Just a week back i had a chat with a fellow hobbyist who was raring to go for a planted tank but didnt really have much info
about the process. So while having a chat i realised that just like me others too need some sort of a detailed guide to setup
their tanks. Now even i'm actually a first timer and i'm sure even i've made my own share of mistakes but here is what i've
learnt with my experience and wot i've come across. Substrate for a planted tank.
The substrate is basically the bed of the aquarium which helps the plants to hold on to with their roots and absorb nutrients.
I'm only going for 2 layers of substrate but there are some who go for 3.
My bottom layer consists of laterite soil and my top layeris course quartz gravel. Laterite Soil:
Laterite soil is basically red soil that one can find in good nurseries, or in nature. The red colour of the soil is because of the
presence of Fe which is a very useful micronutrient for plants. However care should be taken that the soil isnt contaminated
with chemical fertilizers or pollutants (usually present near human settlements).
Some characteristics of this soil. The soil is very fine in nature. It is so fine that if u add too much water directly to the soil it'll
form a brown coloured liquid, something like a puddle formed in gardens during rains.
The capacity of the soil to retain water is not very significant and so it should be allowed to compact before one plants in this
tank. Alternative to laterite soil would be River Soil
River soil or river sand is found on the banks of a river and it should be very fertile. Again care should be taken that the site
from where the soil is taken from is away from human activites and pollution free. River soil has an advantage over red soil in 1
way...this soil easily settles to the bottom (more heavier than laterite soil), and so easier to handle. Also water retention
capacity ofthis soil is higher (more claylike in nature). I'venot worked with river soil yet so more experienced ones can help out
with that. Top Layer:
The top layer of the substrate doesnt really serve much purpose than just to give something for the roots to hold on to and
offcourse form a barrier between water n the soil so hat nothing leeches out and water remains clear. I used quartz gravel for
my setup and this kind of gravel is 1-5 mm in size. It has white, brown, golden n even black grains which gives it a golden look.
There is nothing in it nutrientwise n is pretty heavy. Please take care not to use gravel which has crushed shells, corals in it as
they'll increase the hardness of the water which is not suitable for plants. Also i would recommend not to use very fine sand if
one is using laterite soil. I believe it wouldnt help as an effective barrier (i dont have experience with absolutely fine sand so i'm
not sure again, experienced ones can help)
Above: This is the gravel i'm talking about(i'm also posting few other pics that i clicked when i did this procedure, quality wont
be really good cuz i clicked them from my cam fone) Setting up ur Substrate: Bottom Layer
Firstly take a bucket n fill half of it with the soil. fill the remaining with water. There'll be effervescence in the water. This
happens because the air trapped in the soil is escaping. Also the twigs, leaves etc will float on top of the surface. You can
remove these by hand. Please note the colour of the water would be absolutely brown. Now leave the bucket alone n let the
soil settle for a few minutes (took me 30-40 mins) After this slowly remove the excess water with a mug causing least
agitation. Wot wil remain now is a paste. Also u'll notice that the soil at the bottom is almost hardened. This is wot i meant by
compacting. If there still seems to be a little water just mix up the soil and u'll get a paste. Now lay this paste in ur empty bare
bottomed tank. I laid about 2 inches of laterite soil in my 60 gallon tank. Took me about 15-18 kgs of it..
Above: Bottom layer of laterite soil after being laid.
After u've finished with the laterite soil, next comes the top layer of the substrate, the gravel.
Simply wash the gravel that u've got and lay it over the laterite soil paste. The thickness of this layer too shud be approx 2-3
inches again. Care should be taken that the layer is uniform and there shud not be any point where the toplayer is thin as
laterite would then seep into water through this region.
Above: First dump of top layer gravel. I didnt lay the paste too neatly and u'll see the result of it in one of the pics.
Above: Finally the two layers and the thickness of the substrate
After the two layers have been laid its time to fill up the tank with water. Take care there is least agitation to the substrate
while filling up the water, so use a vessel and fillup the tank slowly.
Above: Pic taken as soon as the tank was filled up, whitish cloudy, pretty normal when a 100% water change is done. Note,
slight tinge of brown can be observed but that is because i wasnt too neat while laying the paste.
Above: After a few hours, slight improvement in the visibility.
Above: Finally, next day visibility drastically improved
Offcourse theres artificial substrate available which would be expensive, but the sense of satisfaction in doing your own thing
beats it any day!
So finally this is wot i did and learnt from my experience. Please comment on wotever i might have done wrong or cud have done in a better way.