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Long time ago, I did have tanks without gravel - just bare bottom. I relied on hang-on-the-back filters to keep the tank bottom clean. That was not a problem. However, I had to change water weekly and clean filers every couple weeks. Chores aside, fish did not seem to be happy or healthy.

Then I came across Ms. Walstad's book "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium":

http://www.amazon.com/review/product/0967377307

After finished reading the book, I converted the tanks to soil substrate with a gravel layer on top. With that, I no longer have to change water - just top up the tank. There is no filter to clean - just trim the plant growth. Best of all, fish are healthy and seem to be enjoying their environment.

Of course, Diana Walstad is at this forum. If you have issues, you can get her feedback here as well as that of the many other experts.
 
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