Truce: Soil vs Inert Substate - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 12:33 AM Thread Starter
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Truce: Soil vs Inert Substate

Fellow planted tank enthusiasts,

I feel like there is so much good advice on this forum, but I remember what it was like coming here as a newbie. In my case, it was returning to the hobby after saltwater tanks in college and adulthood, and under-gravel filter tanks in middle school and high school.

I feel like the soil path vs inert plus dosing path is more different than whether we add CO2 or not. I have obviously read about the special cases for fish like Discus.

I think we need to try not to convert people from one path to another, unless we are making suggestions for additional tanks with a different strategy. I see dosing advice to soil folks from inert folks, and do-nothing advice from soil folks to inert folks who need their big water changes and minerals. I've done it too. There are so many ways to run an aquarium.

While I love the soil thing, I have realized I shouldn't make a sales pitch for my style unless they like messy, tannin-rich tanks. If they seem inspired by Iwagumi or whatever, I might only share re: lights or filters, but not substrate, dosing, water changes, or CO2.

For the soil folks, I will share more opinions and lessons-learned.

I guess I am writing this to encourage us to consider the context of our advice, since we could avoid so many hobby arguments.

Cheers,

Jason

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Last edited by Streetwise; 09-06-2019 at 01:07 AM. Reason: Details
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post #2 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 01:10 AM
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Point taken. I do try to suggest the route of most simplicity and success for new folks though. If people are setting up their first planted tank, I'll steer them from capped dirt every time if I can. I've had immediate troubles, 3 month in troubles, and 2 year in troubles using it. And that's as a hobbyist with 30+ adult years keeping aquariums. I understand the benefits but there are things that can go wrong that will not if just using inert. Similarly, while I use aqua soils in 5 tanks at the moment, I would never dare suggest a first timer to set their new tank up using them. Eliminate variables. Get a good light and put it on a timer, keep hardy plants, use an inert substrate and fertilize appropriately for the growth you have and you will have success. Once that hobbyists enjoys success, they will branch out in the direction that interests them. To me the most important factor is that they have success. Even if that's just their crypts spreading or an Anubias flowering, it fosters their interest and love for this side of the hobby.
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post #3 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 01:16 AM
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The worst issue is when it takes a dozen or so posts in a thread to drag out what someone really has in their tank and the advice has already been given from several sides.

The thread direction takes a tangent to bickering and the OP is never heard from in that thread again.

This happens quite often.


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Growing is not that difficult.
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post #4 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 12:46 PM
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Also, soil folks should keep in mind that "soil" can mean several different things in the hobby, ranging from commercial aquasoils, to backyard soil (primarily mineral), to potting mix (completely organic), and they all are quite different in handling.
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post #5 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 12:49 PM Thread Starter
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Sorry, I think I could have worded that better.
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Style: Organic potting soil, gravel, sand, wood, plants, algae, biofilm, snails, shrimp, fish, dual siestas
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post #6 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 01:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maryland Guppy View Post
The worst issue is when it takes a dozen or so posts in a thread to drag out what someone really has in their tank and the advice has already been given from several sides.

The thread direction takes a tangent to bickering and the OP is never heard from in that thread again.

This happens quite often.
Agreed.

The approach for inert vs. active substrate is so different that it should be included in every tank discussion.

And new folks using an active substrate but not understanding it's effect is common here. You really need to understand what you are dealing with to be successful.
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post #7 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 02:03 PM
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I'm not only new to this forum but also to planted tanks. My first tank is a 40 breeder. I started it as a dry start using black diamond worm casting organic soil capped with about 3/4 inch of black sand from the lfs. I used dwarf baby tears and s. Repens, both tissue culture. After ten weeks I flooded and after the second day i had water like weak coffee color. Determined this to be from my malaysian driftwood that I didn't pre soak. Added more plants, which didn't do so good. Added co2 . Realized my light was way to weak. Added better lighting, upped co2. Got some much needed help from a local expert along with some dry ferts. Plants are growing so fast I can hardly keep up with trimming. Water is clear, had fish for about 2 months. My only problem and I think it may be due to soil, has been with high phosphate levels. Tap water test very low for P. I currently have no test for GH or KH. But do know our water is very hard. I'm told the phosphates aren't going to harm the fish and the only algae problem I'm dealing with is string algae where the light is strongest in the middle of the tank, half way up on the driftwood. Planning a startup on a 2nd 40 breeder and really don't feel I've had allot of trouble with the soil. Just trying to understand the phosphate issue. To worry, our not too worry. To soil or to eco complete. Any thoughts? Alan
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post #8 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 02:30 PM
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It's too bad substrates like aquasoil aren't a little more durable when setting up the tank. I agree many people don't understand what they're getting into when they use this type of substrate. So many simply mishandle it and don't take the instructions seriously when using it. If used correctly it really is a "substrate for dummies" and makes it almost impossible not to grow plants if all else is in place.


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post #9 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 03:02 PM
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It might be helpful for newbies joining the site to get in their "welcome to the site" email a sample template on how to post about their tank that includes all the important parameters like tank size/footprint, substrate, lighting, substrate, water parameters, etc. And some examples of each.

It bothers me to see a newbie post about a problem they're having, only to get pounced on with scolding responses of "we can't help you because you didn't provide the right info." If they knew the "right info" they probably wouldn't have to ask their questions. Even worse when site members start bickering amongst themselves. It's no wonder some run to the hills never to be heard from again.....
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post #10 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 05:25 PM
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There has been a recent trend of over complicating the hobby. You don't need a 4-year degree to grow nice plants or an entire lab of test kits...The essentials other than the API master test kit is probably just the KH/GH kit. Know your source water from water reports and then pick your plants based off of that. See what your LFS and local hobbiests can grow so you can set your expectations. Once you do that, the most important aspects are a healthy soil, deciding CO2 vs not, and then finally lighting in my order of importance. Fertilizer is probably the least important aspect once you know your water and your plant choices.

Also, what I generally think is that water changes need to be emphasized more for the first 1-2 months. The first few weeks of a new tank are when algae will strike and you should expect to devote 2-3 hours a week to cleaning your tank for that first month of ownership before you can add a sizeable population of grazers (amano shrimp (1-2 per gallon), SAE (at least 1 per 10 gallons for tanks big enough), oto (3-5 per 10 gallons)). Also, don't despair when things don't go right. Keep doing water changes, scraping the glass, dosing excel etc... A high energy system will ALWAYS grow algae. Reef keepers would laugh if you told them to add grazers at the rate plant keepers recommend...build your trophic table up. Scavengers and grazers should outnumber your secondary consumers by 10x.

Everyone wants a magazine-spread like aquarium and that just isn't in the cards for most people just starting out. Especially when you have people in the hobby actively steering new comers away from turn-key systems like ADA.
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post #11 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 07:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Desert Pupfish View Post
It might be helpful for newbies joining the site to get in their "welcome to the site" email a sample template on how to post about their tank that includes all the important parameters like tank size/footprint, substrate, lighting, substrate, water parameters, etc. And some examples of each.

It bothers me to see a newbie post about a problem they're having, only to get pounced on with scolding responses of "we can't help you because you didn't provide the right info." If they knew the "right info" they probably wouldn't have to ask their questions. Even worse when site members start bickering amongst themselves. It's no wonder some run to the hills never to be heard from again.....
This.. I have seen this too many times. Especially the more recent posts. Starts off constructive with differing opinions/experiences. Then other members start insulting those legitimate responses.

Anyway, I've gone both routes. Currently I am trying my hand on soil and it's been a little tough. It's only been the 3rd or so week and I had plants die off just within this week. I am thinking I need to change the water out more often then not. Mind you I have nothing in the tank aside from snails and it's currently still cycling.
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post #12 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 07:53 PM
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Please let me know. (JUNGLE VAL)

I’ve grown aquarium plants before but not jungle val. To my understanding jungle val propagates via runners above soil. I’ve got 4 new vals and two of them are sending out runners only a week later. But the runners are going into the gravel instead of top. Like running parallel to gravel. Is this normal or is something up. It was initially in gravel but I moved the gravel aside so it doesn’t rot.
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post #13 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 08:05 PM
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Fertilizer is probably the least important aspect once you know your water and your plant choices.
I would have to disagree with this. For starters the water reports provide by utilities can very from detailed to basic. And even with the detailed reports some crucial information can be missing. Most of the time the mineral content of tap water alone cannot support plant growth. And even if you use a fertilizer you might not get plant growth. None have calcium or nickel and many don't have enough of several micros. Many people use soil substrates because that can make up for the deficiencies in fertilizers and tap water.

If all it took was reading the water report, getting a test kit and selecting appropriate plants when we would be seeing all the deficiencies people are experiencing. Some people are simply blessed with very good tap water. Most are not.

My experience with potted plants has been that i can get good growth easily . Even with Orchids. It is not that hard. But when I tried aquarium plants it was a completely different story. it has taken me about 4 years to get consistent growth of plants. Why? my water had few nutrients in it. My substrate was inert. and several fertilizers I tried all were poorly balanced. I was constants going from one deficiency to another.. No fertilizer I tried would worked consistently. It wasn't until I made my own micro fertilizer that has changed. Now every plant I have put in the tank grow. Some better than others but there is always growth.

Each person is going to have different experience with a planted aquarium due to differences in water substrate, fertilizer and fish stocked in the tank. Each tank ends up being different.
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post #14 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 08:35 PM
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I have grown plants in austin, houston and the bay area. What fertilizer you choose and all this tweaking and "roll your own" is frankly unnecessary and drives people out of the hobby for no reason. My opinion is to pick a system and work with in that framework. I have always done EI or some variation of it. Doesn't matter if it was liquid rock or snow melt. If I kept up with maintenance (WCs, trimming, cleaning) I could grow anything.

Again I emphasize, firstly soil (natural garden soil, worm castings, tropica, ADA) then CO2. From there you can figure out if you need a strong or weak light and if you are wanting a strong light you add more fertilizer. If you choose a good complete one (ADA, EI, Thrive, tropica) all this tiny tweaking is unnecessary.

Know if you have hard water or soft water. Pick your plants accordingly. Then build the right foundations starting from the soil. Keep your water changes up. Build a base of grazing animals. It is not a big secret. I think many european and asian aquascapers have moved on about being concerned with fertilizers and lighting and focus more on soil and upkeep....yet people in the US are focused on these things that have minimal effect on your ability to grow plants. Trying to replace dirt and elbow grease with chemical formulations is setting up many to failure.
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post #15 of 54 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 10:59 PM
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Originally Posted by ThomasJ22 View Post
Iíve grown aquarium plants before but not jungle val. To my understanding jungle val propagates via runners above soil. Iíve got 4 new vals and two of them are sending out runners only a week later. But the runners are going into the gravel instead of top. Like running parallel to gravel. Is this normal or is something up. It was initially in gravel but I moved the gravel aside so it doesnít rot.
They send runners under the soil and won't rot . You will see a tiny new plant pop up somewhere near the mother plant . You can just cut the runner near the mother plant and at the new plant and move new plant wherever you want . Leave a little runner on the new plant so you have something to bury and hold the plant till it roots in .
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