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Oscars and Classical Music. Or, How to lower your blood pressure.

25 Jan

I have two big Oscars in a 75 gallon tank. What surprises me is how graceful they are. They just float through the water, moving effortlessly, in total command of their world.

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I play the radio while working on my fish tanks.I don’t know anything about classical music but it fits so well with fish-watching. Try it!

Especially with the Oscars. I think mine are a pair. They always stay in close contact, barely twitching a fin to feel the others presence.

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There are 2 Jack Dempsey’s, a Red Devil, and a large Plecostomus in the Oscar tank.

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You’ll find Oscars sleeping on their sides in the morning.

As serene and graceful as the Oscar’s appear, I make sure to keep them well-fed so they don’t turn into murdering maniacs.

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The Red Devil. Do not adjust your eyes, this fish is yellow.

 

Used flowerpot WARNING

25 Jan

A Spring ritual is putting aquatic plants in clay flowerpots and placing them in my small outdoor pond.

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A few years ago this killed some of my fish.

I start with flowerpots plus some clean sand and gravel.

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Gravel goes on the bottom.

Then the plant, maybe a little soil, then sand on top.

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As I mentioned,  a few years ago there was a problem. I had fancy goldfish, platies and swordtails in the pond. Everything seemed fine but after a week the goldfish were dying and the small fish had quit eating and were sitting at the bottom.

I captured the remaining fish, then completely cleaned the pond. I still had no idea what had happened.

It was a year later that the president of the local fish club (Mr. LVH) said something about pesticides in used flowerpots. It became clear as a bell.

I had bought some used flowerpots at a garage sale. My first use of them was in the pond. Things were fine for a week but then the poison began leaching out.

Another week went by and I had dead fish. The ones that were brought inside were thin and disfigured but, if they could be induced to eat, recovered quickly.

So if you buy used clay flowerpots soak them for several days in a bucket of water. Pour out the water and do it at least 3 times over a week.

Also in Springtime I put Water Lettuce outdoors that has been growing in an aquarium.

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First, I put the plants in a plastic container and tuck it in a shady spot to avoid sunburn.

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If I move it into sunshine too soon it looks like this.

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Water Lettuce can recover and eventually gets accustomed to bright sun, but I think it does best in partial shade.

Partway through summer I have to remove handfuls of Water Lettuce from the pond.

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I also have flowerpots in several of my aquariums.

Amazon Swords do best growing in soil.

The only problem growing aquatic plants in pots is that the plants grow too fast.  The tank becomes a jungle. Not a bad problem  to have.

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Venus Flytraps eat fish food?

16 Jan

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It all started nearly a year ago. One of my kids wanted a Venus Flytrap. I found out that plants cost about $5-$10 each, plus shipping, while 20 seeds could be had for $12.
I figured if I could get 3 plants to survive I would get my moneys worth.  I ordered seeds from Flytrapstore.com. I received them in a small sealed plastic vial.

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This is a great way to use a partially-filled aquarium: As a greenhouse!

It’ll write about the process of getting plants from these seeds some other time. It’s not as easy as just dropping seeds into dirt. The baby plants are so small and need to be fed. Also, there are fake seeds being sold on the Internet, which is why I would recommend buying from Flytrapstore.com. There must be other trustworthy sources but I can say that my Venus Flytrap seeds turned into Venus Flytrap plants. It takes some work and a lot of patience, so trusting that the seeds are real is important.

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I fed the baby plants with  fragments of dried Bloodworms (soaked in distilled water). It was very difficult feeding the baby plants. If you have the steady hands of a brain surgeon it helps.

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Out of 20 seeds, I ended up with 15 baby plants, then had 10 very healthy growing small plants. Last fall, I put them outside on some hot, dry days and I killed them all! I brought them in, watered them, and ONE plant came back from underground. It was pathetic. I put the plant inside an aquarium, floating in the warm, humid air, under the bright LED lights. It’s growing. I treat it like it’s the last plant on Earth.

Thinking outside the tank

16 Jan

My water turtles spend the winter indoors in a 100-gallon horse trough. Let’s call it a turtle trough instead.

This year I acquired two more adult sliders A female Red-ear and a female Yellow Belly.

The basking spot I had was an upside-down bucket with a smooth rock on the top. There was not enough room for 4 turtles to bask.

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One day, a teeny little light bulb went off in my teeny little brain. I went to the garage and cut a few 2″x4″ boards. I drilled them into the studs along the wall behind the turtle trough. Then I added a piece of plywood. The plywood is very important. It keeps the turtles inside their habitat, rather than falling off the logs and onto the floor.

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I added 4 random pieces of wood. I drilled the first piece through the plywood and into a 2″x4″.

Then I added the other pieces of wood. I just played around with them and made them fit together so the turtles could climb up under the basking light. They are all screwed together with 3 1/2″ wood screws.

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A big benefit is that I can now fill the turtle trough almost completely to the top. They gained at least 20 gallons of water and now have a big natural basking platform.

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Eventually , I will finish this project. I’ll paint the plywood board in a solid, natural color like green or brown. Then, I’ll drill maybe a dozen holes into the board. Why, you ask? What is this madness?  I’ll tell you!  I’ll push ARTIFICIAL plants into the holes, creating a solid wall of fake greenery and flowers. When I do that I’ll post some pictures so you can see how it turns out.

Cockroaches in the house!!!!

12 May

One morning, about a month ago, I was getting ready for work, fixing lunch in the kitchen. I looked up at the 4-foot fluorescent light and, to my horror, saw bugs inside the lights plastic cover.
Big bugs. One inch long.

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I grabbed a kitchen chair. I knew they looked like cockroaches but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to freak out my wife.
I told her “Open the back door! If these guys start running I’m taking this whole thing outside!”
She seemed as alarmed as I was.
I jumped on the chair, took off the plastic cover and was ready to rush out the door. My wife stood with her hand on the door handle.
The bugs didn’t move. They must be dead, all dried up.
Here is one of them.

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Here’s a view from above.

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They are paper. Fake cockroaches!
My oldest son , an artistic devil, drew pictures of cockroaches,  cut them out, then stopped by the house when I was gone and put them in the light! He did this dirty deed on April Fools Day.
My wife, who was so “alarmed” knew about this the whole time! It was a conspiracy.
Ha ha very funny. What if I fell off the chair or had a heart attack? It’s all fun and games until dear old Dad gets hurt.

Trying to be crabby.

12 May

I had a single day off work last week. Only one day and I had too much to do. The day started off badly.  I felt cheated. I tried to wallow in my own misery.
But, as the day went on, things began to turn around.
I spotted a little fish in my community aquarium. About the size of a Neon Tetra but there are no fish that small in that tank.  But there it was, a survivor, a baby fish that hatched and grew among 30 hungry adult barbs, tetras and danios.
It’s a baby Colombian Tetra!

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I felt better seeing that little fish.
A little later I was driving only a mile from my house and I saw some Milkweed pods rising out of a ditch. Could they still have seeds from last year? I grabbed two pods. They looked empty.

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But to my surprise I looked more closely and there were a few seeds in the pod. Ripe and ready to plant. I can expand my Milkweed for the Monarch Butterflies! Yay!!

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I was feeling pretty good at this point.
Later, I was mowing the grass and my old Golden Retriever was with me. She used to jump in the back of my vehicle and lay on a blanket and survey the world.
Surely, she’s too old for that but No! She leaped up onto the old blanket and laid there for 2 hours.

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My crabbiness was gone. I was tired but content. Seeing a turtle basking in the sunshine can be the highlight of my day. Or watching ducks frolic in a puddle after a rain. Or discovering a new frog at one of my backyard ponds.
I need to get out and hike. I need to make the time.

Can we save the Monarch Butterflies?

10 Oct

Do you care about Monarch butterflies? If you do, find some Milkweed plants and take a ripe seed pod. Keep the pod cool and dry this Winter. Next Spring plant the seeds. Or, wait until Spring and collect some young plants as soon as they pop out of the ground. Transplanting big Milkweed doesn’t work very well, unless you can dig really deep and take a bucket of soil with you.

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They are easy to grow. Milk WEED.

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I put plants in several places in my perennial garden/ turtle pond.

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I saw a Monarch flitting around the Milkweed plants. Later I saw this little white bump on the underside of the leaf. I checked on it often but I never saw it change size or hatch.

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But one day, success! A Monarch caterpillar was crawling on this
Butterfly Milkweed, which is growing right next to the Common Milkweed.

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In the Fall, the adult Monarchs love these Aster flowers. Also, the Asters are used by the honeybees and bumblebees. They need our help, too.

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The bees love this flower, too. It’s called Joe Pye Weed. How come these great plants are called weeds?

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One of the Milkweeds was attacked by these little red bugs that look like a mite of some kind. Of course, you can’t spray any chemicals on your Milkweed. Either leave it alone or spray water on it and knock the bugs off. It’s just nature. Some years you have pests, some years you don’t. We hardly had any Japanese Beetles this year.

If you have read this far, you have to see this editorial that was in our local paper. This guy is either misinformed OR he is the funniest dude ever. It’s the article titled “Attempt to help butterflies failed”.

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I look forward to having more Milkweed and more Monarchs next year but I’m not terribly optimistic about their future. In the Fall of 2014 I counted as many as 5 or 6 butterflies in the garden. This year, I only saw one Monarch at a time. ONE. That is a frightening thought.

In Iowa, the corporate use of farmland wipes out most of the state as far as potential habitat for butterflies. Does planting a few Milkweed around the house matter? Maybe not. If we don’t try it, we’ll never know. The Monarchs are migrating South now and we’ll soon find out how many make it to their wintering grounds in Mexico.

The previous photos were all mine but I need to add a picture of a Milkweed seed pod. I found a nice one on a site called Amylamb.com. I hope she doesn’t mind that I used her photo.

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In keeping with today’s theme of useful weeds, here is a gigantic dandelion that I picked in my neighbors yard. My two land turtles love dandelions.

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And you know me, I like to slip in a turtle picture wherever I can because…everyone loves turtles, right? Here’s my female Red-foot Tortoise. She has grown so much. Her shell is 10 inches now.

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I can’t stop! I have to show you this tomato that my neighbor planted. It’s called an Indigo Rose. Not a weed. They taste good. They are bigger than a cherry tomato. About the size of a golf ball. The seeds grow back true to the parent plant so we are collecting some seeds and we’ll share the plants next year.

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When this picture was taken they weren’t ripe yet. The entire tomato gets purple and then the bottom turns reddish.

OK, that’s enough for now. Take a hike, find a milkweed pod, gather some seeds, you know the rest. Peace out, people!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

25 Mar

You want a big pond? Then you should build a pond, but if you saw how I spent the last 7 hours you would NOT want a big pond.

..and the smell is...I can't even think of a word.

The smell is…I can’t even think of a word.

I like to clean out the ponds early in the year. Then, if we get a warm spell, I can get the turtles and plants outside sooner.

Last week I cleaned out my little 30 gallon pond. That’s a quick job, taking no more than an hour.

Then a few days ago, I cleaned up all the plants that surround my big pond. That took a few hours. I was stumbling over the decorative rocks and wood, hacking and raking. But it was a beautiful day, about 60 degrees F.

Now the cold has returned and I have the day off, so I cleaned the pond. I should have stayed inside and done something fun, like prepare my annual income taxes.

These pictures don’t begin to show how dirty and disgusting and smelly it was. When I see someone’s beautiful pond I know the work that happened behind the scenes.

I disassembled a sponge filter and used the sponge and a plastic cap on my pond pump.

I disassembled a sponge filter and used the sponge and a plastic cap on my pond pump.

First, on goes the sponge...

First, on goes the sponge…

...then the plastic cap. I was able to pump all the nasty water out of the pond without the filter getting plugged.

…then the plastic cap. I was able to pump all the nasty water out of the pond without the filter getting plugged.

Here's the pond AFTER the I had hosed it out and climbed inside and removed rocks, etc. It was MUCH WORSE than this looks.

Here’s the pond AFTER the I had hosed it out and climbed inside and removed rocks, etc. It was MUCH WORSE than this looks.

Notice the plastic jug on the pond bottom. The jug had a square-ish shape and I use it as a scoop. This works well when tearing down aquariums, too.

Notice the plastic jug on the pond bottom. The jug has a square-ish shape and I use it as a scoop. This works well when tearing down aquariums, too.

The small pond had been dechlorinated and tested with 5 Rosy-red minnows.

The small pond had been dechlorinated and tested with 5 Rosy-red minnows.

Today I discovered that a lot of minnows had survived our very cold Winter. Even better, my two Comet Goldfish had survived! I really thought they were dead. I hadn't seen them since October.

I moved all the surviving minnows to the little pond. Even better, my two Comet Goldfish had survived! I really thought they were dead. I hadn’t seen them since October.

I was feeling so bad about the Goldfish dying that I bought two Fancy Goldfish a few months ago.

Since I thought my outdoor Goldfish had died I bought two Fancy Goldfish a few months ago.

Here's the other one. These two will definitely have to be brought indoors before it gets very cold next Fall.

Here’s the other one. These two won’t be spending the Winter outdoors.

After about 6 hours of backbreaking work, I am filling the pond.

After about 7 hours of backbreaking work, I am filling the pond.

As it fills, I made some minor adjustments to the stream, tucking a few rocks here and there.

As it fills, I made some minor adjustments to the stream, tucking a few rocks here and there.

All done! I added some dechlorinator and I'll test it with a few minnows about 3 days from now.

All done! I added some dechlorinator and I’ll test it with a few minnows about 3 days from now.

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And here's the prize find! A 4" long Bullfrog was sleeping on the bottom. It's going to get very cold in the next few days so I'll warm him slowly in my garage and feed him a few worms.

Here’s the prize find! A 4-inch long Bullfrog was sleeping on the bottom. It’s going to get very cold in the next few days so I’ll warm him slowly in my garage and feed him a few worms.

And here's a tip for my fellow bird lovers. After the snow melts there are a lot of seeds under the bird feeders. I wait for a nice dry day and get out the shop-vac. I only look like an idiot for a few minutes and I won't have all those seeds sprouting in the grass .

A tip for my fellow bird lovers. After the snow melts there are a lot of seeds under the bird feeders. I wait for a nice dry day and get out the shop-vac. I only look like an idiot for a few minutes and I won’t have all those seeds sprouting in the grass.

A Tiger Salamander terrarium with fish!

24 Mar

The Tiger Salamanders I have were being sold as fish bait in Texas several years ago. They were purchased, brought to Iowa and raised into adults, which is how I bought them.

Cute!

Cute!

Tiger Salamanders like to be cool and moist. A woodland terrarium is what they need. They can do with a dish of water to crawl in and drink from but I’ve always wanted a little aquatic area to make it more interesting.

I finally came across some glass shelving that was used in a bathroom medicine cabinet. One long end of the glass is smoothed so that it is perfect for my purpose.

I siliconed the glass into a 55 gallon aquarium.

I sealed the glass with silicone into a 55 gallon aquarium.

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I added some gravel, not sand.

I added some gravel, not sand.

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Then I added  this top soil, which has no fertilizers or additives of any kind.

Then I added this top soil, which has no fertilizers or additives of any kind.

I mixed the top soil with Coir, which is coconut-husk fiber. This keeps the soil damp yet loose.

I mixed the top soil with Coir, which is coconut-husk fiber. This keeps the soil damp yet loose.

I added ferns and ivy's. Then I bought a bag of "long-fiber" Sphagnum Moss and spread that over the top. This looks good and keeps everything cleaner as the Salamanders come out of their burrows and climb around.

I added ferns and ivy’s. Then I bought a bag of “long-fiber” Sphagnum Moss and spread that over the top. This looks good and keeps everything cleaner as the Salamanders come out of their burrows and climb around.

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The main diet for Tiger Salamanders is worms. I buy these Canadian Nightcrawlers. They also eat crickets and many other small creatures that burrow in the forest soil.

The main diet for Tiger Salamanders is worms. I buy these Canadian Nightcrawlers. They also eat crickets and many other small creatures that burrow in the forest soil.

Here I am feeding them pieces of frozen shrimp. This should not constitute very much of their diet but it's good to have in a pinch.

Here I am feeding them pieces of frozen shrimp. This should not constitute very much of their diet but it’s good to have in a pinch.

I put some guppies and White Cloud Mountain Minnows in the pond. There is no heater but I do have an airstone. I'll change the water about once a month.

I put some guppies and White Cloud Mountain Minnows in the pond. There is no heater but there is an airstone. I’ll change the water about once a month.

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I had one main concern when setting up the terrarium. Tiger Salamanders spend their lives hiding underground. If mine hid all day and only came out at night how would I feed them? I could release worms and crickets into the tank but if they aren’t eaten they eventually die and rot.

For the first few days I didn’t see the Salamanders. They had burrowed under almost instantly. But within a week they had all made an appearance looking for food. Now, whenever I am maintaining the tank by misting or watering the plants, the Salamanders pop out and look to the sky waiting for a worm. In fact, they want to be fed so often that I have to ignore them sometimes. Tiger Salamanders can get too fat in captivity.

Another hint is to use distilled water for misting the terrarium. This is a good idea for any glass terrarium, with frogs or plants. I wipe off the glass after spraying but if I miss some drops it will dry without leaving a mineral residue.

The Golden-eye Cichlid (Nannacara anomala)

23 Mar

I have a little colony of Golden-eye Cichlids in a 10 gallon (40L) aquarium. These fish are known as a good beginners fish. They stay small, they are hardy, and they are relatively easy to spawn.

A male is on the right side of this picture.

A male is on the right side of this picture.

I wish I could give a better review of these fish. I do LIKE them, I just don’t LOVE them.

The problem with my fish is that they are so secretive. They dart to the back of the tank and hide behind the sponge filter. If I stand completely still they will come out to feed.

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I tried using dither fish. The term “dither fish” means that you put in another species of fish, preferably an active fish, that makes the shy fish realize that everything is OK, and they don’t need to hide.

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I had 4 Neon tetras. I thought they might make a good dither fish. When the first one disappeared I wasn’t concerned but he was just an appetizer. The next three were gone in a day or so.

I also tried a little group of guppies and that ended the same way.  I need bigger dither fish.

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Golden-eye cichlids are moderately attractive. They don’t have any flashy colors, though I have heard that they get more colorful when spawning . Mine have not spawned, even though I have provided rocks, clay pots, and a fake tree root. They still prefer to hide all the way in back behind the sponge filter.

If you like cichlids but don’t have much room the Golden-eye may be for you.

CAM02825Here’s some black algae growing in the cichlid tank. I bought some plants at our fish club and now I have this. At first, I liked it. It’s furry and attaches to wood and rocks. But then it keeps growing and spreading. My Bristle-nose Plecos don’t touch it. It seems that I will have Black Brush Algae for a long time.