Maintenance. All the routines of maintenance have common goals. The best maintenance regimes in semi-"natural" aquaria like mine involve minimal disturbance, reliance on natural bacterial processes, and modest stocking levels with compatible fishes. Quarantine and other methods to prevent disease will be more satisfactory than reliance on medication.
Gravel vacuuming. In these fairly low-tech, "natural" planted aquaria, I keep gravel-vacuuming limited to the surface, no more disturbing than a fish probing the substrate's uppermost levels. I drag the edge of a square sponge or a public transit card across gravel, moving up-slope to counter the inevitable "slump" of graded slopes and turning algae-coated gravel surfaces away from the light. In tanks with leaf litter, I don't even have to do this: algae is shaded out.
"Uneaten food" is always included as a component of detritus in on-line hints for aquarium maintenance, I notice. How can this be? Surely the amount of flake feed can be limited to what the fishes will consume in ten minutes or so. My barbs, loaches and catfish prowl the gravel after a feeding, hunting down any stray specks of flake. Snails consume any leftovers. At least once a week I skip a feeding.
In general, I'm as likely to blow debris off the surface during a water change as to siphon it away. The mechanical filter will take up waterborne detritus. within a few hours. Deeper gravel-vacuuming would indiscriminately jumble the surface aerobic bacteria together with anaerobic bacteria in the deeper layers of the substrate. Vacuuming is devastating to all the bacterial populations within reach of the probing tube. I feel that disturbance removes the flocs of humus that provide a more extensive base for bacterial-based biofilm than the grains of gravel or sand offer. And it may release loosely bound phosphate into the water column.
I used to feel that disturbance could physically grind the biofilm off hard sand and gravel surfaces. RTR disagreed with me: "Lithotrophic bacteria are quite firmly attached to whatever particle is their home. Vacuuming will not remove them from their attachment," he posted at Aquarium Central, June 2001. "If it did so, fluidized bed filters would not function, as they are 24/7 'vacuumed'." Hmm. That makes sense. I had started it, by originally opining here: "Gravel-vacuuming is a bad old habit, fossilized from outdated ideas about keeping the aquarium "free" of bacteria." I still think that's true: obsessive vacuumers tend to think in terms of 'dirt', 'filth' and 'nasties' -- as I've said, even "waste" isn't a very helpful concept, when you're talking about bacteria-driven cycles in the aquarium.
Water changes. Partial water changes at regular intervals are the surest way to keep end-product pollutants, like nitrate, from accumulating. A water change is an opportunity to siphon detritus from the surface of the gravel and a good moment to take a critical look at over-mature foliage. The enriched water siphoned from the aquarium is too good to flush away: use it in the garden if you can, or at least water the houseplants with it.
I generally haul away water in a former kitchen trash can and lug around six-gallon plastic bottles of water that's aged a day or two. My tanks are too scattered round the place, and too far from faucets to use a Python, though you might have one handy, especially if you have a fishroom set-up.
But Campp, posting at Aquaria Central, mentioned her 32-gallon Rubbermaide Brute Rollout trashcan with lid and recessed wheels, in which to age water. "I can roll it around the house; no more 5-gallon buckets of water aging in the tub! It weighs around 260 lbs full, but one person can roll it on carpeting and it doesn't even slosh." Hah! excellent!
Pruning. Pruning yellowing leaves from plants and restricting rampant growth are often neglected aspects of on-going aquarium maintenance. Superfluous plant growth exported from the aquarium system removes all the nitrogen and other nutrients that make the closed system too rich in dissolved organic carbon. Stem plants, that elongate their growth along a stem by extending a single growing point, can be made to branch by pinching out the growing tips. They may be rejuvenated by cautiously uprooting the old plant and discarding it, saving only the strongly growing tips.
Plastic reflector hoods. Until recently I still used a couple of old reflector hoods, even one with the plastic "wood-grained" panels, like one of those dowdy Norelco coffeemakers. Armor-All will keep the deep black surfaces of reflectors looking spiffy and new. If you're not using the new disposable Armor-All paper wipes, for heaven's sake take the reflectors into the other room before you spray them. And set them on newsprint first, because there's no point for overspray to get onto inner surfaces, where it might leach into condensation.
Get incrustations off first with vinegar or other acidic washes and remember to rinse thoroughly. Buff the surfaces over beforehand and afterwards with a clean damp cloth.
Brushes. Filterstem brushes are narrow brushes on long flexible twisted wire stems. An alternate source for them is a music store! according to rsfish at Aquaria Central: "Music stores have "trombone snakes" which are made for cleaning the inside of a trombone (tuba snakes work well too!). They are flexible wire with a brush at one or both ends. Amazing tools for cleaning filter tubes."
Surface scum, that biologists call "neuston", can be removed by dragging a piece of paper towel across the surface, lifting the front edge steadily as you go. Or you could use a reefkeeper's overflow skimmer as a pre-filter box. A neatly-built version, the "C-Siphon Overflow," which eliminates j-tube syphons, is made by Creative Plastic Research. The surface layer overflows into a clear plastic box that is adjustable in height, so you can lower the water level somewhat. No complicated modifications to the tank are required.
Journal. I keep a journal. I like the feel of sturdy water-resistant binding and the steady march of dense blocks of my handwriting into the empty pages of my journal. These may be exotic pleasures, which won't tempt you.
Still, I urge you: try keeping a journal. Make it an e-journal if you want. Don't try to fill in the missing blocks of time when you lose the thread (and you will). Pick right up again without shame, even months later. Note how you treated Ich. When you bought the barbs. When the young Apistos spawned. With a journal you know how fast the fry grew. When you first noticed a snail. What dosage of malachite green made those Clown Loaches die. So tell me, how old are your fluorescent bulbs? See? See? I could never remember this stuff without the journal.
Randy Carey, when he was asked to vet a competition for "best aquarium tip," finally selected "Keep a journal." His encouraging plea for journal-keeping is archived at the Minnesota Aquarium Society website, where there's a secret cache of quirky fish articles few know about.