Substrate Advice Needed

A forum for plants and all aspects of planted aquariums.

Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Tue Oct 04, 2011 7:30 pm

I am hoping to set up a tropical community tank, hopefully heavily planted but low-tech (ie, no co2 or extra ferts). I'd ideally like to do a fully planted, wet (full tank) start if such is feasible. I've been avidly reading Diana Walstead's book cover to cover, and she makes a compelling case for soil substrates--after all, plants grow in dirt. So she recommends a substrate with a bottom layer of about 1-1.5 in of soil (ideally with a *modest* amount of organic matter and without any extra fertilization), topped by 1-1.5 in of medium fine (2-4mm) gravel. The only hitch to this plan is that, according to things I've read, freshly submerged soils tend to go a bit crazy, meaning they initially tend to leach a bunch of acids/plunge pH, release a plume of excess nutrients (hello, algae), and possibly a cause a spike of ammonia from the activity of heterotrophic bacteria eating organic stuff. From what I've come across in my research, the most common way to deal with all of this seems to be weeks of soaking (and waiting) combined with copious early water changes. Yet here I thought the best perk of a planted aquarium was getting to reduce--not increase--the initial cycle time and associated labor. Am I missing something here?

I'd really love some input from any of you who have used soil substrates in your tanks. What products did you use and what steps did you have to take when setting up your aquarium? Did you have problems with water chemistry shifts, algae, or cloudiness when starting up? I've run across at least one brand offering "live" (ie, wet, bacterially active) substrates--Carib Sea's Eco-complete Planted soil seen in the fist two product columns here. Would a product like that be the answer to my quick-start prayers? If any of you have tried it, how did it work for you?

Okay, this is turning into a long post with a million questions, so I will leave it there. Just for reference, the probable inhabitants of the (40 or 60 gal) tank would be some Danios to start with, gradually adding a school of neon or cardinal tetras, harlequin rasboras, platies and mollies, rounded out with some cory cats, a few shrimp (probalby amano, red cherry if not) and some otos if needed. Accordingly, my target chemistry would be neural-ish pH and 11-15 degrees hardness, according to AqAdvisor. My tapwater pH is about 8.3 or 8.4 according to the API test kit (though that WAS straight from the tap, without letting the water sit for 24 hrs). I do not yet know the hardness as I will have to special order the GH/KH test set.

Thanks to everybody in advance for your help and advice.
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Tue Oct 04, 2011 10:22 pm

Hi
that book will give you a pretty good starting point for this side of the aquatic plant hobby, whilst the growth will be slower than you would see in a high tech tank the rewards from the low tech tanks with carefully selected plants is huge. Another book that is worth a read is advanced aquarium management by Berti Gesting it is only a small paper back book but I find it an amazing read and it was partly the cause of my obsession with planted aquariums for the last 20 years or so.

For a base layer soil I would look into the dennerle deponit mix , I have used this my self a few times now and have been pretty happy with the results it gives over a fairly long period of time, over the top of this I would add a layer of either quartz gravel with a grain size of around 1mm or some of the dennerle quartz sand, both types I have tested in tanks in the past and can say that they give a really good structure for plants to root into whilst not compacting causing anaerobic conditions like playpit sand can.

The bonus of the dennerle base layer is that there is less leaching into the water body of nutrients so algae blooms will be minimised, any ammonia will be consumed by fast growing plants which are advisable during the initial stages of the aquarium being set up, as the tank settles down these can slowly be replaced with slower growing species, the key is to start the tank with around 80% substrate coverage of plants, hornwort is also useful during this period as it has very good anti algae properties, a dkh of around 4 or more will minimise the ph variations.

Often when using this type of substrate with the 80% plant coverage I find that within a week of fully setting up I can start to add the first fish to the tank, a few algae eaters at first to keep any algae under control, I would also be tempted to add a few nerite snails at this point so that they can get to work on algae ect.

I have a tank with eco complete in at the moment but this substrate is a short term one, it is also fairly abrasive to the barbels on cories wwhich is something to consider should you wish to house any in this tank at some point during its life.

Ottos have a very valuable place in planted tanks, well worth adding.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Wed Oct 05, 2011 4:12 am

Thanks so much, Daran, your post was hugely informative. I'll have to look into that book you mention. That Dennerle Deponit--and their 1-2mm black gravel for a toplayer--sounds perfect. I do indeed plan to have a crew of cories in my tank, so I definitely wouldn't want anything abrasive to the little guys--thanks for the heads-up.

Hornwort is definitely on the To-Buy list. Water Wisteria, Moneywort, and Giant Elodea (sp?) also looked like good candidates to me. Have you had success with any of those?
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Thu Oct 06, 2011 1:06 am

those plants are excellent nutrient sponges for the initial break in period.

My father kept low tech planted tanks for many years and grew some amazing plants in conditions that many would say would not be good for plants, ( me included :oops: ) undergravel filters poor lighting with out of date tubes, but with careful selection of plants he had amazing planted tanks, his sword plants and cryptocorynes were very nice plants in very mature tanks, I would from time to time have to prune 3-4 foot off the top of the giant vallis he kept in one tank, his trick was placing rabbit droppings from his pet rabbits around the base of them for food for the plant, fortunately there are now much nicer options for base fertilisers.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:17 pm

My main concern with some of those plants (esp Elodea) is that down the line they might fall prey to the ravening herbivorous livebearers (mollies and platies and bears--oh my!) I am hoping to add eventually. I remember trying a plant once--I think it was Elodea, but can't swear to it--during one of my long-ago excursions into fishkeeping, and it was stripped to the stem in 24 hours. Of course, that might not be such a big deal if I hope to replace some things with slower growers at some point..... Am I right to expect some of these plants to be victimized?

It looks like I'm going to have to do some serious searching to find a supplier for the Denerle Deponit. I don't think there will be a US-based one, but hopefully I can find someone willing to ship across the pond. I notice the 10kg tub is labeled as "for 160-250 litre aquaria, 100 cm" but 10 kg sounds like an awfully small amount if one is trying to create a whole sublayer. The tank I'm considering is a 60 USg (225-ish L), 120Lx33Dx60Hcm. About how much am I likely to need?

Thanks again for all the help.
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:30 pm

so long as the plants are healthy the fish should not be able to strip them quickly, usually only weak plants are consumed this way.
this company aparently ships to the US if you cannot find a source there.
peat sold for filter use is also an option, I have also had pretty good results using water lily compost under an inch layer of sand, I used that in a 1L storage jar that I grew hairgrass in, that was ultra low tech, no light, no heat, no filter just sat it in the window and added water :lol:

I just checked Dennerled site and for a tank of roughly that size they recomend about 10kg of deponit mix.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:37 pm

I did see that they recommend about 10kg of deponit mix, but how thick of a layer will that really create? I can't see 10kg providing more than about an 1/8 in thick layer in the size tank I'm considering. Or am I thinking about it wrong--is deponit intended solely as a sort of additive, rather than a whole substrate layer in itself?
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:45 pm

it will make around a 1-2cm deep bed allowing for a gap at the front and sides for gravel to hide this layer, it is safe to double this amount should you feel that it might not be sufficient, deponit mix is fairly light when purchased dry, the only issue I have thought about is I believe there might be restrictions on soil entering the US, if my memory serves me correctly aquatic plants cannot be shipped to the US if they have soil on the roots.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Thu Oct 06, 2011 3:59 pm

Ahhh, okay, that makes sense. I guess I was thinking more about the rule-of-thumb for gravel, which is much heavier. 2cm for a layer sounds about perfect, though I may go ahead and order a little more than 10kg, so I can add some extra depth in the back, etc, but that sounds like that should do the trick. Thank you!

Good point about possible shipping restrictions. I will have to do some investigating about that. Luckily, when it comes to the actual plants, there are plenty of US-based suppliers, so those will not run into quarantine issues, soil or no.
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Fri Oct 07, 2011 8:38 pm

Thought I'd drop in an update. I think I may have found a supplier for the Deponit who can ship to me...haven't officially made the order yet, so still crossing my fingers, but so far it looks good and if successful I'll post the details for any other folks from the US hanging around here. I've ordered up a good-looking 1-2mm fine gravel/"sand" for the toplayer. It's Pure Water Pebble's Aqua Terra Black Sand (down the page a bit here), which is coated so as to be chem neutral and should also be non-sharp so it should be happy for corydoras. I can hardly wait to see when it arrives.

I can't seem to find that Berti Gesting book anywhere, other than a hint that perhaps it is a compilation of articles done for a now-discontinued UK aquarium magazine, which might explain why it is hard to find. The book sounds extremely worthwhile, though. Where did you manage to find a copy?

Thanks once again for the extremely helpful discussion. I feel like I will now really have the tools I need to bring my dream aquarium to life. :D
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Fri Oct 07, 2011 9:35 pm

that is good news about the substrate.
I managed to get a copy from the authors son quite a few years ago, he used to visit a local fish shop here, the author was an article writer for Practical fishkeeping in the early 90's.
if you have a lot of issues finding it I will check the lfs here in case they have a copy lurking.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Sat Oct 08, 2011 5:59 pm

Well, there were absolutely zero results for the book via Amazon.com--not even an offer of used copies, which was surprising. Even Teh Google yielded nothing more than some essays that cited her articles. It's like a ghost book :lol: Anyway, I seem to be out of luck over here, and it could be that the book just isn't to be had. If you happen across a copy, that would be awesome, but if not that's no problem. No need to put yourself out on my account. If you can find one, we could discuss via PM.
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby cousin it » Sat Oct 08, 2011 6:12 pm

I will be visiting the shop I got my copy from on Monday to stock up on co2 and see what interesting plant species are lurking, I will enquire if there are any copies left, as it is a quite thin book it tended to get over looked by a lot of people.
Daran

there's always one
User avatar
cousin it
Moderator
 
Posts: 2129
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2007 10:01 am
Location: Plymouth, UK

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Sat Oct 08, 2011 6:18 pm

Thanks! That would certainly be handy if they happen to have a copy. Either way, I hope your trip will be rewarded with some interesting plant finds. :D
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Re: Substrate Advice Needed

Postby dr_lew » Mon Nov 14, 2011 6:09 pm

And finally another update! The supplier I was originally looking at didn't ship to the USA, but I found Aquaristic.net, which shipped internationally via DHL. They sent me the Deponnit right away and it arrived with no problem--even came fairly quickly given that it was such a long shipping distance.

I finally had everything together (and had the time) to set up my tank this weekend. It has the Deponit (15 kg) under a 2-3cm thick layer of fine black gravel. It looks magnificent, is holding my plants great (anacharis, moneywort, hygrophilia, water wisteria, and an Amazon Sword for looks) and other than some very mild cloudiness which cleared right up, seems to be settling fine. 24 hours in, my pH is roughly the same as the tapwater, ammonia/nitrIte/nitrAte all reading zero. I reckon with the plants in there, which are bound to lose a few leaves, etc., some ammonia will appear, but so far nothing crazy has happened. I am extremely happy and very thankful for your helpful advice, Cousin It. I hope to have some photos and a thread in Tank Talk soon so you can see how it turned out! :)

Any luck locating that book you mentioned?
dr_lew
Member
 
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2011 7:55 pm

Next

Return to Plants and Planted Aquariums

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests