In many aquariums, it is necessary to clean the substrate regularly and remove
Siphon gravel cleaners the debris using a gravel cleaner. Removing organic debris helps to prevent decomposition, which releases ammonia and nitrites, and also combats bacterial diseases and algae. However, in a heavily planted aquarium, the organic debris produced from fish, fish food, and plant waste is often beneficial in the production and storage of nutrients within the substrate. As organics build up in the substrate, they act as "storage" components for nutrients, helping to replace those that may be lost over time from the initially nutrient-rich substrates. Gentle water movement from substrate heaters, and oxygen produced around the roots of aquatic plants prevent the substrate from becoming anaerobic.
Although it is true to say that a good substrate will look after itself for the most part, it will require a little maintenance and should not be left alone completely. First, you should remove any organic debris resting on the surface of the substrate. This "surface debris" does not help to store nutrients, but will promote bacterial problems in bottom-dwelling fish and may also clog fine-leaved plants, preventing light from reaching the leaves. Gently stirring the water above the substrate will cause the debris to rise higher into the water, where it can be taken up by filters. In an aquarium with a great deal of surface debris, this should be done at least three times a week, preferably more. Alternatively, surface debris can be siphoned away, but take care not to damage any plants in the process.
Despite the oxygen production from plant roots, and water flow through the substrate from heater cables, it is inevitable that anaerobic patches will occur. In most cases, small areas of anaerobic substrate are not harmful, and in some cases even beneficial (see page 47). However, a buildup of anaerobic substrate is harmful to the roots of aquatic plants, mostly through the production of toxic hydrogen sulphide, which will kill plant roots and other organisms. To avoid this problem, gently disturb the substrate every month or so simply by moving your fingers slowly through it, loosening the whole of the substrate, and creating gaps in it.
Over long periods of time, all substrates will lose their ability to hold one or more vital nutrients. This nutrient depletion can be countered by increasing other forms of fertilization, such as liquid fertilizers. Nevertheless, there usually comes a point when it is best to replace the entire substrate in the aquarium. This process is highly disruptive and it is vital to handle all the plants with great care. Remove each one individually and trim all the roots before replanting them in the new substrate.
Squeezing this bulb will start the slphonic water flow.
Some cleaners have taps In the pipe, allowing the siphon to be turned off and on again with ease.
Left: Various gravel cleaners are available, although all work on the same basic principle of gravity suction, removing the lighter wastes while leaving the substrate relatively intact.
Different-size gravel cleaners are available for different tank sizes.
Normally, you can replace the substrate and replant the plants right away, so simply store the plants in water from the aquarium while you replace the substrate. If the new substrate is to contain soil-like media, such as nutrient-rich substrates, you may need to strip the aquarium completely and add the substrate while the aquarium is empty. In this case, house the plants and fish in a separate aquarium with the water and filter from the original tank. Once the new substrate is in place, return the fish, plants, filter, and mature water to the original aquarium. A normal substrate, high in organics, will need to be replaced after about three years of use.
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