cc: from rec.aquaria

A recent question on rec.aquaria finally got me to do something I had been 
intending to do for several weeks. Mea culpa.

cc: from rec.aquaria follows..............

In <4eer7i$tjs at unix1_cc.ysu.edu> s0158442 at unix1_cc.ysu.edu (Jerry A Morelli) 
>My girlfriend would like to use sand as a substrate in her 55 gallon tank 
>that she plans on using for cichlids.  Is this OK?  Also, how would you 
>go about cleaning the sand?  I imagine trying to siphon it like gravel 
>would cause you to actually suck it out.  My guess is that the sand sold 
>at pet stores is intended for salt water tanks.  Anyway, I'd appreciate 
>any info.  Thanks ahead.
Hi Jerry,

I have been experimenting with sand, sand-peat, and various sand-peat-gravel 
mixes for about a year, in tanks ranging from 10G to 55G. 

In the Western US, it has become nearly impossible to get decent aquarium 
gravel. Most of what is available is "Lapis Lustre" by RMC Lonestar. It is 
very pretty, but so loaded with sea shells that it will destroy any 
soft-water tank in no time. The pH heads up toward 8 rapidly. I have been 
trying to use silica sand-blasting sand, which normally is widely available 
in only 30 mesh (quite fine).

My tentative conclusion is that it compacts too much to be a useful 
substrate, and my various attempts to adapt commercial UGF plates and 
custom-designed UGFs have to all be rated as failures. They kind-of worked, 
but not well enough to recommend them to a friend.

Vacuuming works OK if you use a larger-mouth vacuum tube and smaller hose to 
avoid sucking the sand out. A layer of coarser gravel over the sand works, 
too, but you need to resist the urge to plunge the vacuum too deep.

I am facing the most unpleasant task of tearing down a heavily-planted 55G 
this weekend, to replace the mixed substrate that has been in there for 
almost a year. It is hard as a rock in places, and highly anaerobic looking. 

This unpleasant task is what prompts me to take your question as an 
opportunity to advise people that sand can be a real problem. My apology to 
the folks on the plant mailing list for reporting it here first. I had been 
planning to post this there, but it is hard to admit a solid string of 
failures, so I never seem to get a "round tuit."

Bottom line: Don't use fine sand unless you have a profound reason to do it.

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Wright Huntley (408) 248-5905 Santa Clara, CA USA huntley at ix_netcom.com