Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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BradSD 08-17-2010 12:12 PM

Dirt for substrate
Has anyone tried this method and if so tell me you're results. It soujnds very interesting to me from what I have read so far. Has to be the most carefree plant tank possible.

redchigh 08-17-2010 02:47 PM

I made a 5G tank that way, and although it took a while to be safe for fish (there was an ammonia spike from the soil), everythings been perfect.

I'm growing plants in it that I couldn't grow well before (cabomba comes to mind) and I only do a water change every couple months.

I love it now, and am in the process of converting all my tanks and selling my filters. :)

Byron 08-17-2010 03:18 PM

Brad, before you take this step, I strongly suggest you read Diana Walstad's explanation of what is required to do this properly. By the way, as she points out, there are several issues during the initial stages (which she says can last a few months). Peter Hiscock also mentions this in his book on aquarium plants [the two authors say almost the same things about soil; except Hiscock gives it as one option, Walstad promotes it as the only option]. Best to be prepared, rather than end up in discouragement and chucking the whole thing when you have cloudy water, algae blooms, fish issues, plants die back, or whatever.

Her book The Ecology of the Planted Aquarium is available from online retailers [I have it, a mine of information on all aspects of planted aquaria regardless], and there are individual articles by her online. And she had a good article in the November 2009 issue of TFH [pp. 80-84] that goes into detail on the soil especially. This is probably online somewhere too. Search under "Diana Walstad" and you should find stuff.


FuzzAz 08-18-2010 12:38 AM

I have a 29 g. set up with a potting soil mix bottom layer and is in front of a window. The first few weeks were rediculious with algae, daily water changes and removing green slime, I thought I was goint to have to scrap the whole thing. Eventually it did stabize and plants grows plants very well and I have fish in the tank now. I just had an empty tank and decided to try it one day, dont be afraid to just try things, what the worst that could happen. Make sure you have a test kit so you can moniter the WQ. I suggest a 1" layer on bottom and at least 2-3" of normal substrait on top of that.

BradSD 08-18-2010 06:43 AM

Yeah I have a 50 gallon just sitting empty in my computer room. It sounds like a fun experiment however I am in the early stage of learning about planted aquariums so maybe it would be to much to take on at the moment. Actually Redchigh had directed me to a fourm discussing the Walstad lady and her book. I will most def check out the book before trying this.

redchigh 08-18-2010 09:55 AM

I wish we had more support here, so I wouldn't have to pm people about another forum where Diana Walstead and Tom are moderators....:oops:

I agree it's not the only option, it's just high-growth without the high-tech.

Byron 08-18-2010 12:39 PM

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.


redchigh 08-18-2010 01:54 PM

I'm sorry if It seemed like I was targeting anyone... I was most definately not.

I've just had people PM me ebout using soil, and the conversation usually ends with me pointing them to another forum.

I definately agree that soil's not the only way. Everyone has a preference, and soil is mine.

My first tank was gravel only, and I think it was awesome. It's just a matter of preference.

No ferts, no special substrate (no soil), just lights fish gravel and water-

BradSD 08-19-2010 06:57 AM

In the end its all about having fun with our hobby. I may give the dirt a try sometime, it looks interesting to me enough to try it. If its a failure then I will have learned from the experience. I will pick up her book first as I am in no hurry to get started plus reading the book will give me something to do in my spare time. I may visit my local library today and see if they have anything to offer. Maybe there will also be a read on the plants themselves.

dfbiggs 08-19-2010 08:27 AM

I have been wanting to try this ...can anyone give specific brands and types of bagged soil they have used? I can't imagine finding potting soil that the companies don't add a bunch of chemicals to. Unfortunatley I don't have the option to dig some up in my I would rather do. No soil here..just dust.

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