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The Natural Aquarium, 5 Filter Finale

Updated on January 27, 2015

My Filter Mistake

Step Five, Finally Fine Filter Finality!

OK, I made some mistakes.

The images here show the earliest filters which used the pillow stuffing called "fiber fill." This really filtered well, at first.

So my aquarium operated just fine with the exception of those pesky structural failures from organic load. Well, being the last guy I am I wondered what I could use to stop playing with the filter all together.

Just a disclaimer to inject here: Nothing is perfect, at least on earth, so nothing is trouble free. There is always the results of the Second Law to deal with (everything becomes more disorganized in a gravity environment).

What I needed was something with the surface area of the fiber fill, but with more structural strength. I didn’t mind something artificial like the fiber fill if it was stable and I didn’t have to throw it away, but every 6-8 months was OK. Could this be improved?

Someone had given us a lot of kitchen sponges. I don’t remember why, but they were sitting in the garage. I was working in the garage one day and spotted the sponges. On top is that green scratch pad. I’m always up for another experiment so I stripped a few off and loaded them like a Dagwood Sandwich between the fiber fill. It looked a little ridiculous and as I completed the new filter design the answer became obvious for two reasons. First, I was compressing the fiber so I had to use less and less of it, and second, it was obvious that this material passed water easily, was almost as fine as the fiber fill and, there was no way organic detritus would make it collapse, I had used them to clean for years with significant pressure and it always bounced back.

I completed the test with little fiber between them then, like a dutiful husband asked my wife, “where can I get this stuff without the sponge?”

As a man, I was somewhat embarrassed when she said “Home Depot.” After all, men are supposed to memorize everything on the shelf of the hardware super store, right? It’s a guy thing.

Sure to form (you wife is always right, remember that guys), they had bags of the stuff neatly loaded into stacks for the picking. Could the ultimate filter material right on the self at Home Depot?

I didn’t know how this would work. It looked promising but I had . . .

Another Test to Do.

For brevity I have used only one aquarium for this story, but I was actually keeping one at home, one at work, and one for a friend. So finding a solution to this problem saved me a lot of time.

Would it work? I turned on the aquarium and nothing happened. The water came flowing through at a rapid rate, the fish started “swimming upstream” toward the inflow pipe, and everyone was happy. Within an hour I could see my super clear water actually improving.

Over the years that followed I have found that only a little maintenance is needed in this filter, mostly with a buildup of detritus which sometimes reduces the flow at certain spots like the inflow pipes or clogging the filter medium, but this is easy to fix and good for the aquarium. There is a chapter on what goes wrong below to explain this.

So at the end of my journey I have a beautiful aquarium that is almost maintenance free.

Filter Finale!

Yeah, same pictures, but it really is this easy. Just take it apart periodically, take it out onto the lawn and wash out the detritus. That's all, reassemble and you are set to go.
Yeah, same pictures, but it really is this easy. Just take it apart periodically, take it out onto the lawn and wash out the detritus. That's all, reassemble and you are set to go. | Source
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The Filter

Pictured here is the filter I had at my work being assembled. Not to worry, I owned the company. This filter had three containers for filter materials and a pre-filter segment which can be seen on the left side in the second picture, the sponge I suggested you leave in place.

This was perfect.

The filter box pictured below is inverted to give me a good outline of the shape I needed to fill, then I cut it out, trimmed and fit it into the container, then used it as a template for the others I cut, neatly stacked them into the boxes and I was done.

In this picture you see the pre-filter area to the left with the sponge provided with the filter. This area allows larger organics to be trapped and degrade quite out of site. Only small organic particles could pass through and they are trapped in the green material and degraded there into CO2, humates, small acids based on CO2 like myristic acid, palmic acid, steric acid, pivalic acid, oxalic acid, malonic acid, succinic acid, glutaric acid, adipic acid, pimelic acid, suberic acid, azelaic acid, propiolic acid, and so on, and some phenolic acids, also with CO2 such as hydratropic acid (2-phenylpropaoic acid), atropic acid (2-phenylpropenoic acid), and others, plus large molecules such as fluvic acid, and the converse, alkali bases and salts from the combination of an acid and a base. The materials are all broken down if the right environment is provided and recycled into their basic constituents.

Before you go off on the idea that there are all acids and would eat the fish, remember, they are all based on carbon, all what happens when you make mulch or humus, and, all antioxidants are acids.

So now we have a huge surface area to help oxidize the ammonia and help it escape into the atmosphere.

But let’s not make the same mistake we did with the CO2, plants need nitrogen. In fact, they prefer it in the ammoniated form. The fish do not, they need to ammoniated form out of the water, or, at least in parts low enough to not bother their respiration.

Where is the balance? How do you create an anaerobic location that can hold nitrogen. Plants with roots really prefer this form, leaf absorption can be in nearly any form.

So, in a natural environment it is the substrate that acts as a reserve of nitrogen, and the roots that use that nitrogen reserve.

Good design!

© 2015 Ronald A Newcomb

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