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Partial substrate change established tank

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by Gerryd, Apr 10, 2008.

  1. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Hi all,

    I want to do a major scape change and replace/remove some of my substrate.

    My 180 has an average substrate depth of 3-4" and it is at least 4 years old.

    It is mostly red flourite (about 80%) of it, with some old normal gravel and black flourite mixed in. Most of the red flourite is now on top and all of the plantings are based in the red flourite. I have moved several times in the last several years, so it has been removed/rinsed/reused but not replaced.

    I want to REDUCE my depth by about 1-1.5" in most places. I feel that I have too much depth and is much more than I need.

    I would get a little more water volume as well. Plus, I want to add more contours to the top, as over the years it has been pretty flattened. I will have more depth where the plants are, esp for those with long root structures, but many areas will be much lower in appearance.

    I also want to lay down a TOP LAYER of a NEW substrate to give it a nice fresh look. This new layer will be either:

    1. Black Onxy sand
    2. Black flourite
    3. Plain black gravel

    If I choose options 1 or 2, I would remove more of the existing substrate and replace it until my desired depth. This would be done PRIOR to replanting.

    If I choose option 3, it will be a very thin layer, just enough to cover the top. This layer would be placed AFTER replanting, as it is very thin and I can easily do by hand around my new aquascaping.

    My concern is basically losing bacterial filtration with the loss of the existing substrate and the effect on it's overall health and it's inhabitants.

    I do not know how much of the beneficial bacteria exist in the substrate as opposed to the rest of the tank/filters/etc, but due to it's size in AREA (72X24), I suspect it is substantial.

    Will this in effect cause a new tank cycle or even a partial spike?

    If so, I can prepare with Zeolite and many large WC, but want to know what to expect. I know Tom replaced the substrate in one of his large tanks recently, and will revisit that thread, but didn't see exactly what I wanted to know.

    My plan is as follows:

    1. Remove 50% of water so easier to work with but fish have more room.
    2. Carefully remove substrate desired.
    3. 25% WC of remaining water.
    4. Carefully add new substrate and shape.
    5. 25% WC of remaining water.
    6. Replant/aqauscape as desired. 50% of water in tank is no problem to work in and fish will be less stressed.
    7. 25% WC of remaining water.
    8. Fill tank as normal and run all filters.
    9. Allow tank to settle/clear.

    Basically then I would do about >50% daily WC until I felt safe, about 5-7 days and monitor/test.

    1. Should I dose EI and c02 as normal during this 'recycle' time?

    2. Are my expectations/plan reasonable? Or am I missing something?

    Any advice or thoughts are always appreciated.

    Or I guess I wouldn't have posted would I? :D
     
  2. orion2001

    orion2001 Guru Class Expert

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    Hi Greg,

    I don't have all the answers to your questions but I can guarantee you that you will have an ammonia/nitrite spike and a mini cycle. I had this happen to me in my non planted 10G tank when I removed the top layer of substrate. In your case given the large surface area and also add to it the fact that you will move plants around causing them to pause with plant growth while they re-establish themselves in their new environment, I'd expect a pretty big "mini" cycle. I would think that you'd need to do daily water changes and dose ferts. You might still have algae issues due to the spiking ammonia levels. I would definitely take Tom's advice, or someone else with experience who has done this before.

    Good luck and do keep this thread updated once you make the substrate swap.

    Cheers
     
  3. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I'd remove it all.

    Rather than doing this all at once, try doing it in stages, say 33% each time over 3-4 weeks etc. Remove it and scoop out a section, refill with the black flourite.
    Then next week, go after the next section.
    Easier this way and much less disruptive.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  4. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Update

    Hi all,

    orion2001,

    Thanks for the confirmation on the mini-cycle/ammonia/nitrate spike. Just the info I was looking for, thanks. Glad it seems I am thinking clearly....My tank is so old now >5 years, that I almost had to look up 'new tank' syndrome lol

    I will treat as if almost a new tank just to be safe.

    Tom,

    I reread your 350 redo thread and see that my plan can be done better by following some of your plan and advice.

    I like the idea of replacing it all, but was concerned about the new tank cycle. Added to orion2001's post and the info from your original thread, I will be especially careful of cycling/spikes/issues and will assume it is cycling....

    I like the idea of splitting it over in sections/over time. Less stress to my fish, which are why I have the tank in the first place.......

    I like the idea of running the filter overnight after laying the new substrate down, but PRIOR to replanting. Gives a chance to settle as well and easier to plant if more clarity :)

    Only drawback I see is that some the final planting/scaping cannot really be done until after all sections have been replaced. :(

    I will try and plan the sectioning so this re-planting will be lessened, but I have a lot of wood as well (for my cichlids to have territories) and these will span sections, as they are all over the place. No big one I guess.

    It will be the black Flourite........I have wanted to try it since I heard about it, as I think the red is a good product, and with Tom's using it in a tank twice as large, decision over!

    I read somewhere that substrates should be replaced every 4-5 years, as they run out of nutes and become a limiting growth factor, but do not know if this is true or not????

    I just this minute received my Fedex package from AAG (still bagged, but they look great!)with many nice plants, as I was intending to do final scape in one swoop this weekend.

    Since I will now do in sections, this will change things a bit..........

    Also just got my UPS package of TMG lol! Nice!!!!!!!!!!

    Will be nice to start over, so to speak............

    Thanks again to all and will update with before, during, and after pics.

    P.S. orion2001: BTW, I am Gerry not Greg :D
     
  5. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    Inert substrates, which are almost all substrates other than ADA Aquasoil, do not "wear out" and need replacing. Those substrates don't provide nutrients other than by virtue of their high CEC, where they get the nutrients from the water column or substrate fertilizing. So, there is no reason why they should "wear out". Some will lose their particle form over time, and might be desirable to replace for that reason, but not because they no longer supply nutrients.
     
  6. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Update

    Hey all,

    Vaughn, thanks for the explanation...........

    Okay, so forgot to order the substrate in time but new plants came in.... What to do?

    While I am waiting, I decided to do some work in the meantime.

    I scraped the top 1" from the entire bottom area in two steps Friday night and Saturday morning.

    1. Friday night, uproot plants, remove rocks, wood, etc. Leave some wood in for shelter. Plants kept were left floating or is Java fern attached....All others tossed as full of brush algae, terrible...........Just kept my Java fern trees
    2. Removed top 1" from nastiest 1/3 of tank. Wanted to guage affect on fish.
    3. 75% WC with Prime.
    4. Sat morning, scrape remaining top layer.
    5. 50% WC. While filling, gently siphon all over to pick up substrate dust that is all over from the scraping. Probably do another 40 gallons WC just from this alone into big rubbermaid containers (40 gal).
    6. Top layer is clean, substrate looks good, fish are okay. Added about 10 gals of volume, as I had to add 4-5 2 gal buckets while removing the top layer (filters were on at the first pass), so sump kept going too low. New layer line is much lower, I like it much better........plus a bit more water volume!
    7. Rescape and plant new arrivals.

    They are already starting to stand straighter and many were pearling quickly:)

    Here is a link to an album of photos of this work. The only pics with a tag are the before image and the after scrape image. All others were done about 8 hours after the initial planting.........for some reason they are the last ones (go figure) so select view all or next page to see them sorry.............can't figure how to sort them yet, but I will and fix....

    gerrydirish/Rescape - Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    Can't wait till the substrate comes in, is replaced, and done. I think/hope it will look awesome. Can't wait until it grows in some..........

    I think this may be better waiting for the substrate, as I get a chance to see how/which plants do well and where, and get them healthy for a couple 2-3 weeks and then replant???

    What do y'all think of this? Or should I replace and replant ASAP while they are still undergoing an initial adjustment to their new environment??

    Detail below is the plant list location narrative to go with the album.

    Don't read further if not interested..lol

    Thanks again.

    Left side of tank.

    3 Java Fern wood tree structures. Not in their final position, am playing with this one. Cards like to go over the top of these as the current is strong at this point, and they school to other side against the strong flow and back again riding the current going the other way in a big loop around the tank perimeter and across the middle very nice....... got 25-30 more in quarantine that look good and expect to get 100 more in about 4-6 weeks. If all goes well, will have my 200+ in the display tank by June sometime. Long quarantine by experience .....

    Immediately to the right of this in the back is Rotala rotundafolia. This will get taller and curtain the back. Will sway nicely in current when it gets big enough.

    In front of this divided by more wood is Cabomba caroliniana.

    A little in front to the left of this is a bit of hygrophila difformis. which will replace the cabomba if it doesn't take..

    At the far left is an Anubia hast that I got by mistake..

    Center is more cabomba.

    Right of center is water oak. This will also get tall and curtain the back.

    In front of this divided by more wood is an amazon I also got by mistake surrounded by the Riccia covered rocks.

    To the right of this is various Ludwigia species to provide a nice red to all the green.

    In front of the wood and the ludwigia is lobelia cardinalis. I hope for this to grow out some and provide more cover and contrast with the taller plants in the back.

    Vaughn if still with me, did your look like this at first? When you corrected my mis id as 'anubias' a thread or two back, yours was nice compact and green. can you provide a short detail of growth pattern/changes if any????


    The oak will also turn brownish due to high MH output, so contrast should be nice.

    Will post in a few weeks when they grown in and when the project is done. I will enjoy it either way.

    The fish seem really happy BTW.............LOL

    Thanks for letting me share and for all the ideas/help.

    Made it much easier/less work/more enjoyable.

    P.S. The icons on the subject line are selected by mistake/fat fingering...........sorry............
     
  7. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Uodate: 50% done

    Hey all,

    Quick update/impressions on this...........more details/pics later.

    Black Fourite - is very nice. Small grain size, nice color.

    I used 6 bags to get 1-2" bed. One more should do it perfectly, so will get 7 for the other side, plus 1 more for this side.

    Rinse - placed 1 bag in a large rubbermaid tub. Just barely covered gravel with water. Stir flourite, drain water, repeat. First 2-3 times, water is very black/gray. 5-6 rinses was very clean. Very quickly done.

    Removal - used 1" ID clear tubing (home depot) about 9' long. Directed output to two large rubbermaid containers about 20 gallons each.

    When tub was full mostly of water, used small RIO pump to drain tub to outside lawn. Kept stopping, switching tubs, etc.

    Very easy to do this way. Hose gets gravel and all dirt, so tank stayed clear all throughout. Hose got clogged every now and then, but easy to shake out.

    Old substrate now in tubs to wait for transfer to triple bagged heavy duty garbage bags..........a little tired now :)

    I removed 50% of water to start.

    When 75% of water was gone, started filling, while still removing old. Worked very nicely.

    Placed new flourite in a large wide fish net and then gently released into tank. Very little cloudiness :) This worked better than I expected actually as I was able to place the net close to the section and tip it out.

    This allowed me to have the tank full and filters running while placing the new substrate. Was redone quite quickly this way.

    Then trimmed and cleaned all plants and wood, stones on that side.

    Rescaped, waited a bit for water to clear, fed fish, waiting now for plants to straighten up a bit, for final placement.

    Flourite is loose and easy to plant in. I have a lot of various cories and I think this substrate is less harmful to their whiskers......

    Looks good so far.............

    Am working on a photo album of before, during, after and should be done soon.

    Will do the rest of the tank in 10-14 days.

    50% WC every other day for the next week or so should do it.

    Added a large bag of carbon to sump............waiting for some purigen and zeolite now..........

    Thanks again to all!

    Initial pics:

    gerrydirish/Gravel Swap - Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
     
  8. Carissa

    Carissa Guru Class Expert

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    By the way when I changed out the substrate in my 10g tank...I did 100% at once (not too hard in a 10g) and had no ammonia or nitrite spike at all. I think it has to do with how fully loaded the tank is fishwise and how good your filtration is. With better filtration, more of the bacteria will be in the filter than the substrate so the chances of a minicycle drop somewhat. In my case, getting rid of my substrate which was caked with living or dead bga and other algae of various sorts, and hiding a lot of yucky stuff which got removed when the substrate came out, actually reduced the bioload of the tank and possibly offset any minicycle I might have had otherwise.
     
  9. aquabillpers

    aquabillpers Lifetime Charter Member
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    Actually, soil substrates do supply nutrients and they do wear out in time, unless they are able to store the excess nutrients that are added in the form of food and/or nutrient dosing. Also, I've observed that after several years the original soil has become a dense, clay-like substance, which probably further reduces its CEC capability.

    The carbon that was in the soil becomes exhausted in a year or two and (probably) doesn't get replenished.

    Bill
     
  10. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    It is easier to talk about what is in Flourite or ADA Aquasoil, etc. than to discuss a soil substrate, since there are wide variations in what a natural soil has in it. For that reason I consider soil substrates to be a different subject.

    Some people consider commercial potting mixes to be soils. Others, like me, consider only the layers below the top soil to be worthy of use as a substrate. And, still others like ordinary garden soil. But, those three groups have different constituents.

    But, any substrate which is used as a source of nutrients has to eventually run out of those nutrients, so I agree that those substrates "wear out".
     
  11. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Finished!

    Hi all,

    Completed the substrate swap to black flourite today. All went very well and was done in about 3 hours total.

    The album I linked to above has a couple of added pics.

    One thing I did differently was to remove the old with the tank full and the filters running by doing the following:

    1. Fill tank so sump fills but not overfill.
    2. Siphon old gravel and wate to 40 gallon rubbermaid tub.
    3. Use extra pump to drain water in tub.
    4. Fill tank with fresh water while this is going on.
    5. Stop every now and then as the siphon is quicker than the water can fill and drains the sump too quickly. Just wait a few for the water in the sump and tank to get back to a good level and restart the siphon.
    6. Repeat 1-5.

    This technique worked very well for me. Took a few minutes longer but I was okay with it, as it kept things nice and clean. Fish were less stress as they had a full tank with filters running.

    I then placed the new flourite also with the tank full and filters running using the large net method again. This again works very well.

    Then remove 50% of water to rescape. I did not take any cuttings on this side, just replanted as they had nice roots and I wanted these in the new gravel, rather than start new roots in a new substrate. Only 2 weeks since the last swap and cuttings were planted on the old side at that time. So, in 2 weeks, had a nice set of roots.

    Filled tank and waited for plants to stand upright, which was quick as they were only unplanted for about 3 hours total.

    Then fluffed and replanted a few as needed.

    I will do 50% wc every other day for the next 8 days, and then go back to weekly schedule.

    So, thanks for hanging in there with me.

    Doing it in sections and using the siphon method made this a very simple task.

    Thanks,
     
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