Help with deciding on substrate for low tech tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 03:39 PM Thread Starter
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Help with deciding on substrate for low tech tank

I'm going to be setting up a new 75G show tank for my living room area in my new house. I've been kicking the idea around of what substrate to use, going back and forth between attempting a dirted tank again (epic failure) or going with a plant substrate. I currently have 4 tanks running with Fluval stratum with OK results but not what I am looking for. I do not plan to use C02 at the moment.

CURRENT WATER PARAMETERS: Spring Water is 7.4PH, 9kh
LIGHTING: Fluval 3.0 is what I am planning on using

PLANT SPECIES PLANNED TO USE: Jungle Val, Amazon Sword, Buce, Java Fern, Red Tiger Lotus, Ludwegia Repens, Dwarf Sag, and some various crypts possibly.

ANY RECOMMENDATIONS WOULD BE GREATLY APPRECIATED!!
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post #2 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 03:46 PM
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Huh, you are in the same boat with me my friend. I have a 75gal too. After long debates I went with 2/12 mesh sand. Of course I am going to have to fertilize it but any substrate will have to be fertilized sooner or later.

In the end it depends what your budget is and what kind of substrate you can afford, because you need a lot of it in a 75gal tank.

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post #3 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 04:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the response! Budget really isn't a problem but this is going to be my "show" tank in my living room. Leaning more towards sticking with PFS and stratum with root tabs where the plants will be with some Easy Green unless someone can sway my mind to use the dirt I already bought haha.
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post #4 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 04:19 PM
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Most people around here don't recommend dirt exactly because of the reason that you failed your first time. It is messy and dirty and hard to maintain. Since your budget is not a problem then go with an inert aquarium substrate that has the look that you need.

That's my opinion, let's see what other people say.
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post #5 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 05:48 PM Thread Starter
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Yes it is messy, I rushed the setup and did not have a good cap is why it failed. Hoping for some responses. Stratum has not been as productive as I had hoped for. Was considering using controsoil too that buceplant.com sells.

Bump: Also with going to a different water source I'm worried about plants melting and then hassle of replanting with dirt I know makes a mess.
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post #6 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 06:14 PM
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Welcome to low tech! There don't seem to be many of us on TPT--most seem to be into high tech on this site.

I'm re-entering the hobby after many years, I recently set up a new planted 55 gal tank. After doing a lot of reading--including about the Walstad Method & high CEC substrates--decided to go with a dirted tank with a SafeTsorb cap. I mineralized some organic peat potting soil, but it had so much floating bark etc that I took out, so I ended up with barely enough dirt to cover the bottom--not the inch or so I'd wanted. The rest is STS. I was hoping it would temper my really hard water, and while the total hardness isn't much different from the tap water, the total alkalinity & pH are both considerably lower. We'll see if that's permanent, or if it'll go back to baseline once the STS has reached saturation.

In appearance, the STS looks like a natural tan/brown gravel--which is the look I wanted. There does seem to be some loose clay silt if I dig around, but it settles back down quickly. I have had algae issues--first hair algae, now green water & GSA--but it's hard to know if that's related to the substrate, or just a new tank settling in. It's not nutrient release from the dirt underlayment--ammonia, nitrites & nitrates are all registering zero, so am cautiously adding some Osmocote Plus pellets under the rooted plants to get them some nutrients. Though I wonder if the substrate could be absorbing the nutrients, so they are available to the roots. Most of the plants were doing well until the green water explosion--now they're sulking likely due to reduced light, and possibly low nutrients.

Hope this helps. STS is nice & cheap: <$7 for a 40 lb bag. Some people use plain kitty litter (w/o any additives) but its quality seems to be all over the map--with some dissolving into mud, and some holding up well. Turface is another fired clay product used for baseball diamonds that people seem to like. It comes in some custom colors, but it's harder to find.

Hope this helps,
Jeff
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post #7 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 07:06 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info! I did see some people using STS and was curious. I'm more so wanting it to last for the long haul without tearing down every year because the substrate has become depleted (which I know happens eventually because I've grown up on a farm). I might do a test run on a 10g the way you suggested and see how it goes for a little bit.
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post #8 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-10-2019, 11:40 PM
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STS is constantly recharged by dosing into water column and making sure that you have proper circulation of that solution into substrate bed where the high CEC potential of STS will bind nutrients and hold them there for roots to use. It’s a clay and will be viable for many years as long you keep nutrients available to it via circulation of nutrients into substrate bed. Circulation is key word here.

I’d lay down 1-1.5” STS, pull it way from edge so you don’t see it. Lightly pepper top with sera or other peat pellets or coco peat to add hint of organic matter then fill in around edges and cap on top of that with 1-1.5” of 1-3mm blast sand type gravel as shown above of color you like.

It will be a viable substrate bed for many, many years.
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post #9 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-11-2019, 03:11 AM
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Im a fan of straight Black Diamond Blasting Sand if you want a dark substrate. I did a lot of research before choosing it and i have enjoyed it a lot. cories are doing great with it in all three of my tanks and moving plants around is a breeze. just be sure to thoroughly rinse several times until you notice no difference in the amount of dust being rinsed out.
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Cordially,

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post #10 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-11-2019, 04:09 AM
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I am low tech. After a few mishaps I went with sackrete medium commercial sand (basically PFS). My plants are doing well IMHO considering my inexperience. When moving stuff the roots are all seem to be growing like crazy. I can vac the sand and not worry about disturbing layers.

Works for me anyhow.
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post #11 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-11-2019, 05:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kwaite View Post
Thanks for the info! I did see some people using STS and was curious. I'm more so wanting it to last for the long haul without tearing down every year because the substrate has become depleted (which I know happens eventually because I've grown up on a farm). I might do a test run on a 10g the way you suggested and see how it goes for a little bit.
Hi @kwaite,

I just did a 10 gallon with Safe-t-sorb (STS), here is a thread where I describe the start. I'll add a picture to the thread of what it looks like 2 weeks after starting and and what it looks like after four weeks. I've done my 75 with Safe-t-sorb with STS in the past as well.

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post #12 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-11-2019, 03:09 PM Thread Starter
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Seattle_Aquarist, I'm going to check your thread out. After reading what DaveKS had to say I think I want to go that route now. I have a ton of HTH pool filter sand to cap with if anyone has ever used that brand.
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post #13 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-13-2019, 04:07 AM
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HTH PFS is a beautiful sand. I haven’t capped anything with it but I do use it as a foreground sand and it does a fantastic job at it. Perfect size IMO and comes super clean compared to most substrates, especially other sands. I’ve never rinsed it before use and have never had a detrimental outcome because of not rinsing.

I’m just getting back into taking my tanks seriously and recently setup a Mr. Aqua 3 gallon bowfront with Fluval Stratum and HTH PFS. It’s going well so far (about 3 weeks now).

A majority of the plants we keep feed almost exclusively from the water column and our substrate acts more as an anchoring point rather than a nutrient delivery medium. Not saying that nutritious substrate isn’t beneficial, it’s just not as significant as most aquarists tout it to be. Does it help? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Not at all. When I say “nutritious substrate”, I’m referencing the “aqua-soil” type substrates (Ada, Tropica, Stratum, etc.).

Honestly, all those “aquasoil” substrates are is pelletized soil. The nutritional value of any soil is depleted over time regardless of brand or application. That’s why ADA sells all of those super expensive powder packets that almost everyone chooses to skip when buying their $80 bag of Amazonia. Those powder packets contain material to help sustain a healthy long-term living substrate. Essentially, a “high-tech” Walstad. Walstad wasn’t intended for high demand plants running high-tech equipment. Not saying it isn’t possible but it was meant to be an easily obtainable and sustainable system with a low level of involvement and experience from the aquarist. A system to grow plants that comes with its pros and cons.

The nutes that are in those aquasoils are only there to get you up and going. After a while, you’ll have to replenish those depleted nutrients that “jump started” your plants. That’s the case for anything we as humans grow in a contained space whether it be a flower pot, an 80 acre crop field, or an attempt at a gorgeous planted tank. We, as aquarists, need to replenish those nutrients either by column dosing or adding some sort of root tab to reintroduce nutrients back into the system.

What I’m getting at here is that substrate choice truly is a personal choice usually coming down to ease of planting, plant retention, and maintainability. If it keeps your plants anchored and looks good to the eye, go for it. It’s your tank. Just keep up on your column dosing. Having said that, I like using the “aquasoils”. Preferably Amazonia but Stratum has given me comparable results if I do my part.

Now, some plants are actually heavy root feeders but in those situations, again, root tabs will provide nutrients regardless of substrate. Think about it, the water within the substrate doesn’t stay within the substrate. Things leech from the substrate. So, even with the aquasoils, those nutrients will become diluted within the water column in turn dosing the water column.

Aquariums are closed systems. Very small closed systems. Anything we put in it, stays in it in every location of the tank. Substrate, filter, hardscape, etc. Find a substrate you like the look of that physically works well with your plants, start a dosing/maintenance schedule and enjoy your tank. Don’t worry so much about substrate because in time it won’t really matter to begin with.
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post #14 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-20-2019, 01:24 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RyRob View Post
HTH PFS is a beautiful sand. I haven’t capped anything with it but I do use it as a foreground sand and it does a fantastic job at it. Perfect size IMO and comes super clean compared to most substrates, especially other sands. I’ve never rinsed it before use and have never had a detrimental outcome because of not rinsing.

I’m just getting back into taking my tanks seriously and recently setup a Mr. Aqua 3 gallon bowfront with Fluval Stratum and HTH PFS. It’s going well so far (about 3 weeks now).

A majority of the plants we keep feed almost exclusively from the water column and our substrate acts more as an anchoring point rather than a nutrient delivery medium. Not saying that nutritious substrate isn’t beneficial, it’s just not as significant as most aquarists tout it to be. Does it help? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Not at all. When I say “nutritious substrate”, I’m referencing the “aqua-soil” type substrates (Ada, Tropica, Stratum, etc.).

Honestly, all those “aquasoil” substrates are is pelletized soil. The nutritional value of any soil is depleted over time regardless of brand or application. That’s why ADA sells all of those super expensive powder packets that almost everyone chooses to skip when buying their $80 bag of Amazonia. Those powder packets contain material to help sustain a healthy long-term living substrate. Essentially, a “high-tech” Walstad. Walstad wasn’t intended for high demand plants running high-tech equipment. Not saying it isn’t possible but it was meant to be an easily obtainable and sustainable system with a low level of involvement and experience from the aquarist. A system to grow plants that comes with its pros and cons.

The nutes that are in those aquasoils are only there to get you up and going. After a while, you’ll have to replenish those depleted nutrients that “jump started” your plants. That’s the case for anything we as humans grow in a contained space whether it be a flower pot, an 80 acre crop field, or an attempt at a gorgeous planted tank. We, as aquarists, need to replenish those nutrients either by column dosing or adding some sort of root tab to reintroduce nutrients back into the system.

What I’m getting at here is that substrate choice truly is a personal choice usually coming down to ease of planting, plant retention, and maintainability. If it keeps your plants anchored and looks good to the eye, go for it. It’s your tank. Just keep up on your column dosing. Having said that, I like using the “aquasoils”. Preferably Amazonia but Stratum has given me comparable results if I do my part.

Now, some plants are actually heavy root feeders but in those situations, again, root tabs will provide nutrients regardless of substrate. Think about it, the water within the substrate doesn’t stay within the substrate. Things leech from the substrate. So, even with the aquasoils, those nutrients will become diluted within the water column in turn dosing the water column.

Aquariums are closed systems. Very small closed systems. Anything we put in it, stays in it in every location of the tank. Substrate, filter, hardscape, etc. Find a substrate you like the look of that physically works well with your plants, start a dosing/maintenance schedule and enjoy your tank. Don’t worry so much about substrate because in time it won’t really matter to begin with.
I have fluval stratum and have not had the best results with it. I am going to try https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/m..._aquarist.html trick of using safe t sorb under the sand.

Bump:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Seattle_Aquarist View Post
Hi @kwaite,

I just did a 10 gallon with Safe-t-sorb (STS), here is a thread where I describe the start. I'll add a picture to the thread of what it looks like 2 weeks after starting and and what it looks like after four weeks. I've done my 75 with Safe-t-sorb with STS in the past as well.
Is there anything I need to look for in the first few weeks using STS? I bought a bag of it and some pool filter sand to use as my substrate. I also bought some NilocG Thrive tabs to use as well. Most of my plants are going to be root feeders.
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post #15 of 18 (permalink) Old 06-20-2019, 07:21 PM
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My first tank was eco complete with root tabs + PPS PRO + iron + GH Buffer ( CO2 injected

It wasn't bad,but it wasn't easy

Then I did potting soil (mineralized - 3 times soak & dry) with an ADA Amazonia cap + the same as the other tank (learner ferts though), started it as DSM. The amount of life is amazing in the dirtied tank vs the eco-complete. Copepods are living in the upper soil and my RCS are multiplying like crazy. The DGH is growing well, as is the Ludwig's Natans super red.

I feel the ADA Amazonia and the potting soil are a great kickstart.

Also this website has some great information about substrates: https://www.advancedplantedtank.com
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