Maintaining My Tank on Vacation

Traveling is often the hardest part of keeping a reef tank.  How does the tank stay alive and healthy when you are away from home?  What do I do about tank maintenance when I am on vacation?

Keep Tank Maintenance Simple

As I’ve stated in my previous posts, I keep my tank maintenance simple.  I think that I am able to maintain my tank in this simple manner because of my natural methods of filtration.  I don’t have any mechanical filtration that would clog up with detritus.  That way I don’t have a slow build up of nutrients in my filtration system.  By going with a chaeto reactor, my algae will grow with my tank.  As a supplement, I also run a protein skimmer, but again it does not build up and release any nutrients back into the tank.  Worse case with a protein skimmer is that it gets less efficient as the neck gets dirty.  I don’t worry about that while I am away because my algae reactor can keep up.

I also don’t do regular water changes because my tank doesn’t need it.  So the only maintenance my tank requires is to fill up the auto top off reservoir about once a week.  I just leave a bottle of fresh water with a note for my house sitter to fill up the reservoir with fresh water if it gets low.

I know most people recommend doing frequent water changes, but I think my tank does fine without.  What do you think?

Recent full shot of my tank.

Fish Don’t Need to be Fed Daily

One thing that helps keep my tank alive while I am away is that I have a far reduced schedule for fish feeding for my house sitter while I am gone.  This keeps the system nutrients low while I am away so that there is less likelihood of losing any corals.

I find that my fish are fine to go several days without a feeding.  I’ve seen them go for as long as a couple weeks without being fed, however that can lead to high aggression as the fish get hungry.

I usually prepare my tank by doing more frequent feedings before I go.  This serves several purposes for me.

  1.  Eating more builds up the fish fat reserves.  This is how animals do it in the wild.  They fatten up for the winter.  This way they have plenty of energy stored for the less frequent feedings when I am away
  2. It builds up the pod population in the tank.  Amphipods and Copepods are small creatures that live in the ocean.  They are what many fish eat in the wild.  In my tank, they live in the chaeto reactor, but I have seen them swarming in my old refugiums in the past.  They love to live in Chaeto.  It’s just another benefit of using chaeto for filtration.  I can literally see the pod population change when I feed the tank more.  So, I try and feed a bit more before I go on vacation to grow the pod population.  This gives the fish plenty of live food swiming around in the tank.
  3. The nutrients grow the chaeto in my reactor, which leads to better and more efficient filtration.  The chaeto grows to compensate for increased feedings.  When the feedings are reduced while I am gone, then the algae reactor is running at peak efficiency for the tank.

Vacations Don’t Need to Be a Hassle!

Enjoy your vacation!  You shouldn’t need to dread going on vacation!  By keeping things simple for myself, I make it really simple for my house sitter to keep my tank running smoothly.  My maintenance schedule while I am away is simple:  Feed the fish every 3 days.  Fill the fresh water if the reservoir gets low (A little less than once a week).

That’s it.  I have 2 things for my house sitter to do.  It takes about 5 minutes maximum.  My fresh water reservoir only evaporates at most 5 gallons of water in a week during the hot months.  So I leave some 5 gallon jugs of water for refill.  In the winter time, the evaporation is almost negligible.  I could probably go a month between re-filling the water.

For myself, I simply have the kid who walks my dog also feed my fish and check on the water.  I’ve done this process 2-3 times in the last several years when I go on family vacations for 1-2 weeks at a time.  So far it’s gone without a hitch.

Do you have any tips about maintaining a reef tank while you are away from home?  Leave a tip or comment below.

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