Spent 2 weeks reading close to 50 scientific studies, attempted to create recipe for soil - The Planted Tank Forum
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Spent 2 weeks reading close to 50 scientific studies, attempted to create recipe for soil

Disclaimer: This extremely long article was written for a slightly different audience (on average not nearly as knowlegable about aquatic ecology as users here are, hence some "basic" stuff) on another website, reader discretion is advised. Long story short it's about soil and how it pertains to a Closed ecological system.

I am posting it here because this is a culmination of two weeks of studying in a vain attempt to create soil from scratch that would work the best for my applications which is for it to be used in a Closed Aquatic Ecological System (CAES). A fancy way of saying a large glass jar built based off what I have learned to make it self-sustaining with the goal of plant life and animal life lasting 10 years. So considering I invested 2 weeks and read close to 50 scientific studies, I kinda wanted to just share a little of what I learned along the way, and what "Recipe" I came up with, though I abandoned the project, some might like to see my idea, which isn't set in stone then or now. I never did solve the soaking clay in fertilizer problems though, another reason for the abandonment. Despite all that I would still like to share what I learned, what I came up with after sinking so much time into something crazy like that. I also wrote this article on Steady-State Systems and Ecological Models hosted on my website http://thelifejar.com/steady-state.html

Article on soil begins below this text, the longer my article are for this particular audience the more humor I try to include in it to keep their attention :P.

Load her up!
When I was making a Jarrarium or CES (Closed Ecological System, faster to type) and I was relatively knew to the hobby I became obsessed with adding as many nutrients as I could to the soil. I knew enough to know that healthy soil with lots of organic matter and nutrients was a good thing.... Right?Well, I found out both those things were wrong. Too much organic matter (OM) in a small sealed container can be bad for a few reasons (I posted an article here about one reason, and the second is the dreaded toxic chemical production by anaerobic bacteria that it can cause). I also learned that while higher nutrients is typically good, like most things, too much can be a bad thing. As far as raw nutrients go how much you can fit isn't what's important, what's more important is the balance between all your nutrients. A CES with perfectly balanced nutrients will do better, be healthier and last longer than a CES with more yet unbalanced ratios of nutrients.

Howard Odum in his book "Ecological Microcosms" co-wrote with Robert Beyers, says this:

...Both in nature stressed by pollution and in microcosms, ecosystems with excess unused resources tend to have low diversity. Under these conditions, high rates of gross production do not require much cycling or division of labor. Maximum net production is favored by the most adapted net producer overgrowing the rest. Intense competition occurs with simplicity and low diversity, and without many control organism. The most rapid converters produce organic products of low quality, high turnover, and little permanence, because all their energies go into maximizing net conversion rather than organizing structure. Thus, power is maximized with a simple design, if there are large inflow of nutrients.
It doesn't make an ecosystem like nature, but one where there is little competition and things are just consuming and growing quickly with little checks or balances. A CES with balanced, lower nutrients will form "tighter" controls and cycles to promote itself to run as efficiently as possible. This in turn makes it easier for a CES's to self-organize and self-balance itself into a steady-state or homeostatis. I explain Steady-states and Ecological Models in my article here.

So too much organic matter? Bad. Too much nutrients? Not ideal at all. Nutrient ratios?

They can actually irreversibly break certain processes and cycles! This is what the BioSphere II experiment discovered, they fertilized their soil too much and their carbon to nitrogen ratio was very high (13:1 17:1) leading to dangerous levels of CO2 and N2O in it's atmosphere. Indeed, there would have been greater problems but the concrete walls interfered with the experiment and absorbed some of the CO2 and created sodium carbonate or bicarbonate if I remember correctly. The true effect of this wildly disproportionate ratio will never be known. What we do know, is that it's not just the C:N ratio in the soil that mattered, it was the total pool of C and N in the entire BioSphere. We can apply that to our CES, C:N is very important but not just the C:N in the soil, the C:N in entire system. Makes sense when you think about it, lots of nutrients and matter are cycling around.

The C:N is particularly important because this ratio has to do with organic matter decomposition. OM decomposition and nutrient cycling go hand in hand. And you shouldn't think of decomposition without thinking of the various nutrients and their specific cycles. When this C:N ratio is off, it interrupts decomposition.If decomposition isn't occurring, or if it's occurring inefficiently, it's going to interfere with the other nutrient cycles as well. And if all your nutrient cycles are disrupted in what is supposed to be a "self-sustaining" ecosystem. Well, it's not going to be self-sustaining for long.When I get to the organic matter section of my soil recipe I mention compost, but specifically "high quality" compost and not just "compost". High quality compost is going to be made with a specific C:N ratio (25-30:1) so that decomposition of that OM will be most efficient.

This is one piece that absolutely needs to be in place in soil to ensure healthy organic matter and efficient nutrient cycling. If it's not, bacteria cannot do their job properly/efficiently or maybe at all and our nutrient cycles will be negatively effected or break entirely. And if we don't have soil performing it's functions properly that's a big problem because the soil performs many essential function we need operating at full capacity and as efficiently as possible.

The Ripple Effect of a poor C:N ratio in a CES
Everything is connected in nature and especially in our CES. A poor C:N ratio wont just effect bacteria and their ability to decompose OM, and it wont just effect our nutrient cycles. Respiration only occurs when bacteria are actively breaking down OM will be negatively effected by poor C:N ratios. And bacterial respiration in soil is the primary CO2 producer for plants in a CES. Also, if bacteria cannot break down OM very well, and produce enough nutrients, the plants, an important "primary producer" of the food chain could suffer nutrient deficiency, stunted growth, partial decay, or even die. That's why "base" cycles, "base" materials like DOM, and "base" organisms in the food chain (like those in the microbial loop) are absolutely essential to keep working properly and deserve a lot of our focus.

Side fact: A dead leaf goes through various stages of decay. The final product of Organic matter decomposition is humus, to be more specific Humic and Fulvic acids. Humic acid's chemical composition is: C187H186O89N9S1 and Fulvic acid's is: C135H182O95N5S2. Notice anything about their C:N ratios? That's right, the same ratio that's used to make high quality compost.

Needless to say, after my first round of research I was only beginning to understand the importance soil would have to the stability, and longevity of my CES and in addition, how that would ripple through the entire ecosystem.

What's wrong with soil you can buy at a store or retrieve from a lake? Nothing really.

But organic potting soil really only has a lifespan of 6 months to a year. It's usable and could last in a CES for years, because remember, conservation of matter! Those nutrients aren't escaping a sealed container. However, a soil with such a short lifespan simply doesn't appeal to me. Personally, I think manufacturers make loads of money from fertilizers they have no reason to make a soil that's mean to last, you buy the soil then you come back in 6 months to buy fertilizer. Lawn soil is the same, the manufacturers expect the consumer to re-fertilize the soil every year at least. In my Closed Ecological System re-fertilization isn't an option.

Additionally, lawn soils and potting soils will work but theres another thing to consider these are terrestrial soils, they are made with different percentages of soil components, and they are fertilized in specific ways, for terrestrial use.... They simply aren't designed to be aquatic soils. Natural soil that has been collected outside gets replenished regularly too. These soils are made for different purposes so I started to wonder if it was possible to make a soil that would be better suited to my needs?

Interactive Portion of the article!
Visualizing a Simple Ecological Model of a Nutrient Cycle. With a Pop Quiz at the end! 98.7% of people can't get all 5!
Now picture a simple illustrated ecological model, start simply with a large box. Picture a circle labelled "light" on the left outside area of the box with an arrow going from it into the box, this represents how our CES gets energy, now draw your attention to the outside of the right side of the box, no circle, but you do see an arrow coming from inside the box crossing over the boxes right vertical border line and exiting it, this represents heat energy leaving our CES. Looking inside the box now you see a handful of smaller boxes with lines coming and going to and from each one, some straight, some arching but all of them are connected to something else, sometimes it's hard to tell how they are all connected but you get the sense everything is connected to everything else somehow.

Among the messy crossing of lines, which you can now tell are arrows, and within the large box that the light is entering, you see a handful of smaller boxes. They appear to be labelled, bacteria, algae, snails, plants, clam shrimp, "I wouldn't eat that" You think. "Shhh I'm not asking you to", I whisper back. Each box has a size proportional to it's importance, to the stability of the ecosystem. Most of the 5 boxes you just saw are about the same size. But then you notice it, how could you not? In the very center of the large box containing the smaller boxes is the largest box of them all. You quickly notice it has lines going in and out of it, more than any other box, a lot more. You obviously take this to what it means, it's more directly connected to everything. This box is labelled too, it reads: "Dead Organic Matter".

Intrigued, you wonder what the point of this whole thing is. You figure it out on your own. After some thought you realized that the "job" of the ecosystem, and reason for all those interconnected boxes and arrows going in and out of al the boxes in what you can only tell at the point is some kind of confusing loop, is actually this thing performing a function. "But What?!"

You slap yourself in the forehead because the box is clearly labelled, "Life and Death cycle simulator" "uh" you mutter under your breath. You look closer at the diagram... "Ah yes, obviously, the job of this large box is to assemble life and disassemble life and just keep repeating that by using these arrows and smaller boxes, that wasn't so hard to understand."

Pondering for a moment. You come to a realization, proud of yourself, you explain it out loud:

"So if it's true that this big boxe's "job" is to just assemble life and disassemble life over and over in a loop and everything else going on inside the big box that is not directly doing performing that function is indirectly supporting it...Then is it also true that this large box representing Dead Organic or Dead plant and animal matter in the center of it all is where that cycle definitely starts and definitely ends?

"Ok, so the box representing all the dead organic matter is the beginning of the cycle providing nutrients to plants, algae, bacteria and anything else that might feed upon it who then turn that dead matter into...well...their own living matter and grow in size or reproduce, essentially turning what was the unusable dead matter into new life and additional living matter which can then be used as energy (food) for assembling even more complex life, and up the food chain it goes assembling life. While at the same time organisms are producing waste and dying and the process of disassembly of life begins and just like the assembly of life, the disassembly of life ends in the same place the assembly of life began! It all starts and ends there with the dead organic matter!"

Can you accurately identify which organism belongs to which box?

Your choices are: Bacteria, Algae, Snails, Plants and Clam Shrimp.... You smugly lean back in your chair and cross your arms. "Herein resides ecosystem stability..."

"I get it, you claim that maintaing a pool of fast cycling Dissolved Organic Matter is one of the most important cycles to get right when building a CES. But are you a real science man or just a wannabe?"
"I can assure, I am a wannabe. I have no lab coat, but I do own a comfortable pair of Simpsons sweatpants. But you don't have to believe me (except about the sweatpants)! Check out this sweet quote:"


"In planktonic systems, extreme fluctuations in population sizes of both producers and consumers are quite typical (Wetzel, 1983, p. 702; 1984; Hairston & Hairston,

1993). The living components generally exhibit rapid oscillations of productivity and of heterotrophy by consumers in an opportunistic series of competitive responses to rapid changes in availability of constraining factors governing growth and mortality. In contrast, the dominant pool of organic carbon in the dissolved form. 88 R.G. Wetzel as well as particulate organic carbon, is both large and relatively recalcitrant to rapid microbial heterotrophy. From the standpoint of the composite energy flow of the ecosystem, it is irrelevant whether the organic carbon is in particulate or dissolved form. From the standpoint of metabolic stability, however, it is particularly important that most of the organic carbon is dissolved and relatively recalcitrant, which ameliorates the violent oscillations so characteristic of the particulate components of the ecosystem.

Herein resides ecosystem stability: a large pool of slowly degrading organic matter is maintained because of the combined complex chemical structure of the dissolved organic substrates and because much of the particulate organic matter is displaced to reducing, anoxic environments (want to avoid in our Jarrariums, can't entirely avoid anaerobic activity though) of the littoral and profundal (no deep water in our Jarrariums) sediments. Animal trophic couplings and energy flows are one component of but do not control ecosystem energy fluxes and stability. Rather, the large pool of organic carbon, and particularly of dissolved organic carbon largely of higher plant origins, provides this stability and is the currency for the quantitatively more imprtant detrital pathways in aquatic ecosystems." - "Death, detritus, and energy flow in aquatic ecosystems.

That is why I focused on the organic matter component of my soil so much, and I truly spent a lot of time searching for and reading scientific studies. If the above quote wasn't enough consider this one as well:

The most frequent outcome of longer term closure is a collapse of the ecological system due to imbalances in the autotrophic and heterotrophic gas fluxes (O2 vs. CO2) and/or the nutrient release and uptake cycles (waste decomposition vs. nutrient absorption). - The role of closed ecological systems in carbon cycle modelling
Now we know the two things to get right, maintaining a large pool of fast cycling DOM and O2/CO2 respiration. Which I will tell you right now that an ecosystem is considered nice and balanced when production and respiration is at or very close to a 1:1 ratio. In fact, It appears to be the best indicator of a balanced ecosystem out of all the other methods that are tested and sometimes used.

"Hey nothreat33, weren't you supposed to like, show me your soil recipe?

"whoa calm down over there, try to contain your excitement over the my advancement in....dirt science. Here it is:

*To keep this a tad bit less than the full length book it is turning into*, I simply wrote the "what's" and left out all the "why's" and explaining why I chose to do things a certain way, a lot of thought went into this as you can see by how many scientific studies I read and how much I researched. So if you have any questions or suggestions about anything relating to the scientific studies referenced at the bottom or would like me to go into more detail or are curious why I did something a different way or didn't do something please ask me.......anything.... please just don't let my two weeks of work generate no interest *puts hands together in praying fashion*.... Although I shouldn't be surprised, I spent two weeks researching how to make dirt, what sane person does that? *

Without further ado, My soil recipe after all my research:
(Important Note:This is my "how much work can I make this be for myself?" recipe, I have an alternate "This is much more practical, /u/aggressiveeagle**, I'm glad you calmed down." recipe I like very much also)**

--25% Granite Rock Dust

--20% Azomite Rock Dust (Kinda a scammy product)

--40% Ca-Montmorillonite Clay, Pulverized (Sold as: Safe-T-Sorb Absorbent):

[Broken into:

50% soaked in diluted Flourish Nutrient fertilizers (Potassium, Phosphorus, and trace elements) for an hour. The other 50% soaked in container of water and the Organic Matter (OM) mix (see:below).]

--10% Organic Matter:

[Broken into:

28% "Fresh" Dead Plant Organic Matter (relatively fresh, as in a week or 2)

*For the "freshly" Dead organic matter component

37% quality compost filtered into 0.053 mm and 2 mm sizes.

*For the Particulate Organic Matter (POM) component to soil

35% activated charcoal granules soaked in "Worm Tea" for 2-4 weeks outdoors

*For Dissolved Organic Matter (DOM) + bacteria establishment for those two components to soil

5% activated charcoal granules soaked in pure humic and fulvic acid

*The end result of Organic Matter Decomposition for all the benefits humic compounds provide


{Organic Matter Soaking Mix}:

Quantity: Mix made to be 1/4 the amount of the clay you will soak in it

- 55% "Fresh" Dead Plant Organic Matter (relatively fresh, as in a week or 2)

*For the "freshly" Dead organic matter component

-40% quality compost filtered into 0.053 mm and 2 mm sizes.

*For the Particulate Organic Matter (POM) component to soil

-5% Worm Castings

*For high nutrients and humus content


2-4 weeks before you need the soil...make worm tea and begin soaking the activated charcoal granules in it for 2-4 weeks.

....2-4 weeks later...Gather your materials and start your engines, because you're boarding the earth train to soil town......

1)Mix Rock Dusts,

"...mmm that's a lot of elements..."

2)Pulverize Safe-T-Sorb Clay into smallest size particles possible.

"....Like a gorilla observing rain forest destruction.."

3)Prepare separate diluted solutions of each fertilizer and soak 50% of the "Naked Clay" for one hour to achieve a "charged" clay rich in nutrients but at safe levels, and in proper ratios.

"....Best if done in white lab coat for effect, NO pants."

*NOTE ABOUT STEP 3: I never figured out dilution levels or what the nutrient content of the end result of soaking for each fertilizer would be. I couldn't answer many questions like: Ca is bound already to the clay, what other cations can knock that off and replace it are some I want not capable? In my trace solution with many cations I want surely they wont all bind at equal levels, do they compete with each other? Which one would bind more quickly and more strongly? If I could figure out how much "x" cation is bound, how do I tell if it's a safe amount? I am also dealing with self-pulverized clay surface area is unreliable and a huge factor as well, even if I found answers, my clay's absorption potential wouldn't be known exactly due to particle size This is the major reason why I gave up on this project. I could not tackle these questions. A work around to my inability to know everything I want to isn't to quit, but to simply perform experiments with the charged clay and growing some plants in some jars with different strengths of dilutions used. Pick the best looking plant and you have your answer.

Assuming you figured how to do step 3, we can continue with the recipe....

4)Remove fertilizer "charged" Clay from fertilizer soaking containers. Safely dispose of diluted fertilized water.

"Walk into your front yard holding fertilizer juice in both hands, yes with the lab coat. with your hands held out to your side and humming loudly to "the sound of music" look into the sky and spin in circles, dumping the fertilizer juice as you go. Take no less than 3 spins to do so."

5)Rinse charged clay well with RO (reverse osmosis) water, or distilled, no spring or tap. Set aside.

"While rinsing, tap your toes and bob your head from left to right, the song from earlier in the yard is still stuck in your head."

6)Pour Organic Matter Mix (see:above) into cooking pot, add water and the other 50% of "Naked" Clay, heat on stove to 100-110F allow to soak for 40 minutes.

"Scream into the pot, this frightens the water, generating heat."

7)Strain water out, mix Clay and remainder of Organic Matter Mix together. Dry

"While Straining, call the the water soft for being scared easily. Then dose it with Seachem Equilibrium to increase hardness."

8) Make the rest of the 10% Organic Matter part of the soil, not the {soaking mix} OM.

"It's time to bake a pretty cake. IT'S THE WAY YOU MAKE IT."

9)Mix The rock dust, both types of charged Clay, and 10% Organic Matter (the first OM recipe, not {soaking mix})

"You gotta do the cooking by the book, you know you can't be lazy."

10) Use a 1-1.5 inch cap of gravel size Clay particles as a "cap" to the soil. It is without a doubt the best material to use to cap soil with.

"Place each piece of clay by hand, you've gone this far. Finish with perfection. You can do it. Believe in yourself like you want others to. I believe in you, and I don't even you. Are you ok? That problem you have?It's ok, dude, most of us will go through it. Try this: Start calling it an inconvenience, it will psychologically make you feel like it's not as big of a deal, and really, if your "problem" is something you can solve by taking positive steps forward, an inconvenience is really what is it. Until you face something terrible in which you have no way of improving or effecting, like your infant son with terminal brain cancer and a month to live, that's when you have a problem, till then, your "problem" you can fix with the right choices? That's only an inconvenience . And always remember: Mood follows action. Stop waiting.

Final step: Capping with this clay will absorb excess leaching nutrients and organic matter which could turn the water yellow or brown, and nutrients we want to keep in the soil for plants to access when they need it, not a lot floating around in the water column being food for algae, or fast plant growth for a short time.

With my soil recipe, it will hopefully change that, at least to a noticeable degree.

Firstly, the DOM that could float around the water column is bound to the activated charcoal, sitting and ready to be consumed by bacteria in the soil which has already established itself when we soaked it for 2-4 weeks in "Tea" from Worm Castings.

A detour: Why pre-"charge" the activated charcoal in Worm tea for so long?

We do this to ensure this aspect of an essential ecological cycle is up and running. Our jarrariums are like factories containing various cycles and processes assembling and disassembling "product", we want them at best up and running before we seal them (and at an efficient speed, which in our case is always fast, fast cycles/processes are most preferred for small ecosystems) or second best, the material present and ready for the cycles/processes to begin. That's ideal, what's not is: A jarrarium that's sealed, without an up and running cycle or process, like one with Dead Organic Matter present but bacteria not established and even worse, a sealed jarrarium without Dead Organic Matter present, require a significant "lag" time for Dead Organic Matter to build up and then bacteria to establish themselves for the nutrient cycle and decomposition processes to begin.

...And we're back, to me explaining why I think this soil recipe is something worth trying. The activated charcoal absorbed a large amount of DOM and is now home to a very large population of beneficial bacteria. Since POM is part of the Organic Matter component I didn't explain how to make that, but for POM you'd filter the best compost you could find through a filter using warm water to get out very small particles and then "wash" out as much of the DOM and humic compounds with warm water as possible. We do want this stuff, but if we don't wash it out of the POM it'll leach and maybe discolor the water. We get the DOM and humic compounds another way that wont leach.

The effect of turning the water brown and yellow because of the pure humic and fulvic acid is neutralized because we soaked activated charcoal in it, which absorbed a large very beneficial amount of it . The soaking bound the humic compounds to the charcoal removing it's ability to leach into the water column. Instead, they are held within the soil where they perform most of their beneficial functions for the ecosystem.

There is always going to be some amount of leaching of nutrients and humic compounds out of the soil into the water column, but with the soil I created here, I think it will greatly reduced. The cap of uncharged clay on top is the insurance policy. Any nutrients with a positive charge will become bound to the clay and not enter the water column. Likewise, with the humic and fulvic acid. Indeed, Diana Walstad herself proved the humus absorbing properties of Safe-T-Sorb Clay recently where she posted her findings to an aquarium forum. I got to participate in that thread, and she talked to me! I was star struck .

Look guys, I know I delve wat deeper than I really need to in order to make a Sealed Jarrarium, I also know easy it is to make one if all you want is random things in a jar to last 3-6 months. But if I'm doing this for the purpose of it being a sealed long term ecosystem? If I'm already giving it my time as that as my goal when I set out to make one....Why not attempt to really see how far I can push that? As far as I know, there are very very few people are going as deeply into this as I am, which makes me feel like I am "pioneering" something, as silly as that sounds. And that makes me feel like my life is worth something. Maybe saying that was too much, but it's like I have a goal to focus on and work towards. Life can seem kind of aimless for me sometimes. Anyway, if you've made it this far, thanks for reading.

The majority of what I read over the last two weeks, sorry for the lazy "citing".
This is the equivalent of throwing a stack of papers at you and going "Here are my references bitch." I'll try to cite specifically when requested. I'm probably missing a few as I just went through and wrote down articles I could tell by the name had something to do with soil, or humus or clay, etc. That I read that I know contributed to me writing this or my knowledge up to this point. Some other articles were less specific but still helped, might not have caught them...or remembered their titles....

Fundamentals of Soil Behavior (I believe one of these is an actual book, I did not read the whole thing)

Fundamentals of Soil Ecology (I believe one of these is an actual book, I did not read the whole thing)

Introduction to the mechanics of a continuous medium

Soil Microbiology, Ecology and Biochemistry

Soils, Plants and Clay Minerals: Mineral and biologic reactions

Adsorption of soil deprived humic acid by seven clay minerals

Exchange sensitivity of Ca Fe2 and Ca2

Death, detritus and energy flow in aquatic ecosystems

Ecosystem succession, nutrient Cycling and output-input ratios

Effects of cation exchange on the pore and surface structure and adsorption characteristics of montmorillonite

Effects of phosphorus and allochthonous humic matter enrichment on the metabolic processes and community structure of plankton in a boreal lake.

Equilibria of the base-exchange reactions of bentonites, permutites, soil colloids , and zeolites

Experimental demonstration of the roles of bacteria and bacterivorous

Humic substances as electron acceptors for microbial respiration

Humic Substances

Influence of acid activation on natural calcium montmorillonite

influence of pH on the interlayer cationic composition and hydration state of Ca-montmorillonite: Analytical chemistry, chemical modelling and XRD profile modelling study

Ion exchange in soils from the ion pairs K-Ca

Ion exchange isotherms of montmorillonite

Microbial Methanogenesis and acetate metabolism in a meromictic lake

Modelling the sorption of Mn(II), Co(II), Ni(II), Zn(II), Cd(II), Eu(III), Am(III), Sn(IV), Th(IV), Np(V) and U(VI) on montmorillonite: Linear free energy relationships and estimates of surface binding constants for some selected heavy metals and actinides

Molecular simulation of humic substance–Ca-montmorillonite complexes


Nutrient cycling in shallow, oligotrophic lake kvie, denmark

Organic matter, humu, humate, humic acid, fulvic acid and humin

Phosphate Adsorption Reactions with Clay Minerals

Phosphorus Cycle of Model Ecosystems: Significance for Decomposer Food Chains and Effect of Bacterial Grazers

Release of dissolved organic carbon by grazing zooplankton

Soil amendments and fertilizers

Some aspects of clay-humus complexation

Studies on decomposition of humus in clay-humus complexes

Studies on the thermodynamics of zinc exchange in montmorillonite

The influence of humic substances on lacustrine planktonic food chains

34)The modified niche model-including detritus in simple structural food web models

35) the thermodynamics of cation exchange in vermiculite

36) The total base exchange capacity of the soil and it's relation to the humus and clay content

37) Thermodynamics of K-Ca ion exchange in soils

38) Production, consumption and nutrient cycling in a laboratory mesocosm.

39) Analysis and characterization of natural organic matters

40) Phylogenetic diversity promotes ecosystem stability

41) Cause-Effect relationships in energy flow, trophic structure, and interspecific interactions

42) Interactions between bacteria and algae in aquatic ecosystems

43) Role of Microbes in pelagic food webs a revised concept

44) The Role of Closed Ecological Systems in carbon cycle modelling

45) Ecological Microcosms by Robert Beyers and Howard T. Odum
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@DaveKS I'd be interested to see what you had to say.

I've been reading a lot Dave. I'm trying very hard to learn! writing articles like these solidifies the information I read. Sorry If I'm wrong about a things. Don't be too harsh!

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Also, this "recipe" just happens to to be one of the points where I gave up after realizing the complexity of it all. It's not the final thing, if I ever get there, I might, just taking a break, this is my work so far. After I gave up, I went back and simplified the recipe to something more practical (copy and pasted from my notes):

60% organic garden soil
-I could soak this in Clay to capture good stuff released

20% Montmorillonite Clay [40]
-Mix with garden soil above and let soak for a few days.

5% Particulate Organic Matter (compost, this % coming from the 10% fertilizer below)

10% OrganicMechanic's biochar blend (50%), compost (most other % probably),
worm casting, alfalfa meal, kelp meal, bonechar, zeolite and azomite mix

I'm not sure how much of that biochar fertilizer blend is compost, (which I need to include as my 5-8% organic matter, but it's 50% biochar and those other things, which can't take up big %'s I wouldn't think. I'm assuming the rest is just regular compost.

10% homemade biochar with store bought aquarium activated carbon
-Charged with humic compounds

I might have to pre-soak soil and pre-made biochar in activated carbon and clay to soak up leaching humic substances and nutrients

-Rusty Nail
-Root tabs
-Colloidal phosphate

As you can see it's still a work in progress. But I do want:

-My own biochar charged with liquid humic acid, or soaked in worm castings which has higher humus than soil, so basically the same as soaking it in liquid humic acid, perhaps better that I do not know (fulvic acid?). I wanted pure humic acid for the benefits it has, but not in my water column giving my brown water, needed to be in soil, hence the activated charcoal.

-BioChar for all it's awesome benefits (see below) (That biochar blend specifically for

-For it's additional ingredients: kelp meal and alfalfa meal also:

-Also for Zeolite and Azomite "rock dust". Rock dust I hear so much mixed information about but these two are always prominently mentioned. They supposedly have some near magical ability to be what microbes and plants need. If you don't know what it is, it's "rock dust" packed with a crazy diverse amount of elements, 70 or so I believe. Way more than average rock elemental makeup in soil.
Plants only need 16-20 something around there. I am ignorant of what other microbes or animals require though. But do plants need all that? No way, I'd put my money on it. Plants wouldnt' evolve to require soil with that elemental mackup when that rock is only in select places in the entire world. But some people swear by it, others claim it's a big scam. I'm leaning towards scam. While weathering of rock is a way to get nutrients, that's an extremely slow process like a 100 years easily more.
Needless to say I'm skeptical. I am sure there are elements in there bacteria can use, and same with plants. Does all 70 and make a difference? Probably not, hell 70 elements is a lot. I'd put money on it that if you used too much of that stuff you'd do more harm than good. But the part of me that wants to check and double check and make sure I don't "leave anything behind" when I seal off a Closed Ecosystem I invest a lot of time building makes me lean towards, "well, better safe than sorry" and "if it can't hurt why not?" But If it can hurt than no, obviously.

It was actually pretty amazing, I had created a rough draft kind of recipe before I discovered this biochar blend fertilizer and my recipe contained biochar, phosphorus and an (Mg)+Ca supplement (but not using bonechar like they do. And my recipe had rock dust, and I specifically chose Azomite. And I'm somewhat certain because of the %'s they listed and other ingredients along with it being a "fertilizer" it contains a good amount of regular compost as well, another thing in my recipe for my soil.
So when I found This BioChar Blend fertilizer that matched a good portion of my recipe almost ingredient per ingredient I knew it was the one for me, in my "practical" recipe.


Benefits of Humic and Fulvic acid (As I know @DaveKS knows) include:

Liberates carbon dioxide from soil calcium carbonate and enables its use in photosynthesis
Increases soil carbon
Improves plant health
Improves germination and viability of seeds
Chelates macro and micro nutrients to increase availability to the plant for a longer period of time
Increases cation exchange capacity (CEC)
Improves soil structure for better aeration and water movement
Stimulates beneficial microorganisms, which can improve long-term soil pH

My biochar will be LFS bought activated carbon that I will soak it in. Without activated charcoal any addition of liquid humic acid would simply turn my water horribly brown, and matter containing it would leach. I do not want my biochar to necessarily house bacteria, that is for the fertilizer biochar to do, mine will be a container for humic acid to hold in soil. That's what I'm thinking anway.

I discovered biochar after stumbling upon Terra Preta which is a mix of clay and charcoal combined with manure, compost and bone. These soils show high levels of microbial activities. In the rain forest where it's very hard to farm scientists found Natives using Terra Preta and they found the soil was still very fertile after 1000 years....in the rain forest. That's extremely impressive. Terra Preta has 13-14% organic matter which is very high compared to the "ideal" we think of as 6-8% and 9% low temp charcoal. It becomes "biochar" after it absorbs organic matter and cultivates a robust population of beneficial bacteria.

Here are my copy and pasted notes on the benefits of Terra Preta and biochar:

The chemical structure of charcoal in terra preta soils is characterized by poly-condensed aromatic groups that provide prolonged biological and chemical stability against microbial degradation; it also provides, after partial oxidation, the highest nutrient retention.

Fresh charcoal must be "charged" before it can function as a biotope.[42] Several experiments demonstrate that uncharged charcoal can bring a provisional depletion of available nutrients when first put into the soil - until its pores fill with nutrients. This is overcome by soaking the charcoal for two to four weeks in any liquid nutrient (urine, plant tea, etc.).

****[May charge it, not with pure Flourish, but rather, Grandular Humic Acid (organic matter), because a biotope is a tiny environment and a tiny environment needs more than one thing to function.]]

Charcoal's high absorption potential of organic molecules (and of water) is due to its porous structure.[7] Terra preta's high concentration of charcoal supports a high concentration of organic matter (on average three times more than in the surrounding poor soils)

****[[Keeps Organic molecules locked in soil available for bacteria there. Could likely help with generally keeping the water clear if it's knocked or something]]

****[[But unlike the above example, I don't really have to worry about my organic molecules in my substrate leaching like it would in a rainforest. A problem I would have more likely is the inactivity in my substrate. Should I look into Substrate organisms that might fit in my jars?]]

The absorption of P, K, Ca, Zn, and Cu by the plants increases when the quantity of available charcoal increases.

Amending with charcoal pieces approximately 20 millimeters (0.79 in) in diameter, instead of ground charcoal, did not change the results except for manganese (Mn), for which absorption considerably increased.

She points out that when pre-charged with these beneficial organisms biochar becomes an extremely effective soil amendment promoting good soil and, in turn, plant health.

improve plant responses to diseases caused by soilborne pathogens.

Modest additions of biochar to soil reduce nitrous oxide N
2O[53] emissions by up to 80% and eliminate methane emissions.

created a higher crop uptake of nutrients, and provided greater soil availability of nutrients.[58] At 10% levels biochar reduced contaminant levels in plants by up to 80%,

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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-05-2019, 08:03 PM
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Will warn you about azomite, youíll completely poison system with that much of it. I use it as extra trace in my top off water (ro), granular 1mm pellets. In that 1gal I put 4 pellets in bottom of gal jug, 1/3ml thrive and let it set overnight. Then I use that gal to keep a 6gal, 4gal and 1gal tank/bowls topped off through week. Any more than that and hair algae starts going nuts.

It has a lot of metals and odd traces in it that you donít want anything but micro amounts in water column. I mean how much rubidium do you actually need in your ecosystem? At rate you stated above copper and other metal readings would probably be off the charts and detrimental to many inverts.

I mean donít get me wrong, I noticed great improvements in snail shell luster as well as general health of them so I suspect to have a micro amounts of those traces is beneficial to micro flora/fauna in ecosystem including bacteria/archaea/fungi which actually support loops your trying to set up.

Also like idea of added charcoal but I wouldnít do anything to it but rinse it, maybe soak it in humic tea water you get while leaching soil during prep. Whole point of it would be to absorb limited elements you put in mini ecosystem and act more as a regulator of whatís there not to use it to bring in excessive amounts of extra nutrients.
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-05-2019, 09:41 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Will warn you about azomite, you’ll completely poison system with that much of it. I use it as extra trace in my top off water (ro), granular 1mm pellets. In that 1gal I put 4 pellets in bottom of gal jug, 1/3ml thrive and let it set overnight. Then I use that gal to keep a 6gal, 4gal and 1gal tank/bowls topped off through week. Any more than that and hair algae starts going nuts.

It has a lot of metals and odd traces in it that you don’t want anything but micro amounts in water column. I mean how much rubidium do you actually need in your ecosystem? At rate you stated above copper and other metal readings would probably be off the charts and detrimental to many inverts.

I mean don’t get me wrong, I noticed great improvements in snail shell luster as well as general health of them so I suspect to have a micro amounts of those traces is beneficial to micro flora/fauna in ecosystem including bacteria/archaea/fungi which actually support loops your trying to set up.

Also like idea of added charcoal but I wouldn’t do anything to it but rinse it, maybe soak it in humic tea water you get while leaching soil during prep. Whole point of it would be to absorb limited elements you put in mini ecosystem and act more as a regulator of what’s there not to use it to bring in excessive amounts of extra nutrients.
I dont know whether it was a lack of sleep or what but I removed that azomite very quickly after including it. I must not have updated my old recipe. After reading more about it I realized, yea, that much azomite would be straight up toxic.

Excess nutrients isnt a bad thing. You have to ensure they are utilized efficiently. And good overall nutrient cycling "starts" by getting that C:N ratio right. If that's not right tge other nutrient cycles will be effected. In the beginning there would be growth and competition for them but in the end it would lead to a closed ecosystem with tight-cycles and little net production. Exactly the kind of efficiency and growth I want in my attempt at a long term self-sustaining ecosystem.

The catch is the resources have to be in the right ratio sand balance. Ecosystems with excess unused nutrients have low diversity and high rates of gross production that dont require a lot of cycling or division of labor. Exactly what I dont want.

From: "Ecological Microcosms"


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