Wednesday, June 6, 2007

How-To Start Your Gravel Vacuum Siphon

Updated with another YouTube link and commentary, on 2009-0829.

There is no reason to suck on the tube to start a gravel siphon.

Here is a YouTube video showing one way to start the siphon going without having to suck on the hose. Here's another YouTube showing a gravel vacuum in action. Here's a YouTube showing the way I start my gravel vacuum, which I describe after this link.... but I don't put the hose around my neck like the lady in this video does. I'm not sure why she's doing that anyhow. LOL

Another way to start the gravel vacuum, as shown in the third link above, which is less disruptive than pumping the vacuum tube up and down like in the first link, is to first set up your bucket.

Put your finger over the drain (small) end of the siphon hose.

Then dip the large end of the siphon (vacuum tube end) into the tank and turn it upside down so it fills up with water.

Then lift it out of the tank and slowly let the water drain down into the siphon tube until it reaches your finger.

Then put your finger on the end again so the tubing stays full of water.

Then while keeping the big end (vacuum tube) open side up, again sink it back into the tank so it fills up again (so no air is in the big end or the tubing).

Turn the big end over to get ready to start vacuuming and put the small end in the bucket and release your finger.

Voila! The siphon effect should be started.

Of course always rinse your hands and arms under hot running tap water to remove as much skin oil, etc. from your hands/arms before putting them in your tank.

If you have a long siphon hose, like some folks use to water their gardens at the same time as doing a PWC, this isn't practical and the simplest thing might just be to suck on the end but you should only have to suck a little to get the water up over the top of your tank and down to floor level in the house. It's best to use clear tubing for this purpose so you can see the water. After that, it should continue the siphoning until it reaches the end of the hose and flows out your back door.

Even if I was going to use the long siphon hose process, I would still use the method I described above, since I've read stories of people being 25' or 50' away from their tank when they started the siphon going with the sucking method and by the time they got back to their tank, one of their prized fish had swum up the siphon tube and got caught on the small opening of the tubing. A recent post in a goldfish forum had this accident happen to their small black moore and both eyes got sucked out and the fish didn't make it.

Of course, all of this is moot for me since I use a Python Water Change & Fill System which is worth its weight in gold as far as I'm concerned. I can do PWC's on all of my tanks in a 1/2 hour without making a mess or carrying a bucket.

Here is a recent question and my reply from a forum:

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Chris
Sent: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 9:33 PM
Subject: [AquaticLife] Lenny, Your Blog

Don't you have a primer on gravel cleaning? I know you've typed that one should only do 50% per pwc. Could you post the link for me? I cannot find it.

My Reply:

My standard recommendation is 25% PWC's so that one is not changing the water chemistry parameters too much, too fast.

If the tank is especially dirty, then a series of 25% PWC's, one every couple of hours, should be done. For properly stocked tanks, a weekly 25% PWC should be sufficient. For overstocked tanks, 2 or 3 PWC's a week might be needed... daily in some cases.

As far as vacuuming the gravel, I do have a blog article on "How-To Start Your Gravel Siphon" but as far as cleaning the gravel, it's just a matter of siphoning a small section at a time until the water being sucked up through the siphon tube is flowing clear, then move to another section. If you can't clean all of the gravel during one 25% PWC, wait an hour or so (or the next day) and do a 2nd and/or 3rd 25% PWC until the gravel is mostly coming up clean.

For folks with bigger tanks or multiple tanks, I strongly suggest a Python Gravel Vacuum And Water Change System or one of the other brands who have copied the Python. I think Lee makes one now and there's another brand I've seen and those two have lower prices than the Python.

Another option is a canister filter system like the Marineland HOT Magnum 350 Pro series that has an integrated gravel vacuum tube system so the canister filter provides the suction to suck up the detritus out of the gravel but then the water is returned to the tank so you would still have to do a separate 25% PWC using a regular siphon or pump... or modify that Magnum system to also have a valve that would send the water to a long drain hose instead of back into the tank... but even then, you would have to refill the tank.

The Python or a copy-cat brand is the simplest overall system since it does the gravel vacuuming, water change and then refill all from the same connection.

Maybe, I'll add this reply and more to my existing blog article on the gravel siphon.

Lenny Vasbinder
Fish Blog - (Links to articles referenced above listed on the right side under Archives - Year, Month and under Labels)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Power Outage! - How Me And My Fish Survived Hurricane Katrina

There are lots of web pages about what to do in the event of a power outage. Here is my story of 15 days of no power and five weeks of no drinkable/usable water and how all of my fish in my three tanks survived the ordeal. I'm writing this nearly two years after the event so forgive any lapses or inconsistencies in the story. I'm trying to be as accurate as possible without Googling all of my previous forum posts about my ordeal.

Preparing For The Big One -

I prepared my home for the coming hurricane, as I have done many times over the years. I stocked up on lots of food and beverages that would be consumable without power. I taped and boarded up windows and battened everything else down as secure as possible. Filled the bathtub with water (to be used for flushing the toilet and washing up each night). Filled every spot in my refrigerator and freezers with bottled water so it would be cold and/or frozen (dual purposes - to save my other frozen/refrigerated foods and for use as drinking water when it finally thawed out). I stocked up on emergency supplies as found on the many web pages with emergency preparedness information. Now I was ready... but what about my three fish tanks?

In preparation for the coming hurricane, I did daily 25% PWC's, vacuumed the gravel super good and did proper filter maintenance so the tank ecology, biology and chemistry would be in the best possible condition. I purchased several bundles of Anacharis (Elodea) plants and had plenty floating in my three tanks. These grow fast even with low light so they suck up nitrates and CO2 and put out lots of O2. I know I should keep battery powered air stones but I didn't have them and when I went looking for them, none were to be found. So I prepared the natural way with plants and good water. (Edit added August 2008 - Now I have UPS battery backups on all of my tanks... at least for the filter systems and a nice big generator and window A/C unit for me and the fish. The UPS systems, same as used for computers, protect the filter systems from electrical spikes/surges and also keep the filters running for an hour or so if there is a short term power outage, you will not lose all of your biological filtration and hopefully not dump all the stagnant water back into your tank if the power is off for more than an hour or two.)

Sunday, August 28, 2005 - The Day Before Katrina -

Eight of my neighbors and I had decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina, out of the 47 condo units in our courtyard with over 100 residents... only nine of us were smart enough and/or crazy enough to stay! ;-) You'll find out why I say "smart enough" a little later.

The weather was bad all day but the winds didn't pick up till after it got dark. Due to the way the power lines run through a bunch of trees on the edge of our property, I knew we would lose power quickly since we lose power all the time whenever the wind blows... but surprisingly, we did not lose power until Monday morning around 5:30 a.m. By that time, Hurricane Katrina was well inland and the winds had shifted to where they were coming out of the northwest.... but they were coming faster and gusting harder than they had in the past 24 hours. As of that time, I had nearly zero damage to my 2nd floor condo... just a few minor roof leaks, mostly from wind driven rain getting under the roof flashing and from where the A/C units wiring and copper tubing coming through the roof... but after the power went out, due to the really hard winds, I could hear glass breaking and large objects hitting the buildings around mine... but my unit was still almost completely saved from major damage.

Here's where the "smart enough" part comes in. By riding out a hurricane, when a small roof leak starts up, you will see a small wet spot form on your ceiling. Simply poke a hole through the wet drywall/plaster and put a bucket under it so it drains. If you don't do this, the ceiling eventually fills up with enough water that the entire thing comes down ruining all of your furniture, etc. I had a total of four areas of my ceiling throughout my unit and had to poke around 10 holes in the ceiling, all together, but I never had any catastrophic ceiling damage from Hurricane Katrina or the rains the followed in the coming days, weeks and months until the roof was finally fixed. Many of my neighbors, who evacuated, came home to find their units a complete wreck and all of their life's possessions ruined, moldy and mildewed.

Monday, August 29, 2005 - Katrina Is Causing Havoc All Around Me

Once the sun came up, I could see pink insulation pieces wrapped around the tree in front of my front window and there were 4' x 8' sheets of plywood and roofing material all over the courtyard... it was the roof from the north building in our courtyard and the wind had basically peeled the back rubber membrane of the flat roof up and folded it over but the plywood roofing panels became air born objects... the large objects that were hitting the buildings around mine. A tree was in the swimming pool. All night long, Sunday night into Monday morning, I could hear what sounded like boulders rolling around on my roof... it was the round A/C compressor units that had been knocked over and were rolling back and forth, some still connected by the copper tubing and wiring, some others completely loose but somehow they did not roll off the flat roof of the building.

The wind subsided dramatically on Monday afternoon but the rains continued all day and the water kept rising until it eventually rose to around 12" inside the 1st floor condos. Later we would find out that our idiotic Parish President, Aaron Broussard, had sent all of the flood pump workers out of town so nobody was around to start up the generators or do maintenance on the pumps to pump the rain water out into Lake Pontchartrain or the Bonne Carre Spillway so it just filled up the low lying areas inside of our levee protection system. We tried to do a recall petition on him to throw the bum out of office but Louisiana politics being what they are, it's very difficult to throw a bum out of office. Heck, the idiotic voters down here even re-elect the Each Parish (same as County) in the Metro New Orleans area is protected by its own Levee Protection System and our levees did their job while the City Of New Orleans, just 5 miles west of me, had catastrophic failures to many areas of their levee system which resulted in Lake Pontchartrain and the Mr. Go (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet) flooding into New Orleans filling them up with up to 10' of water in many areas. Only Uptown (formerly the City Of Carrollton) and the French Quarter (still called the Vieux Carre in tourist items) escaped the major flooding. Of course, these were two areas of the city that were first inhabited a couple hundred years ago. I guess those early settlers knew how to look for high ground when they were settling into new cities in America.

How I Saved My Fish -

EVERY HOUR after the power went out, except when I was sleeping (which was only around 4 hours a night since it was so dang hot and humid), I would pour 10-20 32 oz. cups of tank water through the HOB on my 65G. I would also pour 10-20 32 oz. cups of water through the canister filter. I have a Rena Filstar Canister and there is a black cap that can be unscrewed on the top of the intake/suction line and a small funnel can be screwed in so that water poured into the funnel goes down into the canister and returns like normal. This is used to prime the canister when it first gets set up or if it ever loses it's prime during maintenance/cleaning. On my smaller tanks, with HOB's I would do the same thing with lesser amounts of water volume depending on the size of the tank.

This solved two of the problems that occur with a power outage. This manual "filtration" kept my biological filter media alive and kept my tanks aerated enough, since I keep my HOB's raised up high by putting dowels between the HOB and the tank so the waterfall always creates a splash. I know some people do not like this splash noise but it's a huge help in keeping the water aerated and causes more surface agitation to allow for proper gas exchange. FWIW, I found that HOB's are much easier to pour water through manually, compared to canisters. This manual water filtration process was a nuisance but it kept my tanks well aerated and filtered enough to keep them healthy.

One other thing I forgot so far... I also had my computer UPS (battery back up) that I would charge up every couple of days, when a friend with a car and power inverter would come by (my own car was flooded by the flood waters) and I would run the filters on this battery backup for about 5 minutes each every night before I went to bed. Then I would wake up in a couple of hours and do it again. This allowed me to get a couple of hours of sleep without worrying too much about my fish.

BTW... I did not lose a single fish during the 15 days of no power and five weeks of no drinkable water in any of my three tanks. Part of this was because of my pre-hurricane preparation and my diligence in doing the manual filtration of the water but the biggest reason is because NONE of my tanks were overstocked and they had easy-to-grow live plants in them. I didn't try to beat out Mother Nature using chemicals, I just worked with her on my tanks by setting them up more naturally and stocking them lightly.

At the time, I had a 65G Goldfish tank with three fancy goldfish, around 2"-3" each, two Golden Mystery snails and a recently rescued 4" common pleco (rescued from a severely overstocked 10G tank). I also had a 20G tank with two blue/opaline Gourami's (stunted and only 3" each... also from the 10G rescue tank) and three Albino Buenos Aires Tetras (also from the 10G rescue tank). I had a 10G tank with four Zebra Danio's (also from the 10G rescue tank). I was planning on buying a matching 65G tank and setting up the tropicals in their own large tank but Hurricane Katrina changed all of my fish keeping plans.

The power finally came back on the 15th day after Katrina but the water still wasn't drinkable due to the numbers of cracks in the utility pipes that needed to be repaired. I didn't have enough water pressure up to my 2nd floor condo for nearly three weeks after Katrina. I would take showers down by the pool every day about a week after Katrina when we finally had even a little water pressure. Prior to that, I would stand in my tub (that I had smartly filled up prior to Katrina) and pour 32 oz. cups of nice cold water over my head as my nightly shower. LOL

Five weeks after Katrina, the local water utility announced it was safe to drink the water without boiling it. I was finally able to do a PWC on my tanks.

Unfortunately, about a week after my first PWC, I did lose my two apple snails. At first I thought it might be something in the water but after further research and investigation, I think they starved to death since I was doing very limited feeding of all of my fish during this five week ordeal so maybe they weren't getting enough to eat. I did start feeding everyone better after I did the PWC so I'm not sure why the snails died.. but I know that is one thing that will kill a snail quick.. lack of food.

My plan worked for my fish and tanks and I didn't even have a mini-cycle during the entire ordeal. I now have UPS (battery back-ups) on all of my tanks and I have a power inverter that I can run off of my truck cigarette lighter to recharge them daily (hoping the truck doesn't flood) so I am much better prepared for hurricane season now.

Links in alphabetical order by website name:

And now some links to other sites with "how-to" information dealing with power outages in both hot and cold weather. It seems it is a lot easier to deal with hot weather power outages over cold weather power outages. Remember that some of these links are to for-profit sites so they recommend using their products.... some of which I do not feel are necessary but the information is still valuable. (They push a lot of their products on this page, which probably are not necessary, but some of the information is still good)

I hope this helps!
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