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Re: Nothing under the gravel

> Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 14:28:21 -0400
> From: "Merrill Cohen" <amc2 at ix_netcom.com>
> I have several very attractive aquariums (IMO) that have been set up for
> over six years with NOTHING under the three inches of silica gravel.  I
> keep lots of fish (not an overload) and the fish mulm goes down into the
> gravel.  
> Why not let the waste of the fish be utilized instead of so many
> questionable substrates?

I have no trouble believing a substrate free of additives will support execllent 
growth. When we had our UGF tank, it produced tons of lush growth. I even 
suspect (but can't prove) that it supported better growth than our "high tech" 
tanks for the majority of the plants we've kept.

However, there are three concerns with this approach:

1) How long does it take to get the tank to a state where it supports good 
growth?  I believe the aquarists of antiquity called this a "seasoned" tank (as 
opposed to a "cycled" tank that has all the bacterial fauna in place).  I 
remember we had problems with the UGF tank at first, lo these many years ago. 
After we started with CO2 and Dupla, it really took off.  Or was it 
coincidentally now properly seasoned?  

There are many stories of people struggling with a tank for a good number of 
months, only to have it suddenly snap into vibrant life.  Was it the last thing 
they tried (to be endlessly posted to UseNet as the "hot setup") or did the tank 
finally settle in with the proper balance of fish waste #2 and plants?  

With the modern day need for instant gratification, I think people are searching 
for the "instant on" approach where plants will be growing robustly right from 
the git-go.  Many search for the magic formula, whether it's Alphabet Soup 
substrates or Dollar Gobbling High Tech. Is the magic formula simply patience?  

2) How difficult is it to "create the right balance" in the simple tank?  I 
would bet that I could not duplicate (not to be confused with the more expensive 
Duplacate) my success with the UGF tank. Oh, I thought it might have been the 
"slow flow" produced by just the right model and number of powerheads or the 
"proper" fertilizers, CO2 and lights.  I bet those helped, but I bet even more 
that we had just the right number of fish and fed them just the right amount of 
food and had just the right mix of plants and we struggled just long enough for 
the system to be seasoned.

While it may be possible for someone to duplicate their own results, it may be 
more problematical for others in different parts of the country to produce the 
same results. Different local dirt, different tap water, different husbandry 
skills, different expectations, etc. 

3) How long will the right conditions exist?  We had to do massive vacuuming of 
the UGF tank every 6-9 months to keep things "stable". We would sense that 
things were not up to snuff and pull all the plants up and vacuum like the 
dickens. Then things were great for another 6-9 months.  We had lots of fish 
with hearty appettites. Maybe we overfed, causing perceived cycles. 

Or was it the act of pulling up the plants, doing a thorough trimming ("tough 
love") and replanting them that did the trick?  Maybe alleopathic substances 
were builing up around the roots (even with the UGF) and causing trouble. 

I think our high tech tanks are much more stable than the UGF tank ever was. The 
need for high tech may simply be a consequence of our desire to keep more fish 
than we should. Clearly, Merrill is doing quite well with a simple, well 
balanced schema. 

The high tech approach is [un]naturally better "balanced" since we actively do 
the balancing by throwing money at the problem.  WE control the pH, WE control 
the nitrates, etc.