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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello folks,
It seems that there are constantly new shrimp specific substrates coming out on the market. Just wanted to ask of those who have tried many different kinds if there is a preferred type. The main features I am looking for are mild buffering, doesn't "break down" or need replacement, and doesn't keep releasing ammonia. I don't care all that much about amazing plant growth, because that also implies that it will "wear out".

The other question is regarding layout, i.e. whether you just use a single layer of substrate, or something else underneath, whether you aim for deep substrate or thin substrate, etc. And also whether you gravel vac.

Just for reference, I have experience with UNS Controsoil black and brown version. In my "thriving" and almost zero maintenance tank, I have two setups:
1) UNS Controsoil brown on top of a layer of "samurai soil", which is solid, hard round pellets approx 3mm diameter. I think what happens here is just that the mulm slowly settles down between the samura soil spheres where it can slowly get either broken down more by bacteria, or the plants' roots get to it. BTW, UNS controsoil doesn't actually "break down", in the sense that if a pellet remains undisturbed, it will not crumble into dust.
2) There is also a part of the tank which is sand, covered by approx 1/4" of UNS controsoil brown. I think what happens in this case is that the sand actually compacts down solid, so the mulm just settles on top of that. It seems the shrimp tend to graze around a lot in this area and pick at the UNS. The issue is whether it is better to have the shrimp picking at mulm, or to let it fall further down and let the bacteria and plants get to it.

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In another tank, I have a solid layer of UNS Controsoil black. Maybe for other reasons, but this tank didn't do as well, e.g. shrimp stopped breeding, etc. I tried doing a substrate replacement, and for whatever reason, there was bits of "mulm compaction", although the substrate also largely did not break down. That's when you vac away the substrate, but there are hardened bits remaining.
 

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Every aspect you mentioned is up to personal preference. Different substrates will accomplish different things in different setups.

Most people don't layer substrate for shrimp - there's no need. Don't cap it. Don't do anything but use the substrate. Just pick one and use it. I've been doing it my entire life and with active substrates since they hit the market in Asia. (Exception being when sand or something is used in front or at different levels for aesthetics.)

Every soil-based substrate will break down and need replacement eventually. May be 6-8 months or some, may be multiple years for others. Pretty much all decent substrates are going to release ammonia for a period of time - not forever.

Disturbing the substrate in a shrimp tank is not a good idea. But removing loose detritus with a siphon from the top of the substrate is pretty much always a good idea. Most packaged substrates will tell you on the bag not to "vacuum" them or rinse them, as both lead to breakdown.

"Mild buffering" isn't really a thing, as capacity is going to vary from tank to tank. Most shrimpers go with an active/buffering substrate and then set their water parameters with whatever remineralization salts they prefer. If you're trying to reduce hardness of your tap water by using an active substrate, capacity will vary by brand and the parameters of your source water. But in using, for example, ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia? You'd use RO/DI water remineralized to about 5-6 gH and 0 kH. The substrate will then "buffer" or keep things stable.

Honestly believe you're overthinking this a bit. Just go with a simple setup. Pick the best substrate you can. Settle on your hardscape. Add whatever plants you're using. Cycle the tank for 2-3 months and you're good to go. Just maintain a healthy tank - clean when necessary without disturbing substrate too much, don't constantly add things to the water, don't overfeed, focus on stability and keep your hands out as much as you can.

Amazonia is my preferred substrate. Controsoil is something I've used through the years but don't love, as it has often varied way too much from batch to batch. Some others I like:

UP Aqua Shrimp Sand
SL Aqua
UP Aqua Sand (its granules are too large for most tiny tanks, so I only like it in larger ones)
Tropica (extremely over-priced)
Dennerle
Brightwell
UP Aqua Plant Grower Bed

Just to name a few. Some of them list where they'll hold parameters/pH when using 0 kH water.

(For my comments here, I'm referring to active substrates for Caridina shrimp, not inert substrates for Neocaridina shrimp)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
tank is not a good idea. But removing loose detritus with a siphon from the top of the substrate is pretty much always a good idea. Most packaged substrates will tell you on the bag not to "vacuum" them or rinse them, as both lead to breakdown.
I see, so you prefer the "hover over the substrate" kind of gravel vac. But why do you think this is good, when shrimp are detrivores and like digging thru the little pellets?
The kind of gravel vac I used to do (but not any more, mainly for no good reason except laziness) is to jam the siphon tube into the substrate and then start a low enough flow that the substrate pellets rise up a bit and tumble around, while all the mulm comes out. Then stop the flow and all the substrate settles back down. Is it bad to remove mulm?
 

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I see, so you prefer the "hover over the substrate" kind of gravel vac. But why do you think this is good, when shrimp are detrivores and like digging thru the little pellets?
The kind of gravel vac I used to do (but not any more, mainly for no good reason except laziness) is to jam the siphon tube into the substrate and then start a low enough flow that the substrate pellets rise up a bit and tumble around, while all the mulm comes out. Then stop the flow and all the substrate settles back down. Is it bad to remove mulm?
I don't use a gravel vac at all. I use airline tubing or slightly larger silicone tubing to create a siphon. I only remove what's most unsightly - it doesn't remove everything. Just the worst crud from the surface of the substrate. Target cleaning, honestly. There's still plenty of stuff left in the tank for shrimp to feed on.

Disturbing the substrate itself is what can lead to faster breakdown and that's not something I want to risk when using an expensive product. I'm less delicate about it when I'm using sand or fine gravel but I still really only remove what's on the surface. The stuff that settles beneath the surface of the substrate usually gets left by me, as it ultimately benefits my plants. Though... in sand tanks, there's rarely much settlement because I like to use Malaysian Trumpet Snails in those tanks. They keep things stirred up in a way that tends to prevent sand from looking unsightly.

In most of my shrimp tanks, there's rarely anything to remove and the substrate looks brand new even years later. In those tanks, I use a larger siphon hose with pantyhose/stockings stretched over the opening for water changes.
 
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