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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone. I'm new to planted tanks, having kept cichlids until now in my 5 foot tank. (60 x 18 x 20 - approx 90 US gallons) Now I'm planning to tear it down and convert to a planted low tech with eventually some tetras and angels. My lighting consists of 2 x 54 watt HO T5 lights. This lighting should be sufficient for low light plants shouldn't it? I'm looking at the usual suspects, crypto's, anubia, java fern, maybe some hygro, val etc.

My next step is substrate. I want to get the best I can while I'm starting from scratch. I've been researching for a week straight, and have been tossing up between fluorite, eco complete and ADA amazonia, but they are all very expensive here in Australia. So then I read that laterite with gravel on top could be a cheaper alternative, but it turns out it's not so cheap either, and to be honest, I like the idea of not having to mix substrates. So that brings me back to the other 3 - given that eco and fluorite are about the same price, and ADA amazonia is currently on sale for the same price also, I am thinking of biting the bullet and investing in the ADA. Little bit scared about doing so for a couple of reasons - the initial cycling of ammonia seems fairly straight forward, but given this will be a low tech tank therefore no CO2, how heavily do I have to plant the tank to avoid algae problems? Is ADA overkill for a low tech? I live in a drought stricken area and survive on rain water, therefore big weekly water changes aren't a luxury I can afford. How significantly will ADA contribute to the nitrate levels given it will be constantly decomposing and leaching nutrients. Is it so much that weekly water changes will be a must for healthy fish, or will the plants keep up with it? Currently in my cichlid tank (no plants) I do a 30 -50% water change about once a month. I'd like to stick to this routine if possible. I guess what I want to know is will using ADA change this due to nitrate levels?

I've been doing a lot of reading on this forum and learned a heap of stuff, keep up the good work everyone and thanks for your help.
 

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a lot of people including myself have lots of success with fluorite. The only problem with it is that no matter how long you wash it for, there is always going to be dust. its alright though because it settles fairly quickly.
 

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I wouldn't bother with ordering any of those substrates to down under it will eat you alive in shipping. All three would work well in your tank but the cost would be to much for me to go with them. And personally I like to spend my money on the plants and fish not the substrate.

I would go with topsoil capped with pool filter sand which is the cheapest as you can always get it locally. Find a local landscaping or orchard supply store and buy several bags of plain topsoil without fertilizers or additives ($3-$4 per 50lb bag in the US) and cap it with pool filter sand from a pool/spa store ($3-$4 per 50lb bag in the US).

If you want it to act like ADA soils (the quick fert start) then buy the following while your getting the topsoil

1.) sphagnum peat moss (lowers pH and adds great CEC)
2.) potash (for potassium)
3.) Iron Chelate 10% (Fe)

All three will be very cheap and all you need to do is mix them together and add a dusting of them to the bottom of the tank before you add the topsoil. That will get you about three to six months of fast fert uptake right away depending on how much the plants asorbs.

- Brad
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hmm, ok thanks for the suggestions. Just to clarify, the ADA is sold locally here in Australia, so shipping is not a problem. Still, the recommended 9 bags of ADA at $45 a bag (on sale) works out ridiculously expensive - I was thinking of only getting half that amount and bulking it up with some crushed lava rock or aquaground, but even so I'd still be looking at over $200.

I like the idea of spending my money on fish and plants instead!:proud:

I will definitely investigate the topsoil idea, and adding some peat and other ferts sounds great too. How do I work out how much to add of each? Being on rain water, my water is already naturally under 6 ph, I'll actually have to raise it a little to maintain stability - will adding peat make it worse, or have no effect?

The only problem with capping with sand is I wanted a black substrate - nothing beats green plants and cardinals against a black substrate IMO. But I'm sure someone sells black sand. Capping with Black fluorite is certainly an option, but again, at $50 a bag it's not a cheap solution. I will check it out today.

Thankyou so much for your practical alternatives!! :biggrin:

One other question, after the 3-6 months are up, is there anyway to refertilise the soil, or will it be down to root tabs and/or liquid ferts? Daily dosing of ferts is not somewhere I want to go, planning on low tech, low maintenance.

Regards, Kara
 

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If you're going with mineralized soil and lower lighting, the chances are good you may never have to fertilize, or just minimally.

I personally just use root tabs under larger plants in my low tech tanks. It does somewhat limit my plant choices, but it works for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Ok, thanks. I got less housework done than I intended today, thanks to getting hooked reading about how you solved your gw prob in your journal!!!! The 90 gallons looking lovely, and a few root tabs every now and then is as much as I had planned, so that sounds good to me. Will let you know how I go!
 

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It doesn't matter what substrate you go with you'll still need to do some type of water column fertilizing whether it's a commercial liquid or you use dry powders (best price, same results) even with MTS which I've made and used before the zealots start screaming.

If you go with the easier non-mineralized topsoil with peat+potash+fe (which was the hot thing before ADA and MTS) with your soft water I'd change the peat to worm castings which you can get at the same landscaping/orchard stores and use it the same way just mix the three together and sprinkle a dusting on the bare glass. It's not a science so you want enough to almost cover the bottom but not quite. The worm castings is actually better than the peat for nutrients but doesn't have the CEC rating or the PH dip.

- Brad
 

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Ok, thanks. I got less housework done than I intended today, thanks to getting hooked reading about how you solved your gw prob in your journal!!!! The 90 gallons looking lovely, and a few root tabs every now and then is as much as I had planned, so that sounds good to me. Will let you know how I go!
Sorry to put you behind on the housework! :D LOL

And Brad- you CAN have planted tanks without needing to dose the water column; it's just a matter of how you set up the tank. I never dose any of my water columns; instead, I control light and rely on the substrate and bioload to supply the plants with what they need. There's always more than one way to skin a cat. :thumbsup:

If the goal here is to not need to use ferts for the water column, the full-on mineralized soil method is a better way to go. Even in high light, people using MTS only need to occasionally dose some potassium. In low light, even that much shouldn't be necessary- the plants can obtain the smaller amounts they need from fish food/waste.
 

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My only problem with the MTS or ADA only method is that it's never a good idea to depend on only one method of fertilization especially when it's someone that's new to planted tanks. That's fine if you've been doing it for years and you know what to expect and know when to add things like Fe, K, or Mg or even more importantly when to limit specific things.

It's hard enough to get people to dose correctly in the first place let alone after someone says that method "X" is foolproof and is the only thing you need.

- Brad
 

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I too am fairly new to planted tanks myself but have some experience due to friends and relatives. Being that i am a "newbie" I could use some advice on rescaping my tank. I have a heavily planted tank and having used soil i can say that it is quick an easy but is also quite a pain in the rear end. Now i too am an aquarist on a budget due to my first year as a college student, i also did some research to find a cheap alternative for substrate.

What i came up with is using kitty litter as a substrate. There is a particular kind of litter thats free of additives that should be readily available. I believe one company that makes the kitty litter also produces the material for a company that sells the same product for aquariums and an extreamly high mark up. Do some research, its not hard to find information on the kitty litter you need.

The advantage to using this is that with soil, a lot of gas escapes from the soil if it does not have a sufficient supply of oxygen. This in turn produces anerobic bacteria and then the decaying bacteria produces hydrogen sulfide i believe which is extreamly toxic to both plants and fish. I have had my soil planted tank running for about a year and as i dig into the substrate bubble of the nasty smelling gas escape to the top.
In the next few week i plan on redoing both my nano and my other tank with kitty litter as a substrate capped with a small layer of flourite or pool filter sand. But I to wish to keep a back substrate so we'll see if i can find any info on a black sand that is aquarium safe. A thin layer of slate chips is a possibility as well. :) Hope i could help
 

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I too am fairly new to planted tanks myself but have some experience due to friends and relatives. Being that i am a "newbie" I could use some advice on rescaping my tank. I have a heavily planted tank and having used soil i can say that it is quick an easy but is also quite a pain in the rear end. Now i too am an aquarist on a budget due to my first year as a college student, i also did some research to find a cheap alternative for substrate.

What i came up with is using kitty litter as a substrate. There is a particular kind of litter thats free of additives that should be readily available. I believe one company that makes the kitty litter also produces the material for a company that sells the same product for aquariums and an extreamly high mark up. Do some research, its not hard to find information on the kitty litter you need.

The advantage to using this is that with soil, a lot of gas escapes from the soil if it does not have a sufficient supply of oxygen. This in turn produces anerobic bacteria and then the decaying bacteria produces hydrogen sulfide i believe which is extreamly toxic to both plants and fish. I have had my soil planted tank running for about a year and as i dig into the substrate bubble of the nasty smelling gas escape to the top.
In the next few week i plan on redoing both my nano and my other tank with kitty litter as a substrate capped with a small layer of flourite or pool filter sand. But I to wish to keep a back substrate so we'll see if i can find any info on a black sand that is aquarium safe. A thin layer of slate chips is a possibility as well. :) Hope i could help
Where are you in KC? I'm from Blue Springs myself. Have you joined HAAS yet? The next meeting will be on the 16th.

Oil-Dri makes nearly all of the Kitty Litter on the US market, they also make Turface for Lesco and while it's my favorite substrate it's far from a high markup ($8-$10 per 50lb bag). The only other one I can think of is aquariumplants.com's substrate which Oil-Dry *probably* makes. It's markup is mostly shipping which is a killer.

Your topsoil shouldn't be doing that, mine's been running close to two years without that happening. Where did you get your soil? And did it say non-fertilizer on it?

- Brad
 

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After enjoying the suggestions offered by the membership I was all set to 'click' the next topic of interest but can't resist after the last post.
Like minded with bradac56 in that simple is best I tried the Walstad style on a 55g low tech for giggles when adding more tanks last year. After the 'settling in' of the soil going submerged it is a hands off system that is all but on auto pilot. I trim plants and "add" water. Wholesale WC are not needed to keep things going smoothly.

I badly need to update the string due to a computer issue / time at work and not home. I documented most all the events as they occurred and don't have much over $100.00 invested lights included.

http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/low-tech-forum/86457-55-gallon-low-tech-soil-sub.html

Water changes are months apart and only 20-25%
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hmm, I doubt I'd have much luck with kitty litter here in Australia, I investigated that route once before for bonsai (my other hobby - it makes a great soil medium for bonsai) but all the natural types available locally that are free from chemicals turn to mush very quickly and were unsuitable for bonsai let alone aquarium substrate. :eek:

This might be a silly question, but is mineralised soil different from topsoil? Would ordinary unfertilised topsoil not contain mineral content? I'm a little nervous about the pockets of gas errupting described by a amichaels and wkndracer, but from what I understand wkndracer, it only happened to you in the initial phase, and not at all for you Brad? From my reading, if I plant the tank fairly well, the roots should help to aerate the soil and prevent anaerobic pockets from happening. As an idea, what about adding a product such as aquaclay ground to the soil and mixing it in to help with circulation through the substrate?

I'm not against fertilising, and if the need arose I would certainly do it, it's just that my goal in low maintenance, so I want to plan the best circumstances possible to allow this.

Thanks for the tip on wormcastings too, that sounds like a better idea than the peat given my soft water situation. Thankyou everyone for your input so far.:thumbsup:

Regards, Kara
 

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natural soil substrate gassing

Yes the soil gassing was only for a couple months at a minor level and only roughly two weeks at the levels that alarmed me. I have two threads on this tank, the second is over on APC. Ms. Diana Walstad moderates that thread and told me in a reply post that more good came out of the gas pockets than bad as its mostly CO2 and the plants love it. I did not have a problem of the soil ever going anaerobic either just extremely active bacteria working through the organics.

I currently have (Best guess) 29 baby angels, two albino Cory’s, 2-3 Otto’s and Wallie (yes we named our department store rescue fish :icon_redf) housed in this tank.:eek:,,,, :icon_cool The only filter hardware is the sponge equipped power head for creating water circulation through the DIY spray bar along with a heater. The plants provide all O2 for the fish since the brief use at start up I have not used an aerator.

1st filled on 4/30/09, the last two water changes were 25g on 8/8/09 and 23g on 10/4/09. Current tested levels yesterday are as follows;
TDS 462, pH 7.4, NO3 <5ppm, PO4 .25ppm, 9dGH, 5dKH, Ca2 50ppm, Mg 8.72ppm, CO2 5.97ppm Very minor GSA on the glass, funny to me but algae has never been big in this tank. (hope that statement doesn't jinx it LOL)

For your described goal of reduced water changes and keeping the need to dose ferts at a minimum. I would not hesitate to save money and set up a low tech natural soil substrate system.

The baby angels I'm raising in this tank are fed baby brine shrimp and crushed flake twice a day with a light third feeding in the evening.
The largest are almost quarter (US coin) size, ready to be given to local hobbyists and the latest additions are about pencil eraser size. I mention this because I monitor NO3 levels closely because of the heavy feeding schedule and minimalist filtration. With the last water change 3 months ago and NO3 testing yesterday at less than 5ppm I am very happy with the plant/livestock balancing act this very inexpensive 55g set up has provided.

However you choose to go with your new tank I wish you the very best of luck going forward and hope to see a tank journal in the future here on TPT.
Mike
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Lauralee - thanks, I checked out the sticky, very informative!

Mike, after reading your thread and many others, and the replies on my question, I have definitely decided to go the topsoil method. My only decision at the moment is whether to mineralise the soil first or go without doing that. I see from your thread that you chose not to? This is my pros and cons list, please tell me if I'm wrong.

Mineralising soil pros:
*Breaks nutrients in soil down into a form plants can use immediately
*Therefore may help reduce green water and algae outbreaks
*May reduce pockets of gas forming as much decay has already taken place

Cons:
*It's a lot of work and time consuming
*This process happens eventually anyway in the tank, it will just take longer.
*While soil breaks down in the tank you may have to deal with greenwater algae and gassing.

Is this assessment correct? One more question - when gathering topsoil that has been exposed to the elements for years - would this not mean that to some extent it has mineralised naturally? The topsoil in my local area (I live in the country) is quite light and grainy/sandy in texture, exactly as described in the finished process of mineralising soil.

Regards, Kara
 

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I think that's a pretty good summary, other than I don't believe that the process happens naturally in a tank- it's the alternating wet/dry cycles that encourage the different bacterial colonies to grow and complete each step of the process.

It doesn't have to be that much work, either- I sort of "cheated" on my process... I left mine outside during the rainy season and let it just get wet and dry out on its own schedule (left it out there for months till I got around to using it! LOL)

Having made it 2x now, I can say that it truly isn't that much more work than rinsing Flourite, just takes a bit more waiting time for the wet/dry cycles.

And if you've got good topsoil then I'd definitely go that direction, as long as you're sure it's free of pesticides and industrial fertilizers.

I'm quite happy with my experience with it, and plan to keep using it.
 

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If you go with dirt from outside then heed lauraleellbp's advice be very sure it does not have pesticides or ferts or you will get a massive bacteria bloom just like if you used Miracle Gro. That might or might not be a issue for you as you can fix that over time but you wouldn't want any fish/invertebrates in the tank for the ensuing hurricane.

- Brad
 

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Just finished dosing my two high tech tanks and adjusting the pH controllers. Came in to enter the numbers on the spreadsheet and saw the post. LOL
Everything I did, used, went through with the soil sub tank is listed in the two threads on it. (wish my computer parts would get here so I can post update pics) Nothing was ommitted.
This post will address my thoughts to your inquiry and lauraleellbp's response a bit also. I purchased Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad (chewy to read but great info) The book has helped on several tanks.
I used the potting soil listed in my tank string. Each soil is going to be different. Even packaged potting soils from the stores will vary under the same label depending on the time of the year and location.
The organics in the soil are the fast food 'ready for the plants to eat' as well as the bacteria. this is used up quickly then what remains under the cap is basically the same as mineralized topsoil.

Time has always been more valuable to me than money :confused1: (I have always found a way to earn what I feel I need) so I purchased two soil kits from Ken for my 110g tank. My opinion is that the end result with both products used (natural and mineralized) is nearly the same. Both tanks have good growth and minimum need for my attention on a daily basis.

With mineralized soil all the decay has occurred prior to being used in the tank that's true. But having it happen in the tank other then the one scare of the burping gas I have no complaints. I did wait over a month before adding bottom swimmers. It was an interesting process and I will do another.

I believe a large factor in my not having any algae issues at all was the use of floaters and terrestrial plants. Most folks post that duckweed is the bane of their tank and can't get rid of it. Well, I like the stuff. I have it in three tanks that when I removed it I had algae issues. Put it back in,,, algae issues gone. That plant chews through nitrate and phosphate like you would not believe. I keep small fish nets for each tank that contains it and when its too much I net it out (about once every 10-14 days on average). I don't find it hard to manage.
 
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