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New UGF method -- UFL (under-filter lamp)

Greetings from your resident tinkerer.

Unlike many here, I have always had a feeling that UGFs have a place in
planted aquaria. 

I started to build some miniature wet-dry filters. They were as described by
Henri DeBruyn at the killy convention in Tampa, last spring
(http://www.travelnutz.com/killienutz.htm and click on Convention news and
Henri's Wet-Dry filter talk). Great for nearly bare tanks, they are near
useless for pretty planted aquaria. :-(

Then I learned of a trick devised by an old Betta friend, Lew Heifner. Lew
is most famous for his "Lew's Gutter System" for raising male Bettas, but
his "Toilet Tree" is a marvel of simplicity for storing large containers of
water without flooding the carpet. [IDK if they are still there, but check
out http://home.earthlink.net/~n0kjf/index.htm. Flame Lew if they aren't up
there, any more! OK? He claims work interfered, so I just said work is the
curse of the drinking class!]

Basically, Lew modified the usual UGF, air-lift filter by putting a 24/7
light underneath to deliberately grow lush algae underneath the filter
plates. The object was to re-oxygenate the depleted water that had been
through the biofilter, and to encourage rapid absorption of ammonia in the
process. Like with Henri's filters, the bad effects of trace ammonia are
greatly reduced if there is ample oxygen in the return water.

Both systems are wonderful for raising really big impressive fish, which is
what I mostly wish to do. You might ask, "What does this have to do with
aquatic gardening?" Well, my first try at the UFL was a resounding *plant*
success, after only a month, and I don't have the foggiest where it will go
from here.

I won an ungainly-shaped tank (15 Tall) at a SFAS meeting raffle. I finally
decided it would make an OK plant tank for taller bunch plants, mainly. I'm
still assembling some 36W CF hoods, so I just stuck a single, commercial 15W
fluorescent over it, for now. That light is on from 6AM to 9PM, but the 13W
CF under the tank is on all the time.

The UGF plates were covered with a thin layer of polyester baby-quilt
batting from Walmart, and two bags of "Flourite" just dumped in without any
rinsing. The batting traps the dust and provides huge biofilter surface
area, compared to plain gravel. I haven't done an UGF for years without the
batting, filter sheets or fiberglass woven cloth. IMO, it is an essential
part of the system. Lew seems to think so, too.

The plants and fish were an accident, for the 25 Long tank across the room
decided to spring another leak, just as I had the 15 filled with
carbon-filtered tap + RO water -- pH about 7.5 and tds about 280 ppm. KH,
measured later, was only 2 degrees, which was either a big surprise or an
outdated kit. :-)

I drained the 25 and moved the 13 *Procatopus aberrans* and all the plants
to the new tank. I planted the 2 Crypts. and 2 kinds of Anubias, as well as
some Hygro, Rotala, *C. siliquosus* and Java fern. Duckweed, *Lagariosiphon
major* and *Mayaca fluvitalis* were left to float and fend for themselves.
In the week before Christmas, I tinkered with adding CO2, but didn't expect
much help at 1W/G of light -- just testing valves. I turned it off until my
return on Monday.

The results? Well, we all know that a month isn't enough time for the whole
story, but early results are so gratifying that I just have to share this.
Running the UGFs vigorously cleaned up all the dust from the "Flourite" in
just a few minutes. The fish have been happy and active, and the plants are
growing quite respectably. Both Anubias have new leaves, as do both Crypts
(probably wendtii). I even see a new offshoot plant from one crypt. That's a
long way from the usual move melt-down!

The astonishing thing was that I had none of the new-tank algae bloom that I
have grown to expect. The clarity of the water exceeds anything I have ever
seen! I have a breeding trap for the Procatopus eggs in there, and the cap
that is right up under the lamp may have a faint haze of brown diatomes on
it. It may also be substrate dust, but I haven't rubbed it to see.

Looking up underneath the stand, where a compact fluorescent desk lamp has
been running continuously, I couldn't even see the plates through the thick
green growth of algae there! Above the substrate, the tank is as clear as
any I have ever owned.

I did use a small Whisper outside filter on the back, mostly to provide more
oxygenation. It is running at a very low level, compared to the uplift tubes
on the UGF. Restarting the CO2, it was able to quickly pull the pH down to
around 6.2, despite the outside filter and two airlifts running. I'm running
about 1/3 bubble/sec. through a Gomberg system, with a small plastic
aquarium airline valve as the main flow limiter. :-) [Dave: I don't know
what the Cv of that valve is at a bubble every three seconds. ;-)]

Since the early results were so outstanding, I decided not to wait to
describe it. I'll probably deepen the substrate and do some serious
gardening layout, as well as install a good CF hood with bright reflector. 

I bought a lot of CFs in 36 and 55W at a real bargain. They are ideal for
planted tanks, most with 4000K and high CRI. I intend to build a bunch of
10G hoods (same footprint as the 15T) as soon as I find a reasonable source
of ballasts for them. [Any help gratefully accepted, there.] The 36W CFs are
a perfect fit over a 10G tank. My killies, who often shun the light, are
just gonna hate me!

I had to pull most of the Duckweed off today, and was impressed at how lush
and healthy it was. I thought at first I had gathered a lot of hair algae
with it, but close examination revealed that it was just extra long vigorous

As with any new setup, I have been waiting for it to settle to add any
significant nutrients beside the fish foods. I'm sure I will need to add
them when I get a brighter lamp over it.

What's happening here? I think the plants like their feet gently warmed a
bit. I also suspect the algae underneath is stealing the most algae-critical
nutrients, so it just refuses to grow in or above the gravel, in
shorter-period light. For me, this is a remarkable breakthrough. I may have
to quit learning to love algae visible in my tanks. ;-)

There is no reason you *shouldn't* do this at home. After all, it was
demonstrated by a non-professional under highly uncontrolled conditions. :-)


Wright Huntley, Fremont CA, USA, 510 494-8679  huntleyone at home dot com

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