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post #25 of (permalink) Old 03-16-2012, 05:28 PM Thread Starter
Francis Xavier
Wannabe Guru
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: Austin, Tx
Posts: 1,810
Getting Started with the Substrate

Earlier I mentioned that professional's "cheat," and the first step towards cheating to stack the odds in your favor is having a killer substrate system.

If you refer to my previous major post, I went over a series of three steps towards starting out right with your planted aquarium. Step one: Bacteria & step two: Chemistry is the area where you will want to focus the most on when setting your substrate.

Of course, Step three: nutrients is wildly covered by Aqua Soil Amazonia, and doesn't need much to talk about: it really just is the work horse of growing plants.

Side Story: Awhile back I had a customer come in and ask about Amazonia, saying he wanted to give it a try. He had been using eco-complete and flourite for years and I told him a simple fact: "if you can grow plants in eco-complete and flourite well, you will be a god with aqua soil." Sure enough he showed me a few photographs of his plantings, and he could indeed grow plants quite well with eco-complete and flourite.

Sure enough he got some aqua soil, and for a while I hadn't heard back from him, and to be honest, had completely forgotten about him. Well, the other day he comes back and shares his enthusiastic results with Amazonia saying that the plants grew so fast that he was able to achieve in 3 months what took him 2 years to grow using the other substrates.

Alternatives to Aqua Soil: Hagen has recently released a new product, Fluval Substrate. Third party testimony says that it grows plants fairly well, however I have not had any first hand experience with this product and cannot honestly give a side by side comparison, though I'm sure others can.

Back to Basics: Starting the Substrate

Aqua Soil leaches a lot of acidity. If you refer to the previous post, you know the effects of excessive acidity: the plants are burned at the root. While aqua soil by itself does not provide enough acid to burn plants out, plants -do- wildly benefit by a way to neutralize the acidity at the root level.

Penac P & Penac W: Add three spoons of each

These two additives come in first, and they do precisely two things: neutralize the over-acidification of soil and rapidly oxygenate the water at the substrate level.

This means two things for you: plant roots grow easier and are more healthy and it means that the initial rapid oxygenation helps spurn bacterial growth immensely.

Adding Penac P (spoon comes included with all ADA additives):

Spread Penac P evenly against the bottom pane of glass:

On top of Penac P, add Penac W in the same way, and you'll have something that looks like this:

Tourmaline BC: add ten spoons

Referring back to Step 1, it's important we foster bacterial growth and longevity as quickly as possible to get the aquarium as stable as possible so we do not have to deal with major algae outbreaks.

The best way to think of Tourmaline BC is to think of it as a high purity carbon (which it's not, but it does a similar task) which purifies water and helps in the break down of toxicity, waste, etc.

Adding Tourmaline BC:

Now your Aquarium should look like this after 10 spoons of Tourmaline:

The importance of tourmaline is that it helps to break down the waste that builds up over time in the substrate and makes it harder for plant roots to grow.

Next up: Adding Power Sand

In Nano-aquaria, Power sand is not necessarily needed due to size, however in this case I want some heavy slope, so using power sand helps to stabilize the soil and slope for build up without break down.

However, normally what Power Sand does is serve as a "home" for the bacteria to thrive in: like biological filter media it provides a highly porous surface area which allows these bacteria to thrive. Meaning that when plant roots reach and attach to power sand their roots essentially become super charged!

Power Sand also contains peat, so it has extra nutritional additives to the aquarium, but again, Amazonia does the bulk of the work on this front.

Spread the Power Sand evenly across the bottom, and leave the front open to prevent power sand from being seen in the viewing panel:

Adding Bacter 100: The Bacteria - 3 spoons minimum, I used 10

Next up, Add Bacter 100. This is the dormant bacteria which will do all of the heavy lifting with promoting healthy roots through synergistic bacteria. It is not possible to over dose this additive.

Spread it evenly so that the Bacter will thrive in the Power Sand.

Bacter 100 spread evenly over power sand (you can also put this underneath power sand on the glass, either or works):

Another use for Bacter 100 is to eliminate cyano-bacteria should it appear in the tank, apply directly on top of it and it will eat it away.

Add Clear Super: 3 spoons, food for bacteria.

Clear Super is simply a food source for the bacteria. Until the aquarium becomes established we have to add a food source for them to grow and thrive, otherwise the bacteria will die off.

Add three spoons of Clear Super over Bacter 100:

The Completed Substrate system:

Last Steps: Adding Aqua Soil

For a nano aquarium we use powder type since it allows smaller plants to spread roots easier as well as to keep the perspective in the Nano aquarium properly in place.

Afterwards, use a tool, such as Sand Flattener to smooth out the substrate and keep the substrate line straight in the front.

Do the Additives really do anything?

The key to long term healthy plants is root health. The additives precisely promote this type of growth and health. For comparison sake here are two examples of two aquariums with and without additives and their roots.

These aquariums have been up for the same amount of time, same dosing, same lighting, same core products (aqua soil), while not an exact one for one, it's a broad illustration that you can evaluate for yourself the differences (it's more about the overall picture here) :

With no additives (please forgive the reflection, lots of light in the room!) :

Take note of the root growth and cyano bacteria in substrate:


Blyxa and Rotala Stems:

Now, with additives:

Hair Grass (note, hair grass has pretty insane root growth regardless, pay more attention to the overall substrate 'health') :

Exercise: Read over this post a few times, take notes if you'd like, and share what you're working on or if you're starting an aquarium and would like to follow play-by-play link back here!

P.S. if you've found these techniques valuable, help share the information with new comers by linking back here in your own journals when you use my techniques!
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