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Only a UGF for Clear Water? Maybe Not...

Posted By: Mr Leadfoot <leadfoot@sbcglobal.net>
Date: Tuesday, 22 October 2002, at 1:43 a.m.

OK, to all the UGF advocates (me being one), and those who strive for clear, clear water without one, here's something I recently discovered:

I have a 5.5 gallon tank I normally use for q-tine. Up until a few days ago, it used to consist of a bare bottom and an AquaClear mini. The bare bottom makes it easier to keep clean, because gravel in my other tanks without UGFs always caused not-so-perfectly-clear water. It quickly became obvious to me that decaying matter in the gravel caused some degree of cloudiness, regardless of how much, how well, and how often I cleaned.

A bare-bottom tank also enabled me to easily see what a new fish liked to eat while in q-tine, and often enabled me to "train" them to eat different foods.

Because I decided I wouldn't be getting any more new fish for my other tanks for awhile, a few weeks ago, I decided to make the 5.5 gallon tank a small display tank in my bedroom. Some of you may recall that I added two small striatas to the tank. While things have been going well, now that the tank had become a display tank, I added 3 plants. Because there was no substrate, I potted the plants with gravel.

Now, after about 2 weeks with the striatas and plants, I began to notice that the striatas were still a bit apprehensive. I assumed that their apprehension was caused in part by a bare-bottom tank. So, this past weekend, I went to a favorite LFS in search of a substrate I could use that wouldn't allow debris to get trapped in it and thereby cause water pollution, especially since this tank is only 5.5 gallons to begin with.

I explained to a knowledegable staff member my desire, as well as my concerns of waste build-up in a substrate and stressed the fact that my loaches would probably cause problems if I used something like sand since everyone knows that they're always rummaging around in substrates. The guy immediately recommended sand. Thinking he was hard of hearing, I repeated my concerns, to which he adamantly assured me that the sand he was thinking of would not cause problems. He then went on to explain that they carried two different grades of sand - a fine sand, and a "heavier" sand. I became intrigued.

To make a long story even longer :-), I figured that I had nothing to lose trying it - since it's only a 5.5 gallon tank I could easily remove the sand from it, and my plants were potted anyway, and the only other things I have in the tank are a small piece of grapewood and a rock cave.

I bought 5 pounds of this heavy sand, and being the typical fish addict, I bought a siamese algae eater, a platy, and two green tiger barbs I thought would make a great addition to my other tanks. All the way home, I kept telling myself that the whole purpose of my trip to the store was to not use the tank as a q-tank anymore! :-)

Well, when I got home, lying on the floor in my bedroom was one of my beloved striatas! :-( Somehow he had managed to shoot up out of the tank through a very small opening in the hood where I had purposely cut out only 1 measily extra inch extra around where my filter hangs! Well, I guess that sadly took care of part of a soon-to-be WAAAYYY overstocked 5.5 gallon tank!

Anyway, I washed the sand really well while I floated my 4 new fish that I shouldn't have gotten. Then I gingerly laid some of the sand in the tank. I stirred it up to see how long the sand would remain in the water column, with one hand near the plug of my powerfilter, since I was concerned about sand being sucked up into the impeller. To my delight, although the sand did rise, it didn't rise very far, and immediately sank back down to the bottom. For a real life test, I released the SAE into the tank, and then fed the remaining striata and the SAE bloodworms. Even with all their frantic scurrying, the sand didn't even come up close to the filter intake.

So, I laid the rest of the sand. I then made sure there was nothing in the path of the filter's water return, and lowered the water level to allow the return water to stir the sand. Although the returning water definitely carved a path in the sand, there was still no problem with it getting up into the intake. And, mind you, a 5.5 gallon isn't very tall, and an AquaClear's intake tube is no more than 4 or 5 inches from the bottom! I then unpotted the plants and planted them in the sand. I rebuilt the rock cave and laid the grapewood back in. When I stepped back to see the finished product, all I could say was "WOW!" It looked absolutely beautiful! For how long, I didn't know, especially once the fish started wreaking havoc.

I released the remaining three fish from their bags. I watched for awhile but the fish were a bit shocked to act normal, so I left the room for about 1/2 hour. When I returned I brought back some more bloodworms. You see, I like to feed my new arrivals a lot, since I want them to get good healthy food as soon as possible because I know that their travels and conditions they've had to endure in fish stores are hard on their systems, and if I can get them nourished quickly, they'll have a better chance at survival. Well, with one striata, an SAE, two green tiger barbs, and a platy all in a 5.5 gallon tank frantically scarfing bloodworms, the sand moved around, but it never even got close to the filter intake, nor did it stay up long enough to cause even the most minute bit of cloudiness. In fact, the moving around of the sand by the fish causes great terrain!

OK, so now it's 3 days later, and all 5 fish are still kicking, alot as a matter of fact. Before water change today (I purposely waited 3 days with such a heavy bioload to see if the water would cloud), I could see waste sitting on top of the sand - it can't get into the sand - Yeeeeehaaaaw! And, the water was just as clear as one of my other UGFed tanks! Now for the real test. Vaccuming. Gulp! Guess what? It's way easy. Didn't suck up any of this heavy sand. The debris easily floats up off the sand, right into the vaccum. I decided to only do part of the sand, and stopped. I stuck my hand in the tank, waved it around a bit, and some of the remaining waste came up into the water column, and was promptly sucked up my the filter. Wow, this was too good to be true! I swear my plants have actually grown in only 3 days in the sand! (gareth, got your ears on?) Here are the benefits I see with sand:

1) Loaches love sand
2) With loaches constantly moving the sand around, no dead spots
3) Ever-changing terrain tesxtures
4) No debris breaking down in the substrate resulting in less pollution and clearer water
5) With the fish moving the water and sand around all the time, all I need to do is periodically wave my hand in the water to get the debris up for the filter to pick up = less vaccuming
6) Plants seem to like sand more than gravel
7) Bottom feeders won't wear out their barbels on sand

As you can tell, I'm completely psyched! But, I'll know more in a few weeks. If this tank remains this clean for the long haul I may just try removing the gravel and UGF in my 10 gallon tank, just for grins. If I can keep that water clean with clowns and a pleco, and still use a powerhead for current, I might have the answer for my upcoming 80 gallon that some of you are aware of that I need to spec out right, from the beginning, cause it's going in a wall unit in my house.

I'll try and post a pic of the 5.5 gallon, complete with sand plants and fish soon in case anyone else can benefit from this cool new discovery of "heavy" sand.


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