Considering a low-tech planted tank: Is ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia a good choice?
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Old 05-14-2010, 12:14 AM   #1
Barmy
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Considering a low-tech planted tank: Is ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia a good choice?


Hey guys. First post.

I've currently got a 4ftx15inx18in freshwater community tank, which at the moment is home to a small school of medium/large Cardinal Tetras, three small Angels, and three juvenile Peppermint Bristlenose. The tank has a very white sand substrate, and is decorated with a big driftwood centrepiece that spans the entire width of the tank. My plan was to "plant" this tank simply by attaching lots of Anubias and Java Fern to the driftwood, however I've since found that white sand and heavy waste-producers (ie. my Bristlenose) don't mix, so I'm considering changing my substrate to something darker (as it is, I have to gravel vaccuum nearly every day to keep the sand looking clean).

Since I'm going to be changing substrates anyway I've started to consider ADA Aqua Soil. My tank has no CO2 (and never will; I'm not interested in going that high-tech), and the lighting is a triple 4ft, T5 fluorescent light (it's a cheap brand though, each light is only 28w).

My question is this: Would Aqua Soil actually be worth it under these conditions? With the lack of C02, will Aqua Soil present any noticeable benefits to the growth of basic plants (ie. val, dwarf sag, swords etc) that I wouldn't get with regular (and cheaper) inert substrate? Would it allow me to keep slightly more demanding plants?

If I can get value for my money out of the Aqua Soil on its own merit, then this is probably the way I'll go. But never having used it before, I don't know what effect I'm likely to see. So any opinions will be greatly appreciated.
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Old 05-14-2010, 06:52 AM   #2
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Sure, Aqua Soil could go a ways in helping you to grow some plants, even in a low-tech setting. But it is in no way necessary. Honestly, if you plan on growing relatively easy and low light plants, it's just a waste. And it would be crazy expensive in such a large tank.

Anubias and Java Fern gain nothing from it, since they aren't even rooted in the substrate. Beyond that, and depending on how densely you plan on planting the tank, my advice is to go with an inert substrate and use root tabs under the heavy root feeders like swords.

You have plenty of options, though, depending on how much you're willing to spend and do. If you're completely tearing up the tank and the substrate anyway, mineralized top soil works amazingly, and is basically free from your backyard. Lay some of that down and cap it with a couple inches of whatever you like and you're set for next to nothing. Or you can go with something like Turface, which is a fired clay product similar to Flourite, just a lot cheaper and not marketed towards aquaria. I'd still use root tabs under the heavy heavy root feeders with it though. And then you could go completely inert, with just a few root tabs where you feel like you need them, and you would still be fine, in all likelihood.

If you're keeping it low tech and low light, save some money.

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Old 05-14-2010, 08:24 AM   #3
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On one hand I want to try for a hairgrass carpet (I've always liked the look of hairgrass, and your 29g journal is certainly further inspiration!), but I don't know how well it will go without nutrient-rich substrate. On the other hand, part of me wants to just get a bunch of dwarf sag and use it as a psuedo-carpet, which will probably be easier in the long run (and I do like the look of it, too) but again, I gather I'd need to have a lot of root tabs in there to get adequate coverage. Aside from some form of low-growing forground "carpet" plant, the other plants I'm thinking of probably could suffice with root tabs.

On the other hand (yes, my third hand) one of the major draws for me regarding Aqua Soil is the pH-lowering attribute, which will be appreciated by all my current fish and especially appreciated by the Blue Rams I'm eyeing up. My pH comes out of the tap at 7.4, and the driftwood's effect on it is rather passive and slow, so in the long run AS will definitely be cheaper than peat or Acid Buffers, so the price debate isn't quite so clear cut.

... Assuming Aqua Soil does lower pH long-term and not just initially. I don't actually know.

Perhaps a layered substrate could suffice? A thinner-than-usual layer of AS underneath a layer of root-tab-enhanced inert substrate? Perhaps that would be the best of both worlds in terms of price, growth, and pH?

And thanks for your welcome and advice!
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Old 05-14-2010, 10:06 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barmy View Post
AS will definitely be cheaper than peat or Acid Buffers, so the price debate isn't quite so clear cut.

You'd have to buy peat in the truckloads to make it more expensive than AS..... literally a dump truck load would be cheaper.

That being said, it is THE substrate when we talk about best choices. If a little work isn't out of the question, research mineralized top soil
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Old 05-15-2010, 01:16 AM   #5
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Mineralized top soil looks like a really good idea, but a little ambitious for me right now, I think. I'd prefer to go with a proven product now, and try the DIY stuff later when I've got the whole "plants" thing figured out.

I've started looking into root tabs and they don't seem to be as long-term as I'd hoped... Most seem to recommend adding new tabs every month, which again seems expensive long-term (in fact for a tank my size, Flourish Root Tabs would take less than a year to cost me twice as much as three 9 litre bags of Aquasoil).

I can get my 3 9 litre bags of Aquasoil for $100 (Australian), which is pricey for a substrate but isn't bank-breaking. So I guess it comes down to these basic questions:

  • Will AS have any noticeable benefit on the growth of my plants in low-tech conditions?
  • Will AS lower my pH long-term? What are my other options?
  • Will AS provide equal/more benefit than root tabs?
  • Are there any root tabs that are long-lasting, and don't need re-doing every month?
Forget about price, for now; I want to know what is going to make my life easier in the long run.
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Old 05-15-2010, 02:14 PM   #6
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I'm a bit doubtful that 3 bags is all you'll need, but:

  • Aqua Soil will certainly help your plants grow, depending on the species you keep. If comparing it to just a strait inert substrate, with no fert dosing, then I do imagine your heavy rooting plants will do better.
  • I do believe Aqua Soil lowers your pH long term. I think it also softens your water a bit, but I'm not positive. Off the top of my head, your other options would be to use driftwood, use a commercial pH lowering additive, inject CO2, or filter over peat moss.
  • I don't know the make up of Aqua Soil compared to any root tab available commercially, so I can't make a definite answer. However, the Aqua Soil should provide adequate nutrients in a low light setting for a fairly long time.
  • Different root tab manufacturers suggest different times, it seems. That being said, if your tank is truly low light, then the plants are absorbing nutrients at a relatively slow rate, and so adding them every month would almost definately be unnecessary. I can't comment here from personal experience, so don't take this as gospel, but I remember reading at one point someone stating that they had no problems adding new tabs every three or four months.
Lastly, if you do forget about price, then I don't think you would be able to find a better proven, ready-made substrate than Aqua Soil.
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Old 05-15-2010, 02:58 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barmy View Post
Mineralized top soil looks like a really good idea, but a little ambitious for me right now, I think. I'd prefer to go with a proven product now, and try the DIY stuff later when I've got the whole "plants" thing figured out.

I've started looking into root tabs and they don't seem to be as long-term as I'd hoped... Most seem to recommend adding new tabs every month, which again seems expensive long-term (in fact for a tank my size, Flourish Root Tabs would take less than a year to cost me twice as much as three 9 litre bags of Aquasoil).

I can get my 3 9 litre bags of Aquasoil for $100 (Australian), which is pricey for a substrate but isn't bank-breaking. So I guess it comes down to these basic questions:

  • Will AS have any noticeable benefit on the growth of my plants in low-tech conditions?
  • Will AS lower my pH long-term? What are my other options?
  • Will AS provide equal/more benefit than root tabs?
  • Are there any root tabs that are long-lasting, and don't need re-doing every month?
Forget about price, for now; I want to know what is going to make my life easier in the long run.
ahem, ahem...Check out post #4...ahem, ahem. Pardon me, got a cough...lol
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Old 05-15-2010, 03:31 PM   #8
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You're going to need a WHOLE lot more than just 3 9L bags. I used 2 9L bags for my 29gal...

The next big tank I set up I'm going with mineralized topsoil again. It's really not difficult at all, you just have to like playing in the mud LOL IMO you can't beat the nutrient content for the price!!!
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Old 05-15-2010, 08:51 PM   #9
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I used 3.5 nine liter bags of amazonia I in each of my 48" long 50 gallon tanks. Substrate is from 3-5" deep. I think you need at least 4 bags for your tank.

One of my aquasoil tanks has 130 watts of PC light, floating plants to reduce light intensity and is dosed EI style at half the suggested rate, I also dose Excel daily per bottle directions. Tank is filled with vals, swords, crypts, java fern and a few fast growing stems (that grow pretty slow in this tank). The val, swords and crypts love the aquasoil. This tank is way easier to take care of than my CO2 injected tank with 108 watts of T5HO over it.

The water softening qualities of the aquasoil start to wear off over time. I think it is easy and cheap enough to add dry ferts in addition to the aquasoil that it is a good idea. The ferts give plants that prefer to draw nutrients from the water column a boost and having ferts in the water column extends the life of the abundant nutrients in the aquasoil. I believe Tom Barr's test show that the nitrates in aquasoil will get pretty much depleted the first year but there will still be lots of nutrients in the substrate, aquasoil has a high CEC rating and will absorb ferts out of the water column. So you can choose to not dose an aquasoil tank if you want but you will deplete the nutrients more quickly than if you back them up with water column dosing. If you choose not to dose the water column initially you should start dosing at least KNO3 after the first 9-10 months to be on the safe side.

I agree that mineralized topsoil is a good choice if you don't mind making it but some people are going to prefer the look of the aquasoil.
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Old 05-15-2010, 09:06 PM   #10
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just beware of AS's ammonia spike when first used.
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Old 05-15-2010, 10:31 PM   #11
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I always assumed that Aqua Soil was sold in Litres rather than Kilograms to make it easier to figure out how much you'd need. Maybe I'm just underestimating how thick I need my substrate to be, or maybe my above assumption is wrong, but a tank with a 4'x15" footprint should only need 23 litres of AS to get a 5cm (2 inch) thick layer. That's less than three 9L bags.

Would even the basic rooted plants I want to grow really need a deeper substrate than that? And if they do, would there be an issue with topping the AS off with an inert substrate (rather than buying more AS)?

I don't know what tack I'm going to take re: fert dosing yet, although I suspect I'll probably end up dosing Flourish and Excel, at least.
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Old 05-16-2010, 01:00 AM   #12
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Vals and swords grow large root systems. Not sure about dwarf sag (which by the way is really not so dwarf... it can grow to be 8" tall). I don't suggest topping off the aquasoil whatever you put on top is going to end up getting mixed in and look messy.

As the other poster mentioned aquasoil leaches a lot of ammonia at first. It may be a full month before you can put your fish back in the tank.
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