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Old 12-03-2011, 04:35 PM   #1
mallardman12
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Eco-Complete or Dirt?


What do you guys think? I'm probably not going to be running C02, so I really want to know what will be better for my plants. Eco-complete or The organic miracle grow potting mix with a pea gravel/sand cap. What's your thoughts?
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Old 12-03-2011, 05:04 PM   #2
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I use an eco-complete/sand mix and eco-comlete is very good stuff. That said, I see an awful lot of people with really nice tanks using dirt, and I think that has sold me on being a future dirt user. Depending on how large your tank is, eco-complete can get way out of hand from a price perspective. If your tank is small enough that you only need 1 bag, flip a coin between dirt and Eco-complete, otherwise I would go dirt and spend your money on other things.
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Old 12-03-2011, 05:05 PM   #3
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Its a 37 gallon tank. And Which has more nutrients? Thanks for your reply!
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Old 12-03-2011, 05:55 PM   #4
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Potting soil has too many nutrients in my opinion. Stick with low organic matter top soil (aka "dirt"). If you start out with Miracle Grow soil or vermiculite you're going to miracle grow algae unless you've got a ton of CO2 and plants, plus just the right amount of light. It is easy to add nutrients to a soil based substrate, but if you start with too many there is nothing you can do except frequent, large water changes until all the excess nutrients have leeched out of the substrate.

Besides that, when organic matter breaks down it can form Hydrogen Sulfide (the rotten egg smell), which is toxic to plant and animal life. Potting soil is mostly organic matter, usually peat moss, with small amounts of limestone and pearlite mixed in. I've always had excellent luck with just dirt from the corner of a wheat field mixed with a small amount of vermiculite and topped with some play sand (be sure to rinse it a couple of times). Anyway, just my two cents.

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Last edited by smannell; 12-03-2011 at 05:56 PM.. Reason: typos
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Old 12-03-2011, 06:03 PM   #5
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I used the most inexpensive top soil I could find for my first planted tank. It cost me 3$ for a bag that could have done a tank 5 times larger. I mixed in some flourite and capped it all of with regular ol' playsand. So far, my plants have thrived well in a tank that gets no dosing other than a half cap of flourish at w/c's.

I do get the gas like smannel talks about, I just poke my substrate during changes to get some of it out.

So far, I have had nothing but success with my dirt tank. I can say with confidence any planted tank I setup from now on will be using this method.
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Old 12-03-2011, 06:08 PM   #6
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Thank you so much everyone! The only thing I have against dirt right now is that when I need to uproot something it will mess alot up... And what you you recommend I cap with?
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Old 12-03-2011, 06:17 PM   #7
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I have to disagree with the idea that Miracle Grow Potting Soil will give you algae problems. Algae is caused by excess nutrients in the water column and excessive light couple with plants being growth limited. The potting soil shouldn't be leeching many nutrients into the water column....its capped under a substrate!

I have 1.5" of it capped with eco-complete (yes expensive in hindsight but it looks good) in a low-light, no CO2 tank. Eco-complete alone (or similarly inert substrate) will not give you the same results. About a 1/3 of my tank doesn't have potting soil under the eco-complete and I have to use root-tabs to keep up with growth with the rest of the tank. You will eventually have to use root tabs as potting soil or any other substrate will lose its nutrients a year or so out.

My recommendation is potting soil capped with an inexpensive (but what you think looks good) substrate. Eco-complete alone (or similarly inert substrate) will not give you the same results without using root-tabs (injecting ferts into the substrate). I think you'll see great growth with rooted plants.

Lastly, I don't get any sulfuric smell or anything in my tank. I have rescaped the tank with the potting soil and fish in the tank with success. The only downfall is that the filter needs cleaning afterwards as it gets saturated with the smaller particles in the potting soil. Though capping it and not disturbing it works best. Just don't put more than 1.5" of the potting soil otherwise you risk it going anaerobic which will cause problems.
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Old 12-03-2011, 06:24 PM   #8
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Using soil is a good choice if you have done some research and know what you are doing...follow a plan. The goal of using soil is generally to provide a natural nutrient rich substrate without the need of regular dosing of ferts to the water. Using soil has some risks. The organic material decomposes. The nutrients become depleted over a period of time and do not last forever.

Eco complete is inert. It does not decompose. It is basically a clay type of gravel. It has no organic material that breaks down or provides nitrogen. It only provides minerals. Nitrogen comes from the break down of organic material. But because it is inert there is no risk or dangers like you get from decomposing organics. It will not provide nitrogen, but it will provide trace minerals.

Eco complete has other benefits. It is packed with live bacteria that help cycle the tank and clarify the water. The bacteria also helps to make the oxidized minerals more easily used by the plants. It is porous, so it can absorb other nutrients from the water and hold them for the plants. Unlike other clay gravels such as Flourite, Eco complete will NOT cloud your water. It has no dust what so ever.

Here are some pictures of Eco complete red at set up with crystal clear water

http://www.aquabotanic.com/?p=577

If you use Eco complete, you will still need a source of nitrogen and other macro nutrients, but you will not have to deal with the issues of organics in the substrate, or having the soil get into the water every time you uproot a plant. It is the right granular size for plant roots and heavy enough to keep new plants from popping out of the substrate.

Personaly I like it. Eco complete is one of my favorite substrate products.

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Old 12-03-2011, 06:58 PM   #9
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The only caveat to potting soil is that it doesn't last forever. As far as having to worry about dangerous side effects - if you stick to 1" - 1.5" of it (cap it with 2" of any other substrate), it'll work best. Most people I consulted when I first looked into it nearly a year ago did not have any adverse effects. Yes if you uproot, it'll be a tad messy but nothing an established tank and a good filter can't handle. Practically speaking, its not an issue at all. I have potting soil + eco complete and my water is crystal clear too...

Think of Eco-complete and Flourite and etc. as different from Potting soil. You cannot use potting soil as your main substrate and none of the inert substrates do anything potting soil does. (Expensive ADA soil is sort of like potting soil and substrate rolled into one but it is much more expensive).

So although Robert's support of eco-complete is great (same reasons why I initially bought it), it does not mean that eco-complete is an alternative to potting soil. Adding potting soil will enhance growth while it lasts.

Inevitably, for rooted plants, you'll have to dose into the substrate with root tabs or the like - potting soil will help stave that off for at least 6 months to a year. Also potting soil uniformly adds nutrients to your tank (assuming you use it throughout).
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Old 12-03-2011, 07:45 PM   #10
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So eco-complete is far safer?
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Old 12-03-2011, 09:25 PM   #11
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How about both....dirt capped with eco complete.
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Old 12-04-2011, 01:38 AM   #12
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I have actually seen a video where there was dirt capped with Eco-complete and there was so much nutrients in the tank all the plants melted and there was so much algae... So i'll pick one or the other.
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Old 12-04-2011, 01:40 AM   #13
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I have a dirted tank capped with eco complete with no problems at all.
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Old 12-04-2011, 01:43 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mallardman12 View Post
I have actually seen a video where there was dirt capped with Eco-complete and there was so much nutrients in the tank all the plants melted and there was so much algae... So i'll pick one or the other.
eco-complete isn't loaded with nutrients... it's inert, despite what the bag says. ADA aquasoil is a substrate that actually has nutrients in it if that's what you're looking for, but the price on it is insane.
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Old 12-04-2011, 01:46 AM   #15
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I believe that it would be a good ideal to cap with eco complete so it can absorb any nutrient that decides to leave the soil...but thats just me.
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