A Quick Note on pH:
In several of my fish articles, I mention optimum pH levels, and I think this is definitely a good thing to know about your water. However, I want to mention that, unless I’m keeping a finicky fish, I don’t tend to worry about pH too much. There are two reasons for this: the pH of my tap water is pretty middle range, so I don’t need to worry about it too much. And, it can be hard to control pH. You can add a lot of unnecessary and potentially harmful crap to an aquarium trying to balance pH. So unless it’s way off for a particular fish, I don’t mess with it. Whether you want to is up to you, of course. And, like I said, it’s always good to consider it. But also think about how many chemicals you’re adding to the water, too, and maybe find a happy balance.
A Quick Note on Gravel:
I hate gravel.
It is so messy. Unless it’s recommended for whatever critter you’re keeping, if you’re torn between using it and not, don’t. I mean, it’s your choice. And it does look nice at first. But seriously… it’s a pain in the ass.