changing substrate and removing ugf - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2015, 02:49 AM Thread Starter
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changing substrate and removing ugf

been kicking around a few ideas about changing substrate in my 55 gal tank.It's a Platy tank so lots of little ones.Our house is small,and space is a factor.I already have several other tanks set up,but netting all the tiny platies to move them isn't an appealing idea,plus I'd likely miss some.

I have a spare 55,but it isn't nearly as nice as this one.

I'm currently using a #3 sponge filter,supposed to be good to 40g,a bio-wheel 350 hob,and the tank has a ugf and ugly gravel that hasn't been cleaned.the plants are anacharis,hornwort,a few floaters,java moss and guppy grass.

the UGF is 4 plates with 2 risers.

I'm thinking of adding a filstar M,and letting it run a few weeks,then using a hose to remove 1/4 of the gravel and a filter plate each week,and replacing it with EC or flourite,or perhaps blasting sand,and adding root tabs.

Thoughts on this? or should I scrap this whole idea? I hate the faded plastic plants and the lack of rooted plants.

MTS? no,I just need one more tank...
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2015, 04:44 AM
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" I hate the faded plastic plants and the lack of rooted plants."
Doing nothing is making a decision to allow it to stay the same.
Either put the babies in another tank or put the other 55g on the floor next to where the good one is now and fill it enough to use the sponge filter in it and put them in there. Should be a good incentive to get the job done in a couple of days.
Put any plants you want to keep in there first and throw out the rest and that gives you an empty tank to catch the babies in/from. Hopefully you have a submersible heater
that you can just lay it on the bottom of the holding tank and get the water right before you put in the fish. Overnight probably. Just have everything there before you start.
There are negatives to any sub, but Fluorite(I used the original color in mine)or Eco has
good CEC so their better than sand. But you may like the way sand looks.
I started out/w this kind of sand. It's #4 blasting sand available cheap from a sand blasting yard(yellow pages/call and ask).

But as you can see the pieces are rounded so if you want to make a slope Fluorite works better. I have Fluorite in one and Eco in another and I prefer the Fluorite.
But I have two 10g tanks so one bag does it in those. Something to consider.

The shortest distance between any two points is a straight the opposite direction...
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2015, 05:31 AM Thread Starter
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yeah,setting up the other 55 next to it temporarily then redoing it might be the best bet.The problem is,I can't see the newer fry,and really would hate to miss any when I'm moving the others,so that's why I was wondering if I might just replace the substrate a section at a time.

To do it right I suppose it'd be best to move the fish and just tear the tank completely down,and if I miss a few,oh well.

I will definitely do it one way or the other,but the decision is whether to tear it completely down,or to try doing it in stages.Think I may have just answered my own question,lol.

MTS? no,I just need one more tank...
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2015, 05:59 AM
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I would do this:

Do a better effort at cleaning the tank- substrate, filter, sponges. Do perhaps 25-50% water changes twice a week for a couple of weeks. This will provide cleaner conditions when you really start disturbing things.

Also, go through the procedure and make sure you have all the things you need.

If you need to prepare water ahead of time, prepare enough for 100% water change, or more. Rinse the substrate, have the plants ready.

The day of the change:
Turn off the equipment, unplug, remove.
Drain some of the cleanest water into several buckets for the fish. Catch the fish. Cover their buckets.
Gently remove the plastic plants, and other decor. Try not to stir up the substrate or debris. (This is why you did some really good cleaning ahead of time). Continue catching fish.

When you are ready to remove the substrate skim the top layer. Save this in a bucket with enough water to keep it damp. If you have a small pump or air bubbler, get it going in this.
Normally, a UGF grows beneficial bacteria all through it. But if you have not been keeping up the maintenance the substrate will revert to typical of a tank without a UGF- the only place the substrate has enough oxygen for the bacteria is the top layer or two.

Continue removing the rest of the substrate, the plates and the debris. Wipe down the walls of the tank.

Begin assembling the new tank: Substrate, decor, hills and valleys.
Plant, misting often.
Begin filling with the prepared water. Put a plate or plastic bag over the substrate and run the water in slowly, allowing it to seep over the sides of the the plate. This minimizes clouding. As the tank gets closer to full you can run it in faster, but lift the hose up so the water is not jetting into the substrate.
Put the reserved substrate in mesh bags and hang them in the tank in areas with good circulation. Another way to increase the bacteria population is to add a bottled product that includes Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
Add the equipment, and turn it on when the water is deep enough.
Net the fish out of their buckets. Do not use the water from the buckets. Fish under stress produce excess ammonia and stress hormones, and you do not want to add this to the tank.
Keep the lights off the rest of the day, and do not feed.

Next day: Lights on. Feed only of the fish are acting normal, and perhaps only half as much. Test for ammonia, be prepared to do a water change, if needed. (If you added bottled bacteria, follow label directions about water changes)
Day after that: If there is any ammonia, feed less.

About once a week, remove one of the mesh bags that hold the substrate with lots of bacteria. This gradual removal will allow the bacteria colonize the new substrate and decor without depriving the tank of such a big % of its bacteria all at once.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2015, 11:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thankyou for your well thought out and detailed reply Diana! that does sound like it would be the best way to go.

The problem is,I don't want to miss any of the fry.I do vacuum the gravel,but have to stop the siphon a lot because of tiny fry.By not being cleaned,I mean in the last 10 years,the gravel was never taken out and washed,though the tank sat dry for 8 of them,and it was a used tank when I got it.It isn't a dirty tank at all,and I've even been asked how I keep it clean.

I didn't phrase my question well I guess,but I was wondering the feasibility of changing the substrate with the fish in,and replacing the ugf with a canister ahead of time to get the bacteria going.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-07-2015, 01:31 AM
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Several ideas. You could mix and match whichever of these you want.

Catch fry with an air hose or slightly larger tubing. Or use a basic gravel vac. Fry can go through that tubing just fine. Siphon into a white bucket for best visibility. Try not to pick up debris when you are catching fry.

Remove breeding females from the tank, keep them in a separate tank, and wait for the fry to get large enough to catch.

NOT very good idea to change substrate with fish in the tank. All the debris in the water goes through their gills.

You could add a canister filter to the tank right now. That will get it at least somewhat populated.

You could run the can on a bucket and do the fishless cycle. In the time it takes to get a good colony established you will be able to catch the fish and clean the tank as a prep for the change-over.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 03:59 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks! You've given me several really good idea I hadn't thought of.I'll have to work out which substrate I end up going with.I'm certainly not sold on the EC.I used that in a 5 gallon,added no fish,no fish food,only ammonia hydroxide for the cycling.Still had detritus worms crawling up the sides of the tank.I wonder what they put in their "magic juice" they ship it in.

MTS? no,I just need one more tank...
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-14-2015, 05:20 AM
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Diana gave very good advice. Take it very slow.
Several months ago. I went through this process on a 20 gallon tank, so only one UGF plate, 2 lifters, I had shut that off for months and let a HOB become the filter, but still wanted to remove the UGF because it was ugly and I knew had a lot of trapped mulm under it, but I really wanted to change from gravel to sand.

All was going well, no spikes, so the week before removing, I kept trying to suck up as much gunk within the substrate/gravel and under the UGF plate as I could. Would even shimmy the plate around to help loosen up the trapped mulm to get more sucked up. Over that week, I did as much sucking up as I could until you would no longer see any debris going up the tube. Still no spikes, so I thought all would go well removing the UGF. I did this all with fish in it as at that time I had no spare tank up.

So I went and removed the UGF and so much mulm came up and badly clouded the water (although keep in mind the UGF was there running for 4+ years (I did not do the "reverse UGF lift" method). I instantly went and did large water changes over the next few days. I also added lots of Prime to help detoxify some of the toxins. There were corydoras, guppies and cardinal tetras in the tank. They had red gills from the toxic burns, but they all survived and recovered fine. All are still alive today. I believe there were even a few guppy fry as well.

I did remove the gravel that was in the tank right away with the UGF (which did probably contain a lot of beneficial bacteria, so that didn't help me efforts).

Safest route really is to get all the fish out, save some of the good tank water in buckets, then go ahead and remove the UGF, stir the current substrate to help get mulm off of it so it can be sucked up, then do large water changes until mulm is gone and water is crystal clear, it's up to you if you want to remove or keep the old substrate in for a week until HOB beneficial bacteria colony adjusts (substrate does contain some beneficial bacteria, but maybe the large water changes with fresh, unconditioned water would end up killing the BB anyways). Add new substrate and fill the tank back up with some of the old, but good tank water along with new fresh conditioned water, then add the fish back in and done.

I am sure there are longer and safer methods to do this, but this is just a general layout.
Biggest things though would be to not do the process with fish in the tank and take it slow so the other filter can adjust to not having the previous BB from the UGF/substrate.
Especially since you have all the fry in there, they might not be as hardy as the older Mollies so take it easy for them.

I do have a 55 gallon as well right now with 4 UGF plates in it (turned off UGF a year ago, but never removed plates/substrate after experiencing the 20gal mishap), will be doing the UGF removal this week with no fish in tank
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