Soil substrate experiment (lots of pics) - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 08:53 PM Thread Starter
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Soil substrate experiment (lots of pics)

I've been curious about soil substrates for a long time, but never really had the nerve to try it. I have a little 15 that's what I think of as "failure to thrive" and decided it would be a good guinea pig (15 gallons is a lot easier to wash out than a big tank). This tank doesn't qualify as low tech as it has 65 watts of pc lighting, but it's not high tech either as it only gets DIY CO2. This is also in my "fishroom" which means it gets neglected much more than the tanks in the living room.

I want to be very clear that I'm not advocating this to anyone. I'm just satisfying my curiosity and sharing the results for entertainment/educational value.

Here's the failure to thrive tank:
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post #2 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 08:58 PM Thread Starter
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I'm probably the most undisciplined hobbyiest on the board, so of course I skipped the bottle test.

My first reaction to putting potting soil in the bottom of the tank was "that's a lot of freaking mud." After I'd mixed it up I measured the depth--a little under 1/2 inch. So I added more dirt and water. By the time I got up to an inch, I was enjoying the memory of how much fun mud pies had been as a kid.

I put the gravel back on top (an inch or so), put my rocks back in and added a little water. At this point I was wondering if I should quit before I really made a mess.
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post #3 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 09:13 PM Thread Starter
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When I was planting, there was a really satisfying bite to the dirt layer that isn't there with gravel or fluorite (I hate planting in that stuff). I used a bowl and a plate to diffuse the water when I refilled. All in all, it wasn't as cloudy as I thought it would be.

While still somewhat cloudy the next morning, it had cleared considerably overnight. The tank was very clear a day later, but started turning brown from the tannins shortly afterwords.

I'm not following recommended guidelines on this tank, so I expect to have problems. I just satisfying my curiosity.

I was surprised at the test results today:
ph 6.4
ammonia 0
nitrite 0
nitrate 5
phosphate--off the chart
kh8 (same as tap water)
gh I quit counting at 12 (I'll have to test the tap, I was under the impression we had low gh and high kh) Edit: I quit at 12 because my bottle ran out. Repeating the test with a fresh kit gave me 6

So far the fish seem happy and the algae already on the plants hasn't gotten any worse.
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Last edited by observant_imp; 08-14-2006 at 05:47 AM.
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post #4 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 09:53 PM
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Nice project - my dad had soilsubstrate tanks 20 years ago, with good results (And then we moved but the tanks diddent) so im gonna follow your project with great anticipation...

Im looking forwards to see more pics and follow your water levels.
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post #5 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 10:16 PM Thread Starter
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I've seen enough on the natural tank forum over at apc to know that soil substrates work--if you follow the rules. I just want to see what happens when I break them.

The other reason I'm trying this is that I'm neither high tech nor low tech and I want to find the boundries for medium tech.
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post #6 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 11:21 PM
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When I had a 125 gallon tank I used a soil substrate, with some other stuff mixed in, and with black blasting sand on top. It grew plants pretty well, with high light, weak DIY CO2, and nearly non existent fertilizing. My problems began when I pulled out plants and got substrate and bits of Jobes fertilizer sticks pulled up into the water column. I suspect your results will be similar. But, it is fun to experiment like that!

Hoppy
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post #7 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 11:41 PM
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your tank looks good, I know that some people think soil only leads to problems but I was curious also about topsoil so I did a 3og with soil on the bottom 3/4 inch of the substrate, the tank has been up & running for almost a year my Kliener bar swords love the substrate & grow twice as fast as the ones in my other tanks that don't have soil, they even bloom. Here are some shots of it at various times since setup.
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post #8 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-13-2006, 11:53 PM Thread Starter
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I'm not brave enough to try it on a big tank (yet). I tried peat years ago. I'd planned on a little under the gravel, but ran across "peat plates" which were great--until I needed to move a plant. Then the compressed peat expanded to several inches worth.

bristles--it looks like you've got a pretty good amount of light on that tank. That's my big question mark on this--I want to see if it works with higher light.

I'm actually trying this on 4 smallish tanks. The one in this thread has the most light; the others are only medium light and I think will work fine. I'm trying to lean towards rosette rather than stem plants to keep uprooting minimized.

I noticed something interesting in tank #2 today. The BBA that's always on my co2 ladder and filter equipment is falling off. There could be a number of plausible explanations. One is that I always just leave it alone and it goes away when it's ready--it might just have been ready. It might be the time it spent emerged while I worked on the tank. It could be a shock from the change in water since I used tap rather than RO to refill the tank. And just maybe, it's the tannins coming out of the soil. The other 2 tanks I converted also have BBA on the filter tubes and CO2 ladders. If it starts falling off of those in the next few days, then tannins (or something else that's leaching) might be a possibility for eliminating it.
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post #9 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 12:08 AM
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Cheryl the tank in the photo gets around 3w per gal. In my opinion I think all the hoopla about soil murking up the water when uprooting or moving plants is over rated as it settles and clears up in a day or so & any soil that is on the surface of the substrate seems to dissipate after a while. Maybe I'm too undisciplined of a hobbyist but the slight soil mess does not bother me very much.

John
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post #10 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 12:21 AM Thread Starter
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I'm glad the hear that! I fully expected to get blasted for being a nut for trying this. I'm also feeling more hopeful. I did the 15 expecting to fail and hoping to learn something from it. I'm going to be tickled if that tank decides to get happy on me. Your tanks certainly look nice and clear too!
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post #11 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 05:22 AM
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Be paitent with them, add lots of plants, no water changes, you'll be happy.

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Regards,
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post #12 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 03:21 PM
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I think it is a pretty neat experiment. Perhpas if your findingds are right,then perhaps someday,we may just end up advocating that keeping water plants in garden soil is better than the gravel we are currently using.
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post #13 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 04:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Y0uH0
I think it is a pretty neat experiment. Perhpas if your findingds are right,then perhaps someday,we may just end up advocating that keeping water plants in garden soil is better than the gravel we are currently using.
Mummm....there are some trade offs.
I've never liked layer substrates, I've always had a very strong preference to a single product and being able to rearrange things, have slopes(which need redone every few weeks etc).

But dirt works well and it's pretty cheap.
Most that have issues with it, do not soak for 2-3 weeks prior or boil it for 10 min etc prior to use.

Many also don't add enough plants, this tank does not have enough in my opinion, he should have added about 30-50% more.

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post #14 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 04:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by observant_imp
I'm glad the hear that! I fully expected to get blasted for being a nut for trying this. I'm also feeling more hopeful. I did the 15 expecting to fail and hoping to learn something from it. I'm going to be tickled if that tank decides to get happy on me. Your tanks certainly look nice and clear too!
If you are a nut then I'm bound for an asylum, every tank I have set up for the last (um let me think, my son is almost 14) 14 years or so has had a topsoil/clay underlayer. Seriously, every tank from a 2 gallon up to my two 75 gallon tanks got a sublayer. My favorite top layer at the moment is T grade 3M ColorQuartz, I've never seen a substrate hold a slope like the ColorQuartz does. I thought Tahitian Moon sand was nice but it is expensive and doesn't hold a slope.

Sean

Aquascape? I'm a crypt farmer.

It's a fine line between fishing and standing on the shore looking like an idiot.

That IS an aquascape, it's titled "The Vacant Lot".
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post #15 of 36 (permalink) Old 08-14-2006, 04:55 PM Thread Starter
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Well shoot, here I thought I had a CYA (soil is for low light only) excuse if I made a mess. Now the pressure is on for my little tank to look good someday.

Seriously, I'm glad I started this thread--there isn't much (if any) info out there that mixes soil with higher light, CO2, and supplements. It would be nice if others want to share their successes. I don't want to give this an undeserved bad rap if I bomb.
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