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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Q: Suggestions for a good internal filter for soil-based low tech low stocked 20 g long? Also: Fish prefer very low flow, and have lotsa shrimp so can't suck up babies.

Specs: MGOPM ~ 1" capped with approx 1" of medium grit Black Diamond sand, medium to heavily planted.

Would you recommend a Fluval U2
or a smaller, Flexion kinda thing?

In case it helps, I'm attaching a pic of how the tank looked before yesterday's draining and now-total-mess-state.

Problems with my current sponge filter + powerhead setup:

1. I came home yesterday and the floor was all wet, aquarium somewhat emptied, water had soaked through the floorboards and ceiling tiles of the floor below :( After some trouble shooting [read: hours including draining the and moving the tank, netting the fish, turning everything inside into a total mess], I realized that the tank hadn't leaked. I had a small powerhead (Aquaclear 20) submerged and inserted into the column of a Hydro III sponge filter (sponge + base; no collar or lift-tube) - and the powerhead had clogged and water squirted out of the Venturi valve line, which was hanging outside the tank.

TL;DR: Instead of pumping water in, powerhead pumped water out through air intake tube.

The thing is that I had just cleaned is 2 weeks before. And it was completely clogged with dirt. Which brings me to ...

2. The mystery has always been: After almost a year, my aquarium water is usually tinged yellow and I squeeze out the filter every two weeks by squeezing in the removed tank water, and it's full of dark brown. The water is opaque dark brown to black after I squeeze it out. I have way too much gunk in the water. I have less than 1" of soil that is capped by almost 1" of Black Diamond sand. I've wondered:
- Do I just have too much suction from the powerhead that's drawing the gunk up? I had it on the very lowest flow setting, with bubbles turned off
- Are the MTS somehow releasing lots of soil/tannins into the water column?

So I'm trying to find a filtration solution. I can't use HOB or canister filters due to location of the tank (long story).

Ideas?!

Thanks!
 

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I know you said you can't use a HOB or canister, but I'm not sure what other options there are. If you are having problems with sponge filters, I don't see how a internal filter would help other than simply providing more filtration which sounds like you need.

If the picture of your tank is recent, I don't see any yellow. All the yellow tanks I've seen lately are from people simply not cleaning their tanks at all which is a whole other issue. Do you have wood somewhere in your tank? That can cause water discoloration. MTS move around in the soil, so I suppose they could disrupt stuff in the soil, I'm not sure how many of them it would take to make a noticeable difference. I'm guessing lots.

I don't use soil in my tanks, but I do clean my filters monthly. My 10 gallon has 2 Aqua Clear 20 HOBs and my 29 has 2 Aqua Clear 50s.

Out of curiosity, what are your water parameters? Any issues with ammonia or algae?

Edit: If water flow from a HOB bothers you, adding a piece of filter pad to the part of the filter where the water comes out can slow things down. The water passes through it, it just does so at a slower rate. Also, there are sponge covers that can be added to the intake so fry, shrimp, ect... don't get sucked up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Good questions! I am *SO STUMPED*. So I appreciate the help.

Other options would be like the Fluval u2 or a Flexion-- internal filters...if the issue is that the flow of the powerhead is too great. If not, I need to resolve the underlying problem of the clogging and the yellowness. Which brings us to:

The pic was taken a day after a water change...usually the water is tinged yellow by one week after a wc and noticeably yellow by 2 weeks after wc (I like to do a wc including filter cleaning every two weeks). The wood that I have in the tank is a spider wood, which should not have leached tannins in the first place (vs, say, mopani), and definitely not after a year- so either I have some type of yellow thing that grows into the water column, or it's from the soil...right?

Snail hypothesis: I have loads of MTS, but I hardly ever see or notice them as they only emerge when it's dark. Here is a post that I posted before I added them to ensure that MTS would be fine in a soil-based tank: http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/100-low-tech-forum/893713-trumpet-snail-not-trumpet-snail.html

Bubble hypothesis: Very occasionally, the soil will release one or two bubbles. They don't smell, so I'm guessing it's CO2 rather than anaerobic conditions. But- maybe the release of the bubbles also releases tannins from the soil? If so, why don't others experience this?

My parameters have always been 0/0/0. I usually fertilize to bring it up to a nitrate level of 5. I know that sounds impossible, but I am quite confident I'm doing it right because I also care for several other (non planted) tanks and with the same kit, they always measure an appropriate level of nitrates (e.g. 5-10).

I have very minor amounts of a couple of kinds of algae- one that grows on the glass and looks like white specks that grow (I clean the glass with each w.c.) and then some flat green that grows on the lower leaves of some of the stem plants.

Thanks for slogging through all this text- ideas appreciated! Maybe I should add a post and title it better re water still yellow after a year / filter clogging problems rather than just which filter advice...

Edit: The reason for internal rather than HOB/Canister is that (1) it's in the living room and needs to be totally silent or it drives everyone nuts (2) I agreed with my husband upon setup that there would be no water flowing or chance of thing breaking outside the tank- that it would be self-contained (3) It's a two-sided tank so there is no 'back'- in order to hang a HOB, I'd have to cut the glass lid and monkey around; there is no place to put a canister.
 

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This is curious to me. My sponges get plugged before I have gunk in the powerhead. I was having issues with my sponge plugging up with sand dust so my solution was to lift the sponge off of the bottom of the tank some. I also clean the powerhead every time I do tank maintenance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I have the coarse sponge (the Hydro "pro") dunno if that makes a difference. Is your sponge full of brown when you clean it? Does your water stay clear? My tank has not read Walstad, even though I have :(
 

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I have the coarse sponge (the Hydro "pro") dunno if that makes a difference. Is your sponge full of brown when you clean it? Does your water stay clear? My tank has not read Walstad, even though I have :(
Mine rinses black from the dust from the sand. I am using a very fine sponge on that tank. I dont have issue with dirt in the water column. I used a clay mix I dug up local and it isnt overly fine. Are you moving plants around any?
 

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This is what I would do. I'm not suggesting that it is the easiest or quickest way, but I firmly believe that trying to correct a problem in too many ways at once only causes more problems. In this case it would be something like a ammonia spike or possible cycle crash which you do not want.

Do you surface vac your tank? I know there is a huge amount of debate over whether a person should vac their planted tank or not, but I personally have yet to see any harm done doing this. It doesn't disturb plant roots or anything. It's just taking the crud out that plants cannot quickly break down.

If you do vac, use something to poke the substrate with. It can be something like a bamboo skewer. Obviously you wouldn't poke too hard as you don't want to hurt plant roots, but enough to make sure soil is not compacted. The advantage of doing this poking around while you're vacuuming is you can remove any stuff that may come up immediately. When you're done, you can finish your water change as you normally would. Whatever you do, don't go crazy with cleaning. If you end up finding more gunk than you anticipated, do small sections of the tank over the course of a few water changes.

Once that it is done, I would wait and see what happens. If there is something in the soil that is causing water discoloration, getting the offending stuff out of there should help.

I agree with you about the wood. I would check it though for any nooks or crannies were stuff can settle into. I know you said your water parameters are good, but it doesn't hurt to look.

I'm not a fan of MTS, but the reason I asked about your ammonia levels was because I was wondering if perhaps you had a snail die off. You're seeing them at night, so that eliminates that possibility. If at some point they start to bother you or you think they are the problem, they can be baited. Toss in a piece of zucchini in your tank before they typically come out. They will be all over it by morning. It may take a few times of doing this to get their numbers down. Snails do eat and poop. Are they a massive contributor to your tank's bio-load, probably not, but they are there and MTS breed like crazy.

I understand the HOB situation. Have you checked around the tank for dead spots? By that I mean areas around the tank that have very little or no water circulation? The problem with internal filters is that they don't offer a lot of water circulation. Nobody should be blowing their fish around, but good water circulation does force junk on the substrate to move to or into a filter. If you do find a dead zone, you'll have to find a way to get water moving to that area. Perhaps a nano powerhead, a air stone... anything that moves water but doesn't move it too much to annoy the fish. Another alternative would be figure out what part of your scape is causing the problem and correct it that way. Moving plants around is free, so I'd do that first.

If after all that and there is still water discoloration, then I would add another filter. The Fluval U2 sounds awesome, but I would hack it. Since it comes with various kinds of media, that means you can put other kinds of media in there even if it is small amounts. Instead of using the carbon, I would add Purigen and if the foam is not fine, I would replace that as well. Purigen only removes excess organics from the water as well as water discoloration. It is much cheaper than carbon and can be recharged. Once the new filter is in place, the discoloration will go away, but you may still want to see if there are any other problem areas in the tank. You don't want to get into a situation where if there is a problem somewhere it goes unaddressed because your tank is clear. Do you know what I mean?

This is going to sound like a really dumb question, but what do you feed your fish? Not all fish foods are equal and there are many that will funk up / discolor your water. I have some in my freezer that needs to go for that very reason. The discoloration doesn't hang around long, but it still needs to go.

I think that's all I've got for now. Sorry for the novel.
 

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Can't you just lift the intake a bit higher away from the substrate?
I know my corys kicked up quite a bit of dust, but that was my fault for not sifting out too fine sand, and it settled after the lighter stuff was pulled from the water column. Do not underestimate how much tannin even small pieces of wood can release too.
 
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