Re: NANFA-- sand bed and plant "filtration"

Todd Crail (
Fri, 7 Nov 2003 21:40:57 -0500

Okay... Back to this... The first real step is to look all around you, then
close your eyes, and then say with me: "There is no spoon." :)

Okay now that we've exited the Tetra Press Matrix....

Here's where it started and kinda gives a background:

- I skip on the flourite now. Seems all that tasty goodness gets sucked
into the sandbed. Big $$ savings, for sure. I have not tried this with
crypts yet because I'm concerned about the temps affecting their growth
right now. I will move some over next spring into one of the native tanks
that doesn't have the flourite and see if even the "almighty necessity" can
do without.

- I still insulate the bottom for "even temp". Warm feet and all that
malarky about heating cables generating "flow" in the substrate is a waste
of time and especially, money.

- I still add the Florena. This is a _must_ if you're trying to drive
plant growth with a higher light ratio (I like brite tanks). First off, the
plants will literally fade to a lighter shade of green as their metabolic
pathways have been inhibited to produce cholorophyll without all the
micronutrient constituents. Algaes will begin to outcompete as well, if the
plants are unable to produce their alleopathic chemicals to inhibit the
algal growth on their outer cells. I've pushed it both ways (alot and not
very much). It seems that by adding the Florena on Sun and Wed (two good
days for me to remember) that I get nice consistent chorophyll and growth
without having HUNTER FREAKIN' GREEN java fern and stuff. I think that's
wasting my money too :)

Diana Walstad uses topsoil to provide micronutrients, so it's not totally
necessary. There are other ways besides paying some company. However, I
don't want to deal with the nutrient overload at first before the
appropriate "mouths" have hit it full swing. I like the sand because it
accumulates the nutrition over time, as the plants are utilizing it and are
in proportion to the nutritional source. That's my rationalization and I do
like to spend money from time to time :)

Tip on the Florena: Buy it in bulk if you've satisfied yourself that it
works/helps. You'll save hundreds of dollars. A 500ml bottle is $20, but a
5000ml jug is $80. I dunno who did that math... But I'm not going to argue
:) If you want sources, let me know. The LFS here does mail order and is a
shop I would endorse fully. Save the first bottle you buy and use that from
there out by using a funnel to pour into it from the jug.

- Lighting is the same... About a watt per gallon using GE Daylight Ultra
lamps. I don't think I'll ever set up any tank that can't use these bulbs
(4'). They're so cheap and they look about as right as the rain when
considering flourescents. Metal Halide looks waaaaaaaay better but I don't
find I need to have the intensity and additional Photosynthetic Available
Radiation. It's overkill for what I want to accomplish, and it's heckuva
lot more convenient to have ONE wire running out of my fixture than wires
going everywhere. Maybe some day when I have that greenhouse and I can hang
them from the ceiling... Oh wait... ;)

- Look for the Quickcrete brand sand. It has waaaay less clays in it and I
don't even bother rinsing it. Clears up within a week at the most.

At first, while the bed is still fairly sterile, you won't see any growth or
minimal growth. But you'll know when the plants have hit their stride and
there's enough nutrition in the bed. My anecdote is... there's also finally
enough bacterial respiration in the bed to contribute enough carbon dioxide
for them to fix into new cells. It only seems to get better over time.
Biofilms appear (the sand is less likely to separate) and then the plants
start growing all of sudden. The system will also go through a normal pH
increase during the photoperiod and decrease in the darkness. Go figure :)

Those biofilms are your friend too as far as consistent tank look and
keeping the sand where it belongs. For example in the 30, I have the Eheim
return right at the sandbed, along with a minijet powerhead above it. I
don't get sand blowing all over the place like I've heard a lot of people
concerned about.

I'm also curious to see if that's what hogsuckers need in their diet to have
more consistent results with them. I had one, and boy it was the _coolest_
thing to watch him filter the sand. Unfortunately, I didn't have my "fish
bumpers" in place on the light fixture (put pipe insulation around the
edges) and he took a ride on the Great Carpet Of the Unknown (tm).

Also, I mentioned Vals because they have aggressive root growth. And they
look cool. I also use java fern, java moss, some long stringy hair algae I
haven't ID'd yet, the occasional anacharis, hornwort and duckweed in the
native tanks. The rainbowfish aquarium has all sorts of apongeton, anubias,
crypts in addition (minus the duckweed because they eat it so voraciously).
Shortly, I'm going to remove the hornwort from that system. I'm tired of
harvesting it :) We'll see if that's a mistake or not. It's sorta been my
crutch as I've wandered through all this. But I'm driving the 30 faster and
harder than any of the others without it and I haven't had a problem I
couldn't fix by turning off the lights for a couple days and doing some

A light layer of gravel adds a nice touch too. Add it as piles between
rocks and then leave bare spots. The gravel seems to work as a prefilter
for breaking down materials in an aerobic fashion so bacteria below can
process it further (it's a process :). Certainly, having a canister filter
will allow for this as well, but right now I'm playing with sponge filters
and those little corner filters with just filter floss in them. Air drive
seems to be my next step and I'm getting the hang of it. Saves big $$ as
well not having to dump $150 on a stupid human built piece of plastic too

If you wanna get really crazy, get your "rubble" from a local stream
(instant cycle! it's live rock! :). I've certainly enjoyed most of the
invertebrate life that's emmerged. The anchorworms kinda stunk, but they
did come in on the fish... And I haven't seen them since. I don't think a
small freshwater system has enough diversity to support all of their life
stages... But I'm not going to state that as fact ;)

I can't really think of anything else to add at this point. In a large
tank, I'll do a thicker bed (like 4"). In a smaller tank, more like 2".
Seems to be enough to create aerobic and anaerobic layers like you want to
have. I haven't yet pinned down the dynamics of the systems and exactly
what is aerobic and anaerobic, and what causes them, saturation of DO2 in
the water and substrate, but I really don't have the equipment to play with
that... Yet ;)

Oh, and don't mention it's for a fish tank... I had a buddy actually be told
they wouldn't sell him sand at Home Creepo when he mentioned what he planned
to do with it. He had to go back later. Wow.

Well, I hope this helps and doesn't just overwhelm you. Got questions? Ask
away :)


It's never too late to have a happy childhood.
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