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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hybrid - What if I made a substrate out of two materials. So the more I read the more I see oh do this.. Or this is better than this and that works but you need root strips and this will break down.. What if I did a combination of topsoil and something else like clay or eco complete with the dirt so that it will have plenty of nutrients and then it will also have something that can absorb and slowly release them over time. This would mean I wouldn't need to replace the dirt in the tank. Any thoughts? Thanks.
 

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You can blend substrates. Look into mineralized top soil as one method.

Most materials will mix, but sometimes some of the materials will settle out above or below the other materials.

Here are some examples from my own tanks:

Sand + Turface or Soil Master Select = Turface ends up on top, sand sifts through to the bottom. The process is slow. Extreme example: I set up a rock wall with sand in front and Soil Master Select in back. Sand went through the rocks and I could see it on the bottom under the SMS by looking at the end of the tank. SMS drifted over the rocks and landed on top of the sand. I could pick it up in the gravel vac and put it back, but it kept on drifting back over the sand.

Eco Complete + Soil Master Select = SMS is lighter, but since they are the same color (I used charcoal SMS) I have to look carefully. But the EC is on the bottom, SMS on top.

Turface + Coral Sand = Coral sand is only a little bit heavier, and is angular. Stays pretty well mixed. I tried this to get the CEC of Turface and the higher GH and KH of the coral sand. I do have to properly prep the new water so it is hard enough, I cannot depend on the coral sand to raise the GH, KH and pH after adding it, but it is stable through the week. There is enough carbonate from the coral sand that the Turface is not lowering the KH or pH of the water.

Soil Master Select, Turface or Safe-T-Sorb + gravel (pea sized to 1" diameter) scattered as a stream bed effect = the pebbles get blended with the substrate, but keep getting dug up and reappear when I do a deeper gravel vac. In general, though, it does not work well. The pebbles are too heavy, and most of them simply sink. Not enough are staying high enough up on the surface to really look good. Best way to do this is to add a big handful of pebbles so they support each other. They may still sift though the lightweight substrate, but it will take longer.

Sand + gravel = sand on bottom, clogging the pores between the gravel. This will happen faster when the difference in particle size is greatest.

Peat moss + SMS = stays pretty well blended except that the peat will get stirred up in the water all too easily. When it settles it ends up on top. When the peat stays down, mixed with SMS, they stay mixed.
 

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When I set up my first planted tank I also was undecided about what the best substrate was, so I made my own by mixing some of everything I heard was good. It worked ok. But, since then I have learned that what really works the best, for me, is a commercial substrate - one only - like Flourite, or Eco Complete, or, best of all, ADA Aquasoil Amazonia. If you have a 10-30 gallon tank I would strongly suggest you do that. If you have a bigger tank, where the cost of a commercial substrate would be a problem, then I suggest either use swimming pool filter sand, or black blasting grit as the substrate, or use mineralized topsoil (see the very long thread about how to make it) with pool filter sand as a top layer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I am trying to set up a 60 gal long tank... I think that is how it would be described. It is 12" wide and 48" long and 24" high so, I'm thinking that I am going to have low light levels by the time it gets down to the bottom of the tank. Because I wanted to do a carpeted tank with moss I think that would be ok... I also somehow got my heart set on this "Estes Aqua Sand Black Fine Substrate" because I think it would be fun to black sand. So I was thinking if I did dirt with black sand over the top it wouldn't make a huge difference if I disturbed the cap with planting because nothing would really "show" on the black sand. But then all this reading about finer materials sinking though larger materials.. And dirt wearing out after a year or two.. I didn't want to be constantly rebuilding my tank... Perhaps the question is more than... does moss put that much of a load on substrate or is it more the larger plants with longer roots that would really up from the substrate?

Thanks everyone for the help thus far.
 

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Dirt does not really wear out.
Whatever nutrients it starts with can get used up, though. Just add more nutrients. Dirt will hold more, you can keep reloading it.

Dirt is fine enough to keep the sand on top, mostly, unless you do a lot of replanting. Then it will tend to mix each time you dig up and replant.
 
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