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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
As the title states, I'm currently trying to decide between dirt and aquasoil for a new tank. Does anyone have a particular recommendation from either personal or public opinion?
 

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It's all personal preference and what you are truly looking for. I've used both. I've done plenty of ntp with capped dirt bottoms and plenty of moderate and high tech with aquasoil, though I've never done a dirt bottomed high tech. Each has their own benefits and draw backs.

Aquasoil has the benefit that it doesn't need to be capped and you can more easily rescape your tank with less risk of poisoning your tank. Dirt capped has the benefit of not absorbing nutrients meaning you will not have to alter your ferts after the substrate is saturated and if you're doing a ntp/ walstad you may not even need ferts, but in return rescaping is not recommended as breaking the cap can cause excess nutrients to be released into the water column.

I, personally, have historically chosen layered dirt ntp tanks but your choices for plants is a bit more limited and you cannot attain the bright neon colors high tech offers you, but at the same time all you need is powerhead and possibly supplemental lighting. This method is best thouroughly researched first.

FYI- Aquasoils generally require specific water change regimes in initial set up 50% per day first week, 50% every other day 2nd week,50% 2 times the 3rd week and 50% per week after. The benefit to this is that you will not have to add ammonia, fish food, a table shrimp (if you're me) or anything else to build up ammonia for your cycle. It takes out the guess work there.

I hope that helps a little.
 

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I think it depends on what you're planning to keep. From what I know, aquasoils tend to buffer the pH a little bit, while dirt doesn't. Dirt is also a giant hassle to move if you have to move the tank (so not recommended for college tanks). Aquasoil also gets depleted of buffers and stuff over time, while dirt takes a while longer to deplete and you can supplement with more ferts as time goes on.
 

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I will depart from previous advice and say: Aquasoil, yes aquasoil every single time. Never ever dirt.

Dirt has the advantage of being cheap. You can dig it up out of the ground for free and frankly the stuff you dig up yourself is better for our purposes then any you can buy in a bag at the garden center.

And that's where the advantages end.

Dirt has soooooo much nutrients that its a real pain to balance the tank. Its super easy to get algae blooms and comparing your tank to to other peoples tanks is an exercise in futility since the dirt in your tank will be different from the dirt in their tank even if you both bought the same brand of bagged dirt since most (all?) the major brands of bagged dirt have different fill locations around the country.

Additionally dirt as mentioned really can't be disturbed, you can's build it very deep either so your substrate is going to be flat, thus less ability to aquascape.

I've done dirt in 3 tanks, including a proper walstad bowl, and I just will never go back, why?

Because aquasoil can do everything dirt can do but its gloriously stable and consistent. The disadvantage is you have to buy it. BUT even there its not THAT expensive. 20 to 50 dollars and you can buy a bag capable of covering 1/2" or so (at least) of a tank. Then you can cap it with sand and have the same effects as if it were dirt but without the worry of disturbing it or the crazy and weird algae outbreaks dirt is known for.
 

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I will depart from previous advice and say: Aquasoil, yes aquasoil every single time. Never ever dirt.

Dirt has the advantage of being cheap. You can dig it up out of the ground for free and frankly the stuff you dig up yourself is better for our purposes then any you can buy in a bag at the garden center.

And that's where the advantages end.

Dirt has soooooo much nutrients that its a real pain to balance the tank. Its super easy to get algae blooms and comparing your tank to to other peoples tanks is an exercise in futility since the dirt in your tank will be different from the dirt in their tank even if you both bought the same brand of bagged dirt since most (all?) the major brands of bagged dirt have different fill locations around the country.

Additionally dirt as mentioned really can't be disturbed, you can's build it very deep either so your substrate is going to be flat, thus less ability to aquascape.

I've done dirt in 3 tanks, including a proper walstad bowl, and I just will never go back, why?

Because aquasoil can do everything dirt can do but its gloriously stable and consistent. The disadvantage is you have to buy it. BUT even there its not THAT expensive. 20 to 50 dollars and you can buy a bag capable of covering 1/2" or so (at least) of a tank. Then you can cap it with sand and have the same effects as if it were dirt but without the worry of disturbing it or the crazy and weird algae outbreaks dirt is known for.
Tbh you honestly don't know what's in aquasoils either, it's not like they tell you what their proprietary blend of volcanic minerals and soils really is. Though I do 100% agree about the much higher potential for algae blooms in dirt.
 

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Tbh you honestly don't know what's in aquasoils either, it's not like they tell you what their proprietary blend of volcanic minerals and soils really is. Though I do 100% agree about the much higher potential for algae blooms.
Oh definitely, and certainly one aquasoil will have different amounts of nutrients then another. BUT they appear to be internally consistent. A bag of fluval stratum bought in Maryland will be the same as one bought in California. And it releases nutrients over a much slower period of time then say dirt which releases basically everything to water saturation until its calmed down at which point its basically not much better then mulm. Ehh anyway I'm hugely prejudice against dirt a this point so the OP should take my advice with a grain of salt. I'm happy I did my experiments with dirt tanks but I feel no desire to ever do another dirt tank when a thin layer of aquasoil is so cheap and accessible.
 

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Oh definitely, and certainly one aquasoil will have different amounts of nutrients then another. BUT they appear to be internally consistent. A bag of fluval stratum bought in Maryland will be the same as one bought in California. And it releases nutrients over a much slower period of time then say dirt which releases basically everything to water saturation until its calmed down at which point its basically not much better then mulm. Ehh anyway I'm hugely prejudice against dirt a this point so the OP should take my advice with a grain of salt. I'm happy I did my experiments with dirt tanks but I feel no desire to ever do another dirt tank when a thin layer of aquasoil is so cheap and accessible.
Lol I don't blame you, they are not easy to get a grasp on and there's definitely a huuuuuuuge learning curve with the variability in dirt. If thoroughly researched and well planned, however, I have achieved tanks that required virtually 0 maintenance, the flip side is at took 2 years to achieve as opposed to the couple months that it can be accomplished with aquasoil. * balance achieved in a couple months- not 0 maintenance for aquasoil.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
It's all personal preference and what you are truly looking for. I've used both. I've done plenty of ntp with capped dirt bottoms and plenty of moderate and high tech with aquasoil, though I've never done a dirt bottomed high tech. Each has their own benefits and draw backs.

Aquasoil has the benefit that it doesn't need to be capped and you can more easily rescape your tank with less risk of poisoning your tank. Dirt capped has the benefit of not absorbing nutrients meaning you will not have to alter your ferts after the substrate is saturated and if you're doing a ntp/ walstad you may not even need ferts, but in return rescaping is not recommended as breaking the cap can cause excess nutrients to be released into the water column.

I, personally, have historically chosen layered dirt ntp tanks but your choices for plants is a bit more limited and you cannot attain the bright neon colors high tech offers you, but at the same time all you need is powerhead and possibly supplemental lighting. This method is best thouroughly researched first.

FYI- Aquasoils generally require specific water change regimes in initial set up 50% per day first week, 50% every other day 2nd week,50% 2 times the 3rd week and 50% per week after. The benefit to this is that you will not have to add ammonia, fish food, a table shrimp (if you're me) or anything else to build up ammonia for your cycle. It takes out the guess work there.

I hope that helps a little.
Ah... the specific water changes seem to be a bit much haha. It's a 170 gallon, so I'm not too keen on the aquasoil choice, though looking at other comments, dirt causes more issues (I've never had much luck with getting rid of algae in my other tanks).What's the reason for the water changes, and would using a dry start method lessen the load?
 

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Ah... the specific water changes seem to be a bit much haha. It's a 170 gallon, so I'm not too keen on the aquasoil choice, though looking at other comments, dirt causes more issues (I've never had much luck with getting rid of algae in my other tanks).What's the reason for the water changes, and would using a dry start method lessen the load?
In short no.

The water changes get rid of excess nutrients that leech from the aquasoil or dirt (both are active substrates and require lots of water changes when new). The nutrients if not gotten rid of via water change will create an algae bloom like none other. Get a water change system to help do water changes (python, pump and hose, whatever)
 

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Low tech tank? Definitely dirt.

With a bit of patience, you can achieve MANY things with dirt. Here's an example of one of my close to maintenance free dirted tanks:

1028390


I do water changes every 1 month, if I remember. Nitrates stay under 10ppm, stocked with a betta, loads of shrimp and pest snails. It does take a good bunch of research, but not much more than setting up an aquasoil tank.

The biggest benefit of an aquasoil substrate would be the fact that you don't have to worry about the dirt seeping into the tank. However, this shouldn't even be a worry provided you use sand substrate, and if you don't plan on moving the tank much.

Aquasoils would be much more practical for high tech tanks.

EDIT: I set this up within six months into learning about the world of aquariums. It is not impossible. It's also a great learning experience between tank maintenance, plant health, and correlation between flora and fauna.
 

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Low tech tank? Definitely dirt.

With a bit of patience, you can achieve MANY things with dirt. Here's an example of one of my close to maintenance free dirted tanks:

View attachment 1028390

I do water changes every 1 month, if I remember. Nitrates stay under 10ppm, stocked with a betta, loads of shrimp and pest snails. It does take a good bunch of research, but not much more than setting up an aquasoil tank.

The biggest benefit of an aquasoil substrate would be the fact that you don't have to worry about the dirt seeping into the tank. However, this shouldn't even be a worry provided you use sand substrate, and if you don't plan on moving the tank much.

Aquasoils would be much more practical for high tech tanks.

EDIT: I set this up within six months into learning about the world of aquariums. It is not impossible. It's also a great learning experience between tank maintenance, plant health, and correlation between flora and fauna.
Nice job on your ntp!! I, personally, love them!! That was my starting point into planted tanks about 15 years ago. I had a few that only required top offs, I changed the water a couple times a year when I'd do plant maintenance but that was it. Had one tank for 8 years when my favourite betta finally passed (7 years old so I can't complain). I took my last one down because by that time I was up to my elbows breeding cichlids.

I do beg to differ, though on research required dirt vs aquasoil. There's a standard water change schedule that is pretty straight forward, but there's also the absorption.... Strike that, I agree... I think for people that like to set and forget the research on a dirt bottom tank is very well worth it. For those that are young and/ or will need to move their tanks, those that like to move plants around and those going high tech aquasoil is the way to go.
 
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