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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've got a project that has me digging to a replace a broken yard faucet in our yard.

I have a good pile of our yard's 'topsoil'.

I've been wanting to try demineralized soil as a new substrate for my next planted tank. Our soil is fairly low in organics, mostly clayish granules and sand, and some old grass roots. Why wouldn't this be better than buying some 'topsoil' that may not even be local in chemistry and biological animacules?
 

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I can only speak from my experience. My shrimp tank is 100% 'yard dirt'. I dug mine up from a some ground near a lake that is much like you described. Clay rich, some sand but probably not as much sand, eh, maybe. Lots of small roots. Ive had excellent luck with it. My 20H will have that same soil. There is also the benefit of fresh food for your fish. I tossed the red worms I found in with one of my cichlids and he gobbled them up, as a matter of fact he wouldn't touch pellets for several days after. I also cycled my tank naturally with detritus in the dirt, all natural no ammonia added. There may be technical reason why this is a bad idea but like I said from my experience it has worked great and I will be doing it again for my next tank. YMMV.

I should add yard dirt capped with blasting sand.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I can only speak from my experience. My shrimp tank is 100% 'yard dirt'. Clay rich, some sand but probably not as much sand, eh, maybe. Lots of small roots. I've had excellent luck with it. *snip* There may be technical reason why this is a bad idea but like I said from my experience it has worked great and I will be doing it again for my next tank. YMMV.
OK that's good to hear. We locally get 60"~80" of rain annually, so there's already a a fair amount of demineralization ongoing. I'm going to mix this 2 parts to one of the stream-bed soil that is perking up the Anubia and Crypt in my 3.8 gallon nano tank. I've also got a small amount of Theil Aquatech laterite I used in my tanks back 20 some odd years back.

I did do a quick bucket rinse with the first batch just to get some of the floating loose stuff, wasn't sure how far to pursue this, but I lost about 1/3rd of the original volume of soil, lot of fines, root masses and wood chunks.
 

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I didnt have an issue with large root masses and wood chucks, I specifically chose the area to dig from to avoid that. The wife and I did spend an hour combing through the soil picking out some larger debris but I didnt rinse it at all. I cleaned it of large chunks, left the finer pieces in as natural ferts, and put it in another bucket so it could go in the tank. I do sprinkle osmocote plus on the glass under my soil which most likely emits some ammonia and helps with the cycle (confirmation anyone?). This go around with my 20 I will be adding a layer of kitty litter under the dirt so I will have a sprinkling of O+, cat litter, then yard dirt, capped with bdbs. I will let this setup run with some plant mass and a few trumpet snails for a month or so and do weekly 20% water changes, light cycle will be 4 on, 7 off, 4 on. I have had good luck and great results with the yard dirt and cycling this way on two tanks. Here are the end results about 4 months after planting with only 1 15 watt fluorescent. I think yard dirt works lol:



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Will grass grow submerged in a tank? I want something natural for a large breeder tank... Need to aquascape the tank to look nice but also be functional for breeding edible freshwater fish... Maybe yard dirt is part of the answer if the grass grows?
You mean like yard grass? Like Kentucky blue grass or crab grass?
 

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Each garden is different. Try the soil, lets see how well it works!

It is good to have floated off the largest chunks of organic matter. The finer material will probably be just fine when it is mineralized.

Grass that grows on land will not grow under water no matter what kind of substrate you have in the tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Will grass grow submerged in a tank? I want something natural for a large breeder tank... Need to aquascape the tank to look nice but also be functional for breeding edible freshwater fish... Maybe yard dirt is part of the answer if the grass grows?
I don't think terrestrial grass will grow submersed and even if it did it would have lousy food value for feeding fish, probably better to grow Peas and Zucchini and feed them to your fish.
 

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I have not done a full tank with yard dirt but I do use it fro potting plants for the tank. And that has often wind u[p being spilled and mixed into the rest. I try to avoid the grass, twigs, etc. as it tends to float and really mess with the water surface and filter. I've not gone all the way due to the thought that there would be a high risk of coloring the water but the smaller amounts have done fine. I get my dirt from the compost pile but get the really old portion that is fully dirt rather than just on the way.
I have no figures to quote but I feel there is a connection between how much you can use and the size of the tank. At some point the amount of debris you add may be too much and give too much ammonia to overload the filtering or too much color to give you fits. I like to think of my tanks as small boats that should not be rocked too heavily!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Each garden is different. Try the soil, lets see how well it works!

It is good to have floated off the largest chunks of organic matter. The finer material will probably be just fine when it is mineralized.
I think in this case our soil, which is fairly hard to grow garden plants in without some serious amendments and composting would almost qualify as an inert substrate. Oddly enough there's a lot of wood charcoal in there, I guess this would be OK to leave in.
 

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I appreciate @GrampsGrunge for posting this thread. This is a great topic, especially to someone who is trying to produce great results with diy and a tight budget. If you dont mind I am going to get my geek on just a little with this post lol.

I think one of the keys to any soil is of course mineral content. I think high clay soils will work better for their cec abilities and may last longer and be more productive long term than the rich black dirt that is common in my neck of the woods. I wonder what it would cost to have soil sampled for mineral content. So if I could I would have multiple samples tested and select one that is the richest in minerals and one that has the highest clay content and plant them both low tech with the same lights, same water supply, same photo period etc etc and see what does what. Use low light and no dosing. Plant an equal mixture of heavy root feeders like amazon sword and stems. I wonder which one would do better long term.
 

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When I last dealt with soil testing in my yard, I was disappointed in the results. It was a new sub-division on the West side of St. Louis and I had terrible soil so got the test kits to try to sort out what was needed. My problem was that I never got a true read of what the soil in different parts of the yard had to offer. In the home building process the yards had all been scraped of topsoil and then rebuilt and shaped to look better. This left the yard and soil to vary a lot depending on whether it was remaining topsoil or the fill brought in. I just never got a good handle on what was needed. I guess it didn't really matter anyway? The deer ate everything that turned green anyway!
 

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One of the things i thought about doing was getting a couple of buckets of silt from a dredging operation at one of the lakes in the area. The issue would be what the hell lives in it. I thought I could dry it out, split it up onto smaller sections and put it into aluminum roasting pans and then bake it on 450 for about 5 hours. Or maybe doing a bleach soak for a few days then soaking it in prime water for a few days. With this being ag country that silt would be full of nutrients and would possibly make dang good dirt for a low tech planted tank if it could be sterilized.
 

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We had a load of topsoil brought in for our strawberry beds.10 yards of it,so I used some in pots topped with petco sand for hygro corymbosa in a couple fo tanks with ug filters and coated gravel.

I just did it a couple of days ago,so we'll see.Ours is clean topsoil with a ph of 7.0.
 

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The main reason, I believe, using soil from the yard may not be as good can be explained with a story from my old ecology professor. His story started with him buying a house where after a few months he realized the house was constantly supporting a population of crickets but not a single roach. His observation led him on to find the original owner's exterminator (it was a small town). When he spoke with the exterminator, the exterminator said many many years before, he had pumped as much of a certain (now illegal) pesticide that he could into the house and around it. This chemical supposedly kills every little bug,but the chickets lived because they were able to reproduce before the exposure killed them.

The moral is that even though the dirt seems clean, it actually could be toxic, even decades later. This doesn't just apply to pesticides either. Runoff from a new roof that might settle in one place or even build up ofchemicals from certain plants (think about the dangers of using cedar in a tank). Many plants have potent defenses against other animals that could be harmful to sensitive aquarium fauna.

Having said all that, I would like to emphasize these are merely possibilities and not necessarily probable. I've used the dirt from my yard plent of times with no ill effects, mineral deficient, and excesive clay soils included.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The main reason, I believe, using soil from the yard may not be as good can be explained with a story from my old ecology professor. His story started with him buying a house where after a few months he realized the house was constantly supporting a population of crickets but not a single roach. His observation led him on to find the original owner's exterminator (it was a small town). When he spoke with the exterminator, the exterminator said many many years before, he had pumped as much of a certain (now illegal) pesticide that he could into the house and around it. This chemical supposedly kills every little bug,but the chickets lived because they were able to reproduce before the exposure killed them.

The moral is that even though the dirt seems clean, it actually could be toxic, even decades later. This doesn't just apply to pesticides either. Runoff from a new roof that might settle in one place or even build up ofchemicals from certain plants (think about the dangers of using cedar in a tank). Many plants have potent defenses against other animals that could be harmful to sensitive aquarium fauna.

Having said all that, I would like to emphasize these are merely possibilities and not necessarily probable. I've used the dirt from my yard plent of times with no ill effects, mineral deficient, and excesive clay soils included.
That would assume you know of my yard's past history, fortunately I do, and we haven't had an exterminator fumigate since moving here or since the prior owner lived here.

To not put to fine a point on it, but I think the exterminator industry is a walloping scam based on poor co-opting of the words 'natural' and 'organic', in their present business model.
 

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For my next dirted tank I want to get some of the black mud from that dam I got the saggitarius out of. lots of cow patties to trundle through though, so no hurry.
That tank will need to stay outdoors for a while as I'm sure it will stink to high heavens.
 

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The main reason, I believe, using soil from the yard may not be as good can be explained with a story from my old ecology professor. His story started with him buying a house where after a few months he realized the house was constantly supporting a population of crickets but not a single roach. His observation led him on to find the original owner's exterminator (it was a small town). When he spoke with the exterminator, the exterminator said many many years before, he had pumped as much of a certain (now illegal) pesticide that he could into the house and around it. This chemical supposedly kills every little bug,but the chickets lived because they were able to reproduce before the exposure killed them.

The moral is that even though the dirt seems clean, it actually could be toxic, even decades later. This doesn't just apply to pesticides either. Runoff from a new roof that might settle in one place or even build up ofchemicals from certain plants (think about the dangers of using cedar in a tank). Many plants have potent defenses against other animals that could be harmful to sensitive aquarium fauna.

Having said all that, I would like to emphasize these are merely possibilities and not necessarily probable. I've used the dirt from my yard plent of times with no ill effects, mineral deficient, and excesive clay soils included.
I think Virc003 raises excellent points and gives example of why this should work in theory, but you have to have some historical knowledge of your home.

Having just bought some "soil" and playsand for some outdoor tubs, this thread made me think a bit. My home is built in what is essentially a 2nd growth oak forest. Many square miles around had been clear-cut in the 20's and 30's. But I had to stand back a bit and realize that the thought never even occured to me because topsoil of any quality or substance is as rare as can be. After removing thousands of boulders and dozens of oak stumps, I'm still adding to and amending the garden that's been 25 years in the making and finally just about up to grade. The thought of sticking a shovel in that garden and actually removing some dirt almost makes me shiver, lol!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
It is an excellent point, not everyone is going to be able to use their own soil.

But it also brings up another point: Do the suppliers of commercial topsoil audit their own soil's sources and history vis-a-vis whether there might be run-off or a former owner who had something like DDT fumigation done in the past on their product's land.
 

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I read through some of the "reviews" of the Miracle Grow product on I think it was the Lowe's website. There was no lacking of complaints about fungus gnats. Having just bought my first bag of the stuff, I wasn't all that impressed. The bag I got was VERY light which made me think it wasn't much more than composted leaves. I have no idea how the stuff is made and distributed, but I would bet there are multiple locations/sources where it's "made" and that just lends it to lots of variables in content. Just a guess on my part, but if someone knows better......
 

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Fungus gnats will find you, you don't have to look for them. I used to grow a few mushrooms, and those buggers will infest even the best pasteurised or sterilised medium if given a chance to get in the window.
 
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