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Soil Substrate

Maybe I'm becoming a member of The Cult, but I started two years ago with a 
gravel and laterite tank, then set up a flourite tank, then set up a soil 
substrate tank and am now switching everything (3 at home 1 at work) to 
soil.  Mine are set up per Diana Walstad, and I didn't put on a lab coat; 
in fact I didn't even read all the technical stuff until after I'd set up 
the first tank per her easy to follow instructions in the one chapter and 
it worked so well.  There are drawbacks -- soil here in Colorado is nothing 
I'd ever put anywhere I wanted to grow anything, so I spent a lot of time 
reading the contents of every package of potting soil sold in the Denver 
metro area to find something plain enough to use (read that one chapter, no 
earthworm castings, etc.).  Not every plant in the universe grows in such 
tanks.  Worst of all, moving plants around is a pain.  The first time I did 
it, I made such a mess I had to move the fish out for hours until I could 
get the water clear enough it didn't seem like it would clog their 
gills.  However, I don't want to spend my weekends moving plants around and 
topping stem plants, and I've gotten better at not making a mess when I 
have to do a little moving, and I've found a wide mouth vacuum device that 
I can use after I do have to uproot that takes up soil bits without 
clogging.  I've never noticed a sulphur smell when taking plants out or 
putting them in.

My experience so far is limited.  My first gravel and laterite tank is two 
years old and will be redone with soil in the next week or two.  I was 
debating with myself about doing this anyway, but the heater stuck in it 
and killed 14 of 15 fish this weekend, and once I get over feeling sick 
about it, I'll start work on redoing that tank.  (The damn heater is a 
Tronic I got so this would never happen.)  My first soil tank is just a 
year old and the second is 6 months old.  The two-year-old gravel one went 
through every algae stage and still has major breakouts if I forget to dose 
it with this and that for a week or so.  The flourite tank is maybe 18 
months old and not as fussy as the gravel one, but still needs more fussing 
than the soil tanks.  Neither of the soil tanks has gone through any algae 
stages except that the year-old one now has a little spot algae on the 
glass and some older leaves, maybe because I took out some plants and never 
replaced them and there are too few in there right now.

I think the choice of substrate, etc., depends a lot on what you want from 
a tank.  If you want a pretty tank that is a healthy home for fish and 
isn't too demanding of time, etc., a soil substrate one may be the way to 
go (although I put more time in up front because I sieved all the 
soil).  If you want a stunning tank with high light plants and a hobby you 
can experiment with on an ongoing basis, you probably want something different.

Ellen O'Connell
Parker, CO
mailto:oconnel4 at ix_netcom.com