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Re:Topsoil substrates

James Purchase wrote:
>...Paul's method, in a nutshell, involves figuring out how much soil you are
>going to use and then putting it in a container, covering it with water, and
>keeping it submerged for three months BEFORE you use it in an aquarium. The
>breakdown of the majority of the organic matter contained in the soil thus
>takes place outside of your aquarium and you can avoid the potential algae
>problems involved.
>The only thing you need it the patience to wait 3 months.

It is not three months, it is only three weeks.  Also, I do not keep the
soil submerged, I keep it damp in a covered shoe box or sweater box so that
organic matter can decay.  My idea was that things in the soil that can
rapidly decompose should all decompose during that time.  Remaining organic
matter that is more resistant to decay isn't going to be a problem.  I have
done this with soil-manure mixtures, and, after three weeks of composting,
they have not clouded the water or caused other problems due to rapid,
excessive decay.  They do produce some bubbles, probably methane, but only
from areas not invaded by plant roots.  Crypts seem to like this kind of
high-organic matter soil.  I have used it straight, or with some gravel on
top.  Actually, my crypts seem to do well with just about any kind of soil,
high or low organic matter.

Keeping soil three months under water would work also.  During that time,
all but resistant organic matter would decay, nutrients would diffuse out
into the water, and the soil should stabilize.  However, I think the decay
would proceed faster in an aerated compost pile setup.

In making "soil soup" I don't even worry about composting the soil for
three weeks.  I get topsoil, not from a garden store, but from a nearby
woods, put it in a bucket and add water in small amounts with much
stirring.  As the water is added the mix goes through a mud pie stage to a
pudding stage, and finally the soup stage.  When it is at the soup stage, I
pour it through a rice strainer with much stirring, thereby straining out
all the roots, undecomposed leaves, pebbles, bugs, worms, etc.  The stuff
that goes through the strainer shouldn't have enough rapidly decomposable
organic matter to worry about.  It goes in the bottom of the tank or pan
about a quarter inch deep and then about an inch and a half of gravel goes
on top.  I have never had problems with cloudiness from bacteria with this
technique.  I also have never had problems with the mud clouding the water
if I add the water carefully so that it does not stir up the gravel.

A green water outbreack can happen with the use of topsoil.  I control that
with the use of Daphnia, mostly.  I get the plants started while the
Daphnia are present.  Later, when the plants are well established, I may
add fish.  The fish, of course, always eat every last Daphnia, and so,
green water control with fish present involves trying to get the plants to
get the "upper hand" (a rather vague and unscientific phrase), or cutting
back on the light until the green water goes away.

Paul Krombholz, in cool, dry, central Mississippi.