Riding my bike out a country road I came across a sign: "Free horse manure"
I thought to myself, "How about that? Someone does give a s**t"
I hate light weight substrates.
I have little issue with soil, it can be messy, but don't add so much. Pre soaking it for 2-3 weeks to remove the NH4 or boiling it for 10 minutes will remove the algae causing NH4, or you can also use carbon/zeolite for the first 20-30 days of set up.
Peat works great, acidification of the substrate is part of the point, adding some source of carbon for the bacteria is another(new tanks do not have any carbon for the bacteria, they do not live on NH4 alone, they need other sources of electron donors, just like us, they need their carbs.
Decomposer bacteria in aerobic conditions respire CO2.
That CO2 must come from somewhere.
This carbon source is not the same as CO2 gas added for the plants, this an organic source of carbon, mulm, peat, leonardite, soil, manure etc.
You need not add a lot, just enough to get the tank started before your plants/fish waste start adding a steady supply.
Most substrates work pretty well IME.
I think heating cables and root tabs are the things I'd never use again.
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