Capping dirt with gravel AND AS? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-08-2020, 11:31 PM Thread Starter
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Capping dirt with gravel AND AS?

Here me out, i read through the forum and many people are advising not to cap dirt with aquasoil. However, do you see it working better (not perfectly i know) if you lay lets say 1.5” of dirt, and .5” on gravel, then 2” of AS?

reason mainly, i like the idea of deep substrates, dont want to buy 8-9 bags of AS to achieve 3-4” of substrate... and i fell the dirt is great to kick start things while the AS is great for sustaining the tank in the long wrong.., all assuming i wont be moving the plants around.


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post #2 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-09-2020, 05:28 AM
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By "dirt" do u actually mean soil? Dirt has no nutrients and this word should not be used bc of how misleading it is.

Soil nutrients vary considerably depending on the contents. Is it primarily compost? If so, then it will likely contain high amounts of nutrients. If it's mostly forest mulch, there will be very little useable nutrients and it will not break down fast enough while buried deep under water.

As for capping soil with ADA Aquasoil, that's fine. You can just place the gravel as the base layer, then soil over it.
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post #3 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-09-2020, 03:37 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Rotala macrandra View Post
By "dirt" do u actually mean soil? Dirt has no nutrients and this word should not be used bc of how misleading it is.



Soil nutrients vary considerably depending on the contents. Is it primarily compost? If so, then it will likely contain high amounts of nutrients. If it's mostly forest mulch, there will be very little useable nutrients and it will not break down fast enough while buried deep under water.



As for capping soil with ADA Aquasoil, that's fine. You can just place the gravel as the base layer, then soil over it.


Yes, sorry, soil. Organic potting soil to be exact. As for the gravel, wouldn’t it be better to place between the soil and AS?


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post #4 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-09-2020, 05:24 PM
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Merriam Webster has dirt and soil as synonyms of each other. We don't need to go deeper into it then that for our purposes.

Anyway to the OP, there is zero reason to add dirt to a tank where you are planning to add aquasoil and lots of reasons not to. For one dirt is messy... really really messy. Its messy when setting up and messy down the road because you WILL have to pull plants at some point. Its messy if you end up with burrowing fish or inverts. The only reason we add soil to aquariums is that its an active substrate that is cheap. If you are buying 2" worth of aquasoil but want 4" of substrate then just mix your aquasoil with your other substrate of choice, sand, gravel, whatever. Or put down the aqusoil first then cap it with whatever you want. I have hairgrass in my Walstad bowl with roots that easily 4" long. I can see them through the glass side. And that's just hairgrass.. bigger plants, generally mean bigger roots.



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post #5 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-09-2020, 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Robo03 View Post
Yes, sorry, soil. Organic potting soil to be exact. As for the gravel, wouldn’t it be better to place between the soil and AS?
"Organic" is very misleading. A lot of the name brand "organic" soil has very little nutrients in it. Quality soil will feed plants for at least 6-12 months. However, these organic soils will only feed for 1-3 months. Quality soil will be comprised of well-decomposed matter and should contain a lot of compost.

Why would you want to put inert gravel between the two layers?

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Originally Posted by minorhero View Post
Merriam Webster has dirt and soil as synonyms of each other. We don't need to go deeper into it then that for our purposes.
This is a specialized interest forum. We should use specialized vocabulary to discuss these topics. A dictionary will never provide any subject-meaningful definitions, only generalized ones. Otherwise, advancement is slow as ignorance runs rampant.
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post #6 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 12:35 AM
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Actually we want the least nutrient rich dirt we can get. It's nutrient leech that causes algae blooms. The reality is that our plants use very little nutrients overall and we can recharge soil through fertilizer added to the water.

Words just exist to transmit thoughts from one person to another. If one person starts using a word under a different definition then everyone else it doesn't add specificity, it creates confusion. The term "dirt tank" or "dirted tank" is already part of the common vernacular in the planted aquarium hobby. If we as a community decide to start saying dirt doesn't exist in our tanks only soil, this increases confusion and language drift from everyone else who practices aquascaping. To the extent you wish to change the entire hobby so that folks recognize your definition of soil and a separate definition for dirt. Well, I have no idea how you go about doing that but I think you have a pretty uphill battle.



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post #7 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 12:41 AM
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Dirt is shorthand for potting soil here.

If you just say soil, some folks will think you mean potting soil, and some folks will think you mean commercial aquasoil, and some of us won't be sure.
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Last edited by Streetwise; 03-10-2020 at 02:26 AM. Reason: Edit
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post #8 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 04:27 AM Thread Starter
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The idea of the soil caped with gravel topped with a aqua soil is I would think that the .5” layer of gravel will help keep down the dirt and help prevent any cap breaches and help protect the soil from any disturbance from anything above. I know aqua soil is very light and easily kicked around...

I have set up 4 tanks in the past (all at different times) 2 dirtied and 2 ADA AS. The dirted tanks always grew the fastest but it only last 6-8 months and even with liquid fertz the growth was never the same after the initial months. AS for me never had the plants take off as rapidly as the soil tanks, BUT i got consistent growth for over a year. I was thinking about trying to combine both.




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post #9 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 06:27 AM
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Originally Posted by minorhero View Post
Actually we want the least nutrient rich dirt we can get. It's nutrient leech that causes algae blooms. The reality is that our plants use very little nutrients overall and we can recharge soil through fertilizer added to the water.
Nutrient leaching is the result of poor nutrient binding. A material that can hold on to high amounts of nutrients will supply plants for several months to years of growth. A material that quickly releases nutrients will not supply plants the necessary nutrients.

If you want an expensive, nutrient-poor commercial soil substrate, use ADA Aquasoil Amazonia II. The available nutrients are used within 3 months and plants start to stunt.

Quote:
Words just exist to transmit thoughts from one person to another. If one person starts using a word under a different definition then everyone else it doesn't add specificity, it creates confusion. The term "dirt tank" or "dirted tank" is already part of the common vernacular in the planted aquarium hobby. If we as a community decide to start saying dirt doesn't exist in our tanks only soil, this increases confusion and language drift from everyone else who practices aquascaping. To the extent you wish to change the entire hobby so that folks recognize your definition of soil and a separate definition for dirt. Well, I have no idea how you go about doing that but I think you have a pretty uphill battle.
Past ignorance should be shed in favor of advancement of knowledge and understanding. Using accurate terminology helps improve understanding.

As for the difference between soil and dirt, gardeners and farmers have known the difference for millennia. Soil grows plants and crops. Dirt doesn't.
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post #10 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 10:17 AM
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Anytime you start piling up organic based substrates over 2.5-3” you run the risk of building a ticking anoxic time bomb that will rear its head 3-4mo after you set it up, especially if you ignore circulation patterns and resultant substrate oxygenation they provide. The sand layer AS layer would to guarantee a big time fail in the near future.

If you need to build up higher levels in tank build them up with layers of inert .25 gravel, cover them 1-2 layers of fiberglass window screen then keep organic substrate layer to about 2” max on top of that. You can even bevel that inert bottom layer around edge and pour organic layers around outside edges to camouflage them, you’ll never even know that inert/anoxic proof layer is there.

The window screen is great stuff, get the cheapest stuff, no UV coating etc, it’s just fiberglass mesh covered with pvc coating, will last at least a decade. You can build bags (use epoxy) fill with rock, stack them, glue rocks to front. Even use lighting louvers/egg crate under it to build a totally inert void underneath. Build it right and you’ll never even see it and aquarium will perform as desired because you avoided that anoxic/anaerobic time bomb.
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post #11 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by Rotala macrandra View Post
Nutrient leaching is the result of poor nutrient binding. A material that can hold on to high amounts of nutrients will supply plants for several months to years of growth. A material that quickly releases nutrients will not supply plants the necessary nutrients.

If you want an expensive, nutrient-poor commercial soil substrate, use ADA Aquasoil Amazonia II. The available nutrients are used within 3 months and plants start to stunt.



Past ignorance should be shed in favor of advancement of knowledge and understanding. Using accurate terminology helps improve understanding.

As for the difference between soil and dirt, gardeners and farmers have known the difference for millennia. Soil grows plants and crops. Dirt doesn't.
So unfortunately this is where ideology runs into practice and gets derailed. If you are going to make general claims that commercial garden soils/dirt/potting soil/raised bed soil whatever is not very good, then you should provide an example of something that is better. And you should also have something even anecdotal evidence that proves it is better. Otherwise you are just telling people their ideas and plans are not effective/efficient without providing any advice to the contrary. I am all for innovation, I love it and think we need more of it. But simply telling folks that the accepted practice is not good is frankly inadequate. And if you haven't actually tested your theories that there is something better for aquarium use then the dirt we buy at a hardware store, then you shouldn't be telling folks seeking advice that using said hardware store dirt is no good.

As to dirt vs. soil. This is a distinction which is not only foreign to this hobby but almost impossible to even create. For example, let's say I am a hobbyist who wants a soil substrate tank. Where exactly would I go to obtain dirt (the ancient farmers definition of dirt, not the dictionary definition) by mistake. Doing a google search the only thing I could find regarding the definition of dirt vs soil was a bunch of blogs saying that dirt and soil are the exact same thing but dirt doesn't contain microbes or decomposed matter. Ok great, where in the world would I even find such a mythical beast? No microbes? Nothing decomposed? Outside of a laboratory I don't think it exists. Certainly the hardware store doesn't sell perfectly sterile nutrient deprived bags of "dirt". Rather this seems to be a word which is a 'term of art' for farmers to explain why certain patches of ground are not growing certain kinds of plants. Not really applicable for us.



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post #12 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 08:29 PM
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So unfortunately this is where ideology runs into practice and gets derailed. If you are going to make general claims that commercial garden soils/dirt/potting soil/raised bed soil whatever is not very good, then you should provide an example of something that is better. And you should also have something even anecdotal evidence that proves it is better. Otherwise you are just telling people their ideas and plans are not effective/efficient without providing any advice to the contrary. I am all for innovation, I love it and think we need more of it. But simply telling folks that the accepted practice is not good is frankly inadequate. And if you haven't actually tested your theories that there is something better for aquarium use then the dirt we buy at a hardware store, then you shouldn't be telling folks seeking advice that using said hardware store dirt is no good.

As to dirt vs. soil. This is a distinction which is not only foreign to this hobby but almost impossible to even create. For example, let's say I am a hobbyist who wants a soil substrate tank. Where exactly would I go to obtain dirt (the ancient farmers definition of dirt, not the dictionary definition) by mistake. Doing a google search the only thing I could find regarding the definition of dirt vs soil was a bunch of blogs saying that dirt and soil are the exact same thing but dirt doesn't contain microbes or decomposed matter. Ok great, where in the world would I even find such a mythical beast? No microbes? Nothing decomposed? Outside of a laboratory I don't think it exists. Certainly the hardware store doesn't sell perfectly sterile nutrient deprived bags of "dirt". Rather this seems to be a word which is a 'term of art' for farmers to explain why certain patches of ground are not growing certain kinds of plants. Not really applicable for us.
Case in point: BGA vs cyanobacteria. The former is an alga. The latter is a bacterium. One is scientifically valid. The other is not. Which terminology actually leads to an implicit understanding of the issue if there is growth of such an organism?

If you're going to argue for the perpetuation of ignorance, that's your prerogative. But please keep it to yourself.
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post #13 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-10-2020, 09:14 PM
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I have been using 3" - 4" of Miracle grow organic potting soil with about a 1" cap of gravel for about 3 or so years now. I love this configuration!

Starting the tank up was a bit harsh while everything was still balancing out. After about 3 months my only complain is how often I have to prune my plants. I don't use any dosing or CO2.
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post #14 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-11-2020, 03:50 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveKS View Post
Anytime you start piling up organic based substrates over 2.5-3” you run the risk of building a ticking anoxic time bomb that will rear its head 3-4mo after you set it up, especially if you ignore circulation patterns and resultant substrate oxygenation they provide. The sand layer AS layer would to guarantee a big time fail in the near future.

If you need to build up higher levels in tank build them up with layers of inert .25 gravel, cover them 1-2 layers of fiberglass window screen then keep organic substrate layer to about 2” max on top of that. You can even bevel that inert bottom layer around edge and pour organic layers around outside edges to camouflage them, you’ll never even know that inert/anoxic proof layer is there.

The window screen is great stuff, get the cheapest stuff, no UV coating etc, it’s just fiberglass mesh covered with pvc coating, will last at least a decade. You can build bags (use epoxy) fill with rock, stack them, glue rocks to front. Even use lighting louvers/egg crate under it to build a totally inert void underneath. Build it right and you’ll never even see it and aquarium will perform as desired because you avoided that anoxic/anaerobic time bomb.


I have searched the forum and google and found mixed thoughts on the anaerobic issues of having thick layers of substrate. Some say it kills the fish, others it kills the plants, some even say its good for the tank. I also saw a thread claiming if bubbles form from the substrate and alot to the surface your soil is becoming anaerobic and you in trouble, yet this has happened quite often whenever I dirtied a tank and never saw an issues. You also see very thick layers 5+ inches of AS is tanks on youtube or other sources and they don’t seem to care. How much of an issue is it really to be concerned? If compaction is an issue wouldn’t adding some gravel to the soil help in this?

As for the screen, that seems like a great idea. If this is used to primarily keep the soil in place. Could that be a soiling to capping it with AS?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Oughtsix View Post
I have been using 3" - 4" of Miracle grow organic potting soil with about a 1" cap of gravel for about 3 or so years now. I love this configuration!

Starting the tank up was a bit harsh while everything was still balancing out. After about 3 months my only complain is how often I have to prune my plants. I don't use any dosing or CO2.


The 1” gravel seems a bit shallow. How often do you pull up plants?


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post #15 of 27 (permalink) Old 03-11-2020, 04:20 AM
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The assumption that you won't be moving plants around might not be a good one. I find myself trimming and replanting plants pretty frequently. Point is, no matter how carefully you set up three layers, they will turn into a mess the second anything moves. I wouldn't want a tank that I'm afraid to touch. If you're trying to save money on substrate, I would buy something like eco-complete for a base layer and cap with aquasoil. Heck, I've never tried this, but you could probably even crush lava rock and use that as an extra-cheap base layer. Porous base layers can be piled deep without worrying about them going anaerobic, and they provide extra surface area for biological filtration.

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