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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello Everyone,

I am planning to start a 70L (20 Gal) South American Cichlid Tank; either for Ramirezi or for Kribensis. I could combine the two, but I feel there would be too much chasing around for the spawning sites once pairing occurs for any of the species to be comfortable. However, I am confused about some things.

1. Selection of "dirt". Being in Europe, I do not have access to the brands used in the US. A couple of posts explain that any organic soil with the large particles and floaters removed will do, but I am not sure whether this is exactly accurate. I have access to 4 different kinds of soils;
i. indoor plant soil (65% turf (peat?), 20% Erica Leaves, 15% "Organically enriched" plant fibers).
ii. General Purpose Plant Soil ( unkown composition, all that is provided is that it contains a large amount of peat, pH 5,5-6, P 15-20 ppm, K 70-100 ppm, Ca 40-60 ppm, Mg 20-25 ppm)
iii. Plant Turf Soil Mix (no details provided).
iv. From the garden
2. Flow Rate of Filter. A rate of 3-4x the volume of water is often recommended, but the Walstad method uses no filtration or just mechanical filtration. Would internal filters function as a mechanical filter and if so, what flow rate should be used (keeping in mind that the flow rate on internal filters changes with height below water line)?

3. Lighting. Low to medium light is often stated, but how much is low and how much is high? I plan to have 2 CFL 23W 6500K bulb above the tanks or a LED strip light approach.

4. Plant placement. Often it is stated to plant liberally. I have 2 swords (echinodorus behleri), 2 dwarf lilies (nymphaea sp, not sure which), java fern, windelov fern, anabias. I heard the dwarf lilies suck up all the nutrients and leave none for the stem plants (anubias, java fern, windelov ferns) nor the root plants (swords)... What should I do? How and where should I plant these plants (or maybe split them up and plant some in another?)

I guess I have too many questions, and I am just worried I will mess everything up and end up killing all the poor fish. I am not worried about trying the various soils out, see what suits me best and all, but the lives of the fish are at stake.

Would appreciate your opinions.
 

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1. As long as the dirt is stated as organic you should be fine. If it does not specifically say organic on the bag do not use. Some type of clay in the substrate is also helpful to hold nutrients until they are needed. Be carefull with your own personal topsoil unless you are 100% sure it has not been treated with pesticides which are extremely lethal to fish in minute amounts.

2. I believe walstad uses just a Powerhead to encourage circulation, but 3-4x tank volume turnover should be sufficient. As a note u stated South American and kribensis come from Africa. It really doesn't matter cause they can both adapt to parameters but just a note.

3. Depending on height of your tank you should be at about low/medium lighting.

4. None of those plants are fast growing except the water Lilly and would not be great at biological filtration. If you plan on going walstad you will need some emergent plants or floaters. Water lettuce, salvinia, duckweed, your cover will determine if you can go emergent, dwarf umbrella palm, spathe.
The ferns and anubias are usually not planted in the substrate, but tied to hard scape, rocks, manzinita. Their rhyzomes cannot be buried or they will rot so hard scape placement will determine planting. They CAN be buried in substrate as long as the rhizome is not buried.
 

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I have plenty of dwarf lilies in my dirt tanks, and there is no problems with them sucking up the nutrients and starving the other plants.

Also, jeepguy is right about emergent growth and/or floaters, but fast growing stem plants would also help (anubias and java ferns are not stem plants, plus they are both slow growing) at least to begin with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
1. As long as the dirt is stated as organic you should be fine. If it does not specifically say organic on the bag do not use. Some type of clay in the substrate is also helpful to hold nutrients until they are needed. Be carefull with your own personal topsoil unless you are 100% sure it has not been treated with pesticides which are extremely lethal to fish in minute amounts.

2. I believe walstad uses just a Powerhead to encourage circulation, but 3-4x tank volume turnover should be sufficient. As a note u stated South American and kribensis come from Africa. It really doesn't matter cause they can both adapt to parameters but just a note.

3. Depending on height of your tank you should be at about low/medium lighting.

4. None of those plants are fast growing except the water Lilly and would not be great at biological filtration. If you plan on going walstad you will need some emergent plants or floaters. Water lettuce, salvinia, duckweed, your cover will determine if you can go emergent, dwarf umbrella palm, spathe.
The ferns and anubias are usually not planted in the substrate, but tied to hard scape, rocks, manzinita. Their rhyzomes cannot be buried or they will rot so hard scape placement will determine planting. They CAN be buried in substrate as long as the rhizome is not buried.
Thank you for your replies. If I may go in order:

1. so any of the listed soils is fine as long as it is 100% organic? One of the bags had a note saying that the contents contain organic and/or inorganic fertilizers... this is a no go then? the others are fine? As for the clay, can I break a clay pot and place the pieces in? Would it work? And is the clay in the dirt section or substrate cover section?

I found a substrate called "Aquaclay" don't know if mixing some of this in the soil and topping off with substrate would work.

2. I do not recall stating that they come from Africa?

3. Would that lighting be enough/sufficient? For the plants I listed?

4. I imagined the Echinodorus would be fast growing and hence my concern for the dwarf water lily starving it out. I do not understand what you meant by the dwarf lily not being good for biological filtration (not fast enough?)... The only other ones I can think of is ludwigia repens (not sure if it grows fast though) and elodea (egeria densa). I tried water hycanith but they died off so I don't have any left.

Sadly, other than water lettuce, I cannot find any floating, or other plants. I also have never heard of spathe or emergent or the dwarf umbrella palm. Any idea where I should look? Are they all aquatic plants or may I be able to find them in large gardening supply stores.
 

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Thank you for your replies. If I may go in order:

1. so any of the listed soils is fine as long as it is 100% organic? One of the bags had a note saying that the contents contain organic and/or inorganic fertilizers... this is a no go then?
.
The biggest thing to avoid is fertilizer and/or manure. I believe dirt can be claimed to be organic even though it contains either of the above. So its still organic but not the correct choice for a dirted tank.

I believe most potting soils use some sort of manure as a "built in fertilizer" so to say. That is great for the garden but will cause huge ammonia spikes in an aquarium. The miracle grow organic potting mix seems to be the dirt of choice around here. The ingredients in that include "poultry litter" (and perhaps used to list poultry manure). Its basically chicken manure as opposed to cow manure and does not result in ammonia spikes. You could also go outside and grab some dirt from the ground. Seems some people on the site have done that with no regrets. If you go that route you should likely mineralize the soil (which involves getting it wet, spreading it out on a tarp to let dry, and repeat multiple times)

You probably wouldnt want to break up a clay pot to put in the substrate (although I guess you could if you wanted to). You want soft clay and want to place it directly in the substrate as a source of iron for the plant roots to feed from. Try to look for red mexican pottery clay which can likely be found in a craft store and/or online somewhere. (the clay pot you're speaking of was likely formed from soft red clay to begin with!)
 

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If you haven't used pesticides or dumped chemicals or anything in your garden soil, I'd probably go with that.

As far as bagged dirt/soil, I'd probably avoid anything with added fertilizers or manure (if it's composted, it will probably be okay).

If you aren't sure, you could try the Mineralized Top Soil (MTS) process, that should help make the soil relatively stable, and take care of any potential ammonia spikes in the process.

I wouldn't worry too much about the clay - it's mostly to add in Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), but the humus (decomposed organics) also has a pretty high CEC value. Pretty much any iron in the clay is going to be locked up in the molecular structure of the mineral, and not available to plants. If you really want to add clay, either get it from a craft store, or use something like kitty litter (unscented, etc.), or stuff they use to clean up oil spills in garages and such (in the U.S. oil-dri and safe-t-sorb are the big ones, no clue what's over there, but I'm sure there is something similar)

There's quite a bit of flexibility with dirting a tank, people have used all kinds of stuff. If you do a fishless cycle before adding critters, or use MTS, you probably won't even have to worry about ammonia spikes - the fishless cycle takes about a month, and by then, pretty much anything that would produce an ammonia spike will be exhausted, or if it's not, there will be a sufficient bacterial population to compensate for it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The biggest thing to avoid is fertilizer and/or manure. I believe dirt can be claimed to be organic even though it contains either of the above. So its still organic but not the correct choice for a dirted tank.

I believe most potting soils use some sort of manure as a "built in fertilizer" so to say. That is great for the garden but will cause huge ammonia spikes in an aquarium. The miracle grow organic potting mix seems to be the dirt of choice around here. The ingredients in that include "poultry litter" (and perhaps used to list poultry manure). Its basically chicken manure as opposed to cow manure and does not result in ammonia spikes. You could also go outside and grab some dirt from the ground. Seems some people on the site have done that with no regrets. If you go that route you should likely mineralize the soil (which involves getting it wet, spreading it out on a tarp to let dry, and repeat multiple times)

You probably wouldnt want to break up a clay pot to put in the substrate (although I guess you could if you wanted to). You want soft clay and want to place it directly in the substrate as a source of iron for the plant roots to feed from. Try to look for red mexican pottery clay which can likely be found in a craft store and/or online somewhere. (the clay pot you're speaking of was likely formed from soft red clay to begin with!)
Sadly I cannot be certain that pesticides have not settled in to my garden soil since the municipality sprays aerial pesticides to control pest populations during the spring and summer. Of course the winter snow and rain may have washed it away but it is a risk.

I will try to find some pottery clay; but this "soft red clay" would be like an ooze when it gets in touch with water, wouldn't it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
If you haven't used pesticides or dumped chemicals or anything in your garden soil, I'd probably go with that.

As far as bagged dirt/soil, I'd probably avoid anything with added fertilizers or manure (if it's composted, it will probably be okay).

If you aren't sure, you could try the Mineralized Top Soil (MTS) process, that should help make the soil relatively stable, and take care of any potential ammonia spikes in the process.

I wouldn't worry too much about the clay - it's mostly to add in Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), but the humus (decomposed organics) also has a pretty high CEC value. Pretty much any iron in the clay is going to be locked up in the molecular structure of the mineral, and not available to plants. If you really want to add clay, either get it from a craft store, or use something like kitty litter (unscented, etc.), or stuff they use to clean up oil spills in garages and such (in the U.S. oil-dri and safe-t-sorb are the big ones, no clue what's over there, but I'm sure there is something similar)

There's quite a bit of flexibility with dirting a tank, people have used all kinds of stuff. If you do a fishless cycle before adding critters, or use MTS, you probably won't even have to worry about ammonia spikes - the fishless cycle takes about a month, and by then, pretty much anything that would produce an ammonia spike will be exhausted, or if it's not, there will be a sufficient bacterial population to compensate for it.
I have heard of MTS, but unfortunately, and please forgive my complete ignorance, I have no idea how to do it properly. lksdrinker mentioned getting it wet then drying it multiple times but I have no idea on the details such as how wet, how much water, how dry should it be, how many times should the process be repeated until it is enough, when do I know when to stop, etc. I would appreciate it if you could elaborate a little on this.

Would fish-less cycling be as effective as MTS w.r.t. to ammonia spikes? How about a combo of both?
 

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See answers in red.

Thank you for your replies. If I may go in order:

1. so any of the listed soils is fine as long as it is 100% organic? One of the bags had a note saying that the contents contain organic and/or inorganic fertilizers... this is a no go then? the others are fine? As for the clay, can I break a clay pot and place the pieces in? Would it work? And is the clay in the dirt section or substrate cover section? The added clay would go in the dirt section

I found a substrate called "Aquaclay" don't know if mixing some of this in the soil and topping off with substrate would work. It would work to increase your CEC ratio in the substrate, however, rather than mix it in I would use in as the substrate cover. I think it would work perfectly.

2. I do not recall stating that they come from Africa? No sir (or madam) you did not state that, however the poster was trying to explain that you have incorrectly categorized them as South American cichlids when in actual fact Kribensis (Pelvicachromis Pulcher et al) originate from Africa. A quick google search would assist.

3. Would that lighting be enough/sufficient? For the plants I listed? I believe so

4. I imagined the Echinodorus would be fast growing and hence my concern for the dwarf water lily starving it out. I do not understand what you meant by the dwarf lily not being good for biological filtration (not fast enough?)... The only other ones I can think of is ludwigia repens (not sure if it grows fast though) and elodea (egeria densa). I tried water hycanith but they died off so I don't have any left. The amazon sword is a relatively slow grower and I don't think your water lily will starve it, especially due to the fact that your proposed substrate will contain many nutrients. The elodea and ludwigia will grow much faster. What you can look for are low light stem plants as they typically have a much higher growth rate than rosette plants.

Sadly, other than water lettuce, I cannot find any floating, or other plants. I also have never heard of spathe or emergent or the dwarf umbrella palm. Any idea where I should look? Are they all aquatic plants or may I be able to find them in large gardening supply stores.
 

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I think the bigger concern may be your choice of stock....most Cichlids dig. They'll put a hole in your cap and dirt will spew everywhere.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
See answers in red.
thank you! I seem to have gotten the ramirezi's and kribensis origins confused, sorry about that.

Are you referring to broken clay pot pieces or soft clay as someone else suggested?

I still have elodea, my ludwigia's seem to have died off though :(
 

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I personally used broken clay pot pieces in 90 gallon tank, but I'm sure either option would work.

As it relates to the cichlids, both types will dig when they are breeding. They usually move the spawn around so even if caves are provided they probably will only use them for the initial egg-laying and hatching, then they will be moved to a pit. Kribs are more cave dwellers while the rams will happily breed out in the open.

That said, a thick enough substrate cap would alleviate that concern.


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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
I personally used broken clay pot pieces in 90 gallon tank, but I'm sure either option would work.

As it relates to the cichlids, both types will dig when they are breeding. They usually move the spawn around so even if caves are provided they probably will only use them for the initial egg-laying and hatching, then they will be moved to a pit. Kribs are more cave dwellers while the rams will happily breed out in the open.

That said, a thick enough substrate cap would alleviate that concern.


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With regards to the "Aquaclay", is this sufficient as a clay substitute or would adding clay pieces to the dirt be good as well? My only concern is that this substrate is quite large (each particle is around 3-5 mm), which according to what I have learnt about the Walstad method is not good?
 

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That doesn't seem very large to me but you are uncomfortable add them to your dirt layer as a clay substitute and cap with something else to your liking.

That's the beautiful thing about this hobby, there isn't a right answer, moreso many options, try what you think will give you the best result.


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Sadly I cannot be certain that pesticides have not settled in to my garden soil since the municipality sprays aerial pesticides to control pest populations during the spring and summer. Of course the winter snow and rain may have washed it away but it is a risk.

I will try to find some pottery clay; but this "soft red clay" would be like an ooze when it gets in touch with water, wouldn't it?
I was faced with the same question about which soil to use as I dont live in the US and all the suggested brands (Miracle Gro) are not available to me. What I did as a 1st step was start an experiment in a small bowl. You could do that too. Just dump some soil from your garden into a small bowl, cap it with gravel, plant it and leave it alone for around 4-5 weeks before adding fish, maybe do some WCs every week of so during that time. This will be a test for your soil.
 

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With regards to the "Aquaclay", is this sufficient as a clay substitute or would adding clay pieces to the dirt be good as well? My only concern is that this substrate is quite large (each particle is around 3-5 mm), which according to what I have learnt about the Walstad method is not good?
i think 3-5mm is good because it will allow better exchange b/w soil and water column thus avoiding anaerobic pockets. make sure the layer is an inch thick.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
i think 3-5mm is good because it will allow better exchange b/w soil and water column thus avoiding anaerobic pockets. make sure the layer is an inch thick.
Thank you alive. I appreciate the feedback. I am planning to go to a local supply seller this weekend to see if I can find some clay and proper soil. If no soil can be found, I'll just take whatever clay I can find. I might go back to my old idea of breaking a clay pot and sticking the pieces in...
 
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