When using a wooden hood it is always best to try and reflect as much light back into the water as possible from the tubes. This is usually done with aquarium reflectors which can be quite expensive especially on larger hoods.
A cheaper alternative is to use tinfoil and wood glue. I have used this technique on all of my wooden hoods and it works a treat. Cover the inside of the hood with wood glue then carefully lay down the tinfoil and smooth flat. Try and wipe of any access glue before it dries and don`t worry if you rip the tinfoil because you can easily patch it up. If the hood is quite large then you can always do this in sections to make it easier as the tinfoil may get a bit sticky.
Breeding Nets for Fry
If you are keeping African cichlids then you may already know how readily they breed. I try and keep every batch but this can be hard to do at times especially when space is an issue. I began to use mesh breeding nets, the kind that have suckers enabling them to stick to the glass. I use these so that I can keep a holding female or her fry inside another tank that already has some young in it. This works fine, however after a while I noticed a serious problem developing.
If the holding female is small then her fry will be small to and if the breeding net is in a tank with others then the small fry can be pulled through the mesh by the hungry tank mates and eaten. After loosing nearly a full batch of fry I came up with a solution that works really well. I purchased some "Ankle High" ladies tights. These are very cheap and are like socks only made from the same material as regular tights.
I found that one of these fits nice and snug around the breeding net giving an extra very fine mesh layer keeping out any hungry tank mates. I now have one on every breeding net and all my fry are safe now no matter how small they are.
When a holding female has her eggs in her mouth this can be a very stressful time for her. If like me you like to try and get the female into a seperate tank to have her fry in piece then you will know that sometimes she will spit out her eggs especially in young first time mums. If these eggs have been safely caught in a net or container then they can be placed into the fry tank along with the female. The female may or may not collect the eggs back up in her mouth but if she does not then you can try the following which I personally have had success using.
In the fry tank place a net accross the top so that the mesh goes down into the water. Alternatively you can use a mesh breeding net that uses suckers to stick to the inside glass. If you are using a net then you will need to weight it down with something, I use a very small flat piece of rock or led weight. Once the mesh is down into the water and not floating about connect up a small air pump and fix the airline/airstone right under the net so that the bubbles are floating up through the mesh. You can hold this in place by suckers or led weight.
Now place the eggs into the net, the bubbles from the air pump constantly churn the eggs around which is what the female would do in her mouth. Make sure that the eggs do not get stuck under the rock. Once you notice the eggs hatching you can feed them with a liquid feed such as Interpet Liquifry No1 until they are big enough to take crushed flake.
Mbuna are vegetarians and can not properly digest fleshy foods so only feed them vegatable based foods. You can always suppliment their normal diet with cucumber and garden peas. Buy any cheap bag of frozen peas, leave a few out to defrost or place them in some boiling water for a few minutes. Once defrosted split and remove the shells then drop the peas into the tank.
Peas are always appriciated by any type of Mbuna and can be refrozen without the shells and then defrosted for use at a later date.
Make your own Melafix
Melafix (a proprietary name) is an all-natural aquarium antibiotic consisting of tea tree oil. It is a wide-range antibiotic product, and thus is effective for a wide variety of bacterial and fungal infections, such as fin rot and body fungus.
I have only needed to use Melafix once in all my 25+ years of fish keeping and when I purchased it I found it to be quite expensive, however I did find it very effective. After doing a bit of reading on the internet i found out that alot of fish keepers make their own Melafix solution so here it is. Use the following solution at your own risk. However with that said i have not read of any deaths from this solution and fish keepers all over are using it as a cheaper alternative to Melafix.
100% PURE Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia) and some Distilled or De-chlorinated water.
Read more about Tea Tree Oil
You only use 1% of Tea Tree Oil to 99% de-chlorinated water, for example if you have a 200ml bottle you would add 2 drops of the Tea Tree Oil. Always use a new clean bottle and know exactly how much it holds, or you can make it up in a jug and pour it into a new bottle if you are unsure. Shake your solution for about 10 minutes which helps the oil to mix. Once you have made up your solution you then use it the same way as you would use Melafix. Make sure that the Tea Tree Oil is 100% pure.
MelaFix Directions for Use:
Shake well. For best results, remove activated carbon during treatment. As a disease or wound treatment: Add 1 tsp. (5 ml) for every 10 U.S. gallons (40 L) of aquarium water. Repeat dose daily for 7 days. After 7 days, make a 25% water change. Treatment can be continued if necessary. When adding new fish to the aquarium or when netting and handling fish: Add 1 tsp. (5 ml) for every 10 U.S. gallons (40 L) of aquarium water. Repeat dose daily for 3 days.
USE THIS SOLUTION AT YOUR OWN RISK. MALAWICICHLID CAN NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY LOSS OR DAMAGES CAUSED TO LIVESTOCK. If you are unsure there are a large number of websites covering this topic.
Maturing a Tank
Over the years I have set up quite alot of tanks including closing down a fully stocked Malawi tank measuring 72" x 24" x 12" just to change over to a 72" x 24" x 18" and had it up and running all in the same day. If you have ever found yourself having to set up a tank in a hurry for what ever reason then here are some tips to help get the good bacteria going fast. It is not always possible to keep the tank water so the next best thing is the muck from another tank which can be a friends.
Once your new tank is running clean out as many sponge media from any filters into the new tank or a container. However remember that the bacteria from the sponge can only last about an hour out of tank water so be quick when transporting the muck. When this goes into the new tank it will make the water look dirty but in time this will clear and the bacteria will find itself into the new filters. You can also take the dirty water from a friends tank when they do a water change.
Another tip is to drop in a small pinch of food, usually flake into the new tank every couple of days. This will encourage the different bacteria to start and also give them something to feed on before introducing the new fish.
Some people are happy to have snails live in their tanks, especially Malayan Trumpet Snails (MTS) as they help clean up left over food and are good at turning over the substrate in planted tanks. On the other hand there are people who concider all Snails are pests and unfortunatly for the Snails I am one of them with the exception of Apple Snails which i used to breed some years back.
A few months ago when I was changing from my old tank to my new tank and I noticed a couple of MTS while removing the sand. I thought no more of this until I placed all the sand back into the new tank and filled it up. I came downstairs one night and put the light on in the living room and to my horror I saw hundreds of MTS climbing up the sides of the glass.
I have no idea how these Snails got into my tank, I do not use real plants or live food but they did. After searching the internet for how to remove them the best I came up with was to strip the tank and start again. I use CaribSea African Cichlid Complete Sand which is not cheap to replace so I found this to be an expensive solution. I tried all the other suggestions such as lettice traps and just removing the Snails by hand but nothing worked. Another option was to try some Assasin Snails. These hunt and kill all other Snails but unfortunatly I do not think that they would have survived amongst the cichlids. Due to the amount of MTS I was seeing i decided to take matters into my own hands.
I drained the new tank and removed all of the sand, luckily my fish were still in the old tank. I cleaned and dried the inside of the empty tank then set to work on the sand. Firstly I sieved through it all using a common household sieve. The holes were big enough to let the sand fall through but catch all of the big Snails, however it was possible for some of the tiny ones to fall through the sieve. MTS are live bearers so they produce live young.
I then boiled the sand pan by pan on the cooker for about 5 minutes each, drained it then left it to cool in a bucket. Once it had cooled down I placed it back in the tank and continued to set it up again.
One method I did try was clown loaches, I have kept them before many times with Malawi cichlids. It is said that they eat snails, well mine ignored them because MTS burie themselves down into the substrate and clown loach can not break their shells so i now have 2 clown loach playing with my cichlids.
UPDATE: Around 4 months passed and while doing a routine water change I found 2 very large adult MTS in the sand. The above may work for other Snails somehow the MTS managed to survive. Now I only had one solution, i had to strip my tank and start again. I removed all the sand and rocks so the tank had just water and fish, I left it like this for a couple of weeks so that I would see any Snails and remove them.
When I was happy that the tank was clear I placed my fish in a temporary home. This you can do by using a large but very clean dust bin or bucket lined with a black refuge/rubbish bag. Fill this with tank water and place a heater and airline in the bucket for aeration. Cover with a large towel and your fish will be fine in there for a few hours but remember to check them from time to time. I have used this method many times and never lost a fish.
Always save as much water from your tank as you can, I had 4 buckets plus the dustbin full. Once empty I wiped out the tank, did a small repair to the background then placed in the new CaribSea African Cichlid Complete Sand. During this time I had also stipped down the 2 external filters, cleaned them out and placed them and the media in a bucket of snail treatment called Esha Gastropex Aquatic Snail Treatment to soak along with the heaters, I also flushed out the pipes with boiling water. The crushed oyster shell that I use in the filters was replaced with new.
I then filled the tank with all the saved water plus some new conditioned water, set up one of the external filters and one heater then put the fish back and left them to settle, later on a replaced the second heater and filter. I did not put the lava rocks back in the tank, these had to be soaked in the Snail Treatment first. This will take a few days to complete but they will be replaced once they have all been treated.
As with any big water change or aquarium treatment, always keep an eye on the PH Levels, Temperature and water condition. Remember to always read the instructions on any snail treatment as it can be dangerous to use with some livestock.
If you keep Malawi cichlids or any cichlid you will know how readily they breed. Having lots of empty tanks for the fry and females is not always practical or affordable. The easiest way is to divide one spare tank into two or three enabling it to house more than one holding female at the same time. You can buy tank dividers to do the job however i find them to expensive and most of them are attached by hooks over the edge making it impossible to use sliding glass trays.
The solution to this I found easy and much cheaper. You can create a tank divider by using plastic canvas (used for cross stitching) and mini suction cups with hooks. Be aware that the plastic canvas comes in different hole sizes, I found 7 to be about right for the job. The plastic canvas can be bought readily very cheap and is easy to cut to size, if you can not get the right size then just buy more pieces and either tie them together or stick them with silicon sealer. You can get a bag of mini suction cups with hooks (usually 50 per bag, size 19mm) from places like eBay for a couple of pounds.
Then all you need to do is cut the plastic canvas to the right size, hook the suction cup hooks through the canvas holes, one in each corner or more if needed, then stick the suction cups into the tank. You might have to change the hole that the hook goes through so that the plastic canvas is supported tight. If you really want to finish it of and give it more stability you can use a black plastic slide binder along the top and bottom.
If like me you need a tank divider to separate larger fish then this is how I made mine.
I purchased a pair of my favourite Aristochromis Christyi but they were much smaller than my original 8 inch female and so I had to partition part of my tank to save them from becoming her lunch. I bought some plastic egg crate plates with a hole size of 1/2 inch. These plates easily connect together and can then be cut to the perfect size. I then purchased some high quality suction cups, the type that have a hole in the top (not a hook) and are used for securing air line. Using small cable ties I tied on 4 suction cups down both sides of the egg crate, I then had my divider.
All of the above items can be purchased cheap enough on eBay and the good thing about these egg crate plates is that they come apart and can be re-used for a different size tank.
Water Chemistry for Malawi Cichlids
There are products that you can buy that add all the trace elements into the water however on a regular basis these products can be expensive. Here is a cheaper alternative than buying shop products, it was provided by MCH and I have been using it for a long time now.
"Common bicarbonate of soda is effective at raising the PH, not to mention it is very inexpensive. Epsom salts (i.e magnesium sulfate) can be used to harden the water in lieu of calcium. Then you could also add aquarium salt (i.e non-iodized salt) to provide trace elements and potassium. For every 5 gallons of water add 1 tablespoon of epsom salts, 1 teaspoon of baking powder soda and 1 teaspoon of aquarium salt".