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I suggest using a sphagnum peat moss mixed with a mineral soil in a
layer no deeper than 1" and covered with a layer of fine gravel. By
volume the ratio is 1 part fluffy peat to 2 parts soil or about 5% by
weight. A bottom layer of clay, subsoil or sand mixed with a little
powdered iron will help supply micro-nutrients but should NOT contain
very much organic material due to the problem of low redox at depths
greater than 2" in a substrate. Its important to have a good planting of
plants which will counteract some of the low redox by providing oxygen
via the roots. After a month or so, the aquarium becomes much better
suited to a wide variety of plants. Some do not tolerate low redox
conditions well since the roots are not adapted to those conditions.
Crypts seem well adapted as do Sword plants to low redox conditions.
Bacopa, Alternanthera, and others with thick white roots also are good
early colonizers in a soil tank. The Hygrophilas seem to be secondary
colonizers after a couple of weeks and don't seem like to have their
leaves trimmed too much at first.
I have a suspicion that what the plants didn't like during the early
weeks is the effects of ammonia in higher concentrations in the
substrate. There can be enough ammonia generated by bacterial action on
nitrates to burn the roots if the substrate is too fertile. MODERATION!
To avoid aluminum toxicity avoid very acidic organic materials. Sphagnum
peat moss seems to be ok. I've not used really acidic peat. If you only
had acidic peat you could moderate it with calcium carbonate or dolomite
lime. Acidic peat is probably very expensive anyways. Sphagnum peat moss
is cheap. Aluminum is a very common mineral in soils especially clay and
Please check out the directions on my website for peat/soil substrate.
The three layer approach is designed that way on purpose.
Steve Pushak http://home.infinet.net/teban/