Natalie...every Sunday I perform liquid tests for ammonia & nitrite plus temperature
Sunday, 4/8/2012, the test reading: ammonia 0, nitrite 0, temperature 76-80
The key to the aquarium is consistency. Especially on the temperature...huge fluctuations in temperature will kill fish faster than no water changes at all. The nutrients in the tank (that is, the nitro-bacteria is feeding plentifully off of the foodstuffs the fish do not eat plus the fish feces. The live plants are feeding off the direct sunlight (plant above the gravel) and the plant parts below the gravel are feeding off the nutrients (from leftover foodstuffs and fish feces) which in turn supplement the water column with much required nutrients.
The entire goal that I wanted to achieve is a system that is as close to 100% self-sufficient as to mimic their natural habitats in the wild. Outside of the heater in the aquarium during the winter and the air stones providing the surface agitation (oxygen) plus most of the fish I have require "streams" or movement in the water column...outside of those two mechanical devices, the tank relies solely on natural processes.
I am sure as Okiimiru and Alisse have pointed out, there are tanks that have gone completely natural as well - but to add to that note: I never read a book about such a natural ecosystem. I learned completely from experience and reasoning.
I slowly eliminated the filter system, lighting overhead, water pumps and/or any gadget that is bought in a store except for the heater (which in June, I will eliminate then replace it in October) and the air stones (no way to get around this). I eliminated all chemicals (no water chlorination, medications and/or supplements - only frozen bloodworms and human foods).
Natural wood, rock and live plant plus white sand on one side and river pebble (for the plants/plant roots) on the other side.
So after all is said and done, with patience, experience and reasoning, an all natural ecosystem is about 95% self-sufficient (only time I disturb the fish is during feeding and to prune any cladophora/algae that may tangle itself in the live plants).
(I will recharge the camera batteries and post the latest pictures)
I look forward to the "surely highly desirable" virtual kiss (((smiles)))
Thanks much for your comments