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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone. I've been thinking about doing one of those deep substrate tanks loaded with stuff to make the plants happy and make it pretty self-sustaining after the early stages. I've watched a lot of Father Fish and MD Fishtanks, and both have their own methods but the key for both is the deep nutritious substrate. I don't think I want to go with aquasoil because I'm cheap, and don't want to go with as many additions as Father Fish adds because it seems like stuff can go wrong with how much organic material is added to the bottom. Rather not have my basement smell like death.

So my thoughts, and based on things I either have or can get inexpensively...
-organic potting soil
-garden lime
-epsom salt
-either kitty litter or flourite
-pumice for aeration and bacteria surface (kind of seems that's what ADA powersand is)
-sand, gravel for capping- probably 2.5-3 inches or so.

Thoughts on the setup, recommendations? Additions, subtractions, anything I should swap out? I don't think I will set this up anytime soon, but I have been staring at my 75 for a while and wanting to do something different. I have a 5 gallon that is dirted, and the plants are growing like crazy. The plants are growing so well 6 months after setup than when it was initially planted. So this has inspired me. It's also virtually no maintenance and that's also appealing to me because I have had less time for my usual weekly water changes.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. Take care.
 

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Hello everyone. I've been thinking about doing one of those deep substrate tanks loaded with stuff to make the plants happy and make it pretty self-sustaining after the early stages. I've watched a lot of Father Fish and MD Fishtanks, and both have their own methods but the key for both is the deep nutritious substrate. I don't think I want to go with aquasoil because I'm cheap, and don't want to go with as many additions as Father Fish adds because it seems like stuff can go wrong with how much organic material is added to the bottom. Rather not have my basement smell like death.

So my thoughts, and based on things I either have or can get inexpensively...
-organic potting soil
-garden lime
-epsom salt
-either kitty litter or flourite
-pumice for aeration and bacteria surface (kind of seems that's what ADA powersand is)
-sand, gravel for capping- probably 2.5-3 inches or so.

Thoughts on the setup, recommendations? Additions, subtractions, anything I should swap out? I don't think I will set this up anytime soon, but I have been staring at my 75 for a while and wanting to do something different. I have a 5 gallon that is dirted, and the plants are growing like crazy. The plants are growing so well 6 months after setup than when it was initially planted. So this has inspired me. It's also virtually no maintenance and that's also appealing to me because I have had less time for my usual weekly water changes.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to respond. Take care.
Soooooooooo

If you are doing this just as an experiment where the goal is to do something different for the fun of it. Then yeah, you can do a dirt tank with a few inches of sand on top (or kitty litter or whatever inert fine grained substrate you want), and you will have something that will grow plants for a time without doing anything else. But a few months to a year down the line your plants will slow and stall and you will need to revisit whether you want to add fertilizer to the tank.

OR you can just skip the dirt and run straight sand. If using fertilizer, you don't need an active substrate like dirt or aquasoil.

OR you can just buy a small bag of aquasoil. I think a bag of fluval stratum runs like 20 dollars at petco (other options available online for similar price). You can put down a layer of 1/2" in the bottom of a tank and cap it with sand just like you do with dirt. All the same benefits as dirt but none of the terrible drawbacks.

No matter what you decide, you will need to eventually use fertilizer. If you are trying to save money you can buy dry salts for around 35 dollars and have enough fertilizer you mix yourself to last you for literally years.

Regarding MD Fish Tanks and Father Fish. I've seen various shows of theirs and honestly the long term upkeep of their tanks is not something I want to emulate.

95% of MD Fish Tanks setups get taken down in less then a year. Typically they start to not do well and he completely overhauls them. Every so often he gets enough things going right that his tanks do well for a full year. BUT even then when he does close-ups of those tanks its always been pretty clear that algae is running rampant, plants are developing weird growth patterns, and the whole thing needs to be ripped out and redone. From 5 feet back and then shot with a camera (or phone depending on what he was using that day to vlog) the tank looks fine, but when he does one of his brief close-ups, that's when you see what is really happening in there. Frankly MD Fish Tanks has absolutely no idea about any of the science behind aquariums. He admits this pretty frequently. He builds his tanks in ways he has found to be (in no particular order) 1) cost effective, 2) entertaining from a viewership perspective, and 3) because he has had success doing it that way before. I would not pay any attention to him talking about building a base for 'beneficial bacteria'. You don't need to use layers for that, you don't need only crushed lava rock either. All you need is substrate of any type and practically any depth. Once a certain minimum threshold for surface area has been achieved, your tank will have enough space for bacteria to grow and any additional surface area is just superfluous.

As for father fish... honestly I've not seen any of his tanks that I would want to build myself. There is an inherent aesthetic issue when your foreground substrate is greater then 6 inches deep. On top of that his builds go to enormous lengths to avoid adding a penny of fertilizer a week to a tank. 40 years ago they didn't have access to the fertilizers we have today. But we DO have those fertilizers now. There is no reason not to use them.

So where does that leave you?

Well if you want a tank to look really nice, you should count on adding fertilizer and doing normal maintenance to it like water changes etc.

If you don't mind the tank looking pretty wild with potentially some real algae issues and definitely some plant deficiency issues. You can try doing what MD Fish Tanks does or father fish and run a tank without fertilizer or water changes. I truly don't recommend this, but its always an option.
 

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I've watched a lot of Father Fish and MD Fishtanks
Please please please forget everything you've picked up by watching them. Please. You'll be better served reading through tank journals of people keeping successful tanks here on the forum. Just don't fall victim to the pseudoscience and general... whatever it is... those folks offer up on YouTube. "Father Fish" is the pseudoscience pusher. MD's just for show/entertainment mixed with misinformation and causes all kinds of newcomers to land themselves in a tank disaster. MD encouraging people to put sensitive shrimp in an uncycled tank has driven easily a thousand people to the forum to ask for help in the past year alone.

There are great YouTube resources. Would not consider those two in that realm, unfortunately

Thoughts on the setup, recommendations?
Highly recommend taking @minorhero's advice in this regard. Pick an easy substrate and just go with it. If you want low maintenance, stick with low maintenance plants. If you want high-tech stems? Go with a good substrate like ADA Aqua Soil or just plain sand and dose your own fertilizer with pressurized CO2. I'd avoid the Fluval stuff - it's overpriced and meh quality.

A deep substrate isn't necessary for anything in this hobby. Not in any part of fresh or salt water tanking, really.

Most of my tanks are so low-maintenance all I have to do is change a bit of water every weekend and do monthly moss trimming. Some get dosed ferts on occasion, some don't. No algae nightmares. No CO2 in most. But I stick with plants that work for my systems and don't overdo it on anything like lighting or allowing organics to build up. Crypts, Ferns, Anubias, Hydrocotyle, moss, et al all work well for keeping it simple. Tons of other simple plants, as well. Just have to find what works for you.
 

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One of my biggest complaints with MD is putting fish in a tank when the aquasoil he’s using is likely still dumping very large amounts of ammonia into the tank. The plants and all of the other surfaces likely don’t have sufficient bacteria built up on them to handle that spike. The filter can only do so much. I’d be interested in knowing what his mortality rates are, as well as how long his fish live.

Now, are some of the aquascapes cool? Absolutely. I’ve seen some cool new fish on there that I’d never seen before. But he’s doing things in a very specific way to pump out content. His tanks don’t need to last long term.


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Following with interest. I've made a successful deep substrate with a much less thought out technique (lost the whole tank in a prolonged power outage last year unfortunately...)
I cycled scoria (very cheap) in many filter bags for a base, covered that with sand. I then topped/capped the whole lot with aqua soil. I added pond ferts in those clusters that I pressed into the sand before topping with the aqua soil. I think this combo might've been the cheapest longer term and easiest fert, certainly from my perspective and location. I 'boxed' the sand and scoria with egg crate and fly wire so only the aqua soil was visible from font and sides, didn't bother with the rear, and hot glued together and to rear panel for ease of setting up. Worked fantastically, no filter, just a power head. 24"x18"x18" and the substrate was sloped and about 4" at the front and about 7" or 8" at the back. I won't say that part looked great, but the tank functioned fantastically and the planted part looked great. It was low tech and I didn't add any liquid fert ever
Don't forget to bear in mind that the larger parts of the substrate will find their way to the top, it always takes less time than expected in my past experience.
What type of kitty litter are you thinking. The clay ones can be either zeolite, sodium bentonite or calcium bentonite (not sure if potassium bentonite is used) and each have a differing effect on the cycle and chemistry. None are detrimental as far as I'm aware, just interested. I know sodium bentonite definitely swells when wet. I use zeolite occasionally as it captures the ammonia and may leach it after a while though that has never been an issue for me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thank you for the responses. So a few thoughts...

I'm not a beginner. I don't consider myself "experienced" because I'm always learning in this hobby and don't consider anyone truly an expert, your definitions may vary. As to the accusations against the two youtubers I listed, I think the nature of YouTube certainly can create some confusion, and also a veneer that everything is ok while really things are not as they seem. However, I think some of the harsh criticism for these guys are coming from a place of ignorance. The one point I will agree on 100% is MD's habit of adding fish and shrimp to a new setup. While I think it can be done responsibly, I have seen too often that he will fully stock a tank right away and I just think that's too far. Small amount of fish to a properly sized tank with regular water changes early is safe in my experience. I have done the traditional cycle multiple times, as well as the fish-in cycle (don't kill me! lol).

The idea that all MD's tanks are algae-filled or become wrecked just isn't true. There are some tanks that he neglects because of all the tanks he has set up, and doesn't trim plants and lets them grow wild, which will result in stagnant areas within the tank and some algae. The tanks that he regularly trims are healthy and thriving, and he shuts them down only for content purposes. He has had setups last over a year with his system. I enjoy watching his videos, I find his style approachable and creative versus some of the other prominent youtubers whose styles are a bit too meticulous for my tastes.

The Father Fish criticism may well be true. I don't think he has the "science" to back up his claims, just his own success keeping fish and tanks. I am not keen on anyone who says their way is the right way. Personally, the way I like keeping fish is closer to the way Father Fish keeps fish though. For me, jungle looking tanks with moderate to low stocking, that pretty much maintain themselves are what I like. I think the "ugly" factor can be mitigated by getting a clean border around the sides so you don't see the layers of sand-dirt-gravel-whatever; and also by creating a slope from low to high front to back for depth. You only really need a depth of 3-4 inches of substrate depending on the size of the aquarium. In a 75 gallon that is nothing. I like and appreciate those beautiful aquascapes, but in my case I just find them impractical and I can never feel satisfied with them. So perhaps I should have been more clear in my opening.

I have tried the inert substrate with the dry ferts. In fact, my current 75 is setup that way. I find the plant health underwhelming, growth is ok, and the number of species of plants that like growing in those conditions are few. It could be my water, could be a lot of things. The same water in my dirted tanks can grow just about any plant well with decent color for being low tech. That doesn't mean I'm against adding fertilizer at a later point. I sometimes will add some potassium and iron to improve growth and color, but overall those tanks are very easy. MD and FF were both inspired by Walstad and kind of adapted their own styles to it. I have read Walstad and only after reading her book did I have success. First time I dirted a tank it was an algae disaster.

Worked fantastically, no filter, just a power head. 24"x18"x18" and the substrate was sloped and about 4" at the front and about 7" or 8" at the back
Worked fantastically, no filter, just a power head. 24"x18"x18" and the substrate was sloped and about 4" at the front and about 7" or 8" at the back
Sounds fantastic. For me I would use a large sponge filter or two for the extra aeration and biological, but it can certainly work with just some flow as, if it's appropriately stocked, the plants and substrate will handle to nitrogen cycle. I don't find a depth of 7" is necessary. Four inches is really the max you need to go unless you're trying to create a specific slope for hardscape or such. And in that case, Dennis Wong has a good video on this:

I am happy to get differing opinions, and I will certainly keep them in mind as I think about a future setup. I'm not married to anything yet. But I will definitely not go plain old sand next time for my planted tank. I am not a fan of fluval stratum, found it too light and not as nutritious for plants as dirt. And a final note, there is no malice or harsh judgement on my end with a differing point of view, sometimes text can come across as harsher than intention and I've been known to be a bit curt with my text (I say after writing several paragraphs lol). As I said, I like and appreciate all input and also appreciate you taking the time to read my posts. Blessings to you, dear reader.
 

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Thank you for the responses. So a few thoughts...

I'm not a beginner. I don't consider myself "experienced" because I'm always learning in this hobby and don't consider anyone truly an expert, your definitions may vary. As to the accusations against the two youtubers I listed, I think the nature of YouTube certainly can create some confusion, and also a veneer that everything is ok while really things are not as they seem. However, I think some of the harsh criticism for these guys are coming from a place of ignorance. The one point I will agree on 100% is MD's habit of adding fish and shrimp to a new setup. While I think it can be done responsibly, I have seen too often that he will fully stock a tank right away and I just think that's too far. Small amount of fish to a properly sized tank with regular water changes early is safe in my experience. I have done the traditional cycle multiple times, as well as the fish-in cycle (don't kill me! lol).

The idea that all MD's tanks are algae-filled or become wrecked just isn't true. There are some tanks that he neglects because of all the tanks he has set up, and doesn't trim plants and lets them grow wild, which will result in stagnant areas within the tank and some algae. The tanks that he regularly trims are healthy and thriving, and he shuts them down only for content purposes. He has had setups last over a year with his system. I enjoy watching his videos, I find his style approachable and creative versus some of the other prominent youtubers whose styles are a bit too meticulous for my tastes.

The Father Fish criticism may well be true. I don't think he has the "science" to back up his claims, just his own success keeping fish and tanks. I am not keen on anyone who says their way is the right way. Personally, the way I like keeping fish is closer to the way Father Fish keeps fish though. For me, jungle looking tanks with moderate to low stocking, that pretty much maintain themselves are what I like. I think the "ugly" factor can be mitigated by getting a clean border around the sides so you don't see the layers of sand-dirt-gravel-whatever; and also by creating a slope from low to high front to back for depth. You only really need a depth of 3-4 inches of substrate depending on the size of the aquarium. In a 75 gallon that is nothing. I like and appreciate those beautiful aquascapes, but in my case I just find them impractical and I can never feel satisfied with them. So perhaps I should have been more clear in my opening.

I have tried the inert substrate with the dry ferts. In fact, my current 75 is setup that way. I find the plant health underwhelming, growth is ok, and the number of species of plants that like growing in those conditions are few. It could be my water, could be a lot of things. The same water in my dirted tanks can grow just about any plant well with decent color for being low tech. That doesn't mean I'm against adding fertilizer at a later point. I sometimes will add some potassium and iron to improve growth and color, but overall those tanks are very easy. MD and FF were both inspired by Walstad and kind of adapted their own styles to it. I have read Walstad and only after reading her book did I have success. First time I dirted a tank it was an algae disaster.



Sounds fantastic. For me I would use a large sponge filter or two for the extra aeration and biological, but it can certainly work with just some flow as, if it's appropriately stocked, the plants and substrate will handle to nitrogen cycle. I don't find a depth of 7" is necessary. Four inches is really the max you need to go unless you're trying to create a specific slope for hardscape or such. And in that case, Dennis Wong has a good video on this:

I am happy to get differing opinions, and I will certainly keep them in mind as I think about a future setup. I'm not married to anything yet. But I will definitely not go plain old sand next time for my planted tank. I am not a fan of fluval stratum, found it too light and not as nutritious for plants as dirt. And a final note, there is no malice or harsh judgement on my end with a differing point of view, sometimes text can come across as harsher than intention and I've been known to be a bit curt with my text (I say after writing several paragraphs lol). As I said, I like and appreciate all input and also appreciate you taking the time to read my posts. Blessings to you, dear reader.
I like and watch MD Fish Tanks pretty regularly. I've been watching him since he was in his first shed in his backyard. It's fun to see how far he has come as an aquascaper. BUT he doesn't do disaster videos. Meaning he never really breaks down a tank to talk about all the things he did horribly wrong and what he needs to do better. He might show a disaster tank briefly and say he has 'neglected it' or some such. But he never really admits that something basic he is doing is wrong. /shrug It's something I've noticed.

It's not that every tank he has is a disaster either. All his new tanks look great. I personally call the first 4 months of a tanks life the 'Honeymoon Period' because unless something is badly out of balance, you are basically going to skate through that time with minimal fuss. This is when he does the most videos on a tank. After that the tanks fall by the wayside and are quickly emptied, redone, or admitted to being 'neglected'. Some of his bigger tanks he ends up calling 'ecosystem' tanks. This is probably my biggest rub with him though because he does an incredibly bad job of defining what exactly an 'ecosystem tank' is exactly.

As close as I can tell, he calls a tank an 'ecosystem tank' if it has a lot of plants and he he stops doing water changes on it and instead switches to just top offs. And... that's about it. If there is anything else that makes a tank an 'ecosystem tank' I really haven't found it. Again his inability to understand the science of why something works is really evident. He encourages people to do the same BUT the reality is that he has very soft acidic water out of the tap. So he can get away with a lot fewer water changes without killing all his plants and fish then the majority of people watching his videos. Considering how beneficial water changes are his constant encouragement to stop doing them is also something I really can not get behind.

All that said, it sounds like you already know you want to do a dirt tank with an inert cap. My advice is to use dirt out of the ground as opposed to buying potting soil. Most organic potting soil is a mix of peat and/or compost to make up most of the ingredients. Depending on how old it is, some of the composting parts may not have finished composting (lots of leaves and sticks etc). Alternatively, you can go to your nearest stream (backyard, public park, friends house, wherever) and dig into a clay bank of the stream and easily fill a few 1 gallon bags with enough clay/clay like dirt to do your whole tank. This will be 1) free and 2) better then any bagged potting soil product.

Good luck!
 

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Sounds fantastic. For me I would use a large sponge filter or two for the extra aeration and biological, but it can certainly work with just some flow as, if it's appropriately stocked, the plants and substrate will handle to nitrogen cycle. I don't find a depth of 7" is necessary. Four inches is really the max you need to go unless you're trying to create a specific slope for hardscape or such.
Totally agree with the 7 inch being unnecessary. My preference for tanks and scapes in general for me to have fun with are either a cube or a shallow. I didn't have a shallow at the time and adding that deeper substrate was my very unaesthetic way of pretending I had one. I had 6 kuhli loaches and a betta, very well planted and I started with a HOB but removed it to change the flow to ensure no dead spots as you pertain to above. I always try to minimise what equipment I see, but inadvertently end up somewhere around a Takashi Amano attempt with an industrial estate hanging out of one corner... It was the only truly 'deep' substrate I attempted, though most of my tanks end up with a 4" or so area of substrate somewhere in the tank.
Please keep a journal if you've got the time and desire to do so, I am keen to live vicariously through your set up. I'm afraid I'm at capacity for tanks for the time being having picked up a couple of different shallows recently...
 

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don't consider anyone truly an expert
That's because no one is. I've had shrimp for 30+ years and work on a few conservation projects. Also have a popular invertebrate food line. Wouldn't dare refer to myself as an expert in any capacity. Constant learning is essential. Anyone referring to themselves as an expert is almost always doing so to make money or to go on an ego trip.

I'd argue the only exception is making rising crust frozen pizzas in a toaster oven. I would definitely consider myself an expert at that. I challenge anyone to do a better job with a $3.99 store brand cheese pizza. It's just not possible. 🍕🍕🍕

However, I think some of the harsh criticism for these guys are coming from a place of ignorance.
Definitely not from places of ignorance here. @minorhero hits the nail on the head about MD. And the Father Fish guy has his own sordid history here on the forum - he's without a doubt a pseudoscience huckster.

The one point I will agree on 100% is MD's habit of adding fish and shrimp to a new setup. While I think it can be done responsibly,
Shrimp cannot and should not be added to a newly setup tank. Any amount of ammonia is toxic to sensitive invertebrates. Even small pockets of ammonia in a tank that don't get quickly filtered out, treated or otherwise used up can kill them. So his habit of adding shrimp to new tanks with new filters is bonkers level terrible advice. Can't even begin to count all the problems that's caused with new shrimp keepers here through the years.

I am not keen on anyone who says their way is the right way.
There are dozens of ways to do pretty much everything on the planted tank side of the hobby. I think that's a good thing. Anyone telling you that their way is the only way is generally a charlatan. Unless it comes to basic health and common things like chemical or metals toxicity - that's the kind of stuff that can't easily be mitigated when a problem arises and you're keeping sensitive livestock. Need to cool down a tank? Multiple ways to do so. Need to fertilize? Tons of ways.

I have tried the inert substrate with the dry ferts. In fact, my current 75 is setup that way. I find the plant health underwhelming, growth is ok
If plant health is underwhelming, it's not because of the particular substrate you're using. It's because plants aren't getting enough of what they need: nutrients, lighting or CO2 - usually some combination of all three. Many of the most successful tanks in the hobby (scroll through a few tank journals here - they're great) use generic pool filter or other sand for substrate.

Meaning he never really breaks down a tank to talk about all the things he did horribly wrong and what he needs to do better
That part.

It's really all for show and content creation. I get why he does it for sure. Just wish he was more up front about it all. Wish more YouTubers were up front about everything, really. Very few live in what we all tend to think of as planted tank reality. And, honestly, it's tough to trust anybody who hasn't had to deal with tons of issues on a regular basis in order to get good at the hobby. Those are the kind of people who have the best stories and usually have 7 or 8 different ways to tackle any given issue.

Considering how beneficial water changes are his constant encouragement to stop doing them is also something I really can not get behind.
This is one of the biggest problems. We get, what, about a thousand new members per week? Every other day a newcomer is posting about how many problems they're having because they aren't conducting regular water changes. All because someone on YouTube led them to believe that was a great way to keep a tank. Even more find the forum by searching for terms related to YouTube and water changes. It's wildly frustrating.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
That's because no one is. I've had shrimp for 30+ years and work on a few conservation projects. Also have a popular invertebrate food line. Wouldn't dare refer to myself as an expert in any capacity. Constant learning is essential. Anyone referring to themselves as an expert is almost always doing so to make money or to go on an ego trip.

I'd argue the only exception is making rising crust frozen pizzas in a toaster oven. I would definitely consider myself an expert at that. I challenge anyone to do a better job with a $3.99 store brand cheese pizza. It's just not possible. 🍕🍕🍕
Lol this made me chuckle. But also a really good post and I agree. Reading through your whole post, I definitely appreciate your feedback and I learned from it. There are certainly many ways to have success with a planted tank. I am always learning tank to tank, too. Sometimes a tank just has the perfect secret sauce (or perfect crust lol). Thank you for taking the time!

Please keep a journal if you've got the time and desire to do so, I am keen to live vicariously through your set up. I'm afraid I'm at capacity for tanks for the time being having picked up a couple of different shallows recently...
Certainly, whenever I decide to get started on it I will make a journal about it. I work landscaping so the growing season is always very busy for me, so I likely won't have time until winter rolls around. Then it's all about the fish. I currently have 3 tanks up and running. The 75 gets a water change usually once every 2-3 weeks, the 20 gallon multis tank usually every other week, and the 5.5 gallon once every two months or so. I only have 2 micro fish in there, a scarlet badis and a baby endler, plus shrimp and snails. It's a joy to keep, only time I really need to do maintenance is to trim the pearlweed lol.

All that said, it sounds like you already know you want to do a dirt tank with an inert cap. My advice is to use dirt out of the ground as opposed to buying potting soil. Most organic potting soil is a mix of peat and/or compost to make up most of the ingredients. Depending on how old it is, some of the composting parts may not have finished composting (lots of leaves and sticks etc). Alternatively, you can go to your nearest stream (backyard, public park, friends house, wherever) and dig into a clay bank of the stream and easily fill a few 1 gallon bags with enough clay/clay like dirt to do your whole tank. This will be 1) free and 2) better then any bagged potting soil product.
Great input, thank you. The place I work has a lot of clay soil, so I might use some of that, hmmmm. I know for a fact that there's no pesticides so it might be worth a try. Thanks for the heads up about that! Also, I read your whole post and appreciate your comments. Thank you (again)!
 

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Totally agree with @minorhero and @somewhatshocked on the topic of these two YouTubers, and their advice is solid, experienced, and def does not come from a place of ignorance. The truth is hard to swallow sometimes, I’m this case it’s important to remember that YouTubers are there to make content. They wouldn’t make as much money off one long standing tank. We all love a good build video and they know it, it’s fun to watch but don’t last long. You have to think to yourself, how does the ADA gallery in Japan make their scapes last years? In some case decades? The right ingredients in the right order, and regular husbandry. Shortcuts and alterations to the tried and true path are just detours that will eventually lead back to the recipe you didn’t want to follow in the first place.
I mean you wouldn’t let your builder try a new type of backyard mud to build your home would you? You would stick to the commercially available bricks you know will stand the test of time. The same goes for the staples of our hobby, there are many gimmicks but the foundations are most important, this lead us back to soil. Spend a little at the start and you will save yourself time, money, others time and avoid repeatetive discussions online on cheap hack myths that don’t work long term.
We all want that aesthetic fun looking tank as a Artistic centre piece. No one wants to be making excuses for an algae factory. With that in mind I say shortcuts don’t work. Alternatives to good lighting good ferts good soil also don’t work. YouTube is for fun and not much else, take what you learn on there with a grain of salt. It’s all a highlight reel.

For those looking for a $0 manure filled no water change no fertiliser no maintenance self sustaining “eco system” that looks amazing without laying a finger I say good luck.
 

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Shortcuts and alterations to the tried and true path are just detours that will eventually lead back to the recipe you didn’t want to follow in the first place.
Spend a little at the start and you will save yourself time, money, others time
We all want that aesthetic fun looking tank as a Artistic centre piece. No one wants to be making excuses for an algae factory. With that in mind I say shortcuts don’t work. Alternatives to good lighting good ferts good soil also don’t work.
This hits bang on the head from my build experiences (not the I don't have a little crack at something from time to time still). Thankfully for the rest of the world, I wasn't on any forums when I tried to save time and money! Would be keen to see DIY systems of substrate et al that might be continuing to work long term though - we all love to learn even if we won't apply it to our own tanks. As they say, there is a lot of money to be made in this hobby, unfortunately for the majority of us to make our tanks truly work well, we are the ones doing the funding.
 

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This hits bang on the head from my build experiences (not the I don't have a little crack at something from time to time still). Thankfully for the rest of the world, I wasn't on any forums when I tried to save time and money! Would be keen to see DIY systems of substrate et al that might be continuing to work long term though - we all love to learn even if we won't apply it to our own tanks. As they say, there is a lot of money to be made in this hobby, unfortunately for the majority of us to make our tanks truly work well, we are the ones doing the funding.
I agree with having a crack at things here and there. We all have to have fun and experiment here and there. We shouldn’t discourage that too much really, it’s creativity at its finest. Only concern to me is the social experts propagating overly positive illusions of grandeur. We see it everywhere not just in our hobby. It’s a facade. Especially in a larger scale canvas, say a 75g, it can be a pipe dream.
I say we promote good quality products and recipes for success to enhance the hobby and keep us on the right track. Not to mention giving our livestock/inhabitants the highest chance at a healthy life.
Just my 2c
 

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Please please please forget everything you've picked up by watching them. Please. You'll be better served reading through tank journals of people keeping successful tanks here on the forum. Just don't fall victim to the pseudoscience and general... whatever it is... those folks offer up on YouTube. "Father Fish" is the pseudoscience pusher. MD's just for show/entertainment mixed with misinformation and causes all kinds of newcomers to land themselves in a tank disaster. MD encouraging people to put sensitive shrimp in an uncycled tank has driven easily a thousand people to the forum to ask for help in the past year alone.

There are great YouTube resources. Would not consider those two in that realm, unfortunately



Highly recommend taking @minorhero's advice in this regard. Pick an easy substrate and just go with it. If you want low maintenance, stick with low maintenance plants. If you want high-tech stems? Go with a good substrate like ADA Aqua Soil or just plain sand and dose your own fertilizer with pressurized CO2. I'd avoid the Fluval stuff - it's overpriced and meh quality.

A deep substrate isn't necessary for anything in this hobby. Not in any part of fresh or salt water tanking, really.

Most of my tanks are so low-maintenance all I have to do is change a bit of water every weekend and do monthly moss trimming. Some get dosed ferts on occasion, some don't. No algae nightmares. No CO2 in most. But I stick with plants that work for my systems and don't overdo it on anything like lighting or allowing organics to build up. Crypts, Ferns, Anubias, Hydrocotyle, moss, et al all work well for keeping it simple. Tons of other simple plants, as well. Just have to find what works for you.
I love yours and @minorhero 's review of those websites. I've only seen a couple of them but....yuck. It's helpful to know the back story, and the Wizard of Oz like "don't look behind the curtain" LoL.

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No matter what you decide, you will need to eventually use fertilizer.

You don't need to use layers for that, you don't need only crushed lava rock either. All you need is substrate of any type and practically any depth. Once a certain minimum threshold for surface area has been achieved, your tank will have enough space for bacteria to grow and any additional surface area is just superfluous.

As for father fish... honestly I've not seen any of his tanks that I would want to build myself. There is an inherent aesthetic issue when your foreground substrate is greater then 6 inches deep. On top of that his builds go to enormous lengths to avoid adding a penny of fertilizer a week to a tank. 40 years ago they didn't have access to the fertilizers we have today. But we DO have those fertilizers now. There is no reason not to use them.
-Are you saying Aquarium water is not enough for plants to grow and survive? I thought fish waste creates required fertilizer for plants and store bought fertilizer is used just as an extra boost. There is a whole field called aquaponics thats rely on fish water to grow plants.

-Are you saying if you have substrate in the tank you do not required bio media?

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As for father fish he never claimed his tank is aesthetically pleasing. His philosophy is that thick substrate makes you do less water changes and nearly no cleaning. He has a 10(or 20 i forgot) year old tank to prove his point. I think his idea is that a thick substrate pulls fish waste down where it decays and become fertilizer.
 

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-Are you saying Aquarium water is not enough for plants to grow and survive? I thought fish waste creates required fertilizer for plants and store bought fertilizer is used just as an extra boost. There is a whole field called aquaponics thats rely on fish water to grow plants.
Yes, I am definitely saying that fish waste alone is not enough. In the most technical sense, you 'could' keep something like 1 java fern alive in a 20 gallon tank with a good fish load without fertilizer, but it won't look lush and healthy, it will display a lot of deficiencies and be struggling. If you want to keep a planted tank with a good amount of plant mass and actually want it to look nice then you need to be using a fertilizer on a regular schedule. You can kind of 'cheat' this a bit if you use dirt in your substrate in that it you will get good growth for a time but somewhere between a few months and a year down the line your growth will stall and your plants will start showing deficiencies or weird growth and you will either need to add fertilizers or redo the tank.


-Are you saying if you have substrate in the tank you do not required bio media?

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YES, definitely. If you have plants and enough substrate to anchor those plants (1.5+ inches) then you do not need ceramic media, bioballs, ceramic blocks, or any other random bits of things that are marketed as 'biomedia'. I am running sponge in 3 of my 4 tanks and the 4th tank only has ceramic media in it so that I can seed new tanks easily with bacteria. Even then its of limited utility as the amount of bacteria growing on it is apparently pretty small given the number of other areas in the tank with surface area. Bacteria will only grow and keep alive if they have enough food to sustain them. Once ammonia and nitrite reaches zero, the bacteria has done its job and whatever surface area they are using is clearly enough to sustain them.

Can I think of situations where biomedia is useful? Sure, if you run bare bottom tanks its useful. If your tank is absurdly overstocked and a mess of decaying food and poop with not enough water changes its potentially useful as you will be producing more ammonia through terrible fish keeping practices so you might actually need it then. But if you are stocking your tank correctly and doing proper maintenance then biomedia is just so much marketing nonsense.

As for father fish he never claimed his tank is aesthetically pleasing. His philosophy is that thick substrate makes you do less water changes and nearly no cleaning. He has a 10(or 20 i forgot) year old tank to prove his point. I think his idea is that a thick substrate pulls fish waste down where it decays and become fertilizer.
I do not accept the idea that he intentionally has ugly tanks. I think its rather the case that he acknowledges his tanks are ugly and he has set himself out as a 'no fertilizer' proponent so he is kind of stuck with the reality of his situation.

I don't think many people enter the hobby with a vision of keeping really ugly tanks like those of father fish. They either enter the hobby having seen somewhere a really nice tank and wanting to emulate it. Or they enter the hobby by falling down the slippery slope of getting 1 plant at their local fish store and realizing they want more.

Anyway, father fish uses dirt on the bottom of his deep sand bed, meaning his tanks are using fertilizer, the problems come a few months to years down the line when essential nutrients in that dirt begins running out and that's when his style of tanks start running into problems.

So what is the hobbyist to do? Well you could definitely run a dirt substrate tank with an inert cap (what is more commonly called a Walstad tank), but if you don't want to use any fertilizer at all, you will either have to redo it every few months to a year, or you will need to accept that your tank will end up looking terrible down the road. If that doesn't bother our hobbyist, well more power to them. But most people don't want that.
 
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