Mega Dirt Substrate Brainstorm: Need Help! - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 12:39 AM Thread Starter
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Question Mega Dirt Substrate Brainstorm: Need Help!

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...


Additive Layer: 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?

Dirt Layer: 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?

Cap Layer: 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?

Closing Notes

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
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post #2 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 01:23 AM
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Welcome to the dirted community.

The MTS wont bring up any dirt, mine never have, so I wouldn't worry about that. Also, don't get worried when you see pond snails. I do like having them in my tank, they serve their purpose. For some reason people hate snails. I think they are a key part to a balanced planted tank.

I assume you're planting heavy right away? By the time you plant heavy, do a couple water changes, cycle the tank, the excess nutrients shouldn't be a problem for the ottos.
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post #3 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 02:11 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you! Yes, I am going to be planting heavily right away. I plan to get some hornwort or wisteria and float it, plus some spiral val, anacharis, christmas moss, red myrio, and windelov ferns. Haven't decided what else yet, maybe some anubias and/or crypts.

I'm glad the otos will do alright, plus they are insanely cute!

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post #4 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 02:17 AM
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Ottos are really sensitive, so make sure it's cycled first. This is probably my most favorite saying. Add plants fast, but add fish slow. Means you can plant it as quick and heavy as you want, but take your time with fish.
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post #5 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 02:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dirt_Dude View Post
Additive Layer: 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.

Dirt Layer:
For this layer, I'm going to be using MGOCPS

Questions here
which is best as a high-CEC material dirt?
What is MGOCPS?

I use Scott's Hyponex Potting soil. Here my next substrate, Co2 generating sub.

If your ph is high you don't want to use dolomite for it will increase the ph.

Read somewhere:
Laterite CEC is much less than for clay or humus.
Soilmaster : 19 Will lower the ph number.
Turface: 29 to 41 Turface red is 29, black is 41.
Red Bag Kitty litter has a high CEC

More info on CEC here
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post #6 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 02:26 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
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What is MGOCPS?
Miracle Grow Organic Choice Potting Soil, Diana Walstad recommended it in her book and I've heard about a bunch of people using it with some success.

I've been looking everywhere for black turface, but I can't seem to find any. Is there a specific name that I could find it under?

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post #7 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-11-2015, 02:26 AM
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Quote:
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What is MGOCPS?
Miracle Grow Organic Potting Soil

I don't think it really matters what potting soil you use as long as it's organic.
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post #8 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 07:46 AM Thread Starter
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Anyone have something to say about the additive layer? I am unsure if I'd be overdoing it with azomite and the granular humic acid as well as peat.

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post #9 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 09:34 AM
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Brain-storm is apt description of your present substrate hunt. You want the substrate to do everything for you at the same time.

Take MGOCPS and red clay in equal part and add to it a couple of hand-full each of powdered gypsum, dolomite and calcium phosphate and mix everything well. The quantity you want of this mixture should form a one-inch thick bottom layer in your tank. Don't wash this mixture, after spreading it you spray/sprinkle it with water and pat it down.

Now mix CEC and your black blasting sand equally. You will need twice the volume of your bottom layer. Wash this mixture well to get rid of all the fine particles which gets easily washed away. Get rid of the extra water and use this damp mixture to cap the bottom layer.

If you have a choice, you have a problem, till you elect your choice. No choice, no problem, only consequences, learn to live with them.
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post #10 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 01:50 PM
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You inspired me to research CEC. Read that using clay products will increase Anion exchange capacities (opposite of cation)--not so much with "organic" matter, which probably is a good reason to include both "organic" and "inorganic

Thus when I break down my 20g high, which has Alternanthera reineckii in it, I am going to redo the substrate as so:
1st Layer – Coconut Husk (for CEC)
2nd Layer – Blood Meal (to provide nitrogen)
3rd Layer - Potassium Nitrate, Sodium Bicarb, Kitty litter (for CEC)
4th Layer - Scott's Hyponex Potting Soil,
5th Layer - River Sand

Hopefully this will decrease my need for Co2 as DaveFish did with his Controsoil substrate in his 10g.

Bump:
Quote:
Originally Posted by WickedOdie View Post
Miracle Grow Organic Potting Soil

I don't think it really matters what potting soil you use as long as it's organic.
Scott's Hyponex Potting Soil is cheaper.

I once used Vigoro organic Potting mix and it killed everything in the tank.

The only cheap black substrate I have found is Black Diamond Blasting Sand and it is more a gray black in my tank.

Last edited by Hilde; 10-12-2015 at 02:03 PM. Reason: added
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post #11 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-12-2015, 08:22 PM
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Welcome abord Dirt_Dude.
Always nice to see someone not afraid to go down the dirty road.

Here is what I brainstormed with myself when I setup a 20 long not even 2 months ago.
One layer of clay dug out up to 2 feet down my backyard.
One layer of pond soil, a commercial product specific to ponds.
One layer of play sand. I use this in all my tanks.

Each layer is not more than 1". I targeted 3/4 but it varies...

When I redo my 76 gal, I will go dirt again. And more than one inch of dirt. At least 2". It will go anaerobic. But from my understanding, it's not a problem if you don't disturb the soil. And I don't.

I use MTS and pond snails. I like them, so I am with @WickedOdie on this. MTS don't mis the layers, Noting compared to what tubifex can do and did to my 29 gal.


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post #12 of 12 (permalink) Old 10-13-2015, 04:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mariostg View Post
Here is what I brainstormed with myself when I setup a 20 long not even 2 months ago.
One layer of clay dug out up to 2 feet down my backyard.
One layer of pond soil, a commercial product specific to ponds.
One layer of play sand. I use this in all my tanks.
I have tried play sand, pool filter sand, and river sand. Play sand I hate. I has a sand storm in the tank. Pool filter was ok. Just mulm sticks to it so you have to take some out and replace it with clean sand. River sand, which I get from a landscaping co, is my favorite. I love more than black diamond blasting sand, for it needs minimum rinsing and mulm doesn't show since it is light brown. I simply shift out the larger pieces with a colander.
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