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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 08:28 PM Thread Starter
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Looking to go in the right direction

I have read through many threads and stickies involving substate, and I think I made myself more confused as to a good route to go. I will be setting up a planted 29 gallon (30" long) and would like to go with dirt. So, I see people swear by ADA and I really like it, but it looks like I cannot afford buying it. If I go with MGOCPM capped with sand (PFS or black diamond) or safe-t-sorb for the CEC, will that all work well along with EI dosing? Also, does anything else need to be mixed in with the dirt, or just sift, rinse, and add the dirt (followed by cycling of course)?

I will be growing mostly stem plants, but will have something low lying that is a root feeder in the front. Basically I don't want to make the same mistake I did on my 20 gallon (which has all the plants for the 29) and go with all PFS. It looks good, but I don't want to be adding root tabs all the time. Thanks in advance!
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 08:45 PM
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You wont regret going with dirt. People will tell you to go the mts(mineralized top soil) route, but I did MGOCPM sifted, and soaked for a few days and my tank did just fine. The cap is really personal preference as long as its not too big or light. EI dosing will be fine with dirt I think. And you can add pottery clay to the soil when setting it up for that crucial nutrient iron. You can use dwarf sag in the front of that tank but I don't really know if you are doing high or low tech.

But one thing is to make sure to have a plan for the tank and the aquascape, because moving stuff around in a dirt tank is not ideal, but I still do it every now and then and its fine.
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 09:08 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks! I wanted to MTS, but doing that in the winter isn't going to work to well. For the pottery clay, the only thing I have seen around here that is close is mexican pottery clay (self drying) from hobby lobby. The coloring makes me think it would be rich with iron, but I don't know if it is safe for the aquarium (no ingredients listed). My 20 gallon is moderately planted and I have a bunch of emersed plants to fill in the gaps. I become obsessive when I plan for things . I forgot about dwarf sag, I like how it looks for a foreground plant. Oh, does it sound good to have 2" for the dirt and 1.5" for the cap?

I really don't know what category the tank would fall under, or if my lighting would still be high light for the tank. It will have pressurized CO2 with a 5 lb tank and a 24" 48 watt AquaticLife fixture hanging, both coming from my 20 gallon. I am trying to stay with high light.
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 09:32 PM
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That clay will be fine. I got amaco brand self hardening clay off amazon. Since you are doing co2 and high light, you have a huge variety of low lying plants for the front of your tank.

2" will probably be fine for the dirt or you could probably bring it down to 1.5" just to be safe and make it 50/50 dirt and cap
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 10:18 PM Thread Starter
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Awesome, thanks for the help. I will drop the dirt level to 1.5" with a matching depth for the cap. One last question, have you encountered any gas buildup in the dirt? Hopefully this will turn out much better than my current setup.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 11:09 PM
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Boil the dirt to avoid ammonia and make all the organics into available minerals. Cheap clay is just clay, has no "ingredients" and will be fine. The high CEC the clay provides is crucial but almost any soil has enough clay without added clay. Stay under 2" of dirt to be gas safe. Cap depth depends completely upon grain size and can range from .75" for the finest grain up to who knows what. Your Plants will be guaranteed to THRIVE and will even be able to denitrify nitrate back to ammonia at the anaerobic root rhizoplane (yes it does go anaerobic despite what many say). It is a more complete version of real life aqautic plant systems. Plantbrain himself reccomends that it is a good compliment to his EI, which is incredible if you stop to consider that EI alone should provide MORE that everything needed, so..... It will fail for those, like me who cannot stop uprooting stuff and or keep too many big heavy waste producing fish which overloaded the non vacuumable sand.


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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-24-2012, 11:43 PM
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Originally Posted by chevyguy8893 View Post
Awesome, thanks for the help. I will drop the dirt level to 1.5" with a matching depth for the cap. One last question, have you encountered any gas buildup in the dirt? Hopefully this will turn out much better than my current setup.
Ive had some bubbles, but if you plan on the tank being heavily planted, that will solve most of any problems you might have. Keeping the dirt under 2" will also help that cause. You could also get some malaysion trumpet snails to keep the dirt aerated. Its usually not a problem
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-25-2012, 12:18 AM Thread Starter
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Boil the dirt to avoid ammonia and make all the organics into available minerals. Cheap clay is just clay, has no "ingredients" and will be fine. The high CEC the clay provides is crucial but almost any soil has enough clay without added clay. Stay under 2" of dirt to be gas safe. Cap depth depends completely upon grain size and can range from .75" for the finest grain up to who knows what. Your Plants will be guaranteed to THRIVE and will even be able to denitrify nitrate back to ammonia at the anaerobic root rhizoplane (yes it does go anaerobic despite what many say). It is a more complete version of real life aqautic plant systems. Plantbrain himself reccomends that it is a good compliment to his EI, which is incredible if you stop to consider that EI alone should provide MORE that everything needed, so..... It will fail for those, like me who cannot stop uprooting stuff and or keep too many big heavy waste producing fish which overloaded the non vacuumable sand.
Thanks for all the advice! Sorry, but this brought up more questions . If I rinse the soil a few times with boiling water, will that be excessive? I am leaning more towards sand as a cap to be safe on the barbels of the loaches I plan on getting, so 0.75" will probably be where I start and I can add if needed. I like the guarantee the that plants will thrive . I have seen the root systems that my stem plants form and really think that dirt would help a lot being an easier way to get nutrients.

So, if I am understanding this correctly, the plants denitrifying the nitrates at the roots seems like it would be similar to deep sand bed bacteria. It seems like outside of the better plant growth, the aquarium is more complete (like you said), but would also be more stable. I don't plan on keeping any heavy waste producers mostly for the fact that I don't want to overload the aquarium with waste. Plus, most heavy waste producers (other than the BN pleco) won't work in a 29 gallon. I do have a plan in my head for all the plants so I don't uproot things more than needed.

Thanks again, I really like learning all the aspects of aquariums that I can, and the plants denitrifying nitrates in this way sounds fascinating to me. This brought out the nerdy ecology student in me .

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Originally Posted by mitchfish9 View Post
Ive had some bubbles, but if you plan on the tank being heavily planted, that will solve most of any problems you might have. Keeping the dirt under 2" will also help that cause. You could also get some malaysion trumpet snails to keep the dirt aerated. Its usually not a problem
Ok, that is good to know. I do plan on going heavily planted and I have some unknown amount of trumpet snails for the sand in my 20 gallon. I forgot to ask earlier, but how much dried clay can be added?
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-25-2012, 01:14 AM
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Everything in this hobby seems to bring up more questions I reccomed boiling the dirt for 30+ minutes to convert it almost completely to mineral state rather than using the slow wet dry bacterial process. This way the decomposition is complete and no ongoing ammonia is produced; better yet all of the nutrients are converted from organics to the mineral form which the plants can use and any nasty organisms are killed. The neccesary bacteria are seeded by the fish, plants and filter bac very quickly. The ones killed by the boiling are mostly not the right type anyway. Yup, its like DSB and yup it should be more stable. Dirt is a nerds paradise. The plants transport nitrate down to their roots where anaerobic denitrifying bacteria which they foster there convert the nitrate to ammonia which the plant can consume more easily, and it happens down there safely away from the water colomn and your fish. Look for the MTS (mineralized top soil not malasian trumpet snails) thread on this forum if you have not seen it and check out my signature link along with dirt people like DogFish's threads.


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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-25-2012, 06:48 PM
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I have also been following threads about dirt. I have a 20 high that I plan for a low tech, low light scarlet badis/shrimp tank (no co2). I really like the idea of not doing huge weekly water changes (50% now in my 30 gal) or dosing.

Will the boiled miracle grow potting mix provide nutrients so that dosing isn't required? Do I need to add clay, dolomite, peat moss or something else to the potting mix to provide the correct blend? Would I get away with adding excel for carbon?

My plan would be dirt, capped with black sand. Java fern, java moss, some crypts, hygrophillia, rocks, driftwood, 3 or 4 badis, a few bee or red shrimp and a small school of microrasboras. Maybe a dwarf cory or two.
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-25-2012, 08:52 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Gold Finger View Post
Everything in this hobby seems to bring up more questions I reccomed boiling the dirt for 30+ minutes to convert it almost completely to mineral state rather than using the slow wet dry bacterial process. This way the decomposition is complete and no ongoing ammonia is produced; better yet all of the nutrients are converted from organics to the mineral form which the plants can use and any nasty organisms are killed. The neccesary bacteria are seeded by the fish, plants and filter bac very quickly. The ones killed by the boiling are mostly not the right type anyway. Yup, its like DSB and yup it should be more stable. Dirt is a nerds paradise. The plants transport nitrate down to their roots where anaerobic denitrifying bacteria which they foster there convert the nitrate to ammonia which the plant can consume more easily, and it happens down there safely away from the water colomn and your fish. Look for the MTS (mineralized top soil not malasian trumpet snails) thread on this forum if you have not seen it and check out my signature link along with dirt people like DogFish's threads.
Thanks again! You covered the points well that were worrying me a bit. I will prep the dirt how you mentioned so it is good to use. Hopefully I can take some cycle media from my existing tanks to move the cycle along along with adding ammonia.

I am going to have to read further into the anaerobic denitrifying process in more detail. It also sounds similar to bacteria at the base of terrestrial plants. Anyway, I will check out those threads too and see what more I can learn before I build the tank.
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-26-2012, 03:45 AM
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Glad to be of assistance. One thing you might consider is putting a ring of your capping material around the perimeter of the tank before adding the soil (mud really, about the consistency of brownie batter) this way you dont see the layers of dirt through the front edge. I left this element out because I wanted to see the layers but did have a bout of BGA at one point and found some dude who said it is encouraged by having the mud exposed to light at the tank edge. I don't know if its true, but it holds to reason. If I did it agian I would put the sand edging. By the way, the only things I added to my MTS besides the clay was cal/mag in the form of crushed coral and iron in the form of flourite. By the way, I know you are going to dose EI and I think thats great but did you know that soil based tanks even without water column dosing get their nutrients replenished by the fish waste and can grow healthy plants indefinitely is some cases? Some have gone for decades and are still going with no ferts ever added.


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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-26-2012, 07:56 AM
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Just watching, this answered a few questions I had.

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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-26-2012, 01:25 PM
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Is there a "correct" amount of clay, cal/mag, and iron that should be added? Is there a rule of thumb for weight based percentages (for example the best mix is 85% MTS, 5 % clay, blah, blah, blah)? Are these added to the "mud" or just sprinkled in the bottom of the tank (I saw that on one thread)?

Also, how do you handle the boiling Miracle grow (i assume it is boiling in water)? Let it cool, then add water and all to tank? Does it need to dry? Strain through cheese clothe? Other?

So many questions.......
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 11-26-2012, 02:21 PM
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I forget a lot of this but suggest not worrying too much and just using plain good lookin dirt which will work very well. Don't add more "extras" than you see in any recipie you might find. i think the total clay content of the soil is presumed to be best around at least 15%, at most 20%. Keep in mind this is the total clay content and all soil starts with some. Clay is merely soil with a certain consistency and it provides iron and more importantly CEC. Any soil has high CEC compared to inert substrate so don't sweat it. You can guestimate it by how well the soil clumps together. Too high clay does not support plant growth. I used flourite for iron so I did not have to worry about overdose there and used lots. I added about 15-20% crushed coral. I did not add clay to the backyard topsoil I used cuz it was pretty clumpy when wet. MGOPS has lots of large organics like sticks and sh*t. Remove them and put the rest in a huge pot with just enough water to make it soupy then boil until it is thick as brownie batter. It will smell like ammonia and other wierd sh*t. When it's done it will have nearly no odor. MGOPS which is highly organic should be boiled longer than top soil which is already mostly mineralized (not made of plant parts but reduced back to the minerals these were once composed of). let it cool then scoop/pour it into the tank. I would put a border of your capping material around the edge first. Then cover it with the cap. Yer done. The plants will put out hecka roots. Pulling up tons of plants can cause trouble so plan ahead when planting. Sometimes cutting them off at the root and leaving the root may be better than uprooting.


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