It's June, and Ted "Dengler" Coletti is all set to add tropical fish to the water tubs around his property. The containers are filled with plants that were introduced in April and now provide shade and filtration for his fish. Along with the fish, Coletti adds tropical water lilies. These plants add magic to his deck with their colorful blooms and fill the air with a wonderful fragrance that lasts through October.
Keeping and breeding tropical fish outdoors in the warmer months is a practice as old as the 100-year-old tropical fish hobby itself, according to Coletti, chairman of the Growers Award program for the North Jersey Aquarium Society, which meets monthly in Lyndhurst. Colletti recommends that families break into the hobby by starting small with tubs on their decks or patios.
"Tropical fish are perfect for small water features," says Coletti, a resident of Denville, who has been "summer tubbin'" for 15 years and is a columnist for Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine.
Once the tub is in place and the climate is right (usually in April), you can begin introducing plants, such as dwarf water lilies, iris cattails, water hyacinth and pickerels. In June, families can start adding white cloud mountain minnows, rosy barbs and zebra fish to the tub. If you want fish to breed in your container, include livebearers such as platy fish and guppies.
"The number of fish you place in the water depends on the size of the tub," Coletti says. "I would place about six very small fish in a 25-gallon tub."
Throughout the summer, the plants and fish will thrive and nature will introduce some delightful surprises. New Jersey gray tree frogs love to sit on top of the lily pads in Coletti's ponds. They also spawn in the tub, adding tadpoles to the ecosystem.
"Keeping fish in water tubs is a great family hobby," he says. "Families can observe how all the different things in nature interact with one another. Some of the fish will breed in the tub, and you can see the whole cycle of life in a short period of time." v
Tips for Success
• Start small with a free-standing 34- to 40-gallon tub. A container with shelves allows for different plants. Decorative 25- to 50-gallon planters that match your deck décor also work well.
• A large, deep tub will weather varied conditions better than smaller containers.
• A fish's stomach is about as large as its eyeballs, so feed accordingly. A few pellets once a day is plenty for small tropical fish. Their diet is supplemented with algae and insect larvae in the tub.
• As long as you don't overfeed your fish, the plants will naturally keep the water filtered and aerated.
• Use a Nite Guard Solar blinking light to protect your fish from raccoons.
• Tropical fish need to be brought inside around October. If you don't have access to an indoor aquarium, consider giving the fish to the North Jersey Aquarium Society to be auctioned off to members.
The North Jersey Aquarium Society meets every third Thursday of the month (except in August and December) at the Lyndhurst Elks Club, 251 Park Ave., Lyndhurst. The club welcomes newcomers and includes many experts who are more than happy to offer advice on keeping fish in outdoor water tubs. For more information, visit njas.net.