Dirt tank disturbance - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 05:42 AM Thread Starter
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Dirt tank disturbance

So I'm converting a few tanks now to dirt tanks. Today was the day I could plant the first one. I had some (a lot of) trouble getting a couple marble queen swords to stay down. I got frustrated, went a little nuts, and ended up disturbing the substrate...a lot. There's a thin layer of dirt pretty much everywhere. If this has happened to you, do you just put in a thin layer of sand (or gravel if that's what you used) on top for looks? Is this disturbance going to mess up my water parameters? I was SO close to being able to put my fish back in the tank! I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't bother since I'm risking putting a loach in the tank anyway. He'll definitely turn over a thin layer of sand. Maybe I should try to scoop out the dirt that's on top now and replace some sand? I'm ok with it being kinda messy every once in a while, but I made a real mess just now lol.
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 01:53 PM
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Most people do cap dirt. Sand or gravel works. If you look in the Substrate part of the forum you will find a lot of posts about this.

Disturbing dirt will often release ammonia and other things to the water column. If you had fertilizer tablets or Osmocote in there, or anything else that was supposed to be buried deeply and slow release, well, it is now fast release.

Better to plant when there is no water in the tank, just very wet substrate, and mist the plants.
Then, when all the mess is done, you can fill. Put a plastic bag or plate over the substrate and allow the water to run in slowly over the edge of the plate and seep into the substrate.

At this point:
I would do a water change, and use small tubing, perhaps air tubing, to vacuum the leaves and other surfaces with dirt. Or wave your hand near them to create enough water movement to dislodge the dirt. Do as big a water change as you can by digging a small hole in the substrate and pulling some water out from below. This should settle the dirt that was drifting in the water.
Then refill.
Monitor the parameters for several days for ammonia, and for a week for other ferts (if you used any) that might be somewhat slower releasing, but that could raise the GH, KH, TDS or other.
While you are waiting you can be doing the fishless cycle to feed the nitrifying bacteria.
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 07:06 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks - I did cap the dirt with sand before I made a mess lol. I had thought about planting before I added water, but I kept reading that I should wait a few days and do water changes in the meantime while checking water parameters.

I didn't even think of vacuuming like that! Thanks! That's just what I needed!

I'm using cycled filter media in a couple new canister filters and the sand and driftwood was in a cycled tank, so I don't think I'll have a problem cycling it, but I guess there could be some problems if this dirt disturbance released stuff. I've been dosing with some liquid ferts for the plants that aren't planted in the dirt and sand, but I haven't been using root tabs because the soil is new and I read and was told it would be unnecessary. Should I be using root tabs anyway?
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 08:14 PM
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With a dirt tank, you will have disasters/blowouts...etc. It happens. Like Diana said, water changes and clean up what you can. After a few months the dirt will settle in and become more "marsh like." Once that happens, you will be good to go.
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 08:56 PM
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And a tactical advice, when you plant without water, start with the shortest plants. Otherwise, the longer ones don't have water to support them and will be in your way. It's annoying.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-02-2014, 11:16 PM
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I would give it a few days, just in case you stirred up something.
While you are waiting for things to settle back down, feed the bacteria with ammonia. Add enough to read 1 ppm once a day.
Test ammonia, nitrite and nitrate the next day.
If the cycle really is good, then ammonia and nitrite will read zero, and nitrate may be anything from zero (Plants are using all the nitrogen) to sky high (probably not). Planted tanks tend to run sort of in the middle, though.

Once the mess has settled, you have cleaned it up, the water is clear, and the cycle bacteria are doing their job you can add fish.
If the nitrate is too high, then do one more water change (carefully) before adding fish.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 11-04-2014, 04:16 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks, all! It's getting better now though the disturbance in addition to my changing out the dirt and sand in one corner seems to have caused a co2 explosion. Kinda looks like I'm keeping 50 gallons of Sprite in an aquarium lol. Definitely couldn't put the fish in now, but it's clean...ish and the readings are good Can't wait to get it finished!
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