Not at all. You can dump a bag of organic potting mix into your tank, cap it, plant it, then fill it with water just like that. The trick is to plant heavily initially and use plenty of fast growing stems and floaters. Frequent water changes every few days for the first few months help with the overabundance of nutrients and help to prevent any algae issues that might occur.
not had any problem with mine yet. Didnt mineralize mine. Only done one very small water change in 3 weeks and still no issues. not very heavily planted in my opinion. 3 jungal val, two jave fern, anubis, couple crypts, and a mystery plant i dont rember what its called 3 of those. in 150 gallon ohh and a red ludwigia
If you go dig up a few shovels of soil from your back yard and put it in the tank that is just fine.
There are millions of microorganisms in healthy soil.
Some of them adapt to growing under water just fine (the nitrifying bacteria, for example)
Others will die and provide the first food for all the others.
The tank may show a high level of ammonia, followed by a spike in nitrite, then nitrate.
Sort of like the nitrogen cycle, but a bit different. The soil is giving off these materials, and the nitrifying bacteria is getting started handling them, and the population is growing.
It may take about a month for the soil and its microorganisms to settle into life under water.
During this time you can be planting, rearranging and learning what fertilizers may be necessary.
If the soil does not produce much ammonia you should add some to feed the nitrifying bacteria. Do the fishless cycle while you are figuring out other things.
well, no, you don't have to... plenty of people don't and get by just fine. but there are serious benefits to it that in my experience far outweigh not doing it. I personally tried straight dirt and that really worked out quite horribly- mainly with random ammonia spikes, also had PH fluctuations and algae issues, and though the plants liked it, they could have grown faster. Basically the tank only actually completed its cycle and stabilized 9-10 months later when all of the organic nutrients were gone from the soil, so the plants weren't getting any benefits from it either. Now I've used MTS on my larger tank and I didn't have any issues at all- cycled better than straight gravel tanks, not a speck of hair algae or bba to speak of, all params are great. I planted it heavy early on and write it down to that. Oh... and I'm only running a sponge filter, and it's a 75 gallon tank.
Just my 2¢
Yeah sun is the key. I'm currently in the process of mineralizing some top soil with Aaron Talbot's method. I leave it spread thin in the driveway and its bone dry after 8 hrs or so. I live in NC and it's been 80 and sunny here for the last week.