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Food and Water

Mike McBrien

Now that you have read the Home Sweet Home  page and have a nice tank to put your fish in, we need to discuss the water that goes into the tank and the food you will be feeding. For us, water is usually just water, unless you live where the water is really hard. If you come from a hard water area you know about mineral deposits and a high pH that makes your skin dry and itchy.  Or maybe your area has a high iron content and you deal with a reddish stain on things. Since your fish lives in the water it is going to be a lot more important to him, so we will discuss water parameters and how they relate to your new friend. All fish, and especially Bettas, love to eat. A good quality and well balanced food will keep your fish healthy. There are many types of food on the market and some are better than others for your Betta so we will also be discuss them in this article as well.


For a person keeping a fish tank there are three parameters that are separate yet related. For years I blew off knowing anything about them because I thought that stuff was for more geeky types. But I have found an understanding of your water will go along way to being successful in keeping tropical fish of any kind. Knowing what you have out of the tap, how it relates to the type of fish you want to keep and what possible ways there are to change it will make you more successful with your tank and may save the lives of some fish. And it really is not that difficult, though if you are like me you may have to read it through a few times to really get it. The three parameters we will be discussing are pH, gH and kh. Now before your eyeballs roll back into your head.. lets ease into what each of these are.


The first thing everybody tells you to check is your pH. Most living things depend on a proper pH level to sustain life. The blood flowing through our veins must have a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Exceeding this range by as little as one-tenth of a pH unit could prove fatal. Pure water is a clear, colorless, and odorless liquid that is made up of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms.  pH is a measurement of the hydrogen ion concentration measured on a scale from 0-14. Increasing the number of hydrogen ions result in a drop of the pH or more acidic water. A pH of 7 is neutral and values below 7 are acidic and those above are basic. pH has a logarithmic function, meaning in lay terms, ten-fold. In every day language, that means a change in pH from 7 to 6 makes your water is 10 times more acidic than it was. If you drop another point to pH 5, you now have water 100 times more acid. This is a drastic change for fish, so anytime you want to change your pH, you must do it gradually. 

The pH in you tank is not fixed but changes over time. Throughout the course of a day, it rise during the daytime and typically will drop at night. The pH will also change as new fish are added or removed from a tank, as water is added or changed, and as the biological processes change in the tank. Though tropical fish originate in waters with different pH values, aquarium fish can adapt to and live happily in most pH levels if they not too far out of their range. What they will not adapt well to is bouncing values. A common cause of fish fatalities is rapid changes in pH values.

In general, the best pH for your fish is what ever happens to come out of your tap. When testing your water allow it to sit over night to let the excess carbon dioxide gas, which temporarily lowers the pH reading, to escape.If your water has a pH value between 6.5 and 8.0, it is acceptable to keep and even breed most common tropical fish, including Bettas. There are some that do have special needs, like Discus or Chichlids, but other factors such as Water Hardness and Total Dissolved Solids appear to be much more influential than the pH itself. The reason you should live with what you have is because tap water is often heavily "buffered". Buffered water contains chemicals that resist changing pH because they absorb either acids or bases. Usually adding a chemical to change the pH will result in a change for a few hours or even days. But with the buffers eating up what you just added it will jump back to its original value. This stresses fish and just makes you crazy. If you come to the conclusion you just HAVE to change your water, there will be some articles soon that we will link to to help you with that.

Hopefully that wasn't so bad and you are still with us. The next two parameters most people don't talk about like they do the pH and when they do, they sound so much the same you kinda tune out a when you hear them. These next two deal with something called the hardness of water. Water hardness is related to the amount of dissolved minerals in contains. The total hardness of water consists of two components: general hardness (GH) and carbonate hardness (KH). Water hardness can be measures in several units. The unit dH means ``degree hardness'', while ppm means ``parts per million'', which is roughly equivalent to mg/L in water. Now lets take a look at each one separately. 

General Hardness or gH

 General hardness (GH or dGH) refers to the dissolved concentration of magnesium and calcium ions. When fish are said to prefer ``soft'' or ``hard'' water, it is GH (not KH) that is being referred to. For proper internal osmotic processes in fish, both Calcium and magnesium are important. Other ions can contribute to water hardness, but compared to calcium and magnesium, they are usually insignificant and difficult to measure. General hardness is often referred to as permanent hardness, or non-carbonate hardness

0 -  4 dH,    0 -   70 ppm : very soft
      4 -  8 dH,   70 -  140 ppm : soft
      8 - 12 dH,  140 -  210 ppm : medium hard 
     12 - 18 dH,  210 -  320 ppm : fairly hard
     18 - 30 dH,  320 -  530 ppm : hard
     higher : liquid rock (Lake Malawi and Los Angeles, CA)<br>

Buffering Capacity or kH

Carbonate hardness is due to carbonate/bicarbonate ions, and is known as the “buffering capacity” of water. The buffering capacity is water’s ability to keep the pH stable as acids or bases are added – acting almost like a sponge so they cannot affect the pH. However, the capacity of this sponge is limited; once the buffering capacity is used up, the pH changes more rapidly as acids are added. When the KH is high, the pH will be very stable and difficult to alter. A low KH, less than 3 degrees, is less stable and will allow your pH to swing.

Buffering has both positive and negative consequences. The end result of the nitrogen cycle is nitrate or nitric acid. It's build up between water changes will cause your pH to fall if your water does not have adequate buffering, a bad thing. This dropping pH will stress or possibly kill your fish. When you have enough buffering capacity in your water, the pH remains stable, a big plus. On the negative side, hard tap water almost always has a large buffering capacity. If you find the pH of your water is too high for the fish you want to raise, the buffering capacity will make it very difficult to lower the pH to a more appropriate value. The buffering capacity of your water must be considered if you decide to change the pH. Carbonate hardness is sometimes referred to as 'temporary' hardness, because it can be removed by boiling, which precipitates the carbonates. 

Total Dissolved Solids or TDS

TDS or Total Dissolved Solids. This refers to the amount of dissolved ions, minerals, salts, metals and other chemicals in water. The amount is expressed in mg/L or parts per million (ppm). These ions may include Calcium, Sodium, Magnesium, Phosphate, Nitrate and Silicate to name but a few. Remember this : low pH fish are actually low TDS fish

So what exactly is TDS and why is it important?

Here is a definition of TDS as I see it : it basically refers to all the inorganic dissolved solids in water. It does not necessarily provide foolproof information on hardness measurements (though it does include things like calcium and magnesium) but gives a better over-view of the total mineral content of water. So it is not correct to simply regard TDS as an indicator of hardness, i.e. how much calcium carbonate is dissolved in the water. One can say that there is no accurate relationship between hardness and TDS. GH is basically a measurement of divalent cations, namely MG++ (magnesium) and CA++ (calcium) where as KH is a measurement of carbonate concentration.* Both GH and KH can affect hardness and TDS levels, however, the reverse is not necessarily true. Aquarium water can have a high TDS level but a low GH and KH. 

TDS thus incorporates dissolved ionic minerals, both cations and anions, Cations are elements from the left side of the periodic table (metals) and when they react they usually become positive ions. Cations include ions such as sodium, pottasium, magnesium, calcium, barium, zinc, iron and copper. Elemetns from the right side of the periodic table that react with metals take electrons to form negative ions called anions. Anions include ions such as fluoride, chloride, bromide, iodine, sulfide, chlorate, nitrate, premanganate,, sulfate, and phosphate (Source : Chemistry department, University of Florida). All these ions an other inorganic ions are included in TDS. It does not include things like H2O, or suspended particles such as wood pulp though Lenntech states that it does.

This is where things get interesting in my opinion. 

In addition to above, AquaChek states the following : "In general, the total dissolved solids concentration is the sum of the cations (positively charged) and anions (negatively charged) ions in the water. Parts per Million (ppm) is the weight-to-weight ratio of any ion to water. Conductivity is usually about 100 times the total cations or anions expressed as equivalents. Total dissolved solids (TDS) in ppm usually ranges from 0.5 to 1.0 times the electrical conductivity." 

As I stated earlier, TDS values are important for breeding many soft water dwarf cichlids (and many other fish species) but I will provide my own experiences in the segment further down the page. "Similar to TSS (Total Suspended Solids), high concentrations of TDS may also reduce water clarity, contribute to a decrease in photosynthesis, combined with toxic compounds and heavy metals, and lead to an increase in water temperature" ( source : KanCRN website).

A few general observations on TDS

Water becomes electrically charged once it reaches a TDS count of 50 ppm, meaning it can conduct electricity at this point. In addition, regulations on drinking water standards dictate that a limit of 500 mg/l of TDS must be held for drinking water. Higher levels can be a contributing factor for corrosion in plumbing and affects clothes washing. The aesthetic quality of water is also disrupted at levels higher that this.

AquaChek has some other general observations about TDS : "Water with a high TDS count is also typically a base (slightly alkaline) substance, meaning it is lacking hydrogen molecules, and will search for hydrogen molecules in the body to balance itself. Slightly alkaline (base) water, in short, often causes de-hydration on the cellular level! Water with zero TDS on the other hand, cannot become electrically charged, and therefore has an acid pH measurement, which simply means it is pure water loaded with positively charged hydrogen (H+) molecules, providing superior hydration at the cellular level." Concentrate on lowering calcium and magnesium hardness since this affects the egg membranes (they harden and make sperm penetration extremely difficult if not impossible -

Some other facts about pH:

  • Ammonia increases in toxicity with rising pH
  • Nitrifying bacteria experience reduction of growth and action below a pH value of

  • Water Conditioners


    In short - feed your betta as much as it can consume in 3-5 minutes up to 5 times a day. Most people will do this once or twice a day which is adequate. Its important not to over feed your betta as he or she will likely eat as much as your willing to feed. But the more important part of the 3-5 minute rule is "as much as it can consume".  Fish food that does not get eaten will sink to the bottom and begin to rot, causing fouling of the water and will increase the time you spend on maintenance for your fish, so it's important to make sure everything gets eaten.

    New Life Spectrum's Betta Formula

    There are many suggested foods for Betta's, live foods are always preferable but are much more labor intesive when it comes to feeding.  There are many foods directly targeted for Betta's on the market, I find pelleted foods work best and highly suggest "New Life Spectrum's" line of fish foods, specifically the Betta Formula.  Betta's are carnivores through and through - they will eat some vegetable matter, but they prefer and need the protein from meat. Take special care in choosing a fish food that "Fish meal" is not the first ingredient  Many time fish meal does contain fish proteins but it will also contain other filler that is likely not meat based.

    If your Betta is smaller, baby brine shrimp or New Life Spectrum's Small Fry Starter formula can be used.  This formula is almost powder like, be sure not to over feed, the same 3-5 minute feeding pattern still applies.

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