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peat substrate success story

What with all the horror stories and warnings about peat substrates, I
thought I'd throw in a monkey wrench or two and talk about what a great
thing they can be...depending on local water conditions, of course 
:-).  In April 1996, I set up a low maintenance 125g planted discus
community tank where the 4" substrate included a 2 1/2" mix of
peat/vermiculite/Georgia clay in a 1:1:2 ratio.  Yes, I'd read all the
fears about anerobic substraits and hydrochloric acid poisoning the
water...well, it just goes to show that what doesn't work for some,
works for others.

Three months prior to the show tank setup, a 20g planted test tank was
created with cheap fish, peat/ver/clay in 2:1:1 ratio, and water
conditions were closely monitored.  This was a low maintenance tank with
only a heater and Millenium 2000 filter.  Lots of interesting stuff
happened during that period which caused a ratio adjustment for the
final soil mix and the most important finding was a rapid drop in pH for
the first month that required frequent additions of pH plus up stuff. 
After the first month that requirement slowly declined.  But, obviously
the peat substrate was a success (or as much of a success as a 3 month
long test can be called!).  

Due to the concerns on the list, the 125g has a Sandpoint substrate
heating system to encourage slow water movement.  This gives several no
maintenance benefits - (1) tanic acid additions to the water  (2) 
lowers tap pH of 7.2-7.4 to 6.8, (3) produces CO2 in small amounts, (4)
water circulation incourages aerobic conditions, (5) Discus LOVE peat
water.  There is also a large community of Malaysian trumpet snails in
residence that turn over the gravel layer.  The bottom of the tank is
glass and can be seen by looking through the stand.  To date, there are
no dark anerobic areas, the plants are great and the fish are happy.

The 20g test tank was taken apart a few months ago - it was then over 1
1/2 years old.  The MT population was much smaller than anticipated but
plant, and especially root growth, was good.  No smelly gases nor foul
substrate orders were detected when the tank was dismantled.  So, if
your water hardness is low, be especially careful of pH crashes -
monitor the system closely.  As someone else said, once the peat goes in
the substrate, the only way to get it out is to take the tank apart. 
Cleaning out a filter is a bit easier if you ask me <G> - so choose

Rochelle Williams
In HOT and HUMID :-((( Atlanta, but at least finals are over :-) so I
can concentrate on work :-(.