Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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JGordon 04-22-2012 09:29 AM

Gravel cleaning
I have been hearing different opinions about gravel cleaning in a planted tank. Some people tell me to clean every week or so. Other tell me to wait longer and only clean part of the tank at a time. Still, one person told me not to clean the gravel in a planted tank since it will adversely affect the plants.

I have maintained a 40-gallon fresh water tank for years. I used to clean the gravel (half the tank at a time) every month. I also had carbon, phos-zorb and nitra-zorb in my filter system. ~6 months ago, I stopped putting that stuff in my filter when I made the leap from plastic/silk plant to real plants. I have a lot of plants in the tank and I like the look. The plants are doing OK. The fish continue to do well.

I have the following fish:

4 clown loaches
5 cardinal tetras
4 red-eye tetras
3 yellow fin tetras
3 tetras that are small and have gold and red color (?their name)

I do a 50% water change every week. I have not done a gravel cleaning in 3 months.

My tank's parameters before each water change remains about constant at the following values:

Temp: 74
pH: at least 6.0 (the API indicator is at 6.0 so the pH could be lower).
NH3: 2
NO2: 0 - 0.5
NO3: 5
Phos: 0.5 - 1
KH: 1-2

I don't directly measure the CO2 but look at an estimate of it on a chart and it seems to be ~60

I have minimal algae in the tank (I had more before I put in real plants).

Because my tank has been doing well for so long, I don't want to focus only on the #s I am measuring from my API test kits since I don't want to mess up the tank.

However, what should I do with gravel cleaning?

Geomancer 04-22-2012 10:21 AM

You do not need to vacuum the gravel. However, you need to ensure you don't over feed, you don't want any left over food in the tank at all.

Also, with live plants, you need to make sure any dead leaves are removed.

Both of the above will break down into ammonia which you don't want, the plants will get plenty from the fish themselves.

If you find you have debris on the surface of the gravel, you can run your vacuum over the top but not into the gravel.

Any amount of ammonia or nitrite is bad and needs taken care of. When you removed the chemical filtration media, did you leave mechanical/bio media? Like sponge, filter floss, pad, etc of that nature?

JGordon 04-22-2012 11:12 AM

Thanks for the advice.

I have filter sponges and BioMax in the filter.

Should I gravel clean at all in order to cut down the ammonia, etc... or just leave the gravel alone?
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Geomancer 04-22-2012 11:25 AM

Most don't touch it at all. Some just run it over the surface to get what's there.

JGordon 04-22-2012 11:42 AM

Other than cutting down on feeding amount, is there benefit in putting the nitra-zorb bags in the filter to try to knock down the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate or just let things be.
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kitten_penang 04-22-2012 12:12 PM

i used zeolites for ammonia,activated carbon and bioballs when i first set up my 4 footer now i only have bioballs coz the plants do the rest.btw i'm using a canister filter and i like the fact that all debris are blown downward into the gravel as it breaks down it becomes plant food. i only suck up leftovers on top of the gravel during a wc.sometimes when you stir the gravel it releases toxins into the water in large amounts.having MTS will help aerate the gravel and you wont have to vacume it.

AbbeysDad 04-22-2012 12:37 PM

Generally speaking, in a heavily planted tank you really can't gravel vacuum without damaging plant roots. Detritus, plant waste and uneaten food will all decompose to become organic fertilizer for the plants - a very healthy thing. Some folks get all excited about mulm and use powerheads or way too powerful filters to remove they can then add [more] fertilizer from a bottle to feed the plants.
IMHO, much like organic gardening, if you have rooted plants you don't worry about detritus in the gravel and only remove substrate mulm if you absolutely have to for aesthetics.

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