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post #1 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 05:50 AM Thread Starter
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Best DSM Substrate

Hi, im pretty new to the hobby and have been watching alot of videos on the DSM and its something that i really would like to try my hand at. Ive also been reading that alot of people use an organic soil capped with a substrate to hold it down and keep it from getting messy. My question is what are the best combos? Alot of people are saying ADA aquasoil but i cant seem to find that anywhere.any help would be much appreciated! Thanks!!!!
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post #2 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 06:17 AM
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I think the best is that the base is soil + clay from under topsoil and gravel of larger (2" pond gravel, 1/2" road kind of gravel, and pea gravel mixed in soil) and smaller sizes mixed in with the soil so when you press down on the soil it doesn't squoosh down like lake soil, but it's a choice whether you try to make something other than just a dusting of soil that will work. I cap near the top a thin layer of regular sand from lowe's, which theirs is a fine sand. I also cover my soil with gravel. It has a slightly sour taste as I just updated it, but it's not making me sick like it used to when I had a massive amount of soil in it. I have about an inch of soil/compost/clay and also I mixed sand in this time to try and keep the soil fresh, but from the size the total size is about 3 to 3 1/2 inches
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post #3 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 11:30 AM Thread Starter
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I think the best is that the base is soil + clay from under topsoil and gravel of larger (2" pond gravel, 1/2" road kind of gravel, and pea gravel mixed in soil) and smaller sizes mixed in with the soil so when you press down on the soil it doesn't squoosh down like lake soil, but it's a choice whether you try to make something other than just a dusting of soil that will work. I cap near the top a thin layer of regular sand from lowe's, which theirs is a fine sand. I also cover my soil with gravel. It has a slightly sour taste as I just updated it, but it's not making me sick like it used to when I had a massive amount of soil in it. I have about an inch of soil/compost/clay and also I mixed sand in this time to try and keep the soil fresh, but from the size the total size is about 3 to 3 1/2 inches
i was thinking of getting a root mat to seperate soil from sand and keep the soil down but i didnt know if that would be counterintuitive.
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post #4 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 02:08 PM
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If your doing the DSM to plant a hi-light carpet than I would stay away from regular soil. You'll need good light once the tank is flooded and hi-light and soil tanks don't usually play nice together.

ADA aquasoil or a similar product would be your best way to go.


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post #5 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 02:53 PM
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If your doing the DSM to plant a hi-light carpet than I would stay away from regular soil. You'll need good light once the tank is flooded and hi-light and soil tanks don't usually play nice together.

ADA aquasoil or a similar product would be your best way to go.
I think you can make it work if you have an outdoor composter (filled with water and the one time I saw it was when I had soil on the bottom) that makes foam from having water, the composter covered, and you can scoop out foam to put in the aquarium. The compost foam counteracts bacteria and if you cover the composter it should inhibit algae growth in the composter that must be in the sun so when you scoop the foam out you're not bringing algae. Like having a 33 gallon clear sterilite container in the sun with soil on the bottom, then cap it with pea gravel, then massive amounts of dried grass clippings and say a bag of mulch from lowe's, their red or black large clear bags of mulch that are already in the sun and smell like compost at lowe's so it will start your compost. The foam should look like the foam at the bottom of a dam that gets stirred up. I don't have a composter outside yet but will start one. And if you start a composter before you make the aquarium, mixing some of the compost with the soil that's in the aquarium when it's set up initially will keep the soil from going bad, and it will darken the soil if you use soil from outside because it will self-compost in the aquarium.
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post #6 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 03:06 PM
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I think you can make it work if you have an outdoor composter (filled with water and the one time I saw it was when I had soil on the bottom) that makes foam from having water, the composter covered, and you can scoop out foam to put in the aquarium. The compost foam counteracts bacteria and if you cover the composter it should inhibit algae growth in the composter that must be in the sun so when you scoop the foam out you're not bringing algae. Like having a 33 gallon clear sterilite container in the sun with soil on the bottom, then cap it with pea gravel, then massive amounts of dried grass clippings and say a bag of mulch from lowe's, their red or black large clear bags of mulch that are already in the sun and smell like compost at lowe's so it will start your compost. The foam should look like the foam at the bottom of a dam that gets stirred up. I don't have a composter outside yet but will start one. And if you start a composter before you make the aquarium, mixing some of the compost with the soil that's in the aquarium when it's set up initially will keep the soil from going bad.
OK I believe you, please try that and report back after you have a nice healthy carpet of a high light demanding foreground plant free of algae. And then when you need to redo the carpet how your going to keep the cap neatly on top from the soil.

High light and aquascaping generally don't work with soil-based tanks because it's too messy when you have to move things around and the organic level is high and causes issues with high light. If you look at most walstad tanks they have the usual easy to grow plants and aren't heavily scaped. Not to say it can't be done, it's just much, much more difficult and certainly not something for a novice.


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post #7 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 04:20 PM
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And then when you need to redo the carpet how your going to keep the cap neatly on top from the soil.
I use a thin layer of regular sand from lowe's at the very top over gravel, so you can still see just a few streaks of soil. If you pull everything out, you would scatter a thin layer of regular outdoor fine sand from lowe's, their cheap outdoor kind, again, as the sand blocks the black water from seeping up into the water. Also, using larger 2" ponds rocks from lowe's you can scatter it very lightly on top of everything and seems to help.

Also, adding sand into the original soil (and having clay in it too, from digging down below the topsoil) keeps the soil fresher, and the clay holds the soil together, combined with adding pond gravel, 1/2" brown gravel from lowe's into and mixed in with the soil to add rigidity, and you can compress it down with your hand so it's solid. I assume the compost foam from an outdoor composter that gets direct sunlight, which is just a 33 gallon clear sterilite container covered with a tarp. At the bottom of the clear container, I'm going to put soil then cover it with pea gravel and a thin layer of sand. Then a large outdoor black bag of dried grass clippings and a bag of red mulch from lowe's that smells like compost. When it generates foam on top, adding it to the water in small amounts will kill bacteria. But the difference of that composter from a regular composter (regular farm composter that is) is that the container is filled up to the top to the brim with water, whereas a farm composter is lightly added with sprinkles of water, you're trying to scoop out a cup of foam to be transferred indoors in that cup of foam to the indoor aquarium, the foam that looks like the foam at the bottom of dam that the dam stirs up, but this just bubbles up naturally and sits on top. And in the aquarium on top of that soil mixed with gravel, I cap it with pea gravel to a heights from the side total of 3 1/2 inches and then just a very thin layer of sand so the total height of everything is 3 1/2 inches. So when you mix gravel like that in with the soil initially, it's probably going to be higher from the side then than an inch, so I didn't cover it with massive amounts of pea gravel over that. The soil plus gravel mixed in was probably almost 3 inches in some places and then pea gravel over that.

I did make an outdoor container about a foot and a half cut from a plastic 6.5 gallon beer brewer, that I did cover the soil a lot higher with pea gravel, and a sword plant, but that container is outside during the day, so the sun can kill most of any bacteria at the higher gravel height vs. indoors that height wouldn't work, but the indoor larger aquarium one has a height advantage of a taller water column, so it's true in an indoor container at the very bottom the water is dirtier, but you the thin layer of sand keeps it from being black water there, and you only notice it when scooping out all the water for a water change, but it should just be lightly tan near the very bottom. I really ought to add short bulletins because this is longer to read. The sword plant in that container, the leaves sitting out of the water is from: https://aquariumplants.com/collectio...nodorus-ozelot, and when I had it in a gallon container in the window with just sand and gravel at the bottom, and dropped in some topsoil, when I added triple ten fertilizer to that, it flowered in the window, but now it's in the larger outdoor pot outside and brought indoors at night.

Last edited by ntdsc; 09-10-2019 at 06:32 PM. Reason: ...
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post #8 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 07:22 PM Thread Starter
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I think you can make it work if you have an outdoor composter (filled with water and the one time I saw it was when I had soil on the bottom) that makes foam from having water, the composter covered, and you can scoop out foam to put in the aquarium. The compost foam counteracts bacteria and if you cover the composter it should inhibit algae growth in the composter that must be in the sun so when you scoop the foam out you're not bringing algae. Like having a 33 gallon clear sterilite container in the sun with soil on the bottom, then cap it with pea gravel, then massive amounts of dried grass clippings and say a bag of mulch from lowe's, their red or black large clear bags of mulch that are already in the sun and smell like compost at lowe's so it will start your compost. The foam should look like the foam at the bottom of a dam that gets stirred up. I don't have a composter outside yet but will start one. And if you start a composter before you make the aquarium, mixing some of the compost with the soil that's in the aquarium when it's set up initially will keep the soil from going bad.
OK I believe you, please try that and report back after you have a nice healthy carpet of a high light demanding foreground plant free of algae. And then when you need to redo the carpet how your going to keep the cap neatly on top from the soil.

High light and aquascaping generally don't work with soil-based tanks because it's too messy when you have to move things around and the organic level is high and causes issues with high light. If you look at most walstad tanks they have the usual easy to grow plants and aren't heavily scaped. Not to say it can't be done, it's just much, much more difficult and certainly not something for a novice.
like i said earlier i saw this ryhzo mat at petco to really cap the hrll out of the soil but dont know if that would defeat the purpose of having soil. Is root to soil contact the key here. Or is it just having the nutrients availible in that soil just as good. In a perfect world in my head i thought soil with homemade clay tabs, rhyzo mat, and then aquasoil or eco complete. Here is the link to the rhyzo mat for reference: https://www.petsmart.com/fish/decor-..._content%3AGSC - Medium - Specialty - Fish %7C *Catch All%2Cutm_campaign%3AGSC - Medium - Specialty - Fish&utm_medium=PLA&utm_source=google

Also here is a link to the tank im going to experiment with for now im not sure if the light that comes with it would be adequate enough for whatbim trying to do.

https://www.chewy.com/fluval-spec-aq...-kit/dp/152022
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post #9 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 07:27 PM
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What are you trying to DSM? That's really what it comes down to.


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post #10 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 07:50 PM Thread Starter
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What are you trying to DSM? That's really what it comes down to.
since im not running Co2 the conventional way with tank and reg. Im taking DIY approach, id like to just get a nice carpet going with HC, but if that doesnt seem like a vaible option id be okay with monte calro. Like k said im pretty new to the hobby any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated i dont really know the limits to what i can and cant do here with the different parameters of what im doing.
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post #11 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 08:02 PM
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What I'm saying is that the dirt will turn dark if initially you add something like dried grass clippings that have composted into the soil, it will turn the soil darker than the light tan without adding compost initially. Looking at the side of the aquarium it would look dark. The gravel layer is not high so above you could put dark pebbles on top, but just digging down beneath the topsoil you have clay right there you can use as your base, and mix composted grass clippings in with that. Once that's in with the soil it will gradually darken the soil over a few weeks, but you need to add larger gravel (1/2" and 2" to the soil all mixed in) and sand to add rigidity so you can have more soil up to 3 1/2 inches with the gravel cover just above it and all that height together is 3 1/2 inches, plus a thin sand cover of finer sand like in the outdoor area of lowe's to filter the black water from coming up, because if you do water changes and find you're down to the bottom and the water is black, you don't have the very thin sand layer to block the soil from leeching above.

What you're saying is you want a dark substrate, but the soil will turn dark when the compost that you add is strong compost, and the compost will turn dark, turning the soil dark as well. That is, a composter that's outdoors in the sun under a tarp. Adding a bag of organic soil is not compost, because you'd know the smell as a strong farm manure smell from several feet away, and that requires an outdoor composter.
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post #12 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 08:10 PM
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since im not running Co2 the conventional way with tank and reg. Im taking DIY approach, id like to just get a nice carpet going with HC, but if that doesnt seem like a vaible option id be okay with monte calro. Like k said im pretty new to the hobby any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated i dont really know the limits to what i can and cant do here with the different parameters of what im doing.
HC will more than likely die off after you flood the tank without co2. it also needs strong light. Strong light, soil and no c02 is a very bad combination in terms of algae control since soil-based tanks are high on organics.

The monte carlo is a better choice, but might still be a challenge depending on light. Either way if your planning on an aquascape of sorts, you will eventually want to move things around and have to redo the monte carlo carpet. This doesn't play nice with soil and a cap. Your going to make things very difficult for youself being new to the hobby. Your better off using either a made for aquarium soil like aquasoil or just using a sand and dosing the water column.


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post #13 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 08:40 PM Thread Starter
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since im not running Co2 the conventional way with tank and reg. Im taking DIY approach, id like to just get a nice carpet going with HC, but if that doesnt seem like a vaible option id be okay with monte calro. Like k said im pretty new to the hobby any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated i dont really know the limits to what i can and cant do here with the different parameters of what im doing.
HC will more than likely die off after you flood the tank without co2. it also needs strong light. Strong light, soil and no c02 is a very bad combination in terms of algae control since soil-based tanks are high on organics.

The monte carlo is a better choice, but might still be a challenge depending on light. Either way if your planning on an aquascape of sorts, you will eventually want to move things around and have to redo the monte carlo carpet. This doesn't play nice with soil and a cap. Your going to make things very difficult for youself being new to the hobby. Your better off using either a made for aquarium soil like aquasoil or just using a sand and dosing the water column.
Hmm what would i have to dose it with?
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post #14 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 08:51 PM
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Adding fertilizer to water will cause it to have a smell under high lights with soil. If you try to make an outdoor composter or even a small indoor one under some type of heat, you could possibly use that in lieu of fertilizer and the compost won't cause a smell. However, adding fertilizer at least triple 10 makes the water undrinkable for me.
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post #15 of 29 (permalink) Old 09-10-2019, 08:56 PM
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Adding fertilizer to water will cause it to have a smell under high lights with soil. If you try to make an outdoor composter or even a small indoor one under some type of heat, you could use that to tame the algae and maybe be able to add fertilizer with soil interesting
Have you ever grown HC, Glosso, DHG or any other light demanding carpet plant? Have you ever done a DSM? Your talking all this ecology but your not giving anything applicable to what OP is trying to do. If you have can you show a few pics please?


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