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Re:Soil-brand-Diane Walstead style

Had same problem trying to buy soil and ended up taking some "clean, poor g
quality" dirt.
I have been doing plants only couple years. My first experiences were not
rewarding. Then I found APD, read it and Walstad's book, did my first "dirt"
tank and saw what really healthy plants look like. Ahh, some success and I
was hooked.

Here is my experience over last 18 months with several 20 gal tanks with
garden soil under plain gravel and 40 watts of flo shop light about 4-6
inches above covered tanks.

Unless presoaked several weeks, dirt will come up above gravel after a time.
If don't want to presoak, can just put on bit more top dressing of gravel
after soil come to surface.
Soil with too much phosphate will result in "window" of algae including some
BGA, but mine cleared in  couple weeks. Other than initial window of some
tanks and one tank that apparently had very rich soil, which went and stayed
green for 2 mo, (got a nice batch of Rainbow fry out of it but that is a
different story. :->) algae has not been problem.
Soil will tend to acidify water more than plain gravel.
The softness of soil makes planting VERY easy. Plants practically slide into
mud so get very little damage to roots. Note! plants just as easily come out
at this point. I had best luck by putting in soil, then about 1/2 inch of
gravel and carefully pouring in few inches of water, then starting planting
with foreground plants, adding more water as height of plants increased. I
then went in and carefully hand poured the rest of top gravel in taking care
to cover all surface and not trapping any plant material.  Water gets murky.
I replaced most of it again after planting completed.
Plants:  Everything that draws nutrients from substrate does very well.
Being reliant mostly on water nutrients, stem plants did less well. Rotala
rotundifolia has consistently stunted unless nutrients added but others were
ok. Plants grow consistently and very healthy looking. Val took over,
choking out other plants. Swords out grew tanks, Pygmy chains and dwarf Sag
did well. I settled mostly for "slower" growing plants such as crypts.
I keep only few live bearers and Otto's in tanks so not much food going in.
I found that after several months plant growth fell off and tanks showed
signs of nutrient imbalance. Half dose of PMDD weekly corrected problem.
Down side:  Removal of plants pulls soil into water. Gets murky and the fine
silt settles back on bottom to get stirred up again. I had some success in
siphoning it off.  I would recommend that you consider planting permanent
plants in soil and rapid growers that you will take out later in pots which
remove with no disturbance.
Up side: Even though in the end I needed to add PMDD to maintain long term
nutrient balance and good plant growth, those tanks are FAR less work and
expense  than my "hi tech" ones and I can leave them for month(s) (vacation)
with no problems.  The soft soil is the very best thing I have found for
starting delicate/difficult things and to grow out great specimens. I run a
little DIY CO2 in plant "starter" tanks. Anything and everything grows.
Hope this helps.

> I would also like to hear of
> the results people have had and any general tips for optimizing this method.
> For instance, which type of plants do particularly well.  Thank you in
> advance.
> David Brooks