What about gravel siphoning in the planted tank?
First, as a live plant in the aquarium neophyte or neanderthal, I found Byron's sticky posts to be very informative. Although I have to say that as a result, I will likely stick with plastics and merely dabble in real plants (as I worry some about a reduction in filtration and elimination of aeration.)
It seems to me that somewhat aggressive gravel siphoning at weekly water changes affords the best way to keep up on solids removal from the gravel. It would seem that this disturbance would be disruptive in the planted aquarium and often require some replanting.
Is routine gravel siphoning less required in the planted aquarium or are the areas around the plants just excluded?
Can only speak for myself, have not vaccumed the substrate in the only tank I have live plant's in since setting it up last july.
I remove dying or dead leaves and trumpet snails,nerite snails,pond snails, clean up the rest.
I dreaded the sudden appearance of pond snails for fear of them eating the healthy leaves but have not seen them do so.(will eat dead or dying older leaves)
The trumpet snails I added to help aerate the substrate, and the nerites I added just cause I liked them and fish store seldom offer's them.
Other's vaccum around their plant's but I have seen no ill effect's thus far from refraining.
Agree with 1077. Most of us with planted tanks never touch the substrate. In mine, I do slightly vacuum the open area along the front if there is one, but I do little more than barely touch the surface. This I do only because I have bottom feeders (corys, loaches, etc) and like to keep their prime feeding area tidy.
One of the benefits of live plants is how they handle detritus and mulm. And in keeping with my approach of letting nature do its job without our interference, I prefer to let the plants and bacteria work together. As "stuff" lands on the substrate, the natural water flow down into the substrate will carry it down. This water flow is another benefit of plants, they "pull" the water down. This is achieved by bacteria working with the plant roots that produce oxygen to feed the bacteria. This breaking down of organics creates heat, and the heat then causes the now warmer water to rise back up through the substrate into the aquarium where it cools. The cycle continues day and night.
The organics broken down by the bacteria becomes an important source of nutrients for the plants, and these are assimilated by the roots. The plant roots through the release of oxygen cause the substrate to be aerobic, which is one of the best ways to maintain a non-compacted substrate (the Malaysian livebearer snails mentioned by 1077 also contribute to this). We do not want to go poking around, as this is upsetting the natural balance. There is a very complex relationship between water, plant roots and bacteria; it has after all worked in nature for millions of years, so it would be foolish to mess with it.
There will be some anaerobic areas too, and this is also good. Places where plant roots do not extend will become compact and devoid of oxygen. Anaerobic bacteria will colonize these areas, and they also create important nutrients for the plants though the process is somewhat different. This is an important source of nitrogen for plants. As long as the anaerobic areas are not too extensive--and a good crop of substrate-rooted plants sees that this does not occur--it is essential to the natural health of the aquarium.
This is part of the reason why we can do with less filtration (of our own making) in a well planted aquarium. The plants do this task better than any filter. In fact, there is no filter that can perform this natural cycle as efficiently and effectively as plants. Of course, there has to be a balance to make this work, between fish load, plants, water volume and substrate depth.
I leave most of my substrate untouched when I'm doing water changes. I will stir up a bit of the sand along the very front of the tank, purely for aesthetic reasons because I don't want it to look mucky. i try not to stir it up too much though when i do that because there are root tabs hiding everywhere since my substrate rooted plants are all in the middle/front area of my tank.
I only vacuum the gravel if there are no plants within a 3in radius of the spot i want to vacuum.
I, like the others do not vac the substrate, my tank and plants are doing great now for 8 months with 40% water changes ever week to 10 days.
Thanks for the feedback - it sounds like organic aqua gardening. I like the idea of the aqua bio-sphere, but as an outsider looking in, it would seem the planted tank somewhat shifts focus from fish to plants and there needs be lots of plants to sustain the environment. Lights, co2, fertilizer, water flow, aeration.
If I can find the space, I think I'd like to try it on a small scale first, but right now I'm raising fry and getting my 60g dialed in as a community tank.
I did get a couple of bunches of floating plants (can't tell you the name) that they told me would root if the water was right...so some of the cut stem ends I have 'planted' in the gravel (60g).
I doubt they'll take hold but who knows.
One last thought/question for future reference... Is there any advantage in mixing some sand in with the gravel substrate?
Maybe a personal choice?
If so, I will be replacing the sand in my pool filter later this spring. Is (used) pool filter sand appropriate for aquariums?
It really depends on the plant. Some, like ludwigea and hygrophila, send out fairly large root systems. Others, like hornwort and anarchis, will probably never root.
I would not use used pool filter sand, but new pool filter sand is okay. Sand can have risks (when it becomes too anaerobic due to compaction), but some people say it looks nicer and more natural. It's really preference. I prefer coarse sand/fine gravel myself. Of course, adding sand to gravel will probably not give you the look you expect.. The sand will sink and the gravel will sit on top after a while.
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