08-18-2010, 12:39 PM
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I believe I am somewhat being targeted for not supporting certain approaches, so I will enter this discussion rather than stay out as I had been intending.
There are many ways to have a successful planted aquarium. High-tech (Amano's method) all the way down to low-tech (no equipment whatsoever) with many levels along the way. I have been recommending the most basic approach there is because it all but guarantees success with minimal cost and effort. For those venturing into something new when they are starting out perhaps with a fish aquarium for the first time, success is a better result than failure which can lead to discouragement and leaving the concept of planted tanks or even the hobby altogether. Many do leave when they have loss after loss. You really cannot get any simpler than what I suggest to such individuals, and my main concern is getting them to enjoy the experience, and that is more likely with success.
Other "authorities" have good ideas, but they are not always right, any more than I am. I have a very high regard and respect for Diana Walstad; I frequently cite her work. In her book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, p. 123, she writes concerning the substrate that "the standard method--using plain, washed gravel--almost guarantees failure with growing plants in the aquarium." Well, my acknowledged success [and that of many others] with thriving planted aquaria for 20 years using nothing more than plain aquarium gravel as a substrate proves the inaccuracy of that view.
Fads come and go. In the late 1980's a laterite layer under the gravel was deemed essential for plant growth to be healthy; now we read that this only works in high-tech and the excess iron is useless otherwise [and my experiment with it in one tank in the 1990's substantiates this very well]. In the early 1990's CO2 systems were touted by many as "mandatory" for successful planted tanks. Later it was heating cables under the substrate. One still reads about CO2, but less about heating cables. Both have an impact on the balance in the aquarium, and with higher light and more nutrients they work. But so does less light and less nutrients without either of them.
As for soil, it allegedly releases more CO2; given the state of my plants, that seems unnecessary in my setups. Redchigh mentions in the previous post that soil results in high growth; I think the growth of my plants is quite high now, and I can't see why I'd want more. In a personal communication thread with Tom Barr, whom I also highly respect, he noted that the state of my planted aquaria indicated that my approach certainly worked for me. As it is the simplest recipe for success, I will continue to recommend it first so others can enjoy similar success.