Whats the deal with substrate - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 12:30 AM Thread Starter
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Cool Whats the deal with substrate

I Have had planted tanks in the past with large swords and giant Val that flowered and grew very well. All without CO2 or substrate other then chicken grit. I realize the benifit of CO2 but is substrate as important as everyone makes it out to be. Currently I'm in the process of aquiring all the equipment required to get a 120 tall 24x24x48 started. I am going to use filter sand/gravel 1/8x1/16 screened, should I be trying to place another media under this layer? If I do what are the benefits? I will be adding dry chem as fert as per chuck calc., CO2 home made diffuser, fluval 404 canister or canisters and 6 AH supply 55w compacts over it.
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 12:35 AM
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If you are dosing the water column, there is no need for fancy dirt.
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 01:47 AM
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Lol fancy dirt
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 03:22 AM Thread Starter
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So will fancy dirt help hold nutrients then? Do some hobbiests only dose in the the fancy substrate or with fancy substrates no dosing required
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 03:36 AM
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Fancy substrates have a high cation exchange (like kitty litter) and/or contain nutrients (ADA aquasoil). You can dose less with substrates that contain nutrients. The logical endpoint of this in mineralized top soil, with no dosing required. There's lots of information already posted on all of these issues if you search them out.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 03:46 AM Thread Starter
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I've been doing research but like most forums there is a lot of info to sift through and asking a direct question will lead to helpful links and good advice
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 04:09 PM
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The importance of substrate all depends on your goals.

Personally I always use nutrient-containing substrates, as I don't bother with dosing the water column (all my tanks are low light/low tech) and I've found that carpeting plants will fill in better in substrates with nutrient content.

I happen to like Flourite and Mineralized Topsoil.





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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 07:31 PM
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Aquatic plants are like any other plants and will use up whatever fertilizer is available in time. Sometimes a short time, sometimes a long time.

If you start with a nutritious substrate (mineralized soil, many of the specialty soils) and do not add fertilizer it will all get used up, and you will end up having to dose the water column. If you start dosing right away the plants have the best of both sources, and the fertilizer that you add will help to replace the substrate fertilizer the plants are removing, so it never gets all used up.

If you start with a neutral substrate that has no CEC (sand, gravel), then you will always be dosing the water column, and there is no reserve or buffer in the substrate. Plants that seem to do better with a rich substrate will not grow well.

If you start with a substrate that has a high CEC, but no fertilizer initially (Turface, Soil Master Select) you can dose the water column and the substrate will keep some of the fertilizer and build up a reserve. Then you will have a cushion and can be a bit less exact about water column dosing, or go on vacation and not worry about the plants.

DIY CO2 is not very much for that large a tank, though it can help, especially if you keep several bottles going and rotate changing them.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-07-2010, 10:29 PM Thread Starter
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thanks Diana its good to hear that the substrate will regenerate as you dose the water. I my next question would have been how long does CEC last and how does one regenerate it. thank you again

My CO2 will tank driven with a DIY reactor
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 05-08-2010, 04:51 AM
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Cationic exchange capacity is the ability of the soil to attract charged particles. The soil needs to be fine enough to hold a charge, and the material that it attracts needs to have a charge. So both need to be really small. Molecular in size. Clay that has bound together in special ways is still clay, and each particle may hold some fertilizer. For example, a material like Turface. Organic matter does something similar, which is one reason to add a little peat moss in the bottom of the tank.
Sand and gravel do not do this. They may help keep the soil open for good water flow, but are not directly involved with CEC.

Plants can remove these charged particles from the soil as they need them.

There is no one answer to how much the soil can hold (depends on the soil).
or how fast plants remove the various things (depends on how fast they need them).
or how fast it regenerates (Depends on how much fertilizer you are adding).

If you add fertilizer to the water column, and the ferts are in their molecular form (KNO3, KH2PO4, K2SO4, and so on) then some of the fertilizers will get used imediately by the plants, and some will keep circulating in the water until the fertilizer gets near a bit of soil with high CEC. The fertilizer has to get very close. (Good water circulation in the substrate) Then it may be attracted to the soil particle, and will stay there until the plant uses it, or until something else (a different fertilizer or mineral) comes close enough and is more attracted to the clay particle. Then the two might trade places.

In a low tech tank very low dosing, or just fish food and water changes will usually be enough to keep a good soil supplied with the fertilizers as the plants remove them. The fish food needs to decompose (digested by fish, acted on by bacteria) before the fertilizers are small enough to become part of the CEC reactions in the soil. This is OK, the fish food they ate last week is probably fertilizer by now, and todays' meals will become fertilizer in a few days or a week. It is a continuous cycle. I would start with a good soil.

With a bit more light and added CO2 the plants will grow faster, and remove the fertilizer from the soil and the water column faster. Starting with a good soil, I would start dosing right away, but at a low level, and watch the plants to see how they are doing. Use the Estimative Index or other method at its lower level and see how things go.

In a high tech tank, starting with good soil, I would dose more, because the plants will take most of it out of the water right away, leaving very little to add back to the soil. This is where the EI method is really good. By making sure there is unlimited levels of fertilizers the soil will keep up its supply. If you were skimping on the fertilizer and saying "but I started with a rich soil" then the plants will remove all the fertilizer from the soil pretty fast, and take the ferts out of the water column as fast as you add them. The soil will not get ahead under these conditions.

So: Start with a rich soil, or dose heavily enough to charge the soil as the tank establishes itself.
Keep up the fertilizers at levels that the plants keep on growing and not showing any deficiencies.
Provide light and carbon in levels that help the plants to grow well.

Then the soil will stay fertile. Plants that prefer getting certain minerals from the soil can do so. Plants that get their nutrients from the water can do so. Better balance all around.

Starting with a good supply of fertilizers in the soil is not an excuse not to dose, but is a better way to keep things balanced. An additional buffer.
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