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Sand Substrate



I figured it was time to make the Big Change and remove the existing Under Gravel Filter (UGF) and start off on the right foot for a more healthy planted tank. Originally this tank was "converted" into a planted tank from an existing fully funcional aquarium. The UGF was allready there as it has been in all my tanks for the last 20 years of my extensive fishkeeping.

However there is a big difference between keeping fish and immitating that which mother nature herself has provided as I have learned. While I still firmly believe that the UGF Filters play an important part in "Fish Tanks" , I just cannot justify there existence in any long term "Planted Tanks". My feelings are now that the Undergravel filters and plants go together like Fire and Ice!!

Although all the plants were growing great I felt that the UGF in time would get clogged by the root systems of the plants and eventually have a major problem. So as not to create a time bomb under the plate , I decided that it was time for the swap. For a UGF Filter to work at its peak efficiency it has to have optimum water flow through the substrate which without constant uprooting and trimming of the roots would eventually clog. The real tell tale sign was when i saw a Wisteria Root coming up the intake tube from under my UGF plate towards my powerhead !!

Now came the hardest part of this project for me...Breaking Down MY EXISTING TANK ! Pulling up all my plants which were growing so nicely and chasing the fish around my tank and literally destroying everything that I had worked so hard to achieve was heart wrenching. But knowng that in the end it was for the greater good of my tank made it a much easier decision to make.
If you are like me and have limited space for tanks and want to make the most of the one's you have then you sometimes have to go backwards to go forwards !

... in my case it was all the way back to a bare tank !
I first needed to chose the materials carefully...

After looking at many , many great photos of tanks I decided that I liked the looks of a sand substate. Cutting costs of projects and getting the most for my money is always a priority. There are many " commercially sold sands " that I looked into that are big bucks but in the end it seems that they all have one thing in common.......NO NUTRIENTS !

So if there are no nutrients in sand ... what else did I have to be concerned with ?

--Water Capabilites and Looks--

Some Sands will buffer the PH , some will buffer the GH/KH values , and some will buffer all of these at once... the only way to tell is to either look at the makeup of minerals that are in your sand or simply get a little bit as I did and put a handful in a jar and see what it does via testing...this is not always an option though for obvious reasons... cost and the availability of some of your sand for testing.

Now that I knew this sand would have no ill effects on my water parameters and I knew I could achieve the look I wanted in my tank the next step was to make this substrate more plant friendly. This is the expensive part... I chose Flourite as the base layer which can be used by itself or used in a "mix" as I did to ensure the plants would get some benefits from the rooting base as opposed to straight sand or aquarium gravel.

Sand SubstrateSand Substrate BeforehandI paid $ 2.79 for a 50 # Bag of this playsand at Home Depot at the suggestions from friends and I figured that it was cheap enough to take a shot at. I took this home and put a 1 1/2 " base in a mason jar and continually stirred it , let it settle for a few hours and tested the water over a 3 day period... the effects on PH were none during this period which I liked... the GH went up 1ppm over my tapwater at the end of this 3 day period which I figure will have no bearing on my allready very soft water I use...not to mention that an 1 1/2 layer in a small jar of water is much higher concentration then I will have in my tank.

It took 2 bags (30lbs. total) of Flourite to get a 2" layer in this 30G tank. At $20 a bag I felt it was worth the cost as Flourite does not break down in water and once it is rinsed well it does not color or cloud the tank water.There are many options available in substrate additives for plants but many of them when disturbed will discolor or change water parameters in your tank.

I myself like to move plants , replant clippings and generally "work" my landscape into a better looking tank...yes ...I have the "Never Good Enough Syndrome". Disturbing the substrate is inevidable and I do not want the fear of letting out any peat puffs , laterite bombs , or any other additives that may create a mess!

Sand Substrate



Sand Substrate



Sand Substrate



Sand Substrate



Sand Substrate



The next step was to layer the sand over the Flourite base. If you wanted to add Laterite , Peat or any other nutrients to your substrate now is the time to do it. I am using only the flourite and will later down the road start feeding the roots with plant spikes. This was another reason that I had to get the UGF out of this tank. I had tried plant spikes on an earlier occasion and really liked what they did for my Amazons in the first 9 Days but on Day 10 there was a terrible cloud in my water.

The water flow passing through the gravel was pulling the nutrients from the spikes and saturating my water column ...What a mess ! It took me a week to find the small pieces I had buried and finally my water cleared...and did I mention Algae ? It went out of control...

As you can see from the photos to the left I have added an 1' - 1 1/2 " of sand to start, knowing that it would settle into the base. This sand is very fine as opposed to the larger sized Flourite chips.

Since the sand is so fine you have to use a plate to fill the tank with water or it will just beat the sand into your Flourite and make a mess. After adding a few inches of water into the tank you then have to knead the sand into the flourite being careful not to mix to much of the flourite up into the base. You want the roots to go through the sand into your 2 inches of flourite , not into more sand. "Kneading" the mix also helps you get the air pockets out created by the fine sand. When all the air bubbles are out of the mix you know now that it has settled.

After all was said and done and I had finished working the mix to where I liked it... approximately 20 lbs of sand was used. I saved a little flourite to sprinkle over the top of sand for effect and it will also get mixed into top 1/2" for shallow rooting plants and "runners" off of my plants.

It took 3 - 90% water changes with the top layer being lightly siphoned (of dust) that day to get the water clear enough of the fine sand particles floating. I let the tank settle and sit for 24 hours and then started to replant the tank. When I started planting I was amazed at how little of mess it made digging in the sand. Even after a few hours of burying root systems in the substrate the water was still fairly clear.

Here is a photo of the tank after replanting and as always it is subject to change. I love the new look of the sand base and I will be posting photo updates as the tank matures... What impresses me about the sand other then just looks is its ability to hold the smallest of clippings with ease. I think the sand and myself are going to get along just fine... LOL!

Article written by Buck (Buckman's Home)

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