Making the Best DIY planted tank substrate
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Old 07-24-2015, 02:03 AM   #1
electromango
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Making the Best DIY planted tank substrate


I've been doing a lot of research and have come to the conclusion that using a DIY soil mix capped with EcoComplete would be the best substrate for a planted tank.

I found the article: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot - Library - Aquatic Plant Central

which shows how to make a DIY aquarium substrate by using mineralized top soil and other ingredients.

The author provides a list of general ingredients in his recipe but I'm not sure that the brands/products I found work like the recipe? Would this work:

Scott's Top Soil OR SHOULD I USE Miracle Grow Garden Soil for Flowers and Vegetables
Vigolo Tomato and Vegetable Garden Plant Food Plus Calcium (for dolomite) or should i use Espoma Garden Lime
Espoma 4 lbs. Tone Flower Food (for muriate of potash)

Also I can't find the pottery clay for the mixture. Does anybody have any suggestions on what clay to use?

Also, I'd like to ask: does anybody here have any experience using this recipe? Also, would my recipe above work without any ill effects?

Thanks so much for your help, everyone's advice on this forum truly helps me create my dream aquarium!

Here are the links to the products I mentioned for the recipe:

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Scotts-0-...cotts+top+soil

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Vigoro-3-...4346/203106474

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Espoma-6-...8617/203192761

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Espoma-4-...7185/203147992

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Miracle-G...1430/204502222


LINK TO ARTICLE:
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/f...on-talbot.html
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Old 07-24-2015, 05:54 AM   #2
tanaka
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To be safe, make sure your calcium/potash source doesn't contain extra stuff or go with my alternative below.
You can either buy cheap topsoil and mineralize it or just go with organic potting mix. In my case, I can't find Miracle Gro organic potting mix so I went with Nature's Care organic potting mix. Below is basically same recipe, with some minor tweaks

Potassium Powder(look for salt substiture at walmart) - sprinkle all over just enough to cloud the bottom glass - $4 for 11 oz.

Dolomite Powder(any vitamin store should have it) - sprinkle all over just enough to cloud the bottom glass, also known as bone meal/calcium powder. But in my experience, but it is sold 4 times more EXPENSIVE when it says bone meal. Ingredients are the same, it's just that the word 'bone meal' sells more than 'dolomite'. So i'd suggesting buying bone meal powder only if you can't find dolomite. $5 for 16oz

Iron - You can either buy Red/Mexican pottery clay online or from Michael's art supply store or search for Encap Fast Acting Iron on Amazon(which is what I use). They come in little pellets that you can sprinkle across the bottom before putting dirt in. ~$9 for 5lbs clay or $29 Encap that should last you years and years.

Organic potting mix - Sift the dirt down to the finest grains with some window screening then dump it in after the things above. Fill water up to dirt level, wait a while for water to soak all the dirt completely, then cap with whatever.

Works great for me.

Last edited by tanaka; 07-24-2015 at 06:11 AM.. Reason: more info
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Old 07-24-2015, 06:00 AM   #3
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I wouldn't buy Scott's or anything else you mentioned. Look for the cheapest possible top soil, don't want anything fancy with any added wood pulp like a top dressing or nutrients. I've used pretty much that recipe several times, love it. I purchased red clay from an art supply store. You should be able to find the dolomite and muriate of potash sold individually as soil ammendments at a garden center. Srsly, tho you want the cheapest top soil you can find. Like 2 bucks or less for a bag.
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Old 07-24-2015, 03:45 PM   #4
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Thanks so much everyone!

For the red clay would this work:
http://www.michaels.com/amaco-mexica...n+clay&start=1

And for the soil would this work:
http://m.homedepot.com/p/Miracle-Gro...120/204698486/

Also, how many bags of the soil would I need for a 40 gallon breeder tank (1 inch substrate depth)? I plan on covering it with Eco complete 1 inch, but do you recommend I use the sand or gravel Eco complete type?

Finally, do I evenly distribute the wet clay throughout the soil so that its uniform?

Thanks again everyone, you are really clearing up my noobie confusions!

Edit: Also, I'd like to ask: how messy is using This soil substrate? Would it be bad to move around plants in it?
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Old 07-24-2015, 05:29 PM   #5
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That would probably work for clay, though a rip-off. I bought like 10lb bags of much higher quality clay for $7.50 each. What I usually do is wait to add the clay til I'm mixing the soil. I get the soil wet, rip the clay into small pieces and mix throughout the soil. others will let a chunk of it dry then sort of grate it in as a powder.

That is a soil that some use... but if you're going the MTS route, GET CHEAP TOP SOIL. Not potting mix. Personally I dont like the idea of mgopc. I've hated miracle grow products in general for years now as their ferts are garbage and can do lasting damage to soil. As you can see in the scott's top soil, it contains peat. We don't want peat. We don't want wetting agents, we don't want added nutrients, anything that's already got "juice" if you will. THE CHEAPEST top soil will do. http://m.homedepot.com/p/40-lb-Topso...180/100355705/ I think the soil varies by region, but again... cheap cheap topsoil is what you want. Once sifted and gone thru the process, it's a nice sandy/gritty/soily mix, just what your plants want. I'd probably do 2 large bags at least to be safe cuz once you've sifted and mineralized, you will have a lot less soil than what you started w/. You're aiming for about 1/2" - 1" of MTS.

Soil can be messy if not capped properly before fill and also if we're rough when uprooting plants. Otherwise, be gentle and you shouldn't have problems. I also have malaysian trumpet snails in several mts tanks and they do not cause problems.

Personally I prefer sand as a cap since it's easier to plant into, but I've got one tank capped w/ flora-max (similar to ecocomplete's larger gravel bits), and it has done very well. I think the additional benefit of a cap w/ high CEC helps to reduce algae outbreaks around inception. In my experience, it's also less messy when up-rooting for some reason.
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Old 07-24-2015, 07:44 PM   #6
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Thanks CannaBrain! Also, what clay did you use?
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Old 07-24-2015, 09:07 PM   #7
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Bulk indian red clay at an art supply store.
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Old 07-26-2015, 06:28 PM   #8
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what is the rule of thumb on the clay?? do you cover the entire bottom of the tank?
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Old 07-27-2015, 01:19 AM   #9
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If you're using red indian clay, 1/4lb should suffice per 10g of tank space.
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Old 07-27-2015, 01:21 PM   #10
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Lots of good advice here. The topsoil will vary regionally. When I purchased and used that particular topsoil for previous attempts, it was nothing but ultra fine clay sand and pine bark. Never really did the trick for me. I did two batches using it, and when i took the tanks down to reload the substrate, both times it had hardened like cement and required a bit of elbow grease to get loose. My current tank actually uses miracle gro organic potting mix as well as the MTS amendments, AND EI dosing. In theory the substrate should have provided substantial nutrients but after months of showing lots of deficiencies I had to start supplementing.

Sometimes finding the "cheapest" option is a lot more difficult than finding the fastest option. I could never source red clay locally so I went ahead and just bought laterite from petsmart. Is it more expensive? Sure. Am I a high roller? No. Am I in poverty? No. I needed clay and got sick of looking so there it is. An extra $10 didn't mean my family had to miss a meal. At any rate, I digress.

I was also never able to find dolomite locally, still can't, so I sprinkle a bit of aragonite and Epsom salt at the bottom glass before adding anything. Not quite as slow to release as true dolomite, but I also add 4 tbsp of GLA GH booster weekly so I have those parameters covered.

This is the muriate of potash I used, found at the local farmers co-op. It was cheap and lasts literally forever. You only need a handful and the bag is huge. I also use it to amend my garden soil outside now. I imagine I'll still have this bag in 10 years


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Old 07-27-2015, 04:12 PM   #11
electromango
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Did you mineralize your organic potting soil or just immediately place it in the tank? Also, did you have any problems with water quality/messiness with it? How were the results when compared to mts? Thanks!
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Old 07-27-2015, 04:19 PM   #12
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I did not mineralize it. Just went straight in. I capped mine with 3" of floramax. To be totally honest all it did at first was cause a boatload of algae which was difficult to tackle but now a few months into it I'm really loving the growth I'm getting, though I feel like a lot of that is the CO2 and EI dosing, not the substrate


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Old 07-27-2015, 08:23 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Monster Fish View Post
If you're using red indian clay, 1/4lb should suffice per 10g of tank space.
i will be doing 450 gallons....
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Old 07-27-2015, 10:57 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tony4143 View Post
i will be doing 450 gallons....
Geez. You're gonna need at least 10lbs of red clay if you want to mix the MTS. If you want a more accurate amount, use 1/4lbs per each 200 cubic inches of MTS.
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Old 07-27-2015, 11:12 PM   #15
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The whole idea with mineralized topsoil is that you're breaking down the soil into powder basically. If you just throw it in your tank as dirt, your loosing a lot of the benefits.

Make mud. Let it dry. Make mud, let it dry. Do this until it turns to powder when the mud breaks up. 3-4 cycles normally.
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