Art by Alexander Vasiljev, Copyright © 2015


Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Feeding schedule and portion size are important parts of ranchu grooming. Both depend on the season of the year and the age of ranchu along with the goals of the keeper.

Ranchu are coldblooded animals and their metabolism is directly correlated with the water temperature. It is important to observe seasonal temperature fluctuations and adjust ranchu feeding accordingly. Below is a table showing different temperatures and their effect on ranchu:

32-43 F (0-6°C) - hibernation state
44-54 F (7-12°C) - semi-hibernation state
55-64 F (13-18°C) - intermediate state between hibernation and active states
65-75 F (19-24°C) - ranchu are ready to spawn
76-86 F (25-30°C) - ranchu grow actively 
87-97 F (31-36°C) - ranchu growth slows down
98-100 F (37-38°C) - upper temperature limit for ranchu

It is beneficial for ranchu to hibernate. However, in my case, bound by the indoor set up, the water temperature doesn't drop below 55-64 F (13-18°C) keeping my ranchu in the intermediate state, between hibernation and active states. Their digestive tract works noticeably much slower as their activities calm down. At this time, I feed them only once or twice a day, depending on the temperature. In the spring the temperature rises and when "the stars align" the ranchu will spawn. I increase the amount of feed from two to three times per day. In the summer months keeping ranchu indoors has its advantage. With my temperature controlled environment, I don't have to worry about high temperatures above 86 F (30°C). The feeding is three to four times a day.

I feed as much as my ranchu can collectively eat in five minutes. Although, regardless of the method by which the amount of food is determined, observing ranchu and adjusting the food amount according to their appearance is a must. Overfeeding is not good for ranchu, as for anybody else, it shortens their life span and may prevent them from breeding.

I use the above schedule for my nisai and will continue using it when they turn oya age. On the other hand, it is very different with the fry, BBR, CBR and tosai. In upcoming months, I will share my feeding schedule for the young fish, but for now I will say that correct feeding regime is crucial in the first year of ranchu development.

For its very convenient and consistent way, I have been using automatic feeders to feed my ranchu with high quality dry pellets. It is especially helpful when I have to feed three or four times a day and my timetable doesn't allow me to be around. Ranchu appreciate the schedule and quickly learn at what time the food is given and gather around the feeding area. Afterwards, they can "plan" their time, whether to forage for algae, promenade back and forth in the tank or nap. I find that automatic feeders are actually helpful in preventing overfeeding. The many temptations I have had to give an extra pinch or two of pellets to my ever hungry ranchu are now prevented by the feeder.

Among the several automatic feeders available, I have chosen Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder. It is reasonably priced for what it can do, programable for up to four meals a day, has sizable food reservoir and long battery life. One unfavorable feature of this feeder is that it doesn't dispense exact amounts of pellets each time. As the pellet reservoir empties, the portions may become irregular. This is, however, not a big concern of mine. I learned to keep the reservoir full and don't let it get completely empty. It works best with pellets larger than 1.5 mm in size.

For smaller pellet size and granules to feed the fry, I found that Fish Mate F14 Aquarium Fish Feeder is the best. It has 14 compartments and can dispense food for up to four times a day. I use this feeder to supplementally feed the fry with granules size of 360-650 microns. I especially like that it slowly dispenses food for over a period of time, giving every fish a chance to eat. An air tube can be attached to the feeder to keep the food from clumping. One thing about this feeder is that you have to refill it quite often, but its overall convenience beats that.

Eheim Everyday Fish Feeder
Fish Mate F14 Aquarium Fish Feeder

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Today is exactly one year since starting "High Ranchu" blog. First and most of all, I would like to thank all of you readers for following. Thank you for your kind words, encouragement and questions that I have received. Today, the blog is approaching 28.000 page views, thanks to all of you! I hope to continue to write and illustrate my journey with ranchu, keeping the blog fresh, educational, fun and visual.

Although, I have been interested in ranchu for a long time, I only started to seriously pursue this endeavor since October, 2013, when I purchased my group of fish. As you can tell, it has been an exciting year for me, packed with activity. I made mistakes and corrected them, I have adopted others' great ideas and came up with my own solutions. I learned a great deal to only realize how much there is still to learn.

Original artwork by A.Vasiljev © 2014
Thus ranchu became my teachers and not just for ranchu keeping sake, but in a broader sense. Patience is what may have been the most important lesson that I learned from them; and am still learning. It is a great quality that I often lack. Not only rearing ranchu requires patience, the ranchu themselves are unhurried and measured animals, with a demeanor that will unavoidably effect the keeper. In my instance, they offered me calm, thoughtfulness and the need to be patient.

Another important lesson I learned is to focus on appreciating anything positive, instead of focusing on the negative. I could have easily accepted that there is no perfect ranchu, and be automatically dragged into finding what's "wrong" to be never satisfied with ranchu appearance, looking for that "greener grass on the other side" instead of enjoying them and myself. That however, shouldn't take away the urge for improvement. Traditional ranchu keeping is founded on this principle. While enjoying ranchu looks, we have to constantly work on improving our grooming techniques. Apart from genetics, it is all about grooming that shapes the ranchu the way we desire and maintains them the way we want. This process echoes with a quote from Buddha's teachings: "It is better to travel well than to arrive". With this in mind ranchu keeping can become very rewarding. Each fish will "blossom" at its own time, some when they are tosai or nisai, and some when oya. Once ranchu reached its peak, it becomes even more chalenging to maintain.

Being considered a "living sculpture", ranchu keeping is very similar to bonsai in terms of required determination and discipline. To keep ranchu as ranchu and bonsai as bonsai, constant training and improvement is needed. It also requires improvisation and ability to recognize and uncover the subject's potentials.

Cotyledon tomentosa ("Bear's Paws") as a year old bonsai, trained by A.Vasiljev
Suiseki, by A.Vasiljev 

My tosai are now seven months old. They have presented me with a chance to observe how a fish egg turns into a beautiful ranchu. But figuratively speaking, my train has only begun to move and my final destination has not yet been announced. I am settling in for "traveling well".

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Reading through Goldfish Keepers Forum, I stumbled upon David Lains' post, where he referred to an article "Using Clay to Protect Catfish" published in Aquaculture North America. Being quite fascinated with this information, I searched the internet for more, and quickly became convinced of clay's undeniable benefits. Previously, I didn't know that clay had been in use for koi keeping for a very long time and is a standard practice for many koi breeders.

Of course not every clay is made equal. Out of several main clay groups, smectite group is of interest to us. It includes montmorillonite clay, also known as bentonite clay. Essentially, montmorillonite and bentonite clays are the same, with the first named in 1847 after a small town Montmorillon in western France, and the second after Benton Shale in Wyoming, USA in 1898. As montmorillonite clay was described and named first, it claims to be the valid name. This clay besides Montmorillon and Wyoming is mined in many other parts of the world and, depending on the deposit and location, have various mineral compositions. For the fish pond, however, only calcium montmorillonite clay is used.

Erosion formation in the soft bentonite clay, Cathedral Gorge State Park. Nevada, USA (open source image)

What are the benefits of using it in our fish tanks and ponds? The first main benefit of this clay is in its high mineral content that provides well over 50 macro, micro and trace elements "remineralizing" the aquatic system. All living organisms, including goldfish, require a constant supply of these elements for various biological processes to function normally. It also improves fish digestion. Second, is its detoxifying effect. The clay's particles are so small that the action of water molecules is enough to keep them in suspension or colloidal state. The surface area of particles in one gram of clay can reach almost 10,764 sq.ft (1000 sq.m). Negatively charged clay particles have the ability to "trap" or flocculate heavy metals, pesticides, free radicals and even virus cells, etc., making them easily removable with mechanical filters and water changes. Third, it accelerates bio filter work by positively affecting nitrifying bacteria, at the same time, based on the article mentioned above, it can protect the fish from certain pathogenic bacteria causing skin and gill tissue damage.

Properties of clay go well beyond described above. In fact, "montmorillonite is also known to cause micelles (lipid spheres) to assemble together into vesicles. These are structures that resemble cell membranes on many cells. It can also help nucleotides to assemble into RNA, which will end up inside the vesicles. It has been demonstrated that this could have generated highly complex RNA polymers that could reproduce the RNA trapped within the vesicles. This process may have led to the origin of life on Earth" (courtesy of Wikipedia). Interestingly, according to Old Testament, the first man was made of clay (earth, dust).

Now back to goldfish. There are several brands of calcium montmorillonite clay on the market for use in ponds - Ultimate Koi Clay (USA), Microbe-Lift CMC (USA), Terra Pond (USA), Thrive (USA), Kusuri Klay (UK) and Refresh (Japan) among a few others. Also, there is a human grade, edible calcium montmorillonite clay that is suitable for using in the fish tank, one of the known brands is Terramin. And yes, this clay is edible and is consumed as a food supplement by various animals, wild and domestic, including humans.

calcium montmorillonite clay

I started using calcium montmorillonite clay in my ranchu pond a month ago. Although, there are no obvious effects on my ranchu that I notice at the moment, I know that I am supplying important minerals and trace elements back into the system. In my case, municipal water is used, which based on published analysis contains only some of the necessary minerals. This, however, would'nt compare with the rich mineral content of calcium montmorillonite clay. Besides, the minerals must be in constant supply, as they are being used up by the living organisms.

I use half a teaspoon for my 100 gal pond once a week, by first "dissolving" clay in a bottle of pond water and then pouring it back into the pond. The water gets cloudy only for a few hours before it clears up, depending on the amount added. As I mentioned earlier, mineral composition of this clay greatly depends on the source. This is also true for pH and hardness that the clay will add to the pond water. Based on the tests provided in "Consumer Report: Koi Clay Mysteries Revealed" (see below) the pH of different clays ranges mostly from 7.65 to 8.7 and hardness from 31 to 74 ppm. In my case, added clay did not change the pH and it remained at 8.2. It is important, as in everything, not to overuse the clay and follow the recommended instructions. I would also recommend testing the water regularly, until it is clear how the clay effects the water environment. And as always, regular water changes are mandatory.

FURTHER READING: Consumer Report: Koi Clay Mysteries Revealed by Michael D.Cox, Koi Clay Article by Wayne Smith, Montmorillonite by Chris Neaves, Understanding Clay by Manky Sanke