I’ve always like sticks. I think every young boy does. You’re walking in a park one day and you look down and see a cool looking branch. You break off the irregular bits, swing it around a few times and suddenly you have a light saber, or a walking stick or just something long and pokey. You carry it around for an hour or so until you lean on it too hard or whack it against something with too much force and your sword becomes a dagger. And then a blackjack. And then a pencil. Eventually, you just toss it aside.
On a few occasions, I tried to smuggle a particularly well shaped stick into my house. Unfortunately, my grandmother was not nearly as much a fan of random stuff from the outside world coming into her nice inside world, so that didn’t fly. No sticks in the house!
When Sarah and I setup our tank, we did so with random driftwood that was available at the local fish store. You know the type, oddly shaped burls that someone probably found on a beach somewhere, which we all assume has been treated or somehow made aquarium safe. They don’t really resemble tree parts so much as abstract expressionist sculptures. I thought they looked pretty cool. The only real downside was that food and detritus would constantly get stuck below them and it was hard to vacuum it out.
At that point, we didn’t know much about the natural discus habitat and we hadn’t seen the biotype tanks, which try to echo that environment. In those tanks, more natural looking branches are used to recreate the kind of black water areas where discus live around fallen trees and roots. As we grew to love those natural looking tanks, we considered buying some of the expensive Manzanita branches that are used in those tanks, but we thought it best to let the tank be as it was for a while before making any drastic changes.
Then, about two weeks ago I started thinking. Why couldn’t we just get some of our own branches? So we did. One morning, while Sarah was on vacation from work, we made our way to the south west end of Prospect Park, below Prospect Park Lake. Our plan was to find actual branches that had fallen onto the ice. How much more realistic can you get?
After slowly walking around the edge of the water, step by step through the snow and across the icy ground, we found a bunch of branches that had fallen in one area away from the water. They looked perfect, so we grabbed a few and…well, then we realized that we had nothing to cut the branches with. What an oversight!
We called the only hardware store that was within walking distance, but when we called them they claimed that they didn’t carry saws. We decided that their problem was probably less an inventory shortage and more of a language deficiency, so we trudged the 1⁄2 mile to the store hoping that they would have something appropriate. When we got there, they sold us a cheap hand saw that was perfect for our purposes.
I will admit to being a little nervous about woodworking in the middle of the park. Large black man in the park with a saw? Think about it. Surprisingly no one bothered us, or even gave us a second look. We hopped back on the G train and we were on our way.
Once we got the pieces home, we sawed off any dangerous points and soaked the wood in our tub. We also washed the wood in a bleach/water solution, steamed it with our steam cleaner and let it sit in the tub water for a few days. We were concerned that it might take weeks or even a month for the wood to get water logged enough to sink, but it wound up taking only a couple of days.
Then we stuck it in the tank!
I really like how the new layout looks, the tank is much easier to clean now and best of all the fish seem to enjoy darting under, through and around the two branches we used. It does look a little empty, but we’re going to add more plants over time and things should fill out nicely.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “isn’t it risky putting random wood in your tank? Couldn’t that kill the fish with pesticides or some kind of weird bug?” Well, yes, you’re right. It was a risky choice, but so far so good.