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I've been contemplating using dirt as a substrate topped with gravel or sand for a long time now. What are the pros and cons of this move? I'm using Flourite now and I'm just not getting the growth I want.

I've heard nothing but good things about dirting tanks except for the occasional problem with it being somewhat messy.
 

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The messy part is mostly at the start, once bacteria starts forming a film over everything, disturbed dust settles quickly.
 

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Is this something you can actually see?
I can on the front edge of my tank.

One problem you will have in the beginning is bubbles. They will rise up through the sand. You can probe around with a chopstick to help. But you will never get them all. If they build up into one big bubble you can get a sand geyser.
 

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My first dirted tank was with the miracle grow organic, the substrate burped forever and growth wasn't too bad.
This summer I did the whole mineralized tops soil thing, my neighbors thought I was a weirdo washing dirt on a tarp for a couple of weeks. The results were amazing. Minimal substrate burps, I poked it with a stick and there was no where near as much built up gas as with the MGOC. I would definetly recommend it to the person who doesn't rescape everything every month, as it can be very messy for those type of people. IME I find that sand is the best cap for a dirt tank.

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Also search Aaron talbot method. And search "A new recipe and procedure for mineralized topsoil" there is a thread on another forum (a.p.e) with some amazing info. I modeled my MTS recipe after the info on there. Basically describes how to make Mineralized Topsoil as good as or better than ADA aquasoil.
 

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I just dug soil from a flowerbed... my plants now are starting to suffer from gigantism.... :)
 

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I had a dirted tank a while back and the only negative I found was that any time I wanted to pull up a plant to move it there was a big cloud of nasty that would come up and was hard on the fish. I had to try to have the vacuum hose going right there and could catch most of it, but it was a tough balancing act.
 

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a big cloud of nasty that would come up and was hard on the fish.
Same experience for me, although I do like the texture of dirt mixed with larger granules of adasoil or gravel.

If you mineralize the oil you should not get much burping.
 

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Just a tip for anyone going to do this project. Rather than purchasing dirt and spending many, many hours mineralizing it, go to a local landscaping place that stores their topsoil outside.

Find the cheapest stuff you can get, and scrape the top 1/2" or so of dirt from the pile. It will have already been mineralized for you sitting outside in the sun and rain, and will cost a fraction of the price of something like Miracle Gro Organic.
 

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i made a change to dirt a while back. careful of wood chips in mix, now i have a layer of dirt, sand, topped with wood chips. growth has been much better though. also no algae, once initial excess nutrients have gone.
 

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Little hint, pour a border of the sand you will top it with around the perimeter against the glass and then fill the inside with your mud... kinda like a pie filling.
This prevents that layered look in the substrate through the glass.
 

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Little hint, pour a border of the sand you will top it with around the perimeter against the glass and then fill the inside with your mud... kinda like a pie filling.
This prevents that layered look in the substrate through the glass.
Great minds think alike. I'm kidding. That was the first thing that came to mind when I setup one. Looks good. First tank, I did it with miracle grow potting mix and didn't bother to mineralise it, didn't even rinse it. I had a massive ammonia spike which worked out well. The plants instantly showed signs of growth. I was worried about all of the other chemicals I likely released into the tank. So far, all good. A few water changes and everything seems to be fine. The one I just did, I went about it rinsing out the soil well over the course of a week. No massive ammonia spike, zero readings. Was considering cycling the tank with fresh miracle grow in a legging as an ammonia source. Not sure what other nasties are in the soil though. Seems like an au naturel method. I ordered blackworms after reading about them. They should keep things aerated and leave the plant roots alone.
 

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I had a dirted tank and that is something I won't be doing again. I have burrowing fish and even with a decent cap they would still stir stuff up, and any time I wanted to pull anything up it was a mess. Now I am using Aquascape pond soil which is closer to a fine sand under about 3in of flourite sand. If it does make its way to the surface it quick falls unlike dirt which made a huge cloud. It likely does not have the advantages of actual dirt but I did not want to go down that messy route again.
 

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Yes, the dirt is not for people who can't leave stuff where it is. You need to plan the scape, plant it and live with it. Things can be uprooted, but it can get messy. And you need to be careful who you put in it. Dirt tanks are only messy if you make them messy.
It's much better to just hack the plant right down and leave the roots. As long as you realize this at start up, it is great.
I don't think you can beat the bang for the buck on a dirted tank. But everyone's choice is different, I tried safety sorb twice and won't use it again. Yet I still see some very beautiful tanks with it.

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