How to take a UGF out?

AnneCecilia z5 MIJanuary 20, 2008

I have been lurking here for some time and reading with growing horror about the bad side of under gravel filters - and wishing I had read all this a year and a half ago when I first set up my tank to house two small koi through a winter. I was told by people I thought knew all about the subject (because they keep koi in an indoor tank) to make sure I asked the aquarium shop to set me up with a UGF. The shop never questioned my request at all - and why should they? They sold the set up! So now, here I am all this time later with the same tank that is now housing a happy little community of tropical fish where everything seems fine, water tests fine, fish are healthy, plants are growing - and I'm looking at the UGF as a ticking time bomb. I was thinking about this today while making my usual partial water change and vacuuming the gravel. How does one go about taking down a tank full of fish and plants when one does not have a back up tank to put them in temporarily? Would a large rubbermaid tub do to hold them for a few hours? Would the filter need to running to aereate the water while they're in the tub? And how does one scoop all that wet gravel out of the bottom without scratching the glass sides or if you tip it and pour it out, without stressing the joints of the tank? What's the best way to knock down and start over - can anyone give me some tips? Sorry for this being so long, but I really like to have a plan in mind before I start into something like this and I'm just plain scared - both to take out the UGF and to leave it in place. Thanks for your help!


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brendan_of_bonsai(4b AK)

You should do a complete tear down of your tank every year, this includes taking all the fish out and washing out the gravel (with conditioned water) pull it out then.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2008 at 3:39PM
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If you have or can get one of those 20 gallon plastic tubs sold in most home centers for gardening, it should do the job for you. So will a large Rubbermaid storage container, or a large cooler. Then, give them about 30% clean, conditioned water and an airstone and they should be fine until you can get the tank cleaned and set up again. If your house is warm, they should be okay. Or, wrap the holding tank with some old blankets, or insulation.

You didn't tell us how large your tank is, but if your holding tank will be much smaller, do save enough of the tank water to refill the main tank at least 2/3. Take it from the top after you have removed the fish and turned off the filter and store it in some clean buckets with lids.

It's good to give any tank a through cleaning but you don't want to lose the bios and suffer new tank syndrome in the process and with old tank water filling most of it, you shouldn't. In fact, if you are using any other filters, don't clean them at the same time you do the tank. Just hold them in a bucket with tank water until the refill has had a chance to settle in for a few days, then clean the filter housing and change the media.

However, of all the filters on the market, none will belay new tank syndrome better than a loaded sponge, so if you haven't any, do get one and if your tank isn't in immediate crises, just give it a good water change by siphoning out through the uplift tubes and get the sponge into the tank to load for a few weeks before you do your teardown. One good, loaded sponge filter from a healthy tank is better than any bottled bacteria that costs more and won't go on to filter after it's charged the tank.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 11:59AM
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AnneCecilia z5 MI

Thank you Brendon for your response. I hadn't found that suggestion of once a year complete break down and cleaning anywhere in what I've read so far. I appreciate you giving me that tip.

Birdwidow, thank you once again for your helpful information. You helped me a bit ago with my Cory catfish (who now has other Bronze Cory buddies!) and your easy to understand instructions have made me feel much calmer about the whole tear down process. I will get everything together and work on this project next weekend. I need to clean out the tiny garden snails anyway that hitched a ride in my most recently purchased plant - they're popping up everywhere! So this will take care of several issues at one time. I'll be sure to not change or clean the filter (other than rinsing it in the some of the tank water.) That was exactly what I was worried about - having to start the cycling of the tank all over again. Thank you!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 6:56PM
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james_ny(z7 NY)

Why not just leave the ug in and just do proper maintenance? I also wouldn't recomment tearing a tank down every year. It's just not necessary.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2008 at 10:20PM
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Anne: James and I disagree about UG's, but regarding the need for teardowns, we are on the same page. A properly maintained tank doesn't need a complete tear-down unless it's suffered some dread disease and needs to be sterilized. Or, horrors- it's developed a leak. Then of course, there is nothing for it but to take it all down, strip out the old sealant and reseal. But that's the extreme, not the norm.

However, I also admit to a great love of naturally planted tanks and the best substrate for plants is too fine grained to be used with a UG, regardless.

I'm glad to hear you found friends for your Bronze. They really are happier in schools.

BTW: On the subject of substrates. I've been experimenting with different types and in general, I've found sand over flourite to work very well. It just takes a while for the plants to develop enough fine feeder roots to really anchor the sand. If you have the patience, the rewards are lovely and with the right balance of plants to fish, the tank needs only regular water changes and very little filtration.

The term "Balanced Aquarium" still has real meaning.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 11:56AM
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james_ny(z7 NY)

"The term "Balanced Aquarium" still has real meaning." Yes I think it's more of an artform than a science. It can be accomplished many different ways but some find it impossible. It took me years to to get my saltwater water tanks running right. Patience was the real key. My 240gal tank took about 14 weeks to cycle.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2008 at 9:36PM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

Keeping fish is a relaxing hobby So start
koi are probably among the worst choices for a UG to work well but they do work but bear in mind that there's no such thihg as a "perfect" filter. For a UG to work well the gravel must be of equal depth and the gravel of the right size. Since they are diggers and produce lots of waste they'll rearrange your filter system constantly lol
i assume this is a temporary home until the weather warms and they go outside?? If so , leave it alone and do regular water changes . It will certainly provide aeration
and bio filtering just not very well lol
Fortuneately aquariums allow you to make a lot of mistakes as Koi are very tough fish . A poor choice for an aquarium though. Wonderful pond fish gary

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 7:40AM
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Um- Gary. Anne no longer keeps her Koi in that tank. It's all tropicals now.

Anne: I just reread your original post and realize that you had asked about how to remove the gravel. Try- a small plastic dust pan in one hand, a strainer in the other, and a bucket at your feet. Scoop- strain- dump. Gravel weighs enough on it's own. No sense in straining to carry it with water.

James: I've never thought of a balanced aquarium as an art, but you may be right; at least where the asthetics of it are concerned. Otherwise, it's really more a case of patience. Set up the tank, plant, fertilize and wait. For the first few weeks, I use large box filters filled only with floss in my newly planted tanks, to help clear the water, then add some charcoal to prevent it from becoming foul. It takes at least a month to get it ready for fish. But as I also cultivate red ramshorns, I dump some into the tank as well, and get both natural fertilizer and some algae control.

If the snail population becomes too great, I "trap" them with a hunk of zucinni. They will cover and stick tightly to it, so lifing it out complete to the snails is easy and makes my loaches in other tanks very happy.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 11:51AM
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AnneCecilia z5 MI

Yes, sorry Gary if I didn't make that clear about the koi no longer being residents of the tank; they were were only in there one winter while they were little guys and I only mentioned them as part of my long winded explanation of how I arrived at this point. ;-)

Thank you every one of you who have responded to my question. I do understand that there will be folks on both sides of the UGF issue; I have encountered much the same myself on the forums pertaining to roses which is my usual haunt. Any large pool of people passionate about their hobby are bound to bump heads over different methods. Thank you for doing it so politely. :-) Even though my UGF *hasn't* hurt anything so far, and *may* not hurt anything at any future time, I just want it out so it's one less thing I'll worry about. You see, relaxation is exactly why I wanted these fish - I enjoy watching them. (But I didn't necessarily need another all consuming hobby, LOL, so I want to keep it as simple as I can.)

Thank you one more time, Birdwidow for the nifty tip on removing the gravel - I probably never would have thought of the strainer. And the zucchini tip is fascinating - is it only zucchini that snails are attracted to?

Well, thanks again everyone. I will let you know how the tear down goes and hopefully I can set it back up and end up with a nicely functioning and balanced tank that gives me pleasure for a long, long time to come. I've been learning so much here!


    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 6:36PM
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Anne: I came onto the zuccini trick quite by accident. I had set up a planted tank to breed a trio of dwarf BN plecos and gave them zuccini, holding it down by running a SS table knife through it, but had cultivated the snails in the tank in advance to provide infusoria for the fry and when I found them covering the zuccini so completely the fish couldn't get any, I lifted it out loaded with the snails and repeated for several days, to reduce their numbers in that tank as by then, the fry were about an inch long and eating adult food.

Now, I do the same in any tank in which the snails seem to have proliferated too much and it works every time. However, they are all ramshorns and naturally attracted to greens. I can't say if it would work with other species.

Some people sell their blood red rams. I just use them to establish natural infusoria, some algae control, and as food for my loaches. However, I've been coming up with pale pink and a few pale blue sports lately, so may do some selective breeding, just for fun.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 9:47AM
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Anne, you're worring too much. People have used UG filters for years, very successfully. As long as they are maintained properly by gravel vacuuming they work just fine. The only case where something else may be truly better is with a tank full of digging Cichlids that keep the filter plates uncovered. Otherwise it's pretty much personal preference. How sucessful your tank is, is linked directly to good husbandry practices, not what kind of filter you have. And no breaking down the tank every year is not needed. You will recycle the tank if you do that and possibly kill some fish.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 7:33PM
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AnneCecilia z5 MI

Yup, that's me - a born worrier, LOL! Well I can report that the UGF is out, I have redone the tank using flourite for a lower substrate, the plants are replanted and the fish are back in their home. Everything seems to have made it through the upheaval in good shape. What did I learn?
A)That there was little to nothing under the UGF plate, so I was not headed for disaster (and must mean I was doing a good job with maintenance?)
B)There were several plants that had grown right through the slots in the plate and were happily colonizing the area underneath
C) There is no way I will contemplate breaking down the tank again - and certainly not yearly - unless something catastrophic comes up! ;-)

The old filter is running and the water tests are all good so I think my little community tank is good to go for a long time. Thank you everyone for your help and suggestions and support!


    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 6:50AM
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Keep testing for ammonia and nitrite over the next couple weeks. Anytime you do a major overhall like that there is a chance you'll remove too much of the good bacteria and cause the tank to recycle. If you detect anything just do a water change but no vaccuuming.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 7:22AM
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