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Generally folks put a 1-2 inch layer of sand over the soil to act as a cap. I have a about 3 inches of MTS and a 1.5 inch layer of "Black Blast" on top of that.

When it comes to vacuuming, I just try to suck off the bits, matter, leaves, and poo which is right on the surface. I don't do a "deep cleaning" as one might with gravel; the results would be highly undesirable. I'm not concerned with crud that works it's way below the surface of the sand- this is all good stuff that plants benefit from.
 

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I never touch the substrate on a planted tank. My idea is that the longer everything is there to settle, then the easier it is for the system to go into equilibrium and maintain stability. Plus the mulm provides nutrients.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Generally folks put a 1-2 inch layer of sand over the soil to act as a cap. I have a about 3 inches of MTS and a 1.5 inch layer of "Black Blast" on top of that.

When it comes to vacuuming, I just try to suck off the bits, matter, leaves, and poo which is right on the surface. I don't do a "deep cleaning" as one might with gravel; the results would be highly undesirable. I'm not concerned with crud that works it's way below the surface of the sand- this is all good stuff that plants benefit from.
Ahhh so is THAT the point in having a cap over the substrate ... a layer to keep the soil in place and make it easy to do mum maintenance?

I never touch the substrate on a planted tank. My idea is that the longer everything is there to settle, then the easier it is for the system to go into equilibrium and maintain stability. Plus the mulm provides nutrients.
How long have you had a tank up while doing that? I had a 60 gallon that lasted about 6 years doing no maintenance before unhappy things happened lol. How many water changes are you doing to maintain water quality or do you just top off?
 

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Am very new at all this plant stuff but it seems to me that you just want to create a balance between the fish output and the plant uptake, by adding plants or subtracting fish, (to achieve a no W/C state) or draining excess nutrient through W/C's if fish output is too high (or if you input fertilizer). Also, that you could theoretically leave all of the waste in there to be consumed as plant food (in the balanced state takadi is talking about), but that the water column, if not the substrate, will accumulate too much matter which cannot be used as plant food which means you have to mechanically filter the column to keep it clean. Siphoning any mulm off of the substrate surface will help if your nutrient load is high. By the way, Hydro sponges are the most underrated filter on earth; cheap, long lasting, easy to clean, hold tons of waste, and once they are broken in somehow manage to polish water better than a micron filter. I wouldn't trade mine for the most expensive filter on earth.
 

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Ahhh so is THAT the point in having a cap over the substrate ... a layer to keep the soil in place and make it easy to do mum maintenance?



How long have you had a tank up while doing that? I had a 60 gallon that lasted about 6 years doing no maintenance before unhappy things happened lol. How many water changes are you doing to maintain water quality or do you just top off?
By the way, do you know what gave out at the 6 year mark?
 

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To answer your question more directly, the cap is there firstly to keep the fish and water currents from stirring it into solution and clouding the water with mud, and secondly, if you use sand, to keep the mulm on top where you can siphon it off.
 

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Generally folks put a 1-2 inch layer of sand over the soil to act as a cap. I have a about 3 inches of MTS and a 1.5 inch layer of "Black Blast" on top of that.

When it comes to vacuuming, I just try to suck off the bits, matter, leaves, and poo which is right on the surface. I don't do a "deep cleaning" as one might with gravel; the results would be highly undesirable. I'm not concerned with crud that works it's way below the surface of the sand- this is all good stuff that plants benefit from.
3" of uncut MTS? They say 1 1/2" is the limit due to toxic gas production or something. Have you had it up long?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
By the way, do you know what gave out at the 6 year mark?
I can really only guess - but I am assuming that it took that long for the tank to get so unbalanced that in the end it was just too much organic matter for that system and that bioload to handle.

I also think that I didn't have enough scavengers - even though I had corys, plecos, apple snails, kuhlies - I had NO shrimps, and I think that might have perhaps helped to hold the crash back a little bit longer.

I had mega huge amazon swords, and anubias, and a buttload of java moss and fern, a UGF and a HOB. I think the anubia and the swords shed so many leaves (they grew at an obnoxious rate), and I think it just built up more than the tank could handle to break down quickly enough to avoid that.

I did hardly any water changes - mostly just topped off and it was overstocked, but it worked soooooo amazingly well for soooo many years that I thought I was sort of charmed I think lol, cuz I was breaking ALL the rules. I didn't vacuum at all for years, or remove dead leaves, thinking they'd break down and help fert.

I was in a sense I believe exploring recreating my "guppy in a glass - the perfect ecostructure" scenario in a larger "format and scale" while pushing the boundaries of the bioload that the system actually could manage to support, and just pushed it way to far too many times for too long.

When I finally did a water change - it wasn't a happy sight, and it alone convinced me that though it worked so amazingly well for so long, that it's just a matter of time before it keels over and while that is going on, I'm not so sure the fish are in a good environment. At least in the wild, things happen to alter their system ... rain, wind, snow, heat ...they experience a shift and can for the most part choose to be in the areas that support them the best if the balance in one part of their habitat goes wonky for a while.

But the reality is that I can only guess at why it crashed. I'm always curious how long others have theirs up without any maintenance - I guess just to see if someone out there had their tan remain stable for a lot longer than I managed to do with mine. If I did it again, I wouldn't overstock lol.
 

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It's also possible that, after six years of no maintenance, the nutrients have shifted from the substrate to the water column as the soil is depleted and the layer of mulm accumulates...
 

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Yea the key is to keep all the mulm in the substrate. Once you disturb it and allow it to everywhere, that's when the nitrates and ammonia start spiking. I do water changes every month when I feel like it, only when I see there's an algae problem, but that's it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
It's also possible that, after six years of no maintenance, the nutrients have shifted from the substrate to the water column as the soil is depleted and the layer of mulm accumulates...
Doubtful since the substrate was gravel and all ferts were applied to the water column from day one. So it couldn't really shift, you know?
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Yea the key is to keep all the mulm in the substrate. Once you disturb it and allow it to everywhere, that's when the nitrates and ammonia start spiking. I do water changes every month when I feel like it, only when I see there's an algae problem, but that's it.
I suppose, only I didn't disturb it until after I noticed it was crashing. The mulm pretty much just stayed on the gravel.

How long has yours been up at this point?
 

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definitely don't wanna vacuum a dirt base substrate. you can lightly vac. along the top, but you don't want to go down into your cap b/c you will start sucking up and disturbing the dirt and make a huge cloudy mess.

Just get the mulm off the top and leave the rest, plants will take care of its toxicity.
 

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Mine has been up since the beginning of summer. That doesn't mean I don't do water changes though. I just don't do it very often and I only do it when my plants can't keep up with the bioload of my fish (I am a bit overstocked, might have to fix that soon). When I do water changes, I never disturb the substrate. The most I do is kind of swish the water around a bit to get some of the surface mulm that has settled, but that's about it.
 

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Doubtful since the substrate was gravel and all ferts were applied to the water column from day one. So it couldn't really shift, you know?
I'm sorry - that was mentioned where, exactly? Unless I'm missing the obvious, the only context you've established is a soil substrate, nor have you changed such in your description of the crash.

I seem to have experienced one of the pitfalls of long-distance diagnoses, eh?...
 

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Mine has been up since the beginning of summer. That doesn't mean I don't do water changes though. I just don't do it very often and I only do it when my plants can't keep up with the bioload of my fish (I am a bit overstocked, might have to fix that soon). When I do water changes, I never disturb the substrate. The most I do is kind of swish the water around a bit to get some of the surface mulm that has settled, but that's about it.
If you get away with 3" of soil that tanks never gonna need fertz.
 

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I take my powerhead which is a hydor 1050 and I lightly blow all the sand from the leftside to the right side with it kind of like you would a blower after your done mowing your lawn. Then I proceed with my water change and I vacuum up all the mulm, dead leaves, and oscomote balls which drive me crazy. I end up with a perfectly new looking black substrate.
 

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I take my powerhead which is a hydor 1050 and I lightly blow all the sand from the leftside to the right side with it kind of like you would a blower after your done mowing your lawn. Then I proceed with my water change and I vacuum up all the mulm, dead leaves, and oscomote balls which drive me crazy. I end up with a perfectly new looking black substrate.
Osmocote probably loves to emerge in a perfectly new looking black substrate. friggin' osmocote! :icon_mad:
 
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