

Its best to buy plants that have been grown in special tanks. Plants grown in tanks containing fish may carry disease and should be quarantined before introducing them into your aquarium.

Major consideration – Snails. Look out for snails as well when selecting your plants. Make sure no snails end up in my aquarium.

Common freshwater fish aquarium plants include:

Willowleaf (Hygrophila sp)
Acorus variegatus
Aquatic moss
Java fern ( Microsorium pteropus)
Elodea densa (pond weed)
Hemigraphis Colorata (Broadleaf)

So, that takes care of all the separate parts, next up is the setting up…

Well, if your fish aren’t entertaining you enough, how about installing an underwater waterfall as part of your freshwater fish aquarium  tank decor?

The water isn’t really water, it’s sand and the system uses an air pump to push water up a tube and the water sucks up the sand.

Here is a Youtube Video showing the effect

And all the instructions are available at the Dragon Tamer 458 Thanks for sharing Dragon Tamer Number 458…

And here is another example…

And a video showing how to do it…




OK, so now I’m getting into the meat and potatoes of freshwater aquarium fish keeping – figuring out what aquarium accessories I need.

And the paramount consideration – only use aquarium accessories designed specifically for fish tanks and fish keeping. This way I will avoid any contamination or poisoning of the water.

Fish Tanks

Most fresh water fish tanks are made by sticking sheets of glass together using a silicone sealant. This limits the shape of the fish tank somewhat.
However, glass rectangular fish tanks are easy to install and available off-the-shelf in many standard sizes.

Modern fish tanks are also moulded from clear acrylic. This for sure expands the size and shape options but there are practical considerations.

Acrylic fish tanks are also more durable, lighter and very much stronger than similar sized glass fish tanks
Acrylic aquariums are easy to scratch and because of the refractive index of acrylic there may be more distortion of the interior which will distract from the viewing pleasure.
Tall multi-faceted towers are made more for the novelty value and room decoration rather than as a suitable habitat for fresh water fish. These vertical fish tanks provide a small surface area for the all-important oxygenation of the water and allows little lateral movement for the fish. The fish can move up and down but not many fish do that in their natural environment.

Size Matters

I have a conundrum here. I know what fish I want to keep, but I do not have the space to place the fish tank. So do I install the biggest tank I can, and fill it with the fish I want to keep hoping everything will work out OK?

I don’t think so.

I will need to make a compromise on the type and number of fish species I can accommodate in the biggest fish tank I can accommodate.

Some interesting fact:

A large volume of water is easier to keep biologically stabilised than a small volume of water and therefore can accommodate more fish
A large tank is more versatile if I change my mind in the future. A large tank can be compartmentalised by inserting glass dividers
On the other hand water is heavy.
The bigger the fish tank, the heavier the installation will be. So I need to make sure the supporting structure is strong enough. A shelf, a cabinet, a floor standing frame, the floor itself.

One litre of water weighs 1 kgm
One litre is 1,000 cu cm.

In old money:

One cubic foot of water equals 6.23 gallons (UK)
One gallon of water weighs 10 lbs.
So a small fish tank 600mm X 300mm X 300mm. Or, 24 inches X 12 inches X 12 inches weighs approximately 54 kgm or 124 lb

And a large fish tank 1,800 mm X 600mm X 600mm. Or, 6 ft X 2 ft X 2 ft is 12 times the capacity and nearly weighs a staggering 680 kgm or 1,500 lbs

Shape Matters

Deep freshwater fish aquariums look good and fit into many rooms.
However depth is less important than maximising the water surface area for proper oxygenation of the fish tank water.

I don’t have long arms, so a deep fish tank is going to be more difficult to maintain. Keeping the substrate tidy, planting plants and fish tank decorations.

And aquarium accessories, like live plants growing in the bottom substrate will require a huge light on the top to make them grow.
So, a maximum depth of around 40mm to 45 mm seems to be the most practical.

Location Matters

My freshwater fish aquarium needs to be located:

where it is easily visible but away from through traffic to avoid any accidents.
Near an electrical outlet
Not secluded or the fish will become introverts.
In natural light but not direct sunlight.
And at a height where it can be comfortably viewed.
The fish tank needs to be sat on top of 13mm thick styrofoam to take care of any unevenness of the base. And the styrofoam is usually fitted on top of a sheet of 13mm thick marine grade plywood.

Fish Tank Hoods and Cover Glass

The purpose of the hood aquarium accessories is to keep the fish in the tank and to keep foreign matter out of the tank. Modern hoods also contain fluorescent lighting tubes and a controller.

The purpose of the cover glass aquarium accessories is primarily to stop water evaporation. Water will condense on the underside of the glass and drip back into the fish tank.

Some hoods come complete with integrated cover glass but these may be a little inconvenient unless there is some facility to access the fish tank to feed the fish and for the regular partial water changes.

Water Heating

I intend to keep tropical fresh water fish so for sure I will need to maintain the water temperature above the ambient temperature in the middle of a winter’s night when the central heating is off.

And to maintain the temperature within one or two degrees I will need a thermostat as well as a heater.

I could get separate aquarium accessories but seems the most convenient and not so expensive is a combined heater thermostat unit.

And the recommendation is to install two smaller wattage units rather than one large wattage unit. It’s very unlikely that both units will fail at the same time so there will be some form of heating available at all times.

And I should not forget the thermometer.

Thermometer aquarium accessories are cheap so I will buy more than one. And they are also very inaccurate so I will need to check the accuracy against some standard device somehow.




Filters, Pumps and Filter Media

Filter selection needs to take into account:

Size of tank
Number and fish species
But I need to make sure I don’t instal a pump that is too powerful. Or the fish will be swimming upstream 24/7.

An under gravel filter is a good starting point. If inadequate it can be supplemented by a ‘Hang-on’ filter.

There is also a fine balance between the amount of filter media and the amount of waste generated by the fish.
And if I get it right maybe cheap media like filter floss or foam will be adequate for a ‘Hang-on’ filter.

Water Pump

The water pump is more than a aquarium accessory and is used to move water around the tank and I need to make sure it’s the right flow rate for the size of the aquarium.

Length(in meters) X Width(in meters) X Depth of water(in meters) X 1000 = number of liters of water.

Air Pump

An air pump is essential for adequate oxygenation of the water. Air pumps help with moving the water, limiting algae growth and helping keep the fish in good health.


Filters are used to remove waste from the water so that the water is clean and clear.

Filter Media

Peat or foam is used to remove solid waste and ceramic rings, activated carbon and ‘bio balls’ are used to generate good bacteria to overcome the bad bacteria

Aquarium Lighting

Fluorescent lights are the most common type of lighting for freshwater fish aquariums.
Fluorescent lighting systems aquarium accessories include the controller and one or more tubes.
Various tubes are available that emit different colour of light or more technical they emit light of different frequencies.
Probably best to use two tubes. Each tube emitting light of a different frequency so the whole visible light spectrum is covered.

I need to make sure there is enough light to encourage growth of any real plants I include in the tank and to show off my fish and the biotrobe they’re in but not too bright that the fish need shades.

And also remember that some fish naturally live near the surface of the water and expect bright light but others live in the shade, in the rocks beneath the plants and glaring lights can and will damage the eyes of sensitive fish.

Maybe in my freshwater fish tank, if I only add artificial plants, I only need one fluorescent tube the length of the tank. I am told that the fish will swim actively in moderate light and the moderate light will show of the colours of the fish much better.

In the future when I start to grow plants in the tank along with the fish I will need to add additional lighting. So probably the best is to use one long tube the whole length of the tank and another half the size at one end. And I design the habitat so that all plants are at the brightly lit end with shade for the fish when they do venture there.

Test Kits

I will need to test the water hardness, the pH level and the amount of ammonia nitrite and nitrate.
Salt water kits do not work for fresh water so make sure to buy the right kit.

Water Chemistry Adjusters

To be on the safe side let’s also include some chemicals to fine tune the water chemistry.
For freshwater fish aquariums I can use Epsom Salts (magnesium sulphate) and Sodium Bicarbonate.

In the next post I will open the discussion on aquarium decorations.

You can’t survive without knowing how to build a shed!

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But that’s OK because you can build one.

How to Build a Shed

How to Build a ShedHow to Build a Wooden Shed

  • Go to the garden center and buy one?
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  • Buy a pre-made shed from your nearest diy centre that will only last a few seasons?

Maybe right! Then again, maybe not!

I’ve searched around the internet and of all the sites offering designs for sheds the resource that really stands out is MyShedPlans a resource put together by Ryan Henderson.

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Plans for How to Build a Shed

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Jeb Riordan

What is a Biotope: The region of a habitat associated with a particular ecological community.


Let’s take a journey along a typical tropical river system.

The river starts in the rain forests, deep sluggish waters. And as the water starts it’s journey to the sea and crashes down into tumultuous mountain gorges, through huge freshwater lakes then into the brackish mangrove swamps before the water becomes the sea.

And each section of the river is a separate biotope.

Each of these habitats, or biotopes, have their own physical structures and substances (geology), plant life (flora) and animal life (fauna) and without doubt different water conditions.

So the tropical fish found in these different sections of the river have adapted metabolic processes to help them survive in the local water conditions.

So, obvious to me is that the fish found in these different environments should not be co-located in the same tropical freshwater aquarium.

Expecting a fish evolved in an acid-water biotope to survive in a alkaline water aquarium is like landing on the moon without a spacesuit.

And same goes for trying to compromise by housing both acid and alkaline fish in neutral water conditions. Both fish will suffer and not develop.

Its not only the water chemistry I need to consider here.

The fish found in turbulent rapids or near the lake shore will be more streamlined than fish found in deeper slow moving waters. And they may survive in a well-oxygenated calm water aquarium.

But the sail-finned fish, evolved to glide gracefully through still or slow moving waters will have a hard time keeping up in water that is fast moving.

And it’s not only the shape of the fish I need to consider here.

In the rain forest the fish are found along the river’s edge where the fish can seek shelter in the vegetation, holes in the river bank and amongst the tree roots and fallen branches. The river bottom is covered in layers of dark dead leaves.

Along the rapids, a totally different story. Not much vegetation here. Mostly rocks and large pieces of driftwood jammed between huge boulders. The fish that inhabit this biotope seek shelter in caves and crevices and burrow under boulders.

There can be several different habitats in a large lake: Rocky shores with surf, sandy shallows with aquatic vegetation, muddy river estuaries and everything in between.

In conclusion.

Hardy community species of tropical freshwater fish are physically robust and can survive in a planted aquarium with a few caves to shelter in.

The more exotic tropical fish will not survive without the security of familiar natural surroundings. For these a biotope aquarium with the correct water chemistry and quality and furniture is needed.

What is a biotope? Decisions, decisions. I’m getting stressed with all these decisions to make.
I thought this was a relaxing hobby…