Have Kitty Litter as a Substrate? I do! *Pics - Page 4 - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #46 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-08-2019, 05:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Desert Pupfish View Post
So if a high CEC substrate like STS lowers the pH (and presumably the KH as well) of hard water, how long does this effect last? Presumably you'd get an initial big drop while cycling the tank, but then what? Once the STS has reached saturation with calcium ions, does the pH & hardness then go back to whatever those levels are in the water you use? And how long does that take?
Substrates like this typically don't ever get saturated with a single ion as they're exchanged regularly by other things as the chemical environment changes. That's where the E in cEc comes from; exchange. If you're concerned about a possible pH or hardness crash, make up a concentrated GH buffer solution and soak your litter in it beforehand. Just make sure to monitor GH to make sure you don't end up spiking GH before doing a regular water change.


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Originally Posted by Desert Pupfish View Post
I'm starting a new tank with an organic peat potting soil covered with STS, and what to know what to expect. Don't want to be stressing my fish or plants with drastic swings, nor do I want to invest in fish or plants that prefer low pH/low hardness if it's just going to eventually go back up the high pH & hardness of my tap water. (I know I could use RO, but I'm trying to keep things simple & cheap)
You don't want to go over 15% by volume of organic matter, in this case peat. I don't have the citation or my data easily accessible, but I found that somewhere between 10 and 15% OM gives the best results when growing the species I was researching. Any higher than that and anaerobiosis kicks in hard, and less than that doesn't optimize the effects OM has. If you're going to be using peat and kitty litter as your substrate materials I would highly recommend doing a 50/50 mix to about 3/4" on the very bottom then covering it with two inches or more of the litter.

I've never regretted over engineering a system, but often regretted under engineering one.
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post #47 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-08-2019, 05:34 PM
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Really from what your describing you need to slightly rethink your approach. Use probably 1/3-1/2 as much organic/humic layer as your envisioning in your head and use a CEC layer with a much lower potential than your envisioning. Most setups like your envisioning perform great (spectacular actually) when first setup but once reality sets in and top layer of substrate build up some mulm things quickly nose dive about 6 months in.

If you want to give me dimensions of your gravel bed, lighting estimate, plants you want to keep, and co2 situation and Iíll try to formulate a more long term reliable solution for you.

I prefer setting up a tank so it may under perform at 1st but at max of 3-6mo in it will start excelling and be as low maintenance as possible.
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Really from what your describing you need to slightly rethink your approach. Use probably 1/3-1/2 as much organic/humic layer as your envisioning in your head and use a CEC layer with a much lower potential than your envisioning. Most setups like your envisioning perform great (spectacular actually) when first setup but once reality sets in and top layer of substrate build up some mulm things quickly nose dive about 6 months in.

If you want to give me dimensions of your gravel bed, lighting estimate, plants you want to keep, and co2 situation and Iíll try to formulate a more long term reliable solution for you.

I prefer setting up a tank so it may under perform at 1st but at max of 3-6mo in it will start excelling and be as low maintenance as possible.
Thanks, Dave. This is my first time with doing a dirted tank with STS, so any advice/suggestions welcomed. Sorry if I was a little vague with my description: was planning on an inch or so of peat potting soil, capped with about 2" of STS. Will mineralize the soil some so it won't release too many nutrients & cause a huge algae bloom, but figure some nutrient release at the beginning will help with the fishless cycle. What's your rationale for using a CEC layer with "lower potential"?

Question: thought I'd try using the first rinse water from the potting soil (it has some organic ferts in it) to charge the STS so it could slow release them over time. Is that worth doing, or would they release too quickly and just exacerbate the initial algae bloom? Also, is it advisable to add some form of iron to the substrate? Some have mentioned Ironite, but it also has nitrogen and might throw things even more out of whack. I've head of people using balls of pottery clay, or even non-galvanized nails. Any thoughts?

Starting out with a few easy plants that can handle varying water parameters: water wisteria, limnophilia, a java fern & some java moss. Also trying to source some red root floater to suck up excess nutrients during the cycle, and help limit light if needed to control algae growth. Otherwise I'll get some water sprite. They also gave me some bonus MTS to help with the algae, and aerate the substrate. Will wait til things have stabilized to put in some crypt balansae in the back so they won't melt, a couple of swords, anubias & java moss on rocks and/or cholla for shady spots, and some low maintenance red plants for the middle directly under the lights (suggestions welcomed) Waiting to decide what carpet plants to use until I see how things settle out, and what light levels I end up with.

Lighting: Beamswork DA FSPEC LED Aquarium Light Pent Freshwater 0.50W--rated at 5000 lumens since I wanted to be able to add some easy red plants. It's adjustable, so can always dial it down if needed

Tank is 55g tall: 36"x15"x24"high. Will run a sponge filter on a powerhead with 1500l/hr flow.

I know the soil nutrients will eventually get depleted, and was planning to use root tabs or Osmocote in the substrate when needed. Figure between that and the fish waste it should provide enough nutrients for the plants. Trying to keep it low maintenance, so not planning to use CO2, and would like to avoid daily or weekly fert dosing if possible.

Livestock: will start with a few guppies once the cycle is completed; add some otos if needed to control algae, and get 4-6 locally bred & raised "Peruvian Altum" angels that I'd like to eventually breed.

Still wondering what people's experience has been with using a high CEC substrate in hard water--how low it drops pH & hardness, and how long that lasts?
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post #48 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-10-2019, 03:36 AM
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Thanks, Phil.

With my extremely hard & basic water, I'm not worried about a pH crash--I'm actually hoping that the pH and KH will be lowered somewhat. Should it go too low, I can always add more of the liquid rock we call water here. My only question is how much, and how long that pH & KH lowering effect will last--which will inform my plant & livestock choices.

Good idea to mix the peat potting soil with the SafeTsorb. When I opened the bag of soil to soak it, I discovered it has a fair amount of vermiculite in it--so that should help too, I should think. Re the depth of the respective layers: I was using Diana Walstad as a reference, and she recommended 1" soil capped with 2" of gravel or other substrate. But it sounds like less is more when it comes to the soil layer, so will take your advice. I've already got some MTS waiting to go in with the first plants, so am assuming they'll help aerate the substrate and help prevent anaerobiosis

Thanks again
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post #49 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-10-2019, 04:51 PM
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Pupfish,

I just happened to do my master's research in soil mixtures used to grow aquatic plants so my experiences are a little more recent than Diana's. Her book's still a good primer and starter reference for folks interested in doing soil tanks though. Once of the materials I used was Turface, basically the same thing as the other calcined clay products out there, and after trying it at home I was sold on it. I won't do another soil substrate without it ever again.

You'll want to get that vermiculite out if at all possible. It's expanded shale, is super light, and serves no practical purpose in aquatic systems. It's added to terrestrial mixes to help with water retention and aeration. You should be able to separate the peat and vermiculite by dumping the mix in a bucket, filling it, and scooping out the floating vermiculite. This is also a good time to mix the STS with the peat. That stuff's a lot easier to work with when moist.

I've never regretted over engineering a system, but often regretted under engineering one.
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post #50 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-11-2019, 12:08 AM
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Pupfish,

I just happened to do my master's research in soil mixtures used to grow aquatic plants so my experiences are a little more recent than Diana's. Her book's still a good primer and starter reference for folks interested in doing soil tanks though. Once of the materials I used was Turface, basically the same thing as the other calcined clay products out there, and after trying it at home I was sold on it. I won't do another soil substrate without it ever again.

You'll want to get that vermiculite out if at all possible. It's expanded shale, is super light, and serves no practical purpose in aquatic systems. It's added to terrestrial mixes to help with water retention and aeration. You should be able to separate the peat and vermiculite by dumping the mix in a bucket, filling it, and scooping out the floating vermiculite. This is also a good time to mix the STS with the peat. That stuff's a lot easier to work with when moist.

Thanks, Phil. Didn't release you had an advanced degree in all this. Do you have a link to your research? Would love to read it

Soaked the potting soil overnight, and the vermiculite, pieces of bark etc obligingly floated to the top, so they were easy to remove. Mineralizing the rest, and am now soaking the STS in the strained run-off to charge it with the organic fertilizers (worm castings)

Yes, I'd read about Turface in several of the blogs. It's not as easy to find as STS, and the only reason I'd go to the extra hassle & expense of tracking it down was if they had it in black--but apparently they've discontinued that color. The STS should be fine--functionally it should be the same as Turface, just maybe not as uniform, no?

Setting up the tank itself this weekend now that the lights have arrived. Will follow Jason's directions to newbies and start a new journal thread soon to document the progress--and hopefully get some more good advice.
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post #51 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-11-2019, 05:26 AM
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Thanks, Phil. Didn't release you had an advanced degree in all this. Do you have a link to your research? Would love to read it

The STS should be fine--functionally it should be the same as Turface, just maybe not as uniform, no?
Unfortunately a vital piece of equipment failed mid-tissue digestion and I ended up losing an entire species worth of samples, which made the study nonpunishable. Thankfully, the school was kind enough to let me get away with a technical report rather than a proper thesis and journal publication(s). The gist was enriched top soil was far and away the best medium with nutrient enriched 60/20/20 Red Art Clay/Turface/Milled Sphagnum being the marginal best of the clay-based mixtures. In nearly every instance, the substrate was too thick and got heavily reduced/anaerobic so the plants (Potomogeton illinoiensis, Stuckinya pectinatus, and Val. americana) pretty much grew only in the 1" sand cap with very little root penetration into the soil/mixtures. After giving it a go myself and recommending it to a friend, we found out that the 50/50 soil fines/calcined clay worked really well for aquariums.

Any calcined clay product should work equally well for aquarium purposes. The very first substrate I used for my first high tech tank was a mix of calcined clay and pool filter sand. I ended up having to add the sand to add a bit of density to keep things from floating out of the clay and it worked surprisingly well.
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I've never regretted over engineering a system, but often regretted under engineering one.
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post #52 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-11-2019, 08:47 AM
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Unfortunately a vital piece of equipment failed mid-tissue digestion and I ended up losing an entire species worth of samples, which made the study nonpunishable. Thankfully, the school was kind enough to let me get away with a technical report rather than a proper thesis and journal publication(s). The gist was enriched top soil was far and away the best medium with nutrient enriched 60/20/20 Red Art Clay/Turface/Milled Sphagnum being the marginal best of the clay-based mixtures. In nearly every instance, the substrate was too thick and got heavily reduced/anaerobic so the plants (Potomogeton illinoiensis, Stuckinya pectinatus, and Val. americana) pretty much grew only in the 1" sand cap with very little root penetration into the soil/mixtures. After giving it a go myself and recommending it to a friend, we found out that the 50/50 soil fines/calcined clay worked really well for aquariums.

Any calcined clay product should work equally well for aquarium purposes. The very first substrate I used for my first high tech tank was a mix of calcined clay and pool filter sand. I ended up having to add the sand to add a bit of density to keep things from floating out of the clay and it worked surprisingly well.
Any chance you could share the report with us? I'd be fascinated to read it.

The plural of 'anecdote' is 'data.'
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post #53 of 53 (permalink) Old 05-11-2019, 02:46 PM
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Any chance you could share the report with us? I'd be fascinated to read it.
Sadly, it's unpublished. The only copies are at my uni and with the research facility I did the work at. I'm not even sure if I still have an electronic copy of the manuscript. The only stuff I know I've got for sure are pictures and the data folders. :*(

I've never regretted over engineering a system, but often regretted under engineering one.
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