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Old 01-21-2013, 07:41 PM   #1
raulfd4
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MGOCPM Smells Bad


Setting up a dirted tank with Miracle Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix (MGOCPM) and Pool Filter Sand (PFS) as a substrate.

I soaked the MGOCPM in 5 gallon buckets in order to get the larger wood particles to float to the top, and then drained them off.

Because of work, etc., I had to leave the MGOCPM, saturated with water, in the 5 gallon buckets for about a week before I had the time to add substrate to my tank.

As I am adding it to my tank, it definitely has an odor to it - kind of sewagey / pooey? It's not overwhelming, but it's noticable.

Is this a sign of anaerobic soil? What can I do to fix it? I am probably going to be planting this weekend. Then adding fish in about a month.

Last edited by raulfd4; 01-21-2013 at 08:40 PM.. Reason: Text edit
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Old 01-22-2013, 12:06 PM   #2
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I've got the same thing with some PFS i'm not using at the moment. I think it's just the usual bacteria settling in, not sure there's much you can do about it. I would think that finer substrates accumulate a lot more bacteria because of their high surface area. Hopefully the smell won't be noticeable once submerged under a bunch of water.
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Old 01-22-2013, 12:52 PM   #3
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The issue is not with the Pool Filter Sand, but with the organic potting mix.

The sand smelled fine. But when I added the mud from the buckets, it smelled a little like sewage.

I've now read in other places that this smell is a sign of anaerobic soil releasing hydrogen sulfide (H2S). However, I hear this usually happens when dirt has been in a tank for a long time without root plants or snails to aerate the soil.

How could this have happened after only one week of sitting wet in a bucket?
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Old 01-22-2013, 01:48 PM   #4
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Worry over nothing I think.
Odor is going to be subjective to who is describing it LOL.
Having soaked this material in shallow trays for several months my description would be the odor of a bog or freshwater march.
I seriously doubt a hazardous condition exists after only one week left soaking in a bucket.
That said only one tank here has utilized a presoak prior to tanking the material. Use has always been adding the material directly from the bag without noting any problems.

All and all I consider the efforts in doing this a waste of time.

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Old 01-22-2013, 02:23 PM   #5
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Thanks for the reassurance wkndracer.

I am hoping that over time and with a few water changes in the beginning, the odor will decrease.

Right now my biggest concern is my wife, who needs everything perfect from the get-go . She needs to learn the Zen aspect of aquarium plants, I think.

Second biggest concern would be planting only to realize that this is indeed a bigger problem than just some odor and having to tear everything down.
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Old 01-22-2013, 02:29 PM   #6
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Dirt soaking in an open bucket and the odor level once sand capped and covered with a water barrier are vastly different. At most I've seen folks report a 'slight' damp soil scent in the area directly adjacent to the tank during the first few months at most. HTH.

(hope Hoppy see's this thread because he has commented on it in the past)
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Old 01-22-2013, 03:27 PM   #7
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The odor has definitely decreased now that the dirt is capped with sand and water. If you walk by the tank you may get a small hint of odor. But if I lift the lid of the tank and take a whiff, the smell is there. It is unmistakable.

Trouble is, I am also cycling the tank with raw shrimp, which is also pretty smelly, so it can be hard to decipher which thing I am smelling.

But the dirt was definitely stinky coming out of the bucket. It didn't just smell like wet dirt. Like I said before, it had a swampy, sewage smell to it.
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Old 01-22-2013, 04:04 PM   #8
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The more I read about hydrogen sulfide (H2S), the more I think this is my issue.

According to this article on The Skeptical Aquarist:

"Hydrogen sulfide could only be an issue in a substrate that was too deep (over 4 inches, say), one that was also entirely anoxic (depleted of oxygen), was also depleted in nitrate and was enriched with decaying organics and sulfate, perhaps from fertilizer."

My dirt was sitting in an oxygen-free environment at more than 4 inches of depth in the buckets, and MGOCPM has fertilizers.

Let's say I definitely do have anaerobic dirt under my sand. I am lucky enough to not have planted the tank or added fish yet. What can I do to oxygenate the soil? Poke holes in it?
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Old 01-22-2013, 04:36 PM   #9
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When we use soil or other organic matter in our substrate, without first mineralizing it, there will be decomposition taking place in that organic matter. You can see bubbles being released from the substrate periodically - if you get your nose in the right place as a bubble floats up, you will smell the hydrogen sulfide. I have had my tank, with partially mineralized topsoil in the substrate, for a year now, and it still sends up bubbles. You can release bubbles by poking into the substrate, by pressing on the substrate, or even by draining out half the tank water (reducing the pressure the bubbles have to overcome to be released). I haven't noticed any bad effects from these bubbles, no dead or unhealthy fish, and the plants continue to grow. But, I hate the bubbles, and will not use non-mineralized soil again.

When I re-set-up the tank I expect to be assaulted by an overwhelming stink when I remove the old substrate.
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Old 01-22-2013, 05:38 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raulfd4 View Post
The more I read about hydrogen sulfide (H2S), the more I think this is my issue.
*************
Let's say I definitely do have anaerobic dirt under my sand. I am lucky enough to not have planted the tank or added fish yet. What can I do to oxygenate the soil? Poke holes in it?
Quote:
Originally Posted by wkndracer View Post
'anaerobic' is always bad?

Very broad statements create confusion (imo).

Avoided on the forums but consistently reported and supported as fact;
All substrate containing aquariums will have anaerobic conditions present.
Anaerobic bacteria are part of the nitrogen cycle aiding in biological balance and the last part of the nitrogen cycle chain of bacteria.

First, it must be accepted that anaerobic bacteria is always present. (Even in the gut of our fish but that is another topic.)

Only a couple documented freshwater bacteria routinely release sulfur / acid compounds based on several published papers. The remaining strains, the vast majority (numbering in the hundreds), of anaerobic bacteria only do so when presented with a lack of food (NO3). Most die without any cumulative effect. Changes in the bacter food source is the cause of this shift to sulfate production and release not disturbance alone. Normally produced is the splitting of nitrogen and O2 (oxygen).

The presence of anaerobic bacteria is almost impossible to avoid except in bare tanks with positive flow sponge filters. These systems only have the first half of the nitrogen cycle in place and are dependent solely on water changes to remove all remaining waste products. Adding plants and substrate it's an entirely different game being played in system maintenance.

Anaerobic bacteria and the production of sulfides along with acids seems to always be reported in 3 ways;
Hobbyists repeating what they have heard or read with the majority being short on facts.
Those selling products inciting fears to help do so.
Scientific study papers which are very hard for most to read. (boring and chewy)

Almost anything can be stated as toxic above a threshold limit and allowed to become imbalanced.
Controlling anaerobic conditions in a nutrient rich substrate is absolutely possible. Anaerobic bacteria factor directly into natural planted tank keeping (Walstad published method) and ages old filter systems.

Conscientious Aquarist Magazine / Seachem published copyright 2010.
Freshwater Deep Sand Beds Work by Deirdre Kylie
closing excerpt;
While some tales of anaerobic disasters surely are true, bubbles from the substrate rise too quickly and have too little surface area to sufficiently contaminate even a small tank. Itís more likely that dissolved gases and toxins from anaerobic decay were released into the water column when they were disrupted by the fishkeeper. Bubbles percolating up through the sand leave it to harmlessly close up behind them without even mixing much - this phenomenon can easily be observed in bubbles which form against the glass because the anaerobic sand is black and contrasts with the oxygenated sand.

Important Acknowledgement
Though my tanks are not Walstad tanks, they are inspired and informed by Diana Walstadís method and information as presented in her wonderful book, "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium." I suggest that book as a great source of information about nutrients, bacteria, lighting, etc., comprehensible to the layperson. Without it, I might have red and blue epoxy covered gravel, plastic plants, some overcrowded goldfish, and little enthusiasm for the hobby.
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_7/volume_7_1/dsb.html

I absolutely agree with all these statements.
Rex Grigg's planted tank guide, D.Walstad's book, George & Karla Booth (thekrib.com) are the primary source reference for my aquarium knowledge. Expanded with experience and further reading on topics of my interest.

Anaerobic bacteria feed on nitrates not ammonia and nitrites.
Good flow and circulation through the layers of substrate will maintain imbalance but WILL NOT eliminate all anaerobic forms of bacteria nor should you want it too.

Hobby related links
http://www.monsterfishkeepers.com/forums/showthread.php?270699-Anaerobic-Bacteria-in-Freshwater-Aquariums
http://www.aquariacentral.com/forums/showthread.php?221079-Why-Water-Changes-The-Long-Answer
http://www.tropicalfishkeeping.com/freshwater-articles/bacteria-freshwater-aquarium-74891/
(luv this site on a range of tanking topics)
http://sites.google.com/site/moashowmanyfish/nitrogen-cycle-a-must-for-freshwater-aquarists
Remaining Wastes topic
http://sites.google.com/site/moashowmanyfish/why-are-water-changes-necessary

Published study
http://horizon.documentation.ird.fr/exl-doc/pleins_textes/pleins_textes_5/b_fdi_20-21/26560.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC169723/

Link list "anaerobic bacteria + freshwater" Scholar search all articles and patents.
http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=anaerobic+bacteria+%2B+freshwater&hl=en& as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

is what it is I consider myself a baby on the topic of bacteria but gassing substrate doesn't scare me anymore.
If you're convinced you have a problem no amount of proof provided by another will ease your mind.

You do not have a tank killing hydrogen sulfide problem.
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Old 01-22-2013, 05:43 PM   #11
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Haha - I can be a worry wart, especially when dealing with new stuff.

One of the things I promised myself with this tank is that I would be more hands off and let nature take its course.

Thanks for the reminder, wkndracer!
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Old 01-22-2013, 07:27 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
When we use soil or other organic matter in our substrate, without first mineralizing it, there will be decomposition taking place in that organic matter. You can see bubbles being released from the substrate periodically - if you get your nose in the right place as a bubble floats up, you will smell the hydrogen sulfide. I have had my tank, with partially mineralized topsoil in the substrate, for a year now, and it still sends up bubbles. You can release bubbles by poking into the substrate, by pressing on the substrate, or even by draining out half the tank water (reducing the pressure the bubbles have to overcome to be released). I haven't noticed any bad effects from these bubbles, no dead or unhealthy fish, and the plants continue to grow. But, I hate the bubbles, and will not use non-mineralized soil again.

When I re-set-up the tank I expect to be assaulted by an overwhelming stink when I remove the old substrate.
You will be. I just emptied my 75g and the stench was pretty bad. My wife left the house for a few hours. I had to light candles. Sticking with sand and root tabs
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Old 01-22-2013, 11:43 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raulfd4 View Post
The odor has definitely decreased now that the dirt is capped with sand and water. If you walk by the tank you may get a small hint of odor. But if I lift the lid of the tank and take a whiff, the smell is there. It is unmistakable.

Trouble is, I am also cycling the tank with raw shrimp, which is also pretty smelly, so it can be hard to decipher which thing I am smelling.

But the dirt was definitely stinky coming out of the bucket. It didn't just smell like wet dirt. Like I said before, it had a swampy, sewage smell to it.
I would make cap at least 1.5X thicker than MGOPM.

Do you have a picture of the bag?

I get the impression it might have been the garden potting mix which is known to contain manure.

I would also add some trumpet snails, increase circulation and aeration, and plant right away. Maintain daily water changes if ammonia is high.
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Old 01-22-2013, 11:45 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by The Dude View Post
You will be. I just emptied my 75g and the stench was pretty bad. My wife left the house for a few hours. I had to light candles. Sticking with sand and root tabs
Hopefully sand is not too fine, or you'll be setting yourself for a lonely week next time.
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Old 01-23-2013, 12:34 AM   #15
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Hopefully sand is not too fine, or you'll be setting yourself for a lonely week next time.
Do you mean the sand won't hold the root tabs?
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