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>1. For several days, there was an oily film on the water.  The fish didn't
>seem to mind. (no I don't have a skimmer). Is this oil stuff dangerous to
>the plants and fish?  Why is it now gone and replaced with bubbles?

It's caused by slight to a severe unbalanced tank condition(lack of CO2 in
many cases), then as these conditions improve all the plants started growing
(raising the DO levels which help the bacteria and plants also) and these
bubbles are from your plants "pearling". Basically, the plants are growing
good now and this is why the film is gone.  The oil itself is not bad, but
it is a sign that your tank is not doing as well as it should/could. Now
most of your "waste" are being used and cycled into your plants and bacteria
etc. I haven't seen any oil in tanks that are pearling like crazy. Pearling
refers to the plants releasing O2 as a by product of photosynthesis. This
looks like tiny bubbles being released from your plants leaves. If your
plants are doing this then generally things are doing great in your tank.
Your water often "sparkles" and looks very clear. Riccia is one of the best
for seeing this happen. 

>2. Today (Feb. 1st), there are thousands of bubbles collecting on the
>surface farthest from my filter.  What is this?  Phosphate bubbles?  Is this
>dangerous? What should I do to get rid of them?

Are these on your plant's leave's? It's fine then and sometimes after a
water change this will happen too. Bubbles generally are not bad unless they
are coming out of your substrate and there is a foul smell along with it.
Pearling often happens in low current conditions.....otherwise the current
from your filter will blow off the bubbles or let the O2 bubbles
disperse/diffuse without forming a visible bubble. "Farthest from your
filter" and all right? Could be some air bubbles from your filter too or
water changes. If so, try to minimize it. If you use yeast or gas CO2 added
to your filter intake there might be leftover bubbles coming out and these
are fine.

>3. What is the best way to raise the gH?

"Best" would be subjective. Some folks use Equilibrium by SeaChem to raise
it. Anything that will add Ca and Mg to your water( CaCl2, MgSO4 etc) will
add to the GH. Ask the folks at your plant society how they do their water
make up. They are familiar with your local water. They will be your best

>4. Is this just my tank reacting to the change in pH or the algae dying off?

The plants are now happy(they aren't gasping for 
CO2) and the poor<g> algae is dying? Now which would rather have?
The plants will suck up the decayed algae or you can remove it. I remove any
I see as a rule.

>5. Should I put carbon into my auxiliary filter (Aquaclear) to help clear
>the water or should I go out and buy a Diatom filter that I may only use

A good cleaning/water change will do the same thing as carbon pretty much.
Save yer dough! Be patient, things should clear up fine as long as you have
a good CO2 amount in there and the rest of the plants needs are being met.

>6. Should I start fertilizing with the liquid again or wait?

If you think the plants are doing well and growing, add a *small* amount and
watch to see if the plants grow more. Keep a close eye for algae. Under dose
rather than overdose. Work up the amount of fertilizer slowly till you at
full dosing. Back off if things go foul.

>For a new subject, I have some questions about substrate.
>6. If I yank all of my gravel out and replace it with a substrate and then a
>layer of smaller gravel than I have now, will I lose my biological cycle?
>Is it possible to do 1/2 the tank at a time?

You will have a good tank crash even at the half method. The gravel is the
big sump of nutrients/bacteria that makes most rooted plants do well. 
I wouldn't tell you to do it at this point.

***If*** you have to do it, vac all the mulm out of the "old "gravel and add
to the very bottom of your "new" gravel. This mulm will certainly help your
tank recover much faster and is likely the best gravel additive there is.
>7. Can anyone tell me brand names of kitty litter that I can buy in
>Vancouver, BC or a place to buy good substrate other than the kitty litter?

Johnny Cat Litter and any that does not have any *scented* flavorings(Ummm!)
or perfumes and not the clumping kind either. The best stuff is often the
cheapest stuff in this case. Look for unscented litter.
You have many options on your substrate BTW. 
Soil with sand on top of that, sand with laterite, adding a little peat,
Flourite or gravel and Flourite mixed, sand and some old mulm and time, and
there are surely a few more like profile etc.

Being new to this I often say do the *easy way*. Flourite has proven to be a
very no hassle substrate for me and many others. No laterite or kitty litter
or peat or soil or worry about mixing layers amounts, basically a simple one
shot set and forget part of your tank. If you decide to redo your
tank...............and you will...........moving the flourite is not hard or
messy as say the soil.............it has a very high amount of surface
area(for all the bacteria and mulm to settle on) good iron content(less
liquid fertilizers are needed or can be omitted....in my case forgotten!)
and it looks cool. I've set up many tanks with it. I've also set up 4 litter
tanks. I like both but if you up root a plant from the litter it is super
cloudy! The flourite cost more but the cost justifies the convinence for me
>I want to thank you all again so much for your help!  I've also joined the
>local Vancouver Aquatics Plant Club (Thanks Steve) and am looking forward to
>meeting people.

See who has a nice tank and do what they do and listen to them. They won't
steer you wrong!
You will do very well I think with the group up there! Just do what they
tell you and be patient.
Tom Barr
>Grant Miller
>grantmiller at home_com