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Re : Bark in Potting soil

Hi Zach, 

>I'm curious, are you using store-bought potting soil?  In my area, the
>main ingredient of all the brands that I've found seems to be fairly big
>pieces of composted bark or wood ( the labels say something like 'composted
>forest products'), which doesn't seem like it would be a very good for
>underwater use, or for readily supplying nutrients.  Maybe I'm mistaken about
>that.  Has anyone had good results with that type of potting soil?

I'll jump in and answer your question, as I am a total soil substrate
advocate - I buy an organic mix, to avoid any possible pesticides, and yes,
it usually does have a fair bit of bark in it, although brands differ.  I
also read the label to avoid any that might be based on sewage sludge in any
form, not that that usually applies to the organic mixes.

I sieve it once with a chip basket, a very coarse mesh of about 1/3"; then
again with a finer one, usually an open weave plastic one.  It takes ages of
vigorous stirring, but it does the trick.  I've used soil where I have
sieved it just once with the very coarse sieve, it means more air pockets

Another method is to make "soil soup", a la Paul Kromholtz (hope I got the
name right from memory), who adds water to soil in a bucket before sieving
it, too messy for me.  The aim is to get as fine a soil as possible; then I
usually add by volume about 1/3 of half each of extra peat (although the
soil does usually have some in it) and clay, kitty litter will do it.  And a
handful or two of dolomite powder to counteract my very soft water,
depending on how much soil I'm mixing up.

I then soak it in the aquarium for about a week, half filling the tank, a
lot of the floating stuff tends to settle in that time; then drain off all
of that water, add fine gravel on top, add and take out a bit more water to
get rid of any junk left floating about, and start planting, adding more
gravel around each plant as I go.  The 'pre-soaking' gets rid of the worst
of the volatility, I've found it to be fine even after only 3-4 days, if I
am in a hurry!

Diana Walstad advises using soil from your backyard or from a forest area,
to keep the mix less fertile; not really doable for me, so I've always used
potting mix, it works fine.  I like the way it provides a nice rich mix for
the plants, so if they have light etc, they grow really well.

Kind regards,

Susi Barber