For those of you who already have a bit of a handle on the nitrogen cycle with respect to fish keeping, here's some information that goes into more detail about ammonia in the water. The Water Research Center in Pennsylvania provides a nice explanation of ammonia in water and its affects on fish, in general.
If you've ever wondered how wild caught African cichlids are collected for export, it can be pretty low-tech. Wild caught cichlids from around the world are prized in the hobby as breeding stock. Often referred to as F0 in cichlid offspring parlance, wild cichlids are typically adults and are most often sold by fish importers/breeders. F0 doesn't always mean the fish was taken directly from its native habitat, however. F0s might also be labeled as such if they're pond raised near watefront breeding stations. In any case, here is some good introductory information about the African cichlid exporting business.
For more video footage of Lake Malawi and cichlids, visit the African Cichlid Hub.
It appears there is a new variant of Altolamprologus compressiceps with a nice orange color, appropriately called mandarin. Not sure who all is importing it, but it appears Greg Miceli's Little Africa Aquatics in Louisville, KY has them.
IMO, responsible aquarists monitor their water parameters by testing periodically, and proper water testing requires good test kits. I've used digital meters and reagent test kits over the years. Both are effective, and each has its place in the aquarist's toolkit. I currently use APIs test kits. Your local fish store (lfs) should carry them. If not, they're readily available online.
In order to understand the parameters of your tank water, you should understand the parameters of your tank water source. To that end, you should test your source water, whether it's municipal or well water, as well as your tank water. If you get all your water from a local fish store, check that too. If you filter your own water (municipal or well), make sure you set a baseline for the filtered water and its source before it's filtered. Changes made to any of these sources can affect the water parameters. The pH of water can change from one point of origin to the next and can also change over time (e.g., the pH of recently generated RO water will change over time in a storage container).
To be comprehensive with your testing, you should check levels of Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, pH, Carbonate (KH) hardness and General (GH) hardness, and Phosphate. The API master test kit (shown at top) consists of a couple of test tubes as well as liquid reagents for testing Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, and pH. Phosphate is a separate kit, so is the kit for testing the two hardness parameters. Combined, these kits will total four or five test tubes. You can purchase extras at your lfs or online.
Below is a test tube rack I purchased to help keep my tubes together and to facilitate their drying. The photo on the left is looking at the rack straight on. The right photo is looking down from above. The rack has two rows, one with spindles to invert the test tubes on and the other row contains hole slots to set the tubes down in. You will notice three syringes (left in left photo - syringe tubes in front row and accompanying syringe plungers in the back). You can pick syringes up at medical supply houses. I use these because they each hold just a bit more than 5ml, which is the volume of water each of the API tests requires. I bought the rack online for about $8.
Understanding your water and how its parameters can change will help you diagnose problems when they occur. For optimal fish keeping conditions, nothing replaces regular, frequent changes of water in closed systems (e.g., aquariums).
Little brings greater joy to an aquarist than getting a new tank. I ordered a new 55g aquarium that just came in. For many cichlid keepers, a 55g tank is quite small. Remember, however, that I keep dwarf cichlids. Thus, this tank size is quite reasonable.
For me, there is always some trepidation with a new tank. Lots of thought should go into setting up a new aquarium, regardless of your experience level. Even though I've done this many times, I still think everything through with respect to a new set-up. In fact, I still make a checklist. Below are the questions I ask myself before setting up a new tank.
There are other questions I could ask that aren't as critical, such as do I want to use an airstone, do I want to cover the top of the tank at all or leave it open, etc. Of course the answer to many of these questions leads to more questions (i.e., if I want live plants, what kind?).
After I've answered the above, I now have to think about the timing. Why does that matter, you ask? Ahhh, another set of questions. Below are a few.
I'm not obsessive compulsive, but I've found that thinking about all of these things before setting a new tank up can greatly reduce the likelihood of a headache that often results from poor planning. Perhaps you have your own checklist.
Having had many fish tanks in the past with live plants, I have to say there is something magical about them. They help create an authentic aquarium biotope. A heavily planted aquarium full of a variety of beautiful fish is quite a spectacle. However, live plants have always presented problems for me.
Just like an aquarist needs to be committed to maintaining a healthy environment for his/her fish, the same can be said for maintaining a thriving planted tank. I guess my commitment hasn't been strong enough because I can never keep plants alive for long periods of time. Except for a single anubias that I bought nearly a decade ago, which is still alive and growing, nothing else has survived longer than a few months. I suppose having a green thumb doesn't apply exclusively to successfully growing terrestrial plants.
In my opinion, heavily planted tanks like the one in the photo above are not easy, and I applaud those who maintain them. I'm convinced that there are too many components required to do this well - correct lighting, fertilizer, CO2, appropriate water parameters, etc. I'm also convinced every plant I've ever purchased came with an unseen bonus gift - snails. Trumpet snails are a nightmare. All things considered, I think I'll stick with either no plants or a few artificial plants for color, decoration, shelter, etc.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub