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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First off I hope this is in the right place....
I've read quite a bit and watched lots of you tube videos about planted tanks and I have a few questions about building terraces, mounding or sloping the substrate. What I've read what seems to conflict with many of the aquascape videos I've watched. Almost every video shows substrate piled multiple inches high in the back of the tank, behind rock work or around driftwood but almost everything I've read says not to have more the a couple inches of substrate to avoid or prevent anaerobic pockets and gassing.
So my question is how or why are they able to do that?
Is it because of the substrate they use?
That ADA stuff seems pretty pricey to just build terrace, I saw one vid where they used 7 bags, I'm pretty sure it was the big ones so that's almost $350 just on substrate馃槺.
I've seen people mention using lava rock in bag or loose as a 'filler' under the substrate but won't the substrate just kind of wash out or settle out into the rock and then you'd loose the height?
So I'm also assuming using a dirt bottom layer is pretty much out of the question when trying to do an "aquascape" and the dirt bottom is more aimed at a Dutch style set up, correct?
Thanks in advance
 

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Hello and welcome!

Sooo you stumbled on the internet aquarium boogeyman. The Dreaded Poison Gas of Fish DOOOOOOOM.

It is however not relevant for our purposes. The reason aquascapers can get away with piling up substrate is that anaerobic gasses do not instantly dissolve into water and to the extent they are dissolving its not killing all life in the tank.

By way of illustration consider the natural environment where substrate is dirt in the ground and its essentially unlimited in its depth. Yet fish still live just fine.

I have a shallow tank with substrate in the back (mostly sand with some aquasoil mixed in) piled up 5" in the back and never have an issue. My newt tank has about 8" of substrate in the back (also sand and aquasoil mix). In neither tank is there a ton of dead fish from poisonous gas.

However, I think you will find that unless your tank is quite large you will need some structure (usually provided by rocks) to actually get sand or aquasoil to slant more then an inch or two high. Otherwise it will come tumbling down as soon as you fill the tank. Thus using bags of lava rock (or other things) to build terraces. Hopefully this is helpful. Good luck!
 

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Terraces are usually what you're seeing when you're looking at substrates over 3 inches. There's also anoxic filtration methods used by other more ecosystem styled scapes that work well- I would not suggest this method to anyone that doesn't have months of times and ample resources to support it, however.
 

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The reason aquascapers can get away with piling up substrate is that anaerobic gasses do not instantly dissolve into water and to the extent they are dissolving its not killing all life in the tank.
This.

And because a lot of popular things on YouTube and Instagram aren't produced by people with more than a couple years of experience. You'll almost never see their tanks that are older than a few months showing compaction, hardscape shifting, etc. There are a few experienced aquascapers, sure, but more often than not it's people who don't know the difference between rice fish and tetras.

As @minorhero further points out, it's usually advantageous to build up slopes using something other than your main substrate - for structural integrity and because it's a heck of a lot cheaper. You can use lava rock in filter media bags/mesh bags. Or, since lava rock doesn't shift or settle too much, just make piles where you need it and then put your substrate on top. I usually add a layer of fiberglass window screen material between the rock and the substrate to make things easier to clean up when I eventually tear down a tank. Also helps prevent substrate settling.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thank you all for the replies.
@minorhero The tank isn't what I would consider "large" by any means, 36" x 18" x 18" (50 gallon). The plan from the start (subject to change;)) was to use several large rocks along with some driftwood anyway so I definitely wanted terracing. I was just shocked with how much of that ADA aquasoil I saw being just dumped into some tanks especially considering the price.
@somewhatshocked I like where your head is at with the fiberglass screen as a barrier for the filler to aquasoil. I was thinking more along the lines of geotextile but I just happen to have some fiberglass screen on hand so (y). Should I do anything special to the screen beforehand? Other then just washing/rinsing it off?
 

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Should I do anything special to the screen beforehand? Other then just washing/rinsing it off?
I've never even rinsed it off when using it in sensitive shrimp tanks. (Maybe I should...)

Just cut it to size, mash it down where you want it, put stuff on top of it and you're done.
 

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I do not totally agree as I have had this problem in several tanks and it has been quite deadly; however I will not that once i figured out why it was happening the solution was simple - use a different substrate. That's right some substrate are more likely to create issues over others. The simplistic of it is a question of if the substrate will be porus (allow water to flow through it). If the substrate is likely to fit tightly together such that pockets form than issues can (and probably will) arise over time. What happened in my case is the gas pockets will build up and eventually become sufficient to burst into the tank. And yes when this has happened i have in fact had fish die off (the last one was 4 neon tetra in a 5 gallon tank; forcing me to spend the weekend replacing the substrate with something more porous). Because I've been able to reproduce this issue with a specific substrate i have some confidence in what was happening (yes the 5 was a test case to verify what i had seen in 2 other tanks; sorry neons).
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Anyway one thing you can also use is ground cloth. I'm actually using one on top of a ugf to test a 'funky' design. That tank has been set up for over 2 years now.
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As for the comment on dirt that @minorhero made - i believe that is a bit different than fine sand. For one thing dirt tends to 'stick' were as fine sand is a bit more nebulous and I suspect that the bacteria build up is a bit different than what I am seeing in fine sand (there are two types of nitrate eating bacteria and i always forget the name of the second process - but i think it is arobic (sp) vs anaerobic) and i'm a bit soft on the details of why one forms over the other (you can tell the difference because anaerobic produce sulfur and when released you get rotten eggs ;) and the other produces nitrogen which and you will sometime get cyanobacteria (sp) if you don't have enough current to move the nitrogen (or something like that). I'm fuzzy on the details but 'big' on the observation of what has happened in my tanks. Sadly i only been running these tests for about 2 1/2 years now so I don't have any long term data. However I will note that (almost) no matter how deep the substrate is if it is sufficiently porous to allow current to flow through it you will not likely have any real issue.

Hello and welcome!

Sooo you stumbled on the internet aquarium boogeyman. The Dreaded Poison Gas of Fish DOOOOOOOM.

It is however not relevant for our purposes. The reason aquascapers can get away with piling up substrate is that anaerobic gasses do not instantly dissolve into water and to the extent they are dissolving its not killing all life in the tank.

By way of illustration consider the natural environment where substrate is dirt in the ground and its essentially unlimited in its depth. Yet fish still live just fine.

I have a shallow tank with substrate in the back (mostly sand with some aquasoil mixed in) piled up 5" in the back and never have an issue. My newt tank has about 8" of substrate in the back (also sand and aquasoil mix). In neither tank is there a ton of dead fish from poisonous gas.

However, I think you will find that unless your tank is quite large you will need some structure (usually provided by rocks) to actually get sand or aquasoil to slant more then an inch or two high. Otherwise it will come tumbling down as soon as you fill the tank. Thus using bags of lava rock (or other things) to build terraces. Hopefully this is helpful. Good luck!
 

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There are maaaany types of nitrifying bacteria. At least six genera that I'm aware of. Hundreds, if not thousands, of different bacteria. Not two.

Anaerobic gas pockets that can kill happen so rarely in the hobby that it's almost impossible to study. So infrequently that I'm inclined to believe something else was the problem with @jake21's tank, not anaerobic gas pockets. And since there's no scientific data to back it up, you have to chalk it up as just someone's word. That's not to say it didn't happen but I've never seen it.

I've been in this hobby for 30ish years and the only people whom have ever claimed to have had issues have poorly maintained aquariums with little to no planting, no regular effort to reach stability and are constantly messing with their tank. In other words, there's always so much going wrong that it's impossible to pick one problem.

I've been a moderator here on the largest planted tank website on the planet with more than 100,000 members and more than 3 million posts for more more than a decade. You can count on one hand (on one finger, really) the number of folks I've encountered whom have actually experienced this issue and have anything substantive to confirm.

But if you're worried, and you shouldn't be because it doesn't really happen on the scale people think it does (which is to say almost never), then plant heavily and/or add Malaysian Trumpet Snails. They''ll keep the substrate moving around. Or just maintain your tank well and you won't have problems.

P.S. A lot of the sulphur people smell likely comes from decomposing matter in the substrate.
 

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The specific sympton with this extremely fine substrate was that gas pockets would build up and when they were either disturbed or got sufficient large they would escape producing a very strong smell of rotten egg. The tanks with these types of pocket (2 tanks with the same type of substrate) plant life would suffer and fishes would die. When i replaced the substrate with something a bit coarser or more porous the problem went away both with aquatic/plant life and of course the gas pockets. What I can say as a quasi control is i had 2 29 setup side by side one with a substrate that was more porous and one that was not - they received the same treatment (water changes, plant life) but live stock was a bit different. After 2 years one fell apart completely (the one with the rotten eggs ;) ) and one continued strong. I replaced the substrate in the 'bad' tank about 4? months ago and it has been fine since I did the replacement. I then had a similar problem develop in my 5 gallon tank (which had the same substrate as the one in the 'bad' 29) and it had a similar problem - i have now replaced that substrate but in all honesty it hasn't been long enough to say much about the 5 gallon tank but i used the same brand of substrate as what was in the 'good' 29 so i suspect the problem will be solved. My point is that i was reaching a point will it was being reproduced with the same specific substrate (an extremely fine inert substrate). Now you can argue that my sample size is too small; my observation or analysis is incorrect or my time frame (2 years) is too short and all of those might be valid. What I will say is that that is the only substrate (of the different brands i was using) that was developing those gas pockets.

Anaerobic gas pockets that can kill happen so rarely in the hobby that it's almost impossible to study. So infrequently that I'm inclined to believe something else was the problem with @jake21's tank, not anaerobic gas pockets. And since there's no scientific data to back it up, you have to chalk it up as just someone's word. That's not to say it didn't happen but I've never seen it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
@somewhatshocked Can you recommend substrates? Not sure if that's against the 'rules'.
@jake21 What size were the granules of the substrate you had problems with? Can you name the substrate you had problems with? (Again not sure if that's against the rules)

I'm not trying to stir the pot, so to speak, just looking for solid recommendations.
Thanks again
 

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Substrate is a really subjective thing when it comes to recommendations.

Some of my favorites:

  • Regular old black sand from Petco/Petsmart/your local shop
  • Pool filter sand
  • Sakrete/Quikrete play sand (not the uniform kind but the kind with little pebbles in it)
  • Crushed lava rock
  • Flourite
  • Dennerle products
  • Sera products
  • Caribsea Peace River
  • ADA Aquasoil Amazonia
  • Safe-t-Sorb
  • Capped potting soil or mineralized top soil

Really depends upon use case, aesthetics and goal.
 

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The specific substrate that gave me headaches was moonlight from caribsea. The list the grain size from 0.25 to 0.75mm but it leans closer to the 0.25 than 0.75. I've switched to crystal river (0.5 to 1.0mm) and torpedo beach (0.5-2.0mm) - torpedo beach is noticeably more coarse than crystal river but crystal river seems sufficiently coarse. I tend to make my substrate deep (2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches); since the fishes like to dig in it as well as dense planting - these are two tanks with the coarser substrate:
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The top tank has crystal river the bottom torpedo beach. The bba on the lower plant leaf is left over from when that tank had moonlight; since switching over to torpedo beach there has been (to my eye) no new bba.
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crystal river seems to work slightly better with regards to fish digging. I have one tank with black eco complete (listed as 0.25 to 7.0mm) and that substrate is far too coarse for my corys and kuhli; so i will not use it again BUT it has a few good properties with regards to not having gas issues (it has been used in a tank for a bit over 3 years now). I have several cichlids as well as pleco that like to dig under rock and wood work to form caves.... though from time to time it can be disruptive if they pick the 'wrong spot' where i'm trying to grow a more delicate plant ;)


@somewhatshocked Can you recommend substrates? Not sure if that's against the 'rules'.
@jake21 What size were the granules of the substrate you had problems with? Can you name the substrate you had problems with? (Again not sure if that's against the rules)

I'm not trying to stir the pot, so to speak, just looking for solid recommendations.
Thanks again
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Thanks again for the replies.
I think I'll end up going with Flourite 'Black' as I can source it locally. I like to support local small businesses when possible.
They also had Eco-Complete but I've read that its completely inert and I'd have to start with root tabs in it.

I'm sure I'll have many more questions along the way. I really want to try my best get it right the right the first time.
 

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Thanks again for the replies.
I think I'll end up going with Flourite 'Black' as I can source it locally. I like to support local small businesses when possible.
They also had Eco-Complete but I've read that its completely inert and I'd have to start with root tabs in it.

I'm sure I'll have many more questions along the way. I really want to try my best get it right the right the first time.
You'll have to use root tabs with Flourite, as well, but that's not a bad thing. It's a lot easier to plant in than Eco Complete and is a really good choice. Not just as a beginner but because it's a good product for this hobby. Looks a lot more natural, as well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
So I stopped by a PetCo near me earlier and I bought a couple bags of Fluval Stratum. They had a sale spend over $60 and get $20 off, so I grabbed a couple bags and mentally crossed that off my 'list'. When I got back home I started researching and I'm pretty sure I have buyers remorse:confused:. I haven't read anything 'good' about it. So I'm torn about what to do. Sale ends today and the only other option they had was Eco Complete for "planted substrates". So is the Stratum that bad? Should I just go with Eco Complete.

The original plan was Flourite but when I went to LFS they were out of stock and couldn't say or didn't know when they would get more.

Thanks in advance
 

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So I stopped by a PetCo near me earlier and I bought a couple bags of Fluval Stratum. They had a sale spend over $60 and get $20 off, so I grabbed a couple bags and mentally crossed that off my 'list'. When I got back home I started researching and I'm pretty sure I have buyers remorse:confused:. I haven't read anything 'good' about it. So I'm torn about what to do. Sale ends today and the only other option they had was Eco Complete for "planted substrates". So is the Stratum that bad? Should I just go with Eco Complete.

The original plan was Flourite but when I went to LFS they were out of stock and couldn't say or didn't know when they would get more.

Thanks in advance
If it were me I'd use the fluorite sand to cap the stratum. Or some other type of sand. Stratum isn't a bad substrate, just hard to plant in, capping it will fix that. Eco complete is a lot harder to deal with IMO.
 

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So is the Stratum that bad? Should I just go with Eco Complete.
Eco Complete offers nothing, as it's effectively inert. Crushed lava rock. Way overpriced for what it is. I'd pick Petco black sand over it any day.

Fluval Stratum is not a bad product. It does contain some nutrients and it will buffer water parameters/lower kH and pH a bit. I would not cap it with sand or anything, as it will eventually settle beneath the substrate. It's also not that difficult to plant in. Just have patience. It's like any other mineralized, clay-based dirt ball on the market. Maybe a bit more light weight but that's no big deal. Just use long tweezers and it'll be fine. My preferred method is to plant before filling up the tank because it's a heck of a lot easier. Fill water til it's at the surface of the substrate, plant, slowly add water - like spend an hour or however long it takes - so you don't create a muddy cloud. I promise it's way easier than you're thinking.

Stratum batches in years gone by have been pretty bad but the newer stuff is nothing like that. It holds up better and appears to contain more in terms of nutrients available to plants.
 
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