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I was looking to collect local sand/gravel and plant any local plants I can find in it. I was hoping to do a native tank with pygmy sunfish and only use plants and gravel I can find locally.

Has anyone collected gravel and used it in their tank?, any tips?
 

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I've collected my own substrate. I've collected them from two creek beds on some family property. One of them was very fine particle size, and this worked okay, after I capped it with Quikrete brand play sand. I've not had any real algae issues, and the tank is all native N.A. plants and collected substrate/wood (other than the play sand).

The other tank is no longer set up, but I mixed fluorite with small gravel and sand mix pulled from the creek bed. I had some minor hair algae growth in that tank, but it was not to crazy levels by any means.
In both cases, I washed the substrate with boiling water poured into a 5 gal bucket. I did several boiling water baths to kill potential bacteria/algae/critters.

I also did this to the wood I collected, after I stripped any rotted wood off it. I let it sit in the water for a few days to remove tannins and let the wood absorb water so it would be less buoyant. I skinned any remaining bark off of it as well. I've had some minor fungal growth on it, but nothing time didn't take care of. The wood (It's Oak) I put in the tank I adhered with silicone to a piece of slate tile, and then put the substrate in the tank to bury the tile. It hasn't caused any problems, and I use slate tiles as a background regularly. I just cut them to fit with a tile wet saw and diamond blade and silicone them to the back glass inside the tank.

I've tried to be careful to avoid limestone, which is common here. I have not seen any big pH fluctuations, and the plants are all doing fine. There are no fish in that tank. It's really a grow out tank for plants to be added to the 150 gal tank I'm setting up for native fish.
 

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If your intent is to gather sand or gravel, then I would simply test it to see if it will alter the GH, KH, pH and TDS of the water. If that is OK for the fish you want to keep, then go for it.
If you collect from a wet location you might want to thoroughly dry the material with lots of exposure to the sun and a splash of bleach to kill fish disease or parasites.
A dry location would not have this issue.

If you want a finer material, more like soil for a planted tank I would highly recommend testing a sample to make sure it won't cloud the tank.
Put a handful or two in a jar of water with a good lid (Canning jar is good) and shake it a lot.
Let it sit and see how much falls out in just a few seconds, a few minutes and a few hours.
If most of it has fallen out in the first few minutes this is good.
If the water stays cloudy, but not too bad, through just a few hours this is good.
The longer the water stays cloudy (like overnight) or the murkier it is, the worse as far as aquarium use goes.
This would be a high clay soil and high cationic exchange capacity (good), but the cloudiness that does not settle, even when the jar sits still overnight will not settle out in an aquarium with any sort of pump, power head or even fish stirring the water.
 
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