Undo Button, Take 2

Posted 2009.07.15 7.17 in Aquaria, Pointless Blather by Stephanie

Have you ever done something that started out as just a minor chore that you thought would take a few minutes and make things better, but then the further you got into it the bigger the job got? And by the time you realize it’s going to be a major endeavor, you’re too far into it and you can’t just stop or ‘put it all back’ so you have no choice but to carry on?

So I have live plants in my aquarium. I hate “fake” stuff, and just as important, live plants help with the nitrogen cycle by absorbing some of the nitrates in the water. However, I’ve been getting more aggravated with the fact that it seems nigh-impossible to keep some of them ‘planted’ in the gravel. They come loose, float around, or bits break off, or for the worst offenders, they continually shed bits that then sink, die, decay, and pollute the water.  Grrr!  Plus it’s impossible to get the gravel vacuum in around them without dislodging them all over again, so you can’t even clean up after them! They’re messier than the snails – and believe me, snails are little poop-machines with supercharged poop engines.

So I got the idea to take the plants out of the gravel, and plant them in wee little plant pots that I could fill with a substrate that is better-suited for holding plants down. Then I could put the wee little plant pots in the aquarium, and (in theory) that would hold the plants down, keep them from floating around, and make it easier to clean around them without knocking them loose. In theory.

I only had about 7 or 8 plants (some of them were ‘bunches’, so like 5 or 6 stems counted as one plant) and figured it would take a half hour or so to pot them and put them back.


Of course they’re water plants so they can’t support themselves. You have to do all your work underwater. I used a separate bucket to work in, but trying to work with a wee plant pot while long plants are swooshing all around your hands is hard enough… then some of them are fragile and kept breaking. And then the substrate was all floaty and swishy and didn’t want to stay put. Frustrations abounding.

So then, finally I start making some progress with a couple of the easier plants. I try to put them back and to half bury the little pots into the gravel. This is where things went from wet, messy, frustrating, and annoying, to.. well worse. I really had no idea how dirty the gravel had gotten under where the plants had been. It seems that the snails, or the fish, like to bury half-eaten food down there. The dead plant bits go down there. Excess trash from the Toronto garbage strike goes down there. Suddenly my tank, that I had been trying to make prettier, looks like I’ve been syphoning water off from some icky brown stagnant swamp pond.


So I have to stop working on the plants and go get the gravel vacuum and another big pail, and get to work cleaning as much of the gravel as I can to suck the muck and debris out. But half of it is stirred up in the water now! Dammit! I got about 5 gallons worth of vacuuming, a big pail of brown disgusting murk out of there, but the rest of the water was all filthy floaty nastiness. I really wanted to get it cleaned as quick as I could.

Fortunately I have a spare filter! My tank is 23 gallons, and my regular filter is an Aqua-Clear 300. That is, 300 gallons-per-hour is the rating. With snails (poop machines, remember?) you need extra filtration, the rule-of-thumb is 10x the size of the tank is the gph you want. Anyhow, I actually have a second AC300. I got that out, stuck a sponge and carbon pack in it, and set it up.  So a pair of AC300’s running at full blast, 600 gallons per hour, in a 23 gallon tank. On paper, that’s filtering the entire tank in just over 2 minutes. On the other hand, there was some serious current going on, with that much water being sucked out then poured back in. However, everyone was thrilled! The fish were very excited, the snails were roaming around eating, it was quite a sight.

And sure enough, within about 10 minutes the water was getting clear.  Well, until I started putting the plants in again. Dammit, I just vacuumed that gravel! Where is all this dirt coming from?!

Phew. Anyways, the 30 minute plant-potting task became a 4-hour tank overhaul that included lots of vacuuming, 25% water change, double filtration for an hour, left me half soaked with icky fish water, spilled water on my livingroom floor, spilled plant gravel substrate, and generally just a big old mess to clean up. Oh and I ended up getting rid of about half the plants – the ones that are all breaky and fragile and responsible for half the mess. From now on, I’m going to stick with only plants that I know stay intact and don’t spread their trash all over the place.

So at long last, the job is done, and I hope the fish and snails appreciate all the work. The tank looks a bit empty without the messy plants but maybe I’ll put some ‘decorations’ in there to fill the gaps.

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