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Old 08-11-2004, 06:40 PM   #1
Yves514
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Potting soil for substrate?


Hello everyone,

Well, I was bored and decided to turn my hospital tank into a mini planted aquarium. It's a 5.5gal tank that simply had some gravel at the bottom. Being cheap, I wasn't in a mood to go buy a bag of flourite/laterite stuff so I layed down about 1.5" of organic potting soil and one inch of gravel. Worked out great. It wasn't messy and plants easily.

However, I did do some basic mesurements and I noticed that I had levels of amonia right off the bat. Duh! The soil probably has some ferts and stuff. So here is my question. Once the plants kick in, will my plants be able to level off the amonia produced by the soil? My readings are pretty low (0.25 to 0.50ppm). Oh I guess a second question is once that's ok, any concerns adding fish? Since it's organic soil, it should be fine right?

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Old 08-11-2004, 07:59 PM   #2
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Woah.. I would step back on that. If you really are not sure what you are doing..you just stepped into a possible nightmarish experiment. An experiment that tests your patience and your skills. DO NOT add any fish at all.... for about 2 months or so. I have tried similar experiments...but abandoned them cause the peat moss(soil is similar just more rotted) turned bad (black soil appearance after about 1 month) and poisoned the water so bad that algae blooms took over the tank. The water was green as kool-aid. Then I just ened up dumping the mess and restarting with laterite(I had two bags of it lying around--bought during a sale). BUT, big but here, many people have successfully grown in such a setup. I would say be very careful not to put plants up too often and mess up the water a lot. Get fast growers like hornwort or something similar to eat up the excess and keep algae at bay. You will NOT fail if you follow the advice of those who know. You may have to do a lot of water changes when algae appears.. some say not to.. but with such a small water column I would tend to do lots of changes. never vacuum the gravel EVER (at least for 5 months).. that may just stir up the mess under the gravel. It may work out just fine or it may be a HUGE hassle...either way you will learn something out of it..so its not a waste of time. I was just impatient with my 'mess' and my plants were dying becuase of the algae (not the other way around)..so I saw that I had to change it immediately. An inch and a half of soil seems like a lot.. but in nature it is more.. as long as you let it go it should be ok.. just test the water twice a week and get some cheap fast growers.

(I have a 5 gallon nano tank that is perfectly balanced (only one 10 watt CF bulb in it...) Im going to post pics of that tank as soon as it regrows again...(I picked about 30+ stems of saleable rotala indica out of it).
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Old 08-11-2004, 08:14 PM   #3
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I'd have to agree. I tried vermiculite, for example a few years back when I had no idea what I was getting into... and it was HORRIBLE!!! LOL... I spent days cleaning it up.
I'm not saying you're inexperienced as I was back then, but if you aren't too sure about the soil idea, I'd recommend learning a lot about it before attempting it -- not much room for slip-ups there.

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Old 08-11-2004, 08:30 PM   #4
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So I'm in for some good fun eh? It's all good. For now anyways... Since I've already set up the tank, I will see what it gives. If I see it's getting out of control and I'm tired of fighting with it, then I guess I'll clean up the mess and do it properly with the flourite.
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Old 08-12-2004, 12:20 AM   #5
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Id be patient and let it go... see what happens. Maybe youll have a GREAT tank.
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Old 08-14-2004, 07:08 PM   #6
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Potting soil is usually very high in nitrogen. This is from high organics usually cow manure, compost, worm castings and so forth. Many potting soils also have Perlite, ( little white things that are lite weight like styrofoam). Perlite is harmless, but will float in water. Perlite is put in potting soil to help break up the soil. Kinda useless in an aquarium!
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Old 08-14-2004, 07:26 PM   #7
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I'd stay away from anything organic in the substrate (apart from fish poop, plant roots, detritus...). IMO it's not worth the risk creating bubbles of poisonous gases. There are plenty of very cheap, even free options for substrates, don't need to invest in flourite etc.
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Old 08-14-2004, 09:29 PM   #8
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what are these FREE substrates.. (that work.. and have little risk...I don't really like having 50llbs of cat litter around the house.. I use some in our herb garden.. but since I hate cats I really have no other use for it--btw---cat litter worked wonders in garden..)
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Old 08-14-2004, 09:50 PM   #9
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River sand/gravel from a clean river. Looks great, works well.

If you'd like, some pesticide-free loam underneath, plant roots love it. Makes a mess when pulling out plants.

What is the purpose of kitty litter in your herb garden? Do you use it as a mulch, to improve the soil, to make it look different?
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Old 08-15-2004, 08:57 AM   #10
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IF you are going to use any sort of soil, (potting soil, top soil, loam, sandy loam, sub soil, clay soil...whatever) it is wise to use no more than one inch deep, and cover it with at least three inches of 2mm gravel or course sand. Any more soil than that will leech into the water as you found out. Your water will either get muddy, cloudy, or the ammonia levels will shoot up. You have to be very carefull not to disturb the substrate, don't dig up plants unless you absolutely have to, and when you do, do a large water change afterwards.

Diana Walstad wrote a book about low tech aquariums with soil substrates. She has her own forum here: http://aquabotanicwetthumb.infopop.cc/eve
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Old 08-15-2004, 03:32 PM   #11
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Well my amonia levels have almost disappeared in about 3 or 4 days with the aid of the plants. But I think I may rebuild that tank with a proper substrate. I eventually wanted to add fish to this tank and the thought of having large amonia spikes again if I work on it doesn't appeal to me very much.
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Old 08-16-2004, 08:07 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Yves514
Well my amonia levels have almost disappeared in about 3 or 4 days with the aid of the plants. But I think I may rebuild that tank with a proper substrate. I eventually wanted to add fish to this tank and the thought of having large amonia spikes again if I work on it doesn't appeal to me very much.

A proper substrate!? What's proper anyway? Some outrageously overpriced clay particles from your LFS?

Why don't you throw in some cheap fish and see how it goes? With a soil substrate you'll be following in a successful tradition that goes back millions of years (think about it).

Soil works very well if you follow a few precautions. I have never had plants grow as well and with as little fuss. The horror stories are spread by hired Seachem operatives if you ask me.
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Old 08-17-2004, 05:28 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wasserpest
What is the purpose of kitty litter in your herb garden? Do you use it as a mulch, to improve the soil, to make it look different?

Well i bought a dollar sack of the crap to try out a cheap substrate. It turned out that most of it would turn to mud in water... after about 10 minuets of rinsing 3 cups of the dry stuff I might get about 3/4 to 1 cup that would not completely break down (looked a little like flourite).. but it would SQUISH into a dryish clay(which the stuff is). I used a little in a 10 gallon tank along with a sprinkle of peat moss (less than a 1/4 cup of both) with about 1.5 gallons of rocky sand. (that tank is a little green watered now .. but I think once i finnaly add co2 and do a diatom filter the plants will outcompete the algae.)

OK now that is said.. what i did with the excess kitty litter, instead of letting it sit around and or spill and make me mad-der in the end, was to take it outside and dump it around the herbs... on top of the soil. It tends to keep moisture in and I HOPE add some needed nutrients. I am not sure (this was not a really scientific experiment), but after doing so the herbs, tomatos, and beens seemed to take off a ilttle more. I think if you dumped a bunch in when you till your garden it may help condition the soil (depending on the soil deficiencies for your area).. we had these things in pots in the backyard since we live on a rental property and can't dig up the lawn. Its a good way to get rid of "failed" tank experiments also. Just imagine what the plants would do with a poop filled mess of a substrate from a failed tank!!!
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