Vermiculite/soil substrates

olga at arts_ubc.ca wrote: <<<<< re: plant tank info (...) My feelings on the
substrate are: stick with gravel enhanced with laterite for good results and
ease of operation. Avoid vermiculite and soil. I say this with no expertise
whatsoever (freely admitted). I know one can grow great plants in these
substrates but I also know that vermiculite is a real pain if the substrate
gets disturbed. Ditto soil. (...)>>>>>

I do not really disagree with your overall recommendation, but I feel that
in your and other posts the inconvenience of soil-based substrates is quite
exaggerated. I have, among others, a tank with a laterite/gravel mix, one
with topsoil+vermiculite/sand and one with sand only (plus potted plants).
The only one in which there is a very limited "cloud effect" when the
substrate is disturbed is the sand-only tank. The laterite/gravel tank does
produce clouds of debris during transplanting more or less as much as the
topsoil one. However in stable conditions the topsoil substrate has a large
accumulation of mud that came up to the surface even with minimal
transplanting (it just sits there as long as nobody touches it).  The main
difference is in my opinion cosmetic, since the mud from the topsoil tends
to deposit on leaves more than the debris in the laterite tank. I however
like that "natural" effect, and trumpet snails and the two wood shrimps I
recently got really like it as a source of food, since this mud seems rich
of little critters.. SAEs like to graze by the mud too. I also found easier
to grow plants in the topsoil mix (just an observation, not a proven
truth!), which not being overloaded with organics (I used a 3:10
topsoil/vermiculite ratio) did not cause cyanobacteria problems beyond
limited areas for the first few weeks (like any other tank). Once
waterlogged, vermiculite does not float around. I however agree that some
more experience is needed with topsoil mixes. Mistakes are probably more
difficult to fix, but they can still be managed and some advantages are
provided (lower cost, steadier supply of nutrients, more biodiversity
allowed, unusual look).