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Help!!!!...The more I read the more I become confused.

Jake Senior

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5 Mar 2013
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Please help!!!!!....I have 10 fantastic boesemani rainbow fish and I want to create a lush planted 300 litre tank for them (I wasn't planning on using CO2). Ideally ph neutral-7.5. I currently use Bristol tap water, not as hard a London water but is alkaline (TDS ranges 200/260). I was completely sold on a dirt tank idea...compost, (optional fluorite) and gravel to cap. However the more i read the more confused I get... which compost, which make/brand, will it affect the ph (will aquatic pond soil or compost reduce the ph, but will john innes no3 increase the ph...etc etc)!

So baring in mind my fish, what ph I'd like to have and the look I want to achieve (clear very slightly alkaline water with lush plants...swords, crypts, java fern, anubius, Ludwigia, val, lotus, star grass etc and a small amount of carefully chosen branches - bog or rosewood for the java fern, anubius and moss creating hight and interest), what substrate should I go for?????

Options (top to bottom):
1): gravel, flourite (red/dark mix), john Innes no 3 (Please someone suggest a safe brand)... but will this make the tank too alkaline.

2): gravel, flourite (red/dark mix), Westlands aquatic pond soil... but will this lower the ph too much

3): gravel, flourite and lose the compose all together....but will this provide enough nutrients?

All and any advice welcome.

Thanks
 

roadmaster

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Believe with weekly water change of say 50 %, the hardness (more important) ,and pH will not be an issue and would use most generic soil.
Am not familiar with the brand's of soil you have available but think I would stay clear of those that say they will alter water chemistry and make thing's easier.
My 300 litre tank (avatar) is cat litter(plain unscented),Plain top soil,capped with Blasting media (Black Diamond).
I add a little Dry fertz once a week or two and trace mineral's twice a week.
 

Jake Senior

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Thanks road master... yes of course hardness, I'm so wrapped up with soils. So you think go with plain top soil? Forgive my ignorance but is that something I can just buy? Also do you have the cat litter, then soil, then gravel?
 

foxfish

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Your opening statement is quite a challenge especially without injecting C02!!
All plants require C02 to live & the more you give the faster this will happen, C02 is the governing factor in a planted aquarium.
So if you dont want to inject C02 then you should really study the low tech section of this forum but dont expect a lush looking tank overnight as growth will be slow.
Occasionally you will see a really lush looking low tech 'big' tank so it is possible... good luck.
 

roadmaster

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Thanks road master... yes of course hardness, I'm so wrapped up with soils. So you think go with plain top soil? Forgive my ignorance but is that something I can just buy? Also do you have the cat litter, then soil, then gravel?


Cat litter,plain top soil (lawn garden store), and then capped with fine gravel or I used..Black Diamond blasting media.
Agree with foxfish,growth in low tech ,measured in week's,month's,but doable.
 

Jake Senior

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Thanks fox fish...mmm maybe I should reconsider CO2. When I say lush I mean healthy looking plants, I want areas for the fish to swim also...

I'm all for the low tech tank Diana Walstad method and am happy to wait for results. I think where I seem to be getting confused is which soil substrate is best...miracle gro organic potting mix (although unavailable in the UK), john innes no 3 (which brand if so) or pond soil. Each soil seems to bring something different to the table... I suppose I want someone to say go and buy...Westlands john innes no 3, add xyz if you want and top with gravel (not sand), plant it up, do 50% water changes for a few weeks/ a month etc... I'm looking for the perfect recipe, which possibly doesn't exist. I appreciate any and all advise though.
 

Jake Senior

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Brilliant, thanks guys, I feel I'm heading in the right direction. Would you say approx 10% peat? Also roadmaster I'm intrigued to know why cat litter underneath soil not the other way around....
 

Jake Senior

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ok so after an evening of reading and research here's my plan...comments are welcome. I'll say right from the start that I'm not going down the 'dirt' route for budget reasons so I've indulged a bit...

From base of tank up: a thin layer of pure laterite, then a mix of black flourite with j Arthur bowers aquatic compost (Composts | William Sinclair | Gardening advice, tips, J Arthur Bower, New Horizons, plant foods, fertilisers, soil products) about £6-£7 for 20l - ratio approx third flourite to soil...depth 1.5/2 inches. Finally a 1.5/2 inch cap of black gravel (Pettex Roman jet black)...

any thoughts?
 
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I can't be of much help as I haven't tried any soil based substrates but if you haven't come across it already, there's an article published by Aaron Talbot about using mineralized topsoil. There's detailed info online and other forums. It's an interesting read. I am in the process of setting up a tank like this myself as it's already been tried and given good results with no bad surprises.
 

roadmaster

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Brilliant, thanks guys, I feel I'm heading in the right direction. Would you say approx 10% peat? Also roadmaster I'm intrigued to know why cat litter underneath soil not the other way around....

No paricular reason why I placed the cat litter on bottom ,then soil,then blasting media.
Appear's to be working.
Maybe I did it backward's,but it is as I described.(say's sheepishly)
 

BigTom

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Doesn't seem to be much point using cat litter with soil to me... almost all soils should have a decent CEC on their own.

If you're not in a rush then I'd try a few different soils out and see which give you the water params you want. If you're less patient then I'd go with Westland's Aquatic Compost as it supposedly has a shorter period of ammonia leaching (I'm choosing to believe their marketing here!) - I have used it successfully in a tank stocked with fish from day 1, but also very heavily planted. PS - this will raise pH and hardness, not lower it.

If you want a soil with a minimal impact on water chemistry then go with this - original aquasoil | eBay

If you're going to use a John Innes mix then I'd personally use JI1 rather than 3. It's the same stuff but a bit leaner (same amount of limestone though). Info on JI recipes here (John Innes Seed compost would be perfect but noone seems to make it) - John Innes Composts explained

Whatever you buy, I'd recommend testing some in a tub or something with the same sort of cap and water ratio as you'll have in your tank to get a good idea of where your water params will end up.

If you find pH or hardness being pushed too high then you can always increase water changes or use RO water to bring them back in line.

I can't see the point in mineralising soil first unless you absolutely must put fish in on day 1. Might as well let the 'mineralisation' go on in the tank while plants are establishing and stock once ammonia leaching has ended.

I also don't see the need to add extra peat in most cases - most commercial soil mixes will be about 20-30% peat anyway form what I can make out.
 

Jake Senior

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Thanks guys, it's really good to get advise from those that have tried 'dirt' tanks, I really appreciate it!!!!! I think I will go with Westlands or J Arthur Bower aquatic soil, they both are relatively inexpensive and I've read they have a reduced ammonia spike than 'normal' compost...meaning I'd be that further along cycling my tank from the start.

I agree about the cat litter, however I have read that adding gravel below the soil aids water flow and thus inhibits anaerobic activity, hence sand being a bad move as far as capping soil is concerned , because it can compact reducing the water flow in and around the substate and thus limits oxygen needed for both bacteria and roots. This was one of the reasons for adding flourite (even though aquatic soil has grit), it will add texture and of course minerals (black flourite is high in 'ca' and 'al', plus the laterite is 'fe' and 'k' rich - with this mix I've covered all the other bases too!).

Right so decision made, thanks everyone.... one last question I'd love to get hold of 'trident java fern' does anyone have any??? :)
 

Jake Senior

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oh yes the ph of the aquatic soil is suppose to be 6.5-7 but as you say BigTom if the hardness increases boesmanii like it slightly hard. I'll do regular test beforehand, plus I wasn't planning on adding the fish straight away and when I do it will be a couple at a time, they're happy in there current tank...I'm just preparing for the growth as they mature :)
 

BigTom

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Sounds like a plan. In my experience the water end pH is never anywhere near the soil pH stated on the packet. Expect it to rise, although I've not used those two you mention so it'll depend on what's in them. Haven't used fluorite myself but do add gravel/grit to reduce compaction. Each iteration of my soil tank has been capped with fine sand so I wouldn't be too scared of it - go with whatever looks nice or suits the inhabitants.

Oh, and I've got quite a lot of trident that's due a trim!
 

Tim Harrison

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Some sage advice from foxfish and BigTom. This is one of mine that started life the Walstad Way, and then later it was dosed with minuscule amounts of TNC, but it would have been fine without. I tend to use a 1:1 ratio of aquatic pond soil and and moss peat and it works for me. IMO the key is really getting the lighting right and choosing the right plants from the outset and then growth rates can be pretty impressive. Check out the tutorial section for further info The Soil Substrate Planted Tank - A How to Guide | UK Aquatic Plant Society.
 
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