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Which topsoil did you use to make MTS?

3257 Views 36 Replies 11 Participants Last post by  Hilde
Hey everyone.

I'm on my second try at making MTS. But as I'm doing it, it's not really changing in consistency. Nor is it the "puddiing" or "cake badder" consistency. Right now I'm using Scott's Premium organic topsoil, which seems to be mostly sticks.

Which brand did you use, and where did you get it?

Any help, much appreciated.

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I got plain old topsoil from TruValue Hardware. $2 per 40lb bag. I'm just starting now so I can't tell you how it will turn out but this was real topsoil and not a lot of sticks and peatmoss.

Real farmer's dirt. No manure smell just nice and earthy. Frankly I wish I had found this stuff this summer when I was doing lawn repair. It's nice.

Good luck

UGH, the soil (Sticks) i have is annoying the POOHHH out of me. I'm glad I didn't open the other bag. May just go back and find something else. like the organic potting mix.
It's good, but to be honest. My dad was right... the sweet smell is ceder. EDIT::: the scotts premium smells like ceder.

I have time though.. this tank won't be up till mid JAN or later. I want this to be right.
You must have a TruValue somewhere in Raleigh?

Give it a try and get some "just plain soil" rather than another batch of "semi-soil." Here's a pic of one of my bags.

After 40 years of yard work I know wood chips and peat moss additives when I see them. This has none of that.

If you stick with it all of it will eventually decay. If you want to shorten the process then get the big chunks out by running through some 1/4" hardware cloth from the HW store.


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I have screen and stuff. I'm heading out of town tomorrow though. So, it'll have to wait until I get back. Then I'll check around. I think the truvalue's closed near me.
walmarts or any other store that sells garden/lawn stuff will also have plain top soil. Look for a bag that has a hole in it (or poke one yourself). It should just be black dirt. It should be $1-$2.
So there shouldn't be many sticks or anything in it? I'm sort of confused on that. I'm not driving an hour to get soil. haha I'd have to find a closer location.
The only problem I found is that every discount/big box store seems to get rid of their seasonal growing stuff this time of year. TrueValue was the only place I could find any. Mine was frozen solid on a pallette out back.

There's bound to be some sticks in it. Just proceed with the mineralization through 4 cycles then sift out the remaining stuff after it's good and dry.

Good luck

People use all kinds of dirt for tanks. There arent many rules for getting it. It can be backyard dirt. What you want to avoid is any organic matter(sticks, neighbors cat, etc..). This is also the reason for multiple washes. If you have a screen sifter it will save you loads of time. I prefer wormstrate that I make myself but my second choice would be the back yard. Its cheaper and you know whats in it.
Yeah, I looked at the miracle grow organic potting mix, but it still has fertilizer in it. go figure. I'll keep looking I suppose. I can always just go to lowe's / home depot or other stores and poke a few holes :p

hopefully mines not frozen..
Closest location is right out back.

Scrape away the plants (weeds, in my case) and scoop up a cup or so of soil. Maybe you have to dig a bit to get away from roots.

Pack this into a jar with straight sides (1 pint to 1 quart canning jar works well)
Put a piece of tape vertically on the jar, and mark where the top of the soil is.
Add water and a drop or two of dishwasher detergent (no bubbles)
Shake really well.
Set the jar down and start watching a watch.
At 30 seconds mark on the tape where the soil is.
At 1 minute mark on the tape where the soil is.
At 2 minutes mark on the tape where the soil is.
In a couple of hours mark on the tape where the soil is.

How to read the test results:
At 30 seconds almost all the sand has fallen out.
At 1 minute all the sand has fallen out.
At 2 minutes all the silt has fallen out.
At 2 hours all the useful clay has fallen out.
Anything floating is organic matter- Sticks, roots, leaves... These are not much of a problem to remove when you mineralize the soil.
If the water is only slightly colored, but you can pretty much see through it after 2 hours this is pretty good.
If the water in the jar is still murky the next day, give up. This soil has too much coloidal clay to work well in an aquarium. MAYBE mineralizing it will help, but I doubt it.

Look at the percentages of sand, silt and clay.
This is the amount at the 1 minute, 2 minute and 2 hour marks compared to the total amount of soil you started with.
Good soil for an aquarium will be mostly sand with just a little silt and less clay.
Clay is very important. This is the material that holds the nutrients. High Cationic Exchange Capacity. But it is also hard for the plants to grow in it, hard for the water to move through it.
Over 50% sand is good.
No more than 20% silt, 10% clay.

If there is a LOT of floaters then you might rake through your soil better when you collect it, sift it a couple of times when you start to prepare it, and be ready to skim it every time you re-wet it during the mineralization process. You might need to start with extra soil because you are throwing away quite a bit when there is this much organic matter in it.
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Wow, thanks Ms. Diana (walstad?). I do have pretty good soil in my back yard, but it seems like it has quite a bit of sand, even though it's dark black.

Would that still be okay?

I know that we don't use fertilizers anywhere on our yard, and neither do our neighbors, as we have a natural spring behind our house which also happens to be the same spring where our drinking water comes from. :D

Here's the image of what my first dig of dirt was. Suprisingly it was just inside the edge of the woods. Would that be a good source of dirt? There's plenty of it in that area. There's definitely no fertilizers or other stuff near here.
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I'm sure it will work out great for you. I mineralized some top soil I got from home depot and it had a lot of sticks in it. Its been in the tank for about 3 months, and im still having issues.
Cedar scares me, because cedar puts off some kind of chemical that prohibits other trees to grow. However that is not a proven fact that it will prohibit other tree's/plants from growing by using its mulch. I'm thinking of going to the back yard as well, or going to try out Diana's organic potting soil idea. Good Luck!
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