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RE: UndergraverHeater -- Getting to the bottom

> Date: Sun, 8 Dec 2002 19:01:34 -0800 (PST)
> From: "S. Hieber" <shieber at yahoo_com>
> Subject: Re: UndergraverHeater -- Getting to the bottom
> George Booth corrected my comments about *his* views on
> substrate heating cables.:
> "
> > I *hope* I never said substrate heaters improved growth!
> > My claim is that
> > they provide long term stability.
> >
> > You could probably read into that something like "you
> > will have improved
> > growth after 18 months in a tank with substrate heating
> > compared to the same
> > setup after 18 months without substrate heating". But
> > that only means that
> > the growth with substrate heating was consistently good
> > over the long run
> > and we experienced growth problems after 18 months in a
> > tank without
> > substrate heating.
> Thanks for setting the record straight.  I *hope* I had the
> decency to to list your site in my comments, so I at  least
> pointed towards the real deal.
> Cables or not, the site is one for aquatic gardeners to
> see:
> http://aquaticconcepts.thekrib.com/
> > Luckily, our house is airconditioned, so we can use
> > cables all year long.
> My house is air conditioned too, but to keep the room temp
> low enough to get the cables to run (on my tank), I'd have
> to get room temps down around 68 degrees or lower, and
> that's too expensive in my situation, about $5-$10 per day
> more than air conditioning costs me now.  That would
> outweigh the electricity savings from using cables ;-)
> Scott H.

Let me first say that what both of the guys above probably forgot 10-15
years ago far exceeds my knowledge of planted tanks.  Although I first
started keeping fish almost 30 years ago, my first experience with
actually being able to grow plants was a little over 18 months ago and
what success I have had is primarily due to these two as well as others
here on the list.

That being said, one thing about this subject puzzles me.  When I became
interested in setting up a tank again and came across the APD (and saw
one of Amano's books) I switched to the idea of trying to grow real
plants.  Without the help of the people on this list it would have been
a pipe dream that I knew better than to attempt for I could not grow
weeds if I tried.  Anyway, it was suggested at that time by one and
seconded by several others here on APD to pick one method you thought
you wanted to try and follow it, listening primarily to the main
proponents of that method and kind of ignore what others would suggest.
It was said that to take a little of one method, then add some advice
from a follower of another method and perhaps add a little from yet some
other method was to potentially court disaster.  So I picked George and
the Dupla method, mostly because of his wonderful website Scott referred
to and the book (The Optimum Aquarium).  I even found an old copy of the
book and have read it more times than I want to admit.  As George says
they promote heating cables as a way to maintain an aquarium in a manner
that is suitable for good growth of all plants for an extended period of
time.  In the book I believe they mention that one of their first test
aquariums (10,000 liters) for their method developed an irreversible
problem that required it to be dismantled after 11 years.  They used
heating cables and the longevity problem went away.  That seems to be
pretty much consistent with George's experience.  After reading the
posts here for a couple of years now I think it would be would fair to
say that the method is pretty much the same for everybody:  control the
feeding, macro and micro nutrients, sufficient lighting, proper levels
of KH and CO2, good circulation, a well maintained filter, and start
with a bunch of plants.  It sounds like there is some minor (?)
disagreement about substrate heating cables.  I have yet to try the
heating cables, but I hope to soon.  After all if they do provide for
long term health of the tank, better to find out now than several years
down the road when I have to tear it down and start all over.

My question is really for those who posted saying they had tried them
and saw no real benefit, and anyone else out there who might have an
opinion.  Do most of you guys tear down your tanks every few years or
stir them up constantly and never see the end of tank syndrome Horst
Kipper did in the 2,500+ gallon tank?  Or have any of you gotten through
that extended period Kipper and Horst mention as their stumbling block?

If you have looked around at the sites people here refer to, you will
find some of the most beautiful planted tanks around.  Clearly, Scott
H., James Purchase, Tom Barr and George Booth really know how to grow
aquatic plants (far better than me I would add).  But has anyone, except
George that I am aware of, really tried this the way Dupla proposed?
What got me thinking about this was Scott's comment on his tank.  Scott
"My tanks have excess heat during most months of the year due to room
temps and lights, so my cable only ran during about 4 or 5 months of the
year, and then, only during the evening."

In the section on heating and in one of the appendices of "The Optimum
Aquarium" (OA) they specifically mention the need to correctly ventilate
the lighting so that it does not add heat to the tank which would
naturally keep the cables from coming on.  They also mention using a
very low wattage cable so that they are on most of the time to provide a
more constant and gentle flow ("as slow as possible").  There is also
say this low of a wattage heater might necessitate the addition of a
secondary heater cable or another heater to provide auxiliary heating
during the colder months of the year.

Scott continued: 
"Its occasional use seemed to push up into the water column stuff from
the gravel that "collected" during the off periods".

Isn't that what it is supposed to do?  I thought that the idea was to
get that stuff (Dupla calls "decayed matter") up into the column where
it could be dealt with by the wet/dry filter.  The OA book says that the
reasoning behind heating cables in the substrate was to overcome what
they hypothesized was the cause of the failure of their first test
aquarium after 11 years of operation.
"One of the possible reasons for the natural end of the first fresh
water period (my note: it was originally a salt tank), of the aquarium
after 11 years, was that the substrate had become too dense over the
course of time, and had developed a substrate layer which could no
longer be penetrated by the plant roots.  Decayed material (food and
plant remnants) settled between the rougher gravel and was mineralized
by bacteria.  Finally this had the same effect as natural cement, and
baked the substrate layer together as if it were concrete."
Has anyone else seen this?  Obviously in a 2500 gallon tank (6.1 x 2.0
x.0.8-1.1 meters) you are not going to be doing a lot of messing around
(or at least not enough to stir up very much of the substrate), which
over the years might be conducive to things cementing up pretty good.

OA also mentions the use of 2-3mm gravel in conjunction with the heating
cables as a way of preventing the stuff from getting down there in the
first place.  Without the cables being on most of the time I do not see
how the settling of decaying matter would be prevented.

I am sure that Dupla would like to sell a lot more sets of heater
cables, transformers and controllers and that there are lots of ways to
DIY a similarly functioning setup.  It is obvious that George Booth's
method produces good results and apparently has kept his tank(s)
producing good growth for many years.  I have a small army of MTS in my
10 gallon that, judging by the numbers of them I occasionally see, must
be stirring the substrate up something awful.  And my unfortunate
occasional neglect has necessitated a few re-plantings, but this tank
has only been going about 18 months.  Yes you can vacuum, but I have not
figured out a way to get deep cleaning without messing up roots,
particularly with Gloss everywhere.

Has anyone else really tried the Dupla technique regarding heating
cables (well ventilated lighting and low wattage cables) and seen
similar results over time?  Maybe James Purchase's idea to do some
quantitative measurements would be a good idea although that sounds like
a lot of work for a long time for perhaps a little bit of information
that may only be useful to a few:  heater cables will keep your tank
running well for many years.  After all, as it has been said over and
over in the APD, the big stuff (CO2, light, nutrients, etc.) is well
known.  And perhaps most of you have the time to mess around with your
tanks a lot in a manner that prevents this natural cementation.  

Though it might not be the best method, perhaps some indication of the
validity of the heater cable method could be determined by making these
measurements on several tanks (with and without heater cables) that have
been in operation for extended periods and compare the results with some
allowance given for differing substrates.  It does not take a biology
pro like most of you here to realize that there is a lot of room for
error here but could it possible show anything without having to go
through the extended test that would be required to duplicate the Dupla

Now, a few caveats.  
I used Dupla and the OA's authors Horst and Kipper interchangeably.  I
do not know the position of Dupla, I merely assumed that what was in OA
would be essentially the same.
I have used Dupla stuff and I like it.  I chose it because at the time I
started it seemed that it might be the easiest way to get good results
with minimal effort and time.  I do not think that the Dupla method is
the only one that works.  As they say in the East, there is more than
one path to the top of the mountain. I make no money whatsoever if
anyone else uses their products over someone else's.
As far as for anyone else's ability or talent with planted tanks, I am
probably by far the most incompetent on the list and I did not mean to
infer that anyone here is anything but really good at this.  I certainly
did not mean to offend, particularly those I mentioned by name.  If it
came across that way, please forgive me.  It was not intended and
certainly is not true.  To be honest, outside of consumer experiences I
really am qualified to give just one piece of advice and only to those
new to the list:  listen to the people here as they have an incredible
wealth of knowledge and even more good advice.  What little success I
have had is definitely due to the comments of those I mentioned above
and several more that I did not.

Thanks again to everyone here for all the help.

Charles Kuehnl