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How to Start a Guppie Bowl

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How to Start a Guppie Bowl

In the east window of the Kemper Center you'll notice a fish-safe ceramic bowl that we have set up with water plants and veil-tail guppies; our "Guppie Bowl." Veil-tail guppies are tiny fish (the largest we have here are about an inch or so long).   

The “Guppie Bowl” is a sample of a small water garden that is a good learning tool for kids. Without the aid of an electric pump or added chemicals, the plants produce oxygen, use carbon dioxide and keep the water clean for the fish while feeding off the byproducts of the fish. Plants have the ability to draw pollutants (many of which they use for nutrients) from water and soil.  

This symbiotic relationship has been functioning here for many years. We started with just 6 guppies in a 4-inch-deep container in the bottom of our terrarium with an arrowhead plant (Syngonium podophyllum) in the water.  After a year or two, we then expanded to also have guppies in an 8 inch ceramic bowl. We added a dwarf papyrus (Cypress prolifer) to the water and the guppies thrived for three years. They seemed to be quite happy but did not have much space, so we then moved them to a larger bowl. This bowl is approximately 11 inches deep and 18 inches across. An interesting note: when we planted the original garden in the small bowl, the arrowhead plant was bare root beneath clean rocks and the dwarf papyrus was in a small pot in the water. After the three years, they had changed places. The dwarf papyrus was now growing with its roots under the rocks and the arrowhead plant had grown into the small pot under the water.

When we enlarged the size of the bowl we also added a couple of plants, including a dwarf cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ‘Fan Scarlet’) and a dwarf water lily (Nymphaea  ‘JoAnna Pring’). They both bloomed nicely the first summer, although the water lily flowers were quite small. The first winter after blooming, the cardinal flower appeared to be over wintering nicely in the bowl but come spring, it had disappeared. The next spring, we put in a blue cardinal flower (Lobelia syphilitica), which also bloomed nicely. The water lily has enough light to produce leaves, but does not appear to have enough light to repeat its bloom in the east window where the bowl is located. The cardinal flower blooms reliably in this window though, there is also enough light for string algae to grow in the water. This is both good and bad. The string algae helps to clean the water, produce oxygen and use carbon dioxide, but it grows faster than the fish can eat it, so  it does have to be removed occasionally. This is a simple process; since the water is clean, algae can be removed by simply reaching in with bare hands and lifting out the excess.    

Once again, with the coming of spring, the little cardinal flowers left in the water last fall are nowhere to be seen (maybe the guppies are eating them!),  so we have added the red leaved cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria”).  Just this week the ‘Queen Victoria’ is producing bright red buds and is preparing to bloom. The dwarf papyrus seems happy and the arrowhead plant is putting out new leaves. 

We invite you to try out a "Guppie Bowl" in your own home.  You can do it in many sizes; pick the one convenient for your situation. When set up outdoors in a semi-shady location, you do not need to feed the fish at all for they eat mosquito larvae and algae, etc. The guppies do need to come in when the temperatures fall too low come autumn. Guppies do not handle water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The bowl set up with cardinal flowers outdoors will attract hummingbirds, too. We even occasionally see hummingbirds here at the Kemper Center, looking in through the window, wondering how to get to those tempting red flowers. 

Posted in: Summer | Tags: water garden , fish , water lily | Comments (0) | View Count: (571)
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