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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
This is my second attempt at a soil substrate low tech planted Aquarium. The only other experience I have is with my 29 gallon sand substrate tank, but it's not heavily planted and wasn't set up initially for plants and has to be redone. It was a fish only tank and it started with trying one plant in the tank and went on from there, my interest was peaked. At times I paid more attention to the plants rather than the fish. Seeing new growth rather than fulfillment of the prophecy of the aquatic dept at my local Petco "don't buy plants, they will just die", felt good.

Instead of tearing down the 29 I decided to go bigger first to a 75 gal. That way I have a place for my fish to go when I do get to the 29.

I made a lot of rushed decisions and cut some corners in my first attempt and I did not research the project thoroughly. I was very impatient. The majority of my research was directed to LED lighting and I relied heavily on what I learned from YouTube and Dustin's fish tanks in regards to substrate. I came upon this forum when i started having problems and I'm glad I did. Something good came from the disaster.

I used Miracle-Gro organic Choice potting mix with a little backyard dirt mixed in and added red clay, crushed shell and imitation salt for potassium. I made the substrate to high in a lot of areas and ended up with a buildup of gas all throughout the substrate. Some areas were so bad that it looked like little volcanoes forming with built-up pressure.

This inspired a thread which was me reaching out for help. During that time I learned a lot from the people that participated, especially @thedood who shared a lot of his knowledge with me and had an unbelievable amount of patience for my many many questions. I decided to tear it down and start over.

Lighting 4 bulb T8 shop light
Currently running 2 6500k bulbs and one Philips Plant and Aquarium bulb 3200k, leaving one bulb slot unused. Researching LEDs and reading the product reviews on them inspired me to use an inexpensive shop light and build my own LED lights for another project.

Substrate
2 parts sifted top soil "premium top soil" with sphagnum peat moss from Lowe's
2 parts backyard dirt
1 part Special Kitty cat litter soaked in organic garden lime/water solution for 24 hours
Cat litter on bottom

Roughly a pound of Mexican red pottery clay, 30 root tabs,

Substrate is no more that 1.5 inches high beneath the cap layer

Capping substrate
Black Diamond blast sand

Filtration
Jebao 404 canister filter
(Floss, bio media, Purigen)

Heater, air pump, stone, thermo
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·



It's been 4 days and the tank is halfway cycled. I used an established filter which sped up the process. On day one (day after setup) I tested the water and I got the highest ammonia reading I have ever seen. I did a 90% water change and the next day did a 50%. When I saw the ammonia stabilize at 2ppm I stopped with the water changes for the time being. Day 4 today the ammonia is at 0 and nitrites 1.-2. And nitrates are at 10-20 ppm. I might leave it alone a while longer and let the cycle take its course.

The tank is quite empty right now but I am very happy with how things are going. I am doing a lot of thinking of how I want the layout and I want to take my time because I don't want to have any regrets. In the previous attempt at this tank, a friend of mine purchased a large amount of plants from my favorite LFS (Sea Life in St. Petersburg) and gave me a lot of plants to fill up the tank. Most of them were not right for a low tech setup or did not suit my taste. It is far more enjoyable to choose every addition of your aqua scape than to dump a bulk lot of plants in your tank to start. To be honest I'm not really sure about the vals and where they are.

Right now I am waiting for stabilization and for the plants I'm starting with to bounce back. Everything else is on the drawing board (plants and inhabitants)

Plants :
Cryptocoryne (s) red and bronze Wentii
Vals (jungle and italian(?)
Wisteria
Java Fern
A mystery plant group from the last tank. I haven't figured out what it is yet. It came in the bulk order mentioned above.
 

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I just pass on what others have put out there. I appreciate it but as they say we stand on the shoulders of giants.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Yesterday I turned off the air stone in both tanks. I read that one of the benefits of using a soil (not mineralized completely) substrate, at least in the beginning, is natural co2 from the decaying organics. What made me use it to begin with, was my first experience with a soil tank where I had problems with low oxygen and plant melting, apparently from the accelerated amount of anaerobic bacterial activity in the substrate. Then I was using mostly potting mix with chicken litter in it and the amount of material breaking down in the substrate was much greater. Now that I am using a different recipe this time with less organics breaking down I thought I would see how it goes and keep an eye on things for a few days. I would like to harness any additional co2 that I can while it lasts and not drive it off with an air stone if it is not necessary to do so.

I will have to keep an especially close eye in this tank for the sake of the fish.

Sent from my Z813 using Tapatalk
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I had to turn the air stone back on. I noticed that the Angelfish were staying at the surface a lot and it seemed like it was due to low o2. There seems to be a lot of controversy over air stones. Some say they do very little for o2, drive off extra co2 and equalize the o2/co2 with that of the rooms atmosphere. Some say that it doesn't make a difference with low tech but a soil substrate is not low-tech like a sand/gravel only tank is low-tech. Sand/gravel doesn't produce co2. With in hours of turning the air back on the fish stopped hanging at the surface. Perhaps when the plants have had time to settle in and/or when there are more of them, the o2 in the tank will be more plentiful rendering my air stone pointless. I do not see many air stones in planted tanks but I think I need one at the moment.
 

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I run an air stone hooked to a sponge filters in my 75 high tech and there has been no difference in C02 usage with or without an air stone. I don't think c02 and 02 compete directly, atleast In my experienceson they havnt.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I have made a few minor adjustments to the scape that I felt were necessary. I have a glass brace that is in the center of the tank. The glass is not very clear and I assume it will effect the par value of the light in that area. I will just make sure whatever I plant there is a true low light plant. I moved my S. Repens over to another area. I was happy to see how well the Repens were rooting when I moved them. That will be the last time I have to move anything hopefully because I would like to leave everything alone at this point besides new plantings.

I have made some additions to the flora :

-Argentine Sword (Echinodorus Argentinensis). I had this plant in my 29 gallon tank before I redid it. It was not doing well in that tank and I think it will grow nicely in this setup. From what I have read about this plant it sounds like it can grow very fast and large in a rich substrate. Hopefully it doesn't outgrow the tank or shade the other plants to much as it grows. We will see.

-Amazon Sword
-Cryptocoryne Wentii Red (a fav)

-Mystery plant - I stopped in at Petco to look at the "loose assorted plants" and one caught my attention. Petco will have plants with no name or information to go with them. It was a gamble but the stems were only a few bucks. I floated them and planted them soon after when the rooted. I have high hopes for them because they look fantastic. If they work out, I would like to plant more them.

I also attached my Java Ferns to the larger piece of driftwood which added some needed dimension to the scape. I am starting to like how the wood fits in with everything. I plan to attach Anubias to the smaller piece of driftwood on the right. I haven't made up my mind yet on which species of Anubius though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I run an air stone hooked to a sponge filters in my 75 high tech and there has been no difference in C02 usage with or without an air stone. I don't think c02 and 02 compete directly, atleast In my experienceson they havnt.
Perhaps it has more to do with surface agitation in my case? Could you explain your air stone/sponge filter a bit more? Does it produce surface agitation?

 

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I run an air stone hooked to a sponge filters in my 75 high tech and there has been no difference in C02 usage with or without an air stone. I don't think c02 and 02 compete directly, atleast In my experienceson they havnt.
Perhaps it has more to do with surface agitation in my case? Could you explain your air stone/sponge filter a bit more? Does it produce surface agitation?

It produces very little agitation, it's just a cheap sponge filter from amazon hooked up to an adjustable fluval air pump... I just turn the dial on the air pump till itshe low enuff I don't have a ton of disruption, but I still get the air and the benefit ofrom a sponge filter...
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
It produces very little agitation, it's just a cheap sponge filter from amazon hooked up to an adjustable fluval air pump... I just turn the dial on the air pump till itshe low enuff I don't have a ton of disruption, but I still get the air and the benefit ofrom a sponge filter...
I think I am going to do something similar, thanks for the idea. Is that a sword?
 

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It produces very little agitation, it's just a cheap sponge filter from amazon hooked up to an adjustable fluval air pump... I just turn the dial on the air pump till itshe low enuff I don't have a ton of disruption, but I still get the air and the benefit ofrom a sponge filter...
I think I am going to do something similar, thanks for the idea. Is that a sword?
Yes it is, I've had it for about a year trimming every other week or so. I was going for a home tree kinda look, the discus like to hide in it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I was at my local LFS today and they gave me something to try. It's called Flora-Spore Mycorrhizal Symbionts. I vaguely remember learning about the symbiotic relationship between types of fungus and root systems in science class but it did not occur to me that it applied to aquatic plants. The fungus makes minerals available to the plants. I'm assuming that the fungus relies on the oxygen supplied by the plant's roots, hence being a symbiotic relationship, so the benefits of mineralization can only be had around root systems. I'm curious is this fungus is present in top soil, potting mixes and especially yard dirt and adding spores may just give the amount a boost and speed up colonization in the rhizosphere. After all, nitrifying bacteria is everywhere. You can cycle an aquarium if there is ammonia present without adding bacteria, it just may take longer. Questions come to mind concerning the relationship between the fungus and anaerobic and aerobic bacteria. I do know that fungus produces co2 as a metabolic by product. Anyway, I decided to give it a go. It came in dry powder packets and I mixed it with some aquarium water and used the syringe it came with to inject it into the substrate around the plants. I will look for any noticeable changes it the plants that might not have occurred with out it.
 

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Yes it is, I've had it for about a year trimming every other week or so. I was going for a home tree kinda look, the discus like to hide in it.
You definitely achieved that look of a tree, nice!
Thanks, I read some stuff on the forum about growing carpet plants and I've had dwarf baby tears growing get into a shrub for about a year, I just took my trimming and replanted them hopefully they spread nicely
 

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I'm interested in the flora spore, are u just adding it to an existing aquarium? I'm wondering if it has any effect on fish, I've been. Contemplating getting some scud and daphnia cultures and trying to start a micro colony, I've already got pretty nice size colony of shrimp, they were all colorful but now they've mixed and are mostly like brownish
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I'm interested in the flora spore, are u just adding it to an existing aquarium? I'm wondering if it has any effect on fish, I've been. Contemplating getting some scud and daphnia cultures and trying to start a micro colony, I've already got pretty nice size colony of shrimp, they were all colorful but now they've mixed and are mostly like brownish
Sorry for the delayed response. I don't think it would be harmful to the fish or inverts but I do have to read more on it, I have been busy and haven't gotten around to it yet.

I had not considered a micro colony. That would certainly add a interesting aspect to your tank. I am interested in doing that as well but I think I need to wait until my plants grow out more and until my tank is more densely planted. I would imagine that a safe haven would mandatory if you would hope to maintain a colony. I am also interested in shrimp but so far I have not had much luck keeping less expensive "grass shrimp" alive. They were ghost shrimp only bigger with long arms and little claws. Any tips you could give on keeping shrimp alive would be appreciated.

Bump:
I've been looking everywhere for this flora-spore and can only find it on caribsea website, but now for sale anywhere, do u know of any online retailers that sell it?
My LFS could probably sell it to you via mail order. I'm sure it would be a good price.
 
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