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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-17-2006, 10:40 PM Thread Starter
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Make me understand

I have been trying to understand everyones thread about substrata and failed. Will someone kindly direct me to a site which will make me understand what you people are up to. All my life, and I have been keeping fishes for over 40 years now, I never worried about substrata, and never had any problems with it.
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-17-2006, 11:36 PM
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if you keep fish, the substrate or gravel hardly matters unless those fish use the substrate looking for food, protection or to spawn. to keep fish, you need to approximate the water conditions they live in in terms of temperature, pH, hardness, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, etc.

if you keep aquatic plants, you must realize these plants can come from all over the world, and the plants will thrive best in a substrate that approximates their native habitat, sort of the way you match your water conditions to what makes your fish most comfortable. since most aquatic plants come from similar environments alone the equatorial regions of our planet, a single optimal gravel type can host the broadest range of plants.

in order to do that, 4 issues can come into play.

-the average grain size of each rock in your substrate
+and+
-is the substrate inert, or full of fertilizing nutrients.
+and+
-will the substrate effect the WATER chemistry of your tank.
+and+
-will the substrate host beneficial bacteria & microorganisms.

now let's elaborate on those 2 major issues.

grain size: with a large grain size, say over half a centimeter, mostly larger thick rooted plants will feel at home growing in them. smaller more delicately rooted plants will have problems because their roots may not be strong enough to push each grain aside so they can spread, or the shifting of these relatively heavy grains will crush the roots, or too much water circulates around the relatively large gaps between each grain, thus exposing the roots when they are used to being insulated by the substrate. since smaller plants roots will more easily lose their footing in large gravel, they can easily be uprooted by probing fish and strong water movement. thus the majority of finer plants hobbyist enjoy propagating require grain size under half a centimeter, and some even finer root plants will do better in substrate with grain size under a millimeter which is similar to what most would call sand.

inert/nutrient: inert gravel is basically a dead medium, sort of like the glass of your fish tank as it offers no nutritional value whatsoever to your plants. nutrient rich gravel is sort of like the dirt in your backyard garden as it's full of minerals your plants can use to grow. aquatic plants are different from plants in your garden in that garden plants get most of their nutrients from the soil, while aquatic plants get most of their nutrients from the water swirling around them AND the soil, depending on where they are most abundant. so if you put aquatic plants in dead inert soil, they will depend on the water column for most of their nutrients. if you put them in nutrient rich substrate, then can enjoy BOTH the water and the gravel as sources of food they need to grow and propagate. since aquatic plants can some from anywhere in the World, they can be used to more nutrients in the water, or in the gravel, so some plants will do great in inert gravel, while other won't grow well at all without some nutrients in the gravel itself.

water chemistry: many of the nutrient rich gravel discussed above have minerals in them that can dissolve in your water column. the most common of them are limestone, so when the lime, or calcium carbonate dissolves into your water, it makes it more alkaline, or a higher than 7pH neutral. since limestone is the most common rock in the World, many fish and plants are used to alkaline water so using gravel that has limestone in it can be beneficial to those plants. often this type of water is called Hard water, or we discuss water hardness in terms of these alkaline minerals dissolved in the tank water. you'll find that many aquarium plant keepers do NOT want limestone in their gravel, but prefer instead to regulate the hardness and pH by adding minerals to the water directly.

beneficial host: there are millions of beneficial bacteria and microorganism living in the gravel of every fish tank, whether it has plants in it or not. just like there are millions of these critters living in your backyard garden soil. in both examples, these guys break down plant and fish wastes into nutrients that feed your plants, and prevent the water from getting toxic to your fish. just like your fish need the right water, and your plants the right gravel, these critters do best in the right kind of gravel. so if gravel is too compact, meaning there is no space between grains for these critters to multiply, and water to circulate around them, such gravel would be a bad place for them to live. this microscopic circulation brings them food in the from of plant&fish waste, and takes away their beneficial wastes in the form of non toxic plant nutrients,. if your gravel is too loose, or the amount of gravel too shallow, then the water flow may sweep too many of these critters away before they can maintain a proper foothold on each grain. also if the gravel is too smooth, there is less surface space for them to live. thus the best gravel for them would be small, but not too small, spherical or cylindrical to allow gaps between each grain, with a very pitted grain surface, to allow lots of microscopic nooks and crannies for these critters to live.

Now that I've explained all this, don't worry about it! That's because most plant growers here already know which gravels meet all the requirements outlined above, and depending on the type of fish, plants and water you have, can steer you toward the right type of gravel without even having to fully understand why. Like you, I have kept fish for 20 years without ever knowing anything about the importance of my gravel, until the day I decided to switch from rocks and plastic plants, to LIVE plants. Once you start dealing with live plants, your old gravel that works fine for the fish and some large plants, may be a hostile environment for your more smaller more delicate living plants, thus may require replacement.

Note: to all the experts reading this, please remember I am trying to simplify this for the casual reader. I'm aware some of the things I wrote have exceptions or demand clarifications, but I didn't think the person asking needed to be distracted by such minutia for the time being.


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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-24-2006, 12:00 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you for taking so much time out for me.
By saying I was keeping fishes perhaps gave a wrong impression. I am a farmer at heart and growing plants comes naturally to me. I hate a bare aquarium (including Chichlid communities).
I have looked up Florite/Ecocomplete/etc etc, they dont speak about quatified details of their contents. The soil mixed with silt should form the the base of the planted area. The soil around my home town, Ranchi, is red lateritic soil low in ph(5.25) phosphate and sulphur. I always used it mixed with Calcium Phosphate, Gypsum and some Ganga silty sand. I would cover all this mess with washed river sand and my plants grew well. The rear of the aquarium were always a jungle which I have to regularly trim and pluck to keep in control.
I am still to find any quatified details of the materials that take so much time for discussion by so many. You have been patient with this ignoramus, help me a little more, direct me to the source of the knowledge I seek.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-24-2006, 01:31 AM
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essa, I apologize but your original post made it hard for me to know how sophisticated my audience was. my cousin has been a hydroponic farmer the past 30 years, and I get dizzy every time we have a conversation about her latest experimental methods. I wish I could point you to some definitive place to seek answers, but the best I can do is suggest using search engines, wikipedia, and email the substrate makers themselves for a more refined dialog on the issues that concern you. substrate makers have scientists on staff that will respond to specific concerns customer service forward to them. I know this because I've had several exchanges with them on unrelated, but equally detail oriented inquiries. when you interact with them, try to limit your inquiries more so they can focus on the crux of your concern. best of luck in your further pursuit of knowledge.


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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-24-2006, 07:46 PM
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as a farmer, you know a thing or two about soil (to say that least), but for many people who dont its easy enough to buy a bang of aquatic plant substrate that is already prepared for the planted tank. it takes the guess work out of mixing ferts, soil types, etc it's a tried-and-true method of the hobby. Just like buying a can of flakes or commercial tank vs making it yourself. It makes life easier and one less thing to worry about.

there's nothing wrong with DIY substrate if you 1) know what youre doing 2) get lucky.

I also have DIY substrate and it's been working well... though my success is largely due to reason # 2.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

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