Hey there, new to this forum but I've been lurking for a while.
I am currently designing my first planted dirt tank. It's also my first tank ever! I hate doing things the easy way and I'm diving right into the dirt both for monetary reasons and because, frankly, it seems awesome. I will be doing a medium-light, low-tech 37 gallon tank with weekly EI dosing. I will also be including mopani driftwood and lava rock caves, with heavy planting to begin with and low fish load until I find balance.
The thing that is keeping me up at night is my substrate. I feel like I might be taking it too far and the soil will become overly acidic, or maybe its that I'm doing way too much research and freaking myself out. I would love it if some of the gurus here would let me know if what I'm planning is on the right track or a waste of time. I have a ton of questions, so please bear with me--I will try to make it as coherent as possible!
Here's the plan...
First off, I will be putting down some nutrients on the glass. I've settled on adding a dusting of organic peat moss, potassium chloride (muriate of potash), and dolomite.
I am wondering a few things here -- first, is there a major difference between dolomite and dolomitic lime? Should I prefer one over the other? Next, I've read that people are raving about azomite. Should I also include a dusting of that in addition to the dolomite + potassium chloride, or just add it to the water column in addition to EI? Finally, what's the deal with granular humic acid? Should I add that in addition or instead of peat moss, and how much should I add? Are all of these things together going to make my substrate too acidic?
For this layer, I'm going to be using MGOCPS, finely sieved to remove twigs and large particulate matter. I am planning to mix this with a high-CEC material, such as calcined clay (turface or fluorite), or instead of that, possibly ground up volcanic rock (I like this because of the color; I want to try and keep the substrate as black as possible). Finally, I will be adding soft red clay to this mixture. The ratio I am planning is going to be 20% high-CEC material, 80% MGOCPS, and about a pound of red clay. I plan to rinse everything very well and mix it up into a nice, thick mud, then let it sit for a while to soak everything up before adding it to the tank.
Questions here--which is best as a high-CEC material, turface, fluorite, or volcanic rock? I prefer the volcanic rock for the color but it is somewhat expensive. I've also heard that fluorite's CEC isn't really fantastic, and also that adding any high-CEC material isn't wholly necessary, but helps a bunch. Next, how should I add the red clay? Is it fine to just add small, wet clay balls to the mix, or should I dry it out and smash it up, then add it?
ALSO -- because of the fact that I'm adding a high-CEC material to this, would it be okay to add a somewhat thicker layer of dirt than usual? I hear about an inch is all people use for dirt usually, but I was planning on going a little higher because of the turface/volcanic rock additive in the dirt, maybe 1 1/2 inches.
Finally, I am not going to be mineralizing this dirt only because I am going to use the excess nutrient stage to cycle my tank, plus plant heavily and have some floaters to suck up the extra ammonia. Thoughts on this?
For this layer, I'm going to be using 30/60 black blasting sand. I've got a 25 pound bag of this stuff, and I really like the way it looks. Sparkly! I wanted it to be extra fine because I plan to eventually put khuli loaches or cory cats in here along with ottos (see below for that).
I've also heard its CEC is not good, but I don't know the accuracy of that statement because it is coal slag and actually not sand. I know I have to rinse it well, but will it need an additive? Should I perhaps mix it with fluorite black sand to boost this, or will the sand be okay as a cap by itself? I plan to use about 2" of cap to be safe; is that too high, too low, or just right?
Snails and Ottos:
So many people say to get malaysian trumpet snails to stir up the substrate, but I'm worried that they will cause problems in bringing a bunch of dirt into the water column and mess with my PH because it seems like this substrate will be somewhat acidic. Is that something I should be worried about, or are they a total necessity regardless?
As far as the Ottos, I plan to add them as my first fish after two weeks to start eating diatoms. Will they go belly-up from all the added nutrients? Should I consider adding Nerites as well/instead?
I may have over-analyzed this whole process, but it is fun for me; like a science project. Am I missing anything? Could I do without a bunch of this stuff? Any other pointers? I plan to add a step-by-step process of this as I'm going through it if people like this thread.
Thank you all for taking the time to read this, I know I've asked a lot of questions but I want this substrate to be awesome and long-lasting. Any help at all is greatly appreciated