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Re: Substrate problems

Hi Alex,

Sorry, just going back through older emails, found your message and James'
reply about soil leaking up through the gravel.

James wrote:

>The KRIB contains some
>information from Paul Krombholz on a method called "Soil Soup"
>(http://www.thekrib.com/Plants/Fertilizer/soil-soup.html), and this latter
>bit is (IMO) critical in using soils in an aquarium. But it takes some
>time - you have to prepare the soil, soak it, let it sit for a few weeks,
>let it dry out, and THEN you can use it in an aquarium. This can take
>upwards of a few months, but if you go this route you shouldn't experience
>any of the problems you have noticed.

I have soil in all but one of my tanks, you do need to soak it, but I've put
plants and fish in after a couple of days, I explained my process in detail
in a post of about a month ago, so anyone not into this, ignore the rest!

The critical bit, in my view, rather than the soaking is the sieving -
potting soil these days is made up of stuff like composted bark fines, great
in the soil, not so good in an underwater situation.  So I sieve it, at
least once with a very coarse sieve like a chip/french fries basket, then
with a coarse plastic sieve with as big holes as I can find.  I sometimes
omit the second sieving, but you do end up with a lot of dissolved hydrogen
sulphide type gas coming off over a long period of time - I don't find it a
problem, I have open tanks, and it doesn't seem to hurt the fish at all,
they even swim through the odd bubble.

I then add some clay and peat (crumbled to a fine texture) to make up about
half each of 1/3 of the quantity of soil you have, and soak that mix for at
least a couple of days, preferably a week.  Then siphon out that water, do
some planting, covering with gravel as you go, the finer the better, and add
a bit of water and more gravel to create a smooth surface, an inch of gravel
in total is fine, and then add some more water, siphon it out to get rid of
all the junk, you may need to repeat that part, then fill the tank properly.

I think that Diana recommended back yard soil in preference to commercial
potting mix because it usually has less coarse organic matter.  I have never
had a problem with soil puffing up through the gravel by following this
process; in any case, it should stop after at most a month, and you can just
keep adding a bit more gravel on top to cover it up, rather than removing it
by siphoning it.  That's what I do when replanting - cover up the disturbed
soil as quickly as possible with a handful or two of gravel, minimum mess.
But if you are doing major disturbance to the tank, eg I took out two
massive Amazon swords a week ago from my 80 gal, with big root balls, its
best to take the fish out first if you can, so you can siphon out all the
water with the disturbed particles - a diatom filter is great for clearing
it up, too!

I would suggest you get some more of the soil you used last time, and try
sieving it, just to see what size stuff is in there; and then make a
decision about living with it, or re-doing it yet again.  It should work
okay as it is, you will just have a fair amount of big bubbles coming off,
but it is not a continuous thing; you can also release some of the gas when
you do your weekly water change by just pressing down on the gravel with
your palm or knuckles, it will cause whatever gas has accumulated to come
out.  Some of it may be oxygen, anyway, once your plants get going!

I find the soil substrate to work best for me re plant growth and health,
but if you are the type of person who is always moving stuff around, then I
don't advise it :) !

Hope that helps, kind regards,

Susi Barber