Burrower-Friendly Plant-Based Substrates - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-27-2009, 10:51 PM Thread Starter
 
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Burrower-Friendly Plant-Based Substrates

Hello..,

I have been looking into changing my substrate from standard inert River Gravel to something that is good for plants. Another reason I would like to change it is for my burrowing Loaches. I was wondering if anyone could recommend a sand substrate that is both plant and burrower-friendly. Is this too much to ask? Another option I considered was using a soil underlayer. But I have a concern that the Loaches might just stir it up. Has anyone ever used a layer of some type of screening between the soil and sand to keep burrowing fish from displacing it? I would like to look at all the aspects before making a decision. I have also heard if you properly dose the water column, a plant-based substrate might be unnecessary. After all if I were to go with a plant-specific subtrate, it could prove to be expensive with a 55 Gallon tank as well as a 20 and a 10. I would like to take into account the long term health of the system as well as the short, and ultimately the health of my fish comes first.

Thank-you!
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post #2 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-28-2009, 01:01 AM
 
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you can use any sand you feel like, although play sand is easily the cheapest you can get, and from what ive seen looks pretty nice if you want a tan substrate, although the actual composition of it changes from area to area because, from what ive read, its usually produced locally because of how cheap they sell it, they would lose money if they shipped it... as long as you have plants that arent especially demanding, and your light isnt to high, you should be able to get away easily with just dosing the water column... Im no expert though, my opinion is just based upon what ive read around here so far... So id wait for the experts around here to confirm what ive said be4 completely trusting my opinion on it,lol...
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post #3 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-28-2009, 05:20 AM
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Thats a good idea. But to add to it you could also use fertilizer tabs from seachem or whatever brand you prefer to make the sand less inert. It gets expensive over the long run.

My suggestion though would be to get some ADA Aqua Soil. It is nice and round. Mu loaches seem to love it. For your 55 you could use regular and for the smaller tanks you could use the powder. It may seem like an expensive investment at first but after you see it all layed out it will be worth it.

Do some searches on it, there is TONS of info on this site about it.

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you can use any sand you feel like, although play sand is easily the cheapest you can get, and from what ive seen looks pretty nice if you want a tan substrate, although the actual composition of it changes from area to area because, from what ive read, its usually produced locally because of how cheap they sell it, they would lose money if they shipped it... as long as you have plants that arent especially demanding, and your light isnt to high, you should be able to get away easily with just dosing the water column... Im no expert though, my opinion is just based upon what ive read around here so far... So id wait for the experts around here to confirm what ive said be4 completely trusting my opinion on it,lol...


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post #4 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-28-2009, 12:19 PM
 
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If you decided to go with sand I would recommend pool filter sand or Fluorite black sand over playsand for one reason and one reason only. There was some people suggesting that playsand was not good to use as if disturbed as it likely would be by burrowing fish, the floating grains would be sucked through your filter strainer eventually damaging your impeller.

So now fast forward to real life: there is a guy in my city who has "healthy" and beautfiul planted tanks who extensively uses pool filter sand in his tanks. I bought some plants from him and we were talking. He told me that he was getting rid of the playsand in one of his tanks as he found that the grains were too light and when bottom dwelling fish burrowed or stirred it up the small sand grains would get sucked into the strainer. He told me that he went through 3 filter impellers in one year on that tank because of this. He told me that the pool filter sand grains were heavier and would sink. He stated that he had no such issues with the same filters that he was using in the tanks where he had pool filter sand. Now, you could always put a sponge over the strainer to prevent this from happening if you use playsand, but understand that this will greatly slow down suction or flow of water being pulled through the strainer, especially as the sponge becomes quickly clogged over time.
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post #5 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-28-2009, 04:51 PM Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the replies!

Although I have heard lot of people use play sand, I would not use it for one reason. I have heard too many things about it being bad for Loaches. In comparison with Pool Filter Sand, it has an uneven grain size, and some of the grains can be sharp. That coupled with it getting into the impeller is enough to steer me away from it, even if it may be cheaper. Ideally I would like a sand which has the largest grain size.

With ADA Aqua soil, do you use it as a bottom layer only, or can you use it alone? I have also been looking at Seachem Sand for Plants, Onyx Sand, Tahitian Moon Sand,
3M ColourQuartz, and a few others.

To make it more complicated, I had considered something else. This was to use sand in the front and centre of the tank, but use gravel around the back and sides. I could either build a retaining wall or use pieces or rockwork or driftwood to create raised planting beds for the plants. I was thinking this may be the best option, though the hardest to design. Do you think this may be feasible, or will it only cause headache and heartache in the end?


Thanks,
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post #6 of 32 (permalink) Old 02-28-2009, 06:25 PM
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ADA AS is used as the only layer (unless you want to waste your money on the ADA additives )
Example...


Quote:
Originally Posted by leafshapedheart View Post
Thanks for the replies!

Although I have heard lot of people use play sand, I would not use it for one reason. I have heard too many things about it being bad for Loaches. In comparison with Pool Filter Sand, it has an uneven grain size, and some of the grains can be sharp. That coupled with it getting into the impeller is enough to steer me away from it, even if it may be cheaper. Ideally I would like a sand which has the largest grain size.

With ADA Aqua soil, do you use it as a bottom layer only, or can you use it alone? I have also been looking at Seachem Sand for Plants, Onyx Sand, Tahitian Moon Sand,
3M ColourQuartz, and a few others.

To make it more complicated, I had considered something else. This was to use sand in the front and centre of the tank, but use gravel around the back and sides. I could either build a retaining wall or use pieces or rockwork or driftwood to create raised planting beds for the plants. I was thinking this may be the best option, though the hardest to design. Do you think this may be feasible, or will it only cause headache and heartache in the end?


Thanks,
leafshapedheart


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post #7 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-01-2009, 05:19 PM Thread Starter
 
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Beautiful tank! It looks very natural and the plants are very healthy. Good to know!

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post #8 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-01-2009, 09:47 PM
 
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I'd also like to know if soil underlayers work with burrowing fish.

The tank I'm planning (probably summer at the earliest) will either use soil capped with pool filter sand, or just the sand (I haven't done so before, but that's what I want to do).
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post #9 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-02-2009, 04:06 PM
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I have just set up (3 days and counting!) some peppered loaches (L. guntea) on Eco-Complete. They seem to love it, and spend all morning, evening, and most of the night sifting, scooting about and burrowing. They show no abrasions or distress. Eco-Complete is not listed as "burrower-friendly" on CaribSea's website, but is listed as "soft belly safe." It's soft enough to make the peppers happy. I don't imagine that their little backs are softer than their bellies, so maybe the listing indicates that the burrows don't stay built?

Those same peppered loaches made a huge mess on a sand-capped soil substrate. Their burrows kicked up probably half the soil in less than a month. I got very tired of cleaning the soil off the plants, filter intake, sand, caves, slow-moving fish... maybe if I'd had a gravel tidy between sand and soil, it would've been different.
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post #10 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-02-2009, 04:54 PM Thread Starter
 
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Hi, Sixwing..,I recognize your name from LOL.., I'm known as soul-hugger there, but here that name's already taken...Good to see you here!

Thanks for the reply! It's good to know your peppered Loaches are happy on Eco-Complete, because I have Dojos and they are very similar. They are also quite large, so I could imagine the destruction they could cause under the substrate if they wanted to. It must have been a pain to clean the soil up all the time. This is why I'm trying to choose very carefully, because a change like this is going to be a lot of work, and I don't want to have to do it too many times! I have been basically trying to decide between plant based substrate or sand, capped soil, and regular inert sand with gravel bed supplements. Decisions, Decisions! But that's what makes it fun...

Bye for Now..,
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post #11 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-03-2009, 02:52 AM
 
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PREAMBLE: i would like to have a 90gal-125gal planted lo-tech soil substrate tank with an overcoating of natural creek gravel (i actually get it from a creek using a colander) that houses dojo loaches. Thanks for getting this topic started leafshapedheart! i have been reading this forum daily for a month now and it is time to join. you are actually the first person to start a thread on gravel tidies and soil substrate. after a week of research on loaches, soil substrates, burrowing substrates and gravel tidies, i have come up with a few ideas. they are tailored to my needs, but could give you some direction. keep in mind that this is my thought process; i have not kept a planted tank (yet) and have never seen a gravel tidy. everyone, please comment, criticize and correct me as you feel necessary... yes, this is my fist post.

THE POINT:

DOJO LOACH- like every other fish that naturally burrows for protection, it will overturn, disturb, and uproot everything it can. something that burrows is not afraid of tight spaces, and will infiltrate every crevice it can. unlike all the rest, my dojo loves me.

PLANTS- first decide if you want 'hi-tech' or 'lo-tech'. this will determine what kind of plants you can grow. a hi-tech tank can support plants that can draw nutrients from the substrate and the water column. lo-tech usually favors plants with strong root systems that draw their nutrients mostly from the substrate. if you chose lo-tech, you should use a soil substrate and you MUST defend the roots of the plant because if they are damaged it can not feed. in a hi-tech tank you can choose to use plants that are able to draw nutrients from the water column, which means, that if they get dug up, they will probably be fine, but the dojo will still make a huge mess. if you do chose the hi-tech tank, then using a single sand-based substrate, with water column nutrient-absorbing plants, will be fine. that is, if you don't mind replanting constantly.i reviewed your profile and it sounds like you would prefer the lo-tech style.

TIDY-a gravel tidy appears to be mainly a European thing (or at least the Brits are the only ones putting it on the net). their original use was to keep under gravel filters from sucking up gravel and becoming clogged. the other uses that i have actually found info on are: limiting the burrowing of cichlidS (the site did not mention plants) and dividing substrates in saltwater aquariums (again, nothing to do with fresh water plants). this is the only info i found on tidies and plants: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWsubwebi...achfdgfaqs.htm i don't agree with using a tidy with plants in a lo-tech set up. (not sure about my thoughts on a gravel tidy and hi-tech.) all of the pictures and descriptions i have found have shown a gravel tidy to be a somewhat dense (but loosely woven) fibrous filter. it will defiantly be an impenetrable barrier for the dojo, but i think it will also affect the plant's roots. are you familiar with pulling a weed out of landscaping cloth? the roots spread quickly on the surface of the cloth, but rarely penetrate it. there are two main reasons for this: traveling along the surface of the cloth offers less resistance to the roots than growing in the soil (its just easy) and the roots that do penetrate the soil can't gather much nutrients because the cloth limits the aerobic growth of bacteria. hence, the plant grows very quickly by throwing out lots of roots to suck up the nutrients from the mulch, but usually weaken and die because the few roots that do penetrate the cloth can not always get the trace micro-nutrients from the very anaerobic soil below. these weeds THRIVE for a short period, usually until the point that they try to reproduce, then just kind of mutate and die. the tidy gives the low surface resistance on the bottom of top layer of substrate and limits the gas/water flow through the substrate. this is just an analogy, of course, but the balance of anaerobic and aerobic bacteria on terrestrial land is just as important as it is in an aquatic setting.

SUBSTRATE-the (very) natural substrate i use is about 2-5mm. this should be good for burrowing but due to its irregularly shape, only a medium-sized dojo (approx 5in or 12.5 cm) can burrow in it. if yours works, then stick with it. i like mine; it looks natural. i plan on using this recipe for the soil substrate: http://gwapa.org/wordpress/articles/...oil-substrate/ and placing a barrier between it and my natural gravel. natural gravel has a 'good' cation exchange capacity (CEC) compared to epoxy gravel (according to Walstad's book), but i plan on adding a little ADA substrate just to up the ante. i have no clue which layer it should go in (yet). adding clay to the soil substrate acts as a flocculating agent. meaning the soil will settle faster. if the rest of my post is totally worthless to you, at least you know how to make the cleanup faster.

BARRIER- i don't like the aforementioned tidy. i have been exploring ideas on what to use. i would love something that only limits root growth as much as my least resistive substrate layer. here, my choices are limited. i want something that sinks, that can stop a dojo, that is nontoxic, and does NOT limit the natural level of fluidic flow between the substrates. what i have determined will NOT WORK: anything aluminum or galvanized (poisonous), anything steel (supposably usable by plants in an anaerobic environment, but it has to be to be toxic at this level. will someone supply a link?) and anything that can not be VERY firmly secured. DON'T KNOW if it will work: tulle (in the bridal section of the craft store), the 'el cheapo' blue AC filters, plastic coated metal mesh, plastic cross-stitch mesh, anything at all.

any naturally burrowing fish will shove itself into the smallest, most impossible holes at a moment's notice. i feel (without qualitative proof) that a dojo less that 4in or 10cm can probably fit trough a hole that would eventually choke the roots of a thriving plant. i would love to find a plastic sinking mesh that is spaced at least 1/4in or 7mm. i feel it is better to keep a adolescent dojo, or older, who can't get through a tiny hole, as apposed to using a fine mesh that would eventually choke the plants with age.

SECURING THE BARRIER- no clue, haven't found the barrier that i want yet.

LIGHTING- all DIY- planed ONOD at 2 or 2 1/2 WPG https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/pl...ting-odno.html and moon lighting http://www.kaotica.com/frag/diy/moonlight/ with an optical-grade polycarbonate cover between the lights and water to minimize spectral loss. more research is need to find the proper cover, but i despise constant evaporative water loss.http://www.omnexus.com/tc/polycarbon...ptical-clarity

i know that was long. ok, everyone, please comment, criticize and correct me as you feel necessary. it is required for my progress on this issue of... stuff.

P.S. do i get a reward for most commas, used, in, a, single, post?
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post #12 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-03-2009, 03:53 AM Thread Starter
 
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Hello, raistlin..,

Wow! Some very good thoughts here! I have pulled weeds out of landscaping cloth, and it's not easy! It is certainly true that most things will travel along the path of least resistance (sometimes including us!) LOL

Our dojos most certainly love us and we love them as well. I have them in mind first and foremost in the design of my main tank. One of my dojos is nearly 8" long and is probably nearly an inch round. The second largest is not far behind. The depth of my gravel is about 3" and I don't doubt they touch the bottom sometimes when they burrow. I would definitely not want to use any sort of fiber in which they could become trapped. This eliminates punching holes in a fabric for the plants' roots, as they would surely find a way in. With my set-up, I also plan to add a powerhead for current-loving Loaches, so this complicates things further. I would need to make sure the top layer is something a little heavier that won't get blown around, or if it does, that it won't be enough to expose a soil layer underneath. I have heard you can use ADA Aquasoil by itself, but I have yet to do more research on this product to see if it will be good in the Loach Tank. There are so many considerations to be made, and I like to look at all angles of something before making a decision. I have appreciated your insights, and I'm glad we can share a common "thread".

leafshapedheart
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post #13 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-03-2009, 04:23 AM
 
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about ADA and other substrates: http://www.guitarfish.org/2009/02/04/substrate i have read many good things about ADA. doesn't compact extensively with age, anchors plants firmly, has a very high CEC, settles quickly, and is safe for burrowers. of course, it is suppose to be a little more expensive, and a little harder to find. because web pages don't have dates, i would like to think that it is very common locally these days, but i don't actually know. black sands can be very heavy and resistant to water movement. actually if you find a lot of black sand in nature, you are likely to find the heaviest natural occurring pure element, gold, in the same area. i haven't read anything on how it compacts with age, but it is suprizingly heavy. for the lo-tech approach that i had in mind, an organic bottom substrate is important. i won't just use the ADA as the over cover because it is not what i naturally see around here. i want it to look as natural as possible. my little sister finds my tanks boring because she has seen the same habitat for 20 plus years before we moved to the city. to her, it is the same creek she splashed in as a kid, but too small to swim in. good thought on the dojos getting stuck in the fiber. before you said that, i thought it my best bet. but if they can get through it once, there is no guarantee that they can find there way back out before they drown. i will keep working on the barrier. if i come up with something to remedy the situation i will post it here.
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post #14 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-03-2009, 04:52 AM Thread Starter
 
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Hello again,

Thanks for the excellent links. I looked them over, and I really like the guitarfish one. I am getting more determined now than ever to change my substrate. Just added the laterite to my gravel today, so I'm hoping it will keep my plants a little happier until I can improve a few things for them. It has been about 8 hours now and the water is still cloudy, but hopefully by morning it will clear.

Your little sis will probably change her mind about your tanks being boring once you get them going. Either that or she has to roam a little more to figure out the best things are sometimes right at home. I have always preferred a natural look myself, and it's even better if you can base that look on your local stream. I have been imagining recently creating a tank like that, and even collecting fish, plants, and invertebrates that live there, limiting it to species that would stay small enough to remain permanent residents. I'm not sure how it would be to keep an animal in captivity and then release it back into the wild.

I will keep working on the soil/barrier/Loach problem, too, and I'll let you know if I come up with anything too. Have you ever visited Loaches Online? I am also a member at that site and I would highly recommend it. But my name there is soul-hugger.

Bye for Now
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post #15 of 32 (permalink) Old 03-03-2009, 03:39 PM
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leafshapedheart: Wow - nice to see you over here, too! You really helped me out over at loaches.com.

I have emailed CaribSea to find out what, exactly, "burrower friendly" has that is different from "soft belly safe." So far no response (been more than a week) so I do not think that I will get one.

Good summary, raistlin! The landscaping-cloth type stuff does not sound so hot. I do like WWM's suggestion of cutting little x shapes in it to put the plants through, very much like an ornamental planting in a terrestrial garden, with the fabric used to stop weeds. That still doesn't solve the nutrient flow issue or aerobic/anaerobic problem, but don't plants force aerobic areas around their roots..?

Best thought I have for a gravel tidy that will stop a medium-sized dojo is that plastic cross-stitch mesh you mentioned. It's sold as "plastic canvas" around here, and comes in many different sizes, the most common being about 1/8" holes. It's not sharp, not toxic, easily cut, but it floats. Maybe we could secure it to the bottom by siliconing it to something heavy, or even making a rim like the one that holds a mattenfilter? The stuff is flexible enough that it would be possible to do something like this stuck to the aquarium sides:

----- glass or acrylic rim top
#### mesh
|||||| rim bottom, attached to aquarium sides and aquarium bottom

That would hold the mesh steady and keep the fish from getting in through the sides, but means a lot of work and would not likely look pretty. Then again, the whole thing's under substrate level; a tank with tall rims would hide that if it weren't too deep.

Plant roots should still be able to get through the 1/8" holes, but a medium or bigger dojo shouldn't. I have no confidence on that mesh stopping a smaller dojo, though - my LFS has some that are barely 2" long, and I bet one could get through those holes if it really wanted to.
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