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Posted By: Greg Dunlap <gregandeileen@juno.com>
Date: Tuesday, 18 February 2003, at 2:47 p.m.

Its been a while since I posted-

The fish are doing great- the clowns are fat pigs and all the fish have incredible color and are healthy and very active-

I recently statrted feeding the top/mid-feeders with OSI Vibrant Color flake, rotated with the Hikari mini pellets and Hikari redworms thay were getting. Their color has gotten brighter- seems like a good food product.

We cleaned the tank last weekend, along with a major teardown/cleaning of the 400 Emperor and the two powerheads, the first time I had touched the powerfilter in about 8 months! It was clean inside, a minor cleanout.

Before adding the UGF plates and heads over 1.5 years ago I had to tear it down about every month- it was skanky! Definitely easier now. The tradeoff is I rotate the heads out every 3 months, but I can teardown and clean one of those out in 5 minutes. I do add Cycle regularly, and this with all the oxygenation in the gravel makes for a very clean tank.

I am still running about 1000 gph turnover with the heads and the powerfilter. Alage is lower than I have ever seen in a comparable size tank- it takes about 2 minutes to clean the glass when we vacuum the tank. Water parameters remain perfect.

We still fill 2 cans with RO water the morning we vaccum (we vaccum every 3 weeks) and gravity syphon one in after vaccuming and use a powerhead to pump the water out of the one on the floor. I am still adding 1 heaping teaspon of Recon 50 and one of baking soda to the larger can about 5 hours before I need the water and throwing in a head to mix it. We vaccum until there is only about 4" of water left, then refill the tank almost completely.

DONT try this with most tap-water, the "shock" of trying to rebalance that much tap can be severe! One of the advantages of RO is if you prebalance it you can change out all you want, the chemical composition is the same as that removed.

The Pothos kind of died off at about 8 months, so last week I bought another for $4 on sale and cut the rootball up then flushed out all the dirt. Then I stuck them into my pots and packed the roots with gravel.

This time I am going to try a liquid fertilizer with the trace I already add every few weeks. I suspect the last plant starved itself to death- it seems to suck every last bit of nitrate out of the water- this is partially why my algae is zero. I will post how the experiment with a liquid fertilizer goes.

I don't have time to screw around with the tank, let alone plants, so Pothos is the answer for me! As Susan says, the plants are for the fish, not the fish for a plant-tank, and I dont want a Dutch aquarium, I want a very low-care/low-cost fishtank! I barely have time for my life and to train Doggus (AKA Staci, the new love of my life, a true wondermutt!!)

I am going on about (20?) months since I added the UG plates and two 402 heads to the powerfilter system. As far as I am concerned the system has proven to be as good or better than the whisper powerfilter/airpump-stones-plates I used to have. I still will contend for my use it is the best/lowest cost system in the world.

I have lost only a few minnows in the past 20 months, one ancient Gourami, and a second Gourami I should have never purchased- my grumpy Blue Paradise literally bullied him to death, my mistake! So much for any more Gouramis- the Paradise is a good trade, a very hardy, beautiful fish. He gets along fine with the Rainbow shark, the Clowns, the Swords, the Zebras, the CAE and all the Neons. He just seems to dislike any fish shaped like him!

No sign of any ich, bacterial, fungal or any type of disease for 20 months. The Clowns have grown a full inch since I added the UGF system. The two largest are about a full 6.5" now and are about 1" thick and 2.5" tall- really pigs. Their colors are great- very dark black and dark reddish-orange.

That's about it. I really have had a lot to do lately, with almost zero time for the tank, which is good- my maintenance time is almost zero.

I feed the fish daily, check the Ph every third day and add some acid-balance to keep it at 6.8, we vaccum the gravel every third week and clean the glass with about an 80-85% waterchange (takes about 1 hour, total), rotate one head out every three months (I have 3) and clean it (5 minutes), and clean the powerfilter out every 7-8 months (I hate this!!).

The lowest maintenance tank I have ever owned, and always incredibly clean and beautiful, with no algae or disease. (A note-those that know me know ALL my new fish spend 5 days in a small iso-tank with ich-med and broad-spectrum gram pos-neg antibiotics, per dosage recommendations. The meds last a LONG time when used this way, keep sealed in an airtight, dark container at reasonable temperatures) No ich in 20 months, with new fished introduced about 5-6 times? (gouramis/shark/neons)

I do not regret the RO system under the sink- we fill gallon milk jugs with water and this is our drinking water (tasty!!), water for the tank is a bonus, we would have bought it even if we did not have the tank.

My experience has been what all the very seasoned old-timers told me- go RO and you will never return to tap. I will again reiterate before I catch a load of flack- I live in Southern California and our tap water is very, very nasty.

The extreme flow in the tank through the gravel with the addition of the UG plates and the two heads has made the tank much cleaner, added tons more oxygen for the fish and dropped maintenance to almost zero.

Plant-people will once again argue I cannot have plants- I do, I just pot them in my own custom-made pots. In fact, I plan to try some Annubias when I get the time to pot it, and I will bet it will do well. All types of "fancy' plants? I don't have time for planting, pruning, thinning, sick plants, thinning! Densely planted tanks are very beautiful, but about double maintenance time (which I DONT have) and cost. Design the tank/equipment for YOUR wants and time-needs!

I can't have a sand bottom- who cares, I have a beautiful Mojave polished river gravel I bought from a landscape yard CHEAP! The fish spend all day playing in the currents and are fatter, more active and have better colors than they ever have. And the loaches spend hours every day bulldozing the gravel! (They leave the pots alone!!)

I used to fish the rivers/streams of Northern California. The fattest, healthiest trout come from 1) water with high/extreme flow rates and high oxygenation 2) gravel bottoms (mostly- the sands/gravel are oxygenated and harbor the bacterias and critters that break down wastes 3)few plants in the gravels, but shrubs/bushes very thick at the edges that remove the nitrates 3) the largest, fattest pigs were almost always caughts in small whitewater pools behind rocks, at the foot of small falls, or at rock-structure in the highest whitewater current midstream where oxygenation was maximum.

I got sick and tired of messing with a powerfilter-only tank and added the UGF plates/heads to mimic a fast-flow stream. Instant success. I will add all of my fish are strong-swimmers, most from rivers. Clowns, Sharks, Neons, Swords, etc. The Paradise is the expetion, but he is large and likes the currents. My Gouramis also liked the currents!

My main goal was to have an almost maintenance-free tank at minimum cost, and I hit that goal. I use bulk carbon (cheap) and reuse the "stock" powerfilter inserts for about 8-12 months, just rinsing them out every 3 weeks. The carbon goes dead, but I only use them for the glass-filtering anyway.

I add some acid balance every three days (the bottle lasts about a year)and a slight amount of trace for the plants. The Recon-50 I bought will last two years. The only product I "splurge" on is the Cycle- some argue, but after 20 years I can vouch this stuff does what Hagen claims it does! I will admit I splurge on top-quality food, but it lasts forever. And I do go to the bait shop and buy small redworms for the loaches and mid-feeders. They really cause a feeding frenzy!

I thought some of the newbies might want to read the results after almost two years, especially if they are having problems with a powerfilter only tank with a gravel bottom (as I always did, with the gravel "souring" with anaerobic bacterias) If you want 1) gravel 2) potted, strong plants only 3) river-type fish (torpedo-shaped, strong swimmers, from streams)4) less maintanace 5) zero algae 6) very low-cost, think about this system.

Size the combined powerfilter/powerhead flows (add them all up) so you can cycle 8-12 turnovers an hour. I could run about 13-15 max, but this is too much! Buy powerheads that have flow-adjustment and can be aimed. Buy quality powerheads- the $$ difference between "bargain" heads and the best ones is negligible. Buy a good PF and forget all the "stuff" they always want you to buy- just use bulk carcon in a bag or the stock "box" and buy a Cellpore bioblock.

I will again state forget reverse-flow, at least for now. These heads have been "redone" not "re-engineered" for this. I tried the RF for my 402's- weak, anemic flow, and I really could see no true benefits. The truth is the PLATES have also not been re-engineered for RF! Some of the better heads have RF/FF, dont sweat it, just set to FF.

Use a 3/8" minus gravel (buy at a landscaper-forget the cost at the LFS!)and size so most of the stone is at the 1/4-1/8" range. I have been told my grain-size is "too large", but I have had zero "clogging" problems in the bed and better flow through the bed. I have noticed the air-bubbles off the top/mid getting sucked through the bed, what you really are shhoting for.

Get a Python faucet-mount vacuum and vacuum well very 2-3 weeks, depending on fishload and feeding. Gravity-syphon exchange water or head-pump (buy 3 heads!) back into the tank, premix in any salts. If you have good tap-water, just refill with the Python in the "fill" mode and add all the chemicals (dechlorinate, etc) I don't buy.

A recap-

"Old" dimension 60 gallon

400 Emperor PF with bulk carbon (change monthly)/Cellpore bioblock (rinse in RO water and keep "skanky"/ stock inserts, rinse/reuse for up to 12 months!)

UGF plates and (2) Hagen 402 heads- heads and PF run at about 3/4 max at about 10 turnovers/hr.

3" polished Mojave rivergravel (or other) 3/8" minus with no sand/ 1/8" minimum fines (small fines get inot the heads!) rinse WELL before using!! Use a HARD gravel,no crushed or with a base that will bleed carbonates into the water 9unless your water runs VERY acid!!)

RO system used to refill about 80% after vacuuming/ rebalance with Recon-50 and baking soda (and bal temp) prior to refilling with gravity-syphon and powerhead (extra '3rd' head for this and used to swap out a tank head every three months for cleaning)If you have good Ph tap that is clean, use it!

Check Ph very third day/add premixed acid balance (1 tbsp/4 oz RO mixed in a 32 oz jug/kept in fridge/ 15 seconds to add! (my "add" has been perfectly balanced- 4 oz of the mix exactly!) A tank at slightly "acid" (6.8) grows aerobic bacterias better- this is research, not opinion!! If your water is very clean, but you can't keep a lower Ph, live with it, lower Ph is 'better', but you can do well without it!

Vacuum the hell out of the gravel every third week/ clean glass/rinse PF inserts/refill (1 hour)
add "cycle" to maint reg's.

Change bulbs (Power-subcompast 55W X2 (older fixture) about every 14-18 mths with 50/50 white/actinics)

Use STRONG leafed/stem plants potted in gravel. Cut 2L pop-bottles off at 1/4" shorter than gravel depth. Use a meat-skewer and heat red-hot over a gas-flame.(use the fan!!) Use HOT to puncture multiple holes into the plastic 1/2" apart (all directions) EXCEPT the bottom and the bottom 1" of the sides! (no root-holes to grow into the plates!)

Place rootball into planter and pack with gravel- add 2-3 "root-tabs" broken into 4-5 pieces and tucked into gravel/replace poke new ones into gravel every 5-6 weeks (5 minutes) Set the post ON TOP of the UGF plates/ build a rock-berm around with stones and then backfill entire "stoned in" area with gravel to hide the pots. Nice in front of the UGF risers with the plant wrapped around the risers!

Consider a 3 gallon plastic tank, small heater, airstone and airpump for an iso-tank. You will NEVER put a fish inot your tank again without being in iso aftre seeing the benefits of this!! (see the article in the archives- "iso-tank" setup") The time/money saved on meds and doctoring sick fish is unbelievable here! 20 moths and no ich or bacterial infections in my main tank? Gotta be SOMETHING working here!

After 20 years of keeping fish, the BEST things I have experimented with/learned form others are here:

1) MANY very experienced keepers told me the benefits of the iso-tank. I thought "too expensive, too much hassle, etc" I finally laid out the $28 for the eqpt and started doing it- I will NEVER again just 'dump' new fish into my tank! MY LOSS for being a hardhead for so many years!

2) FORGET all they crap and h