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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey Everyone,

I had a 32 quart bag of nature's choice organic potting mix left over from deck boxes. From what I understand it's one of the approved dirts for in tank use.

I started soaking about half the bag and was wondering if that would be enough for a 20 long? Or should I start soaking the second half as well?

As for preparation, I was planning to soak and then sift the dirt. Is that sufficient or is there a better way to prepare it for use?

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I usually sift first but I don't think it really matters. You just need enough for a half inch to an inch of wet soil. Some will say less, I know, but I usually, personally, use and inch and a half with my dirted ntp/ walstads.
 

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I did the mineralization method which eliminated most of the bag after sifting. And yeah an 1” or so is enough, just make sure you have a good cap. What I like to do and learned from UKAPS is to cover the soil layer with a screen type material to basically keep the dirt in place. Less chance of the cap being disturbed if you have to move things around, which inevitably you will.
 

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I did the mineralization method which eliminated most of the bag after sifting. And yeah an 1” or so is enough, just make sure you have a good cap. What I like to do and learned from UKAPS is to cover the soil layer with a screen type material to basically keep the dirt in place. Less chance of the cap being disturbed if you have to move things around, which inevitably you will.
Never thought to use a screen. I did a laterite/ gravel layer before sand capping. Good suggestion!!
 

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Never thought to use a screen. I did a laterite/ gravel layer before sand capping. Good suggestion!!
Yeah works like a charm. The original idea was to use landscape screen, like a burlap material. I found mosquito mesh material at Joannes and it worked just fine. I used two layers for added cover, the roots will make their way down to the dirt so no worries about that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks everyone, appreciate the input.

Is there any differences in soil depth for NPT vs. High tech tanks? This tank will be high tech, but I would think an inch is fine still?

I still might mineralize the soil, I've used mineralized soil before so I kind of want to try something differnt this time around.

The screen idea is interesting. Are there any issues with heavy rooters like crypts and swords getting tangled in it?

Is the soil supposed to sink during soaking? I was trying to soak it to separate the perlite and wood pieces out. However, I just have a floating mass of mud. The only thing that's sunk so far is the wood chips so sifting before hand is probably better.

I also wonder about usefulness of the soil over straight peat moss. Most of the soilless mixed people seem to use are mostly peat with some ground up wood and perlite. Since we separate the wood and perlite out, is using a potting mix offering any benefit of regular peat?

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Thanks everyone, appreciate the input.

Is there any differences in soil depth for NPT vs. High tech tanks? This tank will be high tech, but I would think an inch is fine still?

I still might mineralize the soil, I've used mineralized soil before so I kind of want to try something differnt this time around.

The screen idea is interesting. Are there any issues with heavy rooters like crypts and swords getting tangled in it?

Is the soil supposed to sink during soaking? I was trying to soak it to separate the perlite and wood pieces out. However, I just have a floating mass of mud. The only thing that's sunk so far is the wood chips so sifting before hand is probably better.

I also wonder about usefulness of the soil over straight peat moss. Most of the soilless mixed people seem to use are mostly peat with some ground up wood and perlite. Since we separate the wood and perlite out, is using a potting mix offering any benefit of regular peat?

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I've used peat only with a few walstad betta vases, never high tech and it's a little too runny, IMO. I tended to look for a springy consistency when damp and that requires a bit of sand and clay. Using peat as a base works great though and helps bring hardness down. Once again- I have no experience using capped dirt in high tech settings.
 

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Plant Plant community Vertebrate Light Rectangle

I’m currently running a high tech with soil substrate and it’s still in its infancy. In terms of any root issues, not at all. I have young crypts flourishing. Potting mixes are usually light with lots of peat because the intent is for the water to drain in the pots.

My current setup is a mixture of mineralized miracle grow organic soil (the new black bag) and DynaDirt (this is a pond lily soil from Home Depot made of reedsedge peat and sand). The DynaDirt I used as is and it was a heavy thick dirt. As mentioned, just peat is too light and it will actually make your substrate too acidic. I also sprinkled osmocote plus on the bottom before I poured the dirt. These setups are usually utilized for walstad but there is no reason you cannot or should not go high tech. It’s the same as using aquasoil, just requires more planning ahead of time.

Here is the UKAPS tutorial by Tim Harrison. It was very helpful when I was setting up my tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Well soaking before sifting was a mistake. I just checked on dirt and 3/4 of is floating and the other 1/4 that sunk is an ooze the seems to be fine peat, clay, and the heavier chunks of wood.

I tried to wet sift (more like sluicing I suppose) with a kitchen colander which failed completely. I'm going to try drying it out and sifting again.

Is it just the stuff that sinks that we want to use? If so is it normal to lose the majority of the dirt? Must of bag is floating

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Well soaking before sifting was a mistake. I just checked on dirt and 3/4 of is floating and the other 1/4 that sunk is an ooze the seems to be fine peat, clay, and the heavier chunks of wood.

I tried to wet sift (more like sluicing I suppose) with a kitchen colander which failed completely. I'm going to try drying it out and sifting again.

Is it just the stuff that sinks that we want to use? If so is it normal to lose the majority of the dirt? Must of bag is floating

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Very normal to lose most of the bag.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Well I was able to sift the rest of the bag through some mosquito netting I had used to sift my mineralized topsoil for my last tank that I forgot I had. However, after a day of soaking the dirt seems to have gone anoxic and smells absolutely horrible, like rotten feces. So, I'm probably going to do a few wet/cry cycles to let it at least partially mineralize it. It's taking forever to dry since I have it in buckets due to not having much space to work with. Once it drys out I plant to only wet it slightly to help keep they drying times down.
 

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If you can get it in a small tarp or something, or trays, that would work much better. I did it in the garage with a fan blowing to help dry it out faster and it worked well. It’s never gonna dry out in a bucket my friend.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
If you can get it in a small tarp or something, or trays, that would work much better. I did it in the garage with a fan blowing to help dry it out faster and it worked well. It’s never gonna dry out in a bucket my friend.
Thanks for the advice! I remembered I saved the bag from the dirt so I spread it out on that and stashed it behind a bush. Not that I really needed to stash it, pretty sure my neighbors already think I'm nuts with bringing in 10' lengths of PVC, playing in buckets of mud, and sanding a shelf on my patio in the middle of the night 😅.

I do have a small tarp that would be much easier to use but I used it to cover my motorized bicycle so I'm worried it oil might have leaked onto it. Hopefully, having it on the bag out of the buckets will help speed it up. It's so humid here that It seems like it'll probably take a while no matter what.
 

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Thanks for the advice! I remembered I saved the bag from the dirt so I spread it out on that and stashed it behind a bush. Not that I really needed to stash it, pretty sure my neighbors already think I'm nuts with bringing in 10' lengths of PVC, playing in buckets of mud, and sanding a shelf on my patio in the middle of the night 😅.

I do have a small tarp that would be much easier to use but I used it to cover my motorized bicycle so I'm worried it oil might have leaked onto it. Hopefully, having it on the bag out of the buckets will help speed it up. It's so humid here that It seems like it'll probably take a while no matter what.
I would absolutely not use that tarp then. Try and get a small one from like harbor freight or similar hardware store.
 

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Thanks for the advice! I remembered I saved the bag from the dirt so I spread it out on that and stashed it behind a bush. Not that I really needed to stash it, pretty sure my neighbors already think I'm nuts with bringing in 10' lengths of PVC, playing in buckets of mud, and sanding a shelf on my patio in the middle of the night 😅.

I do have a small tarp that would be much easier to use but I used it to cover my motorized bicycle so I'm worried it oil might have leaked onto it. Hopefully, having it on the bag out of the buckets will help speed it up. It's so humid here that It seems like it'll probably take a while no matter what.
Just mentioning your neighbors thinking you're crazy mad me think of one if the times my "neighbor" (super rural area, 20 person township neighbor just means the person living closest to you even though it's over a mile away) drove by to drop off the mail and I was in the process of pumping out half of my 9 foot tank... He gave me the mail and told me to get back in and tend to the flood with a very concerned look on his face 😂😂😂 I had to tell him it was just water change time and show him the work in progress. He thought my water line had broken.
 

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Honestly, I'm not sure what good drying the soil out repetitively is supposed to do. I take that back, I understand what it's supposed to do, but I don't understand how it is supposed to achieve the stated goal. Moisture and heat (not too much of either) speeds up the decomposition of organic matter, so I don't know what good drying everything out periodically does. If someone has an explanation I'm all ears.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Honestly, I'm not sure what good drying the soil out repetitively is supposed to do. I take that back, I understand what it's supposed to do, but I don't understand how it is supposed to achieve the stated goal. Moisture and heat (not too much of either) speeds up the decomposition of organic matter, so I don't know what good drying everything out periodically does. If someone has an explanation I'm all ears.
I've wondered that too. Only thing I think of is drying it frequently helps providing a more aerobic environment. From what I've noticed the soil settles together very tightly when wet which have me problems with it going anoxic when I had it in buckets.

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I've wondered that too. Only thing I think of is drying it frequently helps providing a more aerobic environment. From what I've noticed the soil settles together very tightly when wet which have me problems with it going anoxic when I had it in buckets.

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Hmm, you may be right. People are usually working with super fine, sifted soil with no structure (the soil settling tightly as you observed is indicative of this) and while it might be possible to keep the soil damp and aerobic, it probably needs some finesse. Maybe people found the wet/dry cycle easier to manage and then the thinking behind it got lost to time?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I think the dirt is getting pretty close to ready. After one more cycle I think I'll just go with it.

Planning to add typical MTS additives (dolomite, red clay, osmocote plus, and KCL) since I have bunch left from my previous tank.

I'm thinking the dolomite will be key since I use the same dirt (un mineralized of course) in my sub irrigated planters and have to use dolomite heavy and often to keep the peppers and tomatoes happy.

It's truly amazing how much dirt you lose. One of the big bags down to only half a bucket.


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