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Re: Substrates Question
Julius Odian wrote:
> I have read a lot about the alternate methods of kittly litter or using a
> fine sand etc... Keep in mind I call these fish tanks but they are densly
> planted. I have very little if any algae, a moderate to high fish load -
> but good water quality and great plant growth. Do you guys have a problem
> with the your fine grain or earth substrates clogging or ever going
I never have any problem with my soil substrates with regards to being
anaerobic or clogging up. I don't circulate water through the substrates
actively so the term "clogging up" is misleading to say the least. It's
not a problem at all.
There also seems to be some confusion about the term "anaerobic"; it
simply means without oxygen and this is the normal situation with all
substrates, even gravel ones. One exception, of course is the small area
where water is actively flowing through an under gravel filter.
I think what you are really concerned about here is a situation where
the lower layers of the substrate are rotting such as if you had used
too much organic material and the aquatic plants were not in a healthy
condition to protect their roots by bringing oxygen down through the
aerenchyma channels. It is a question of balance. Some folks have even
used a mixture of manure and other materials with very vigorously
growing plants. I'm not suggesting you try this. Check out Richard
Sexton's website for more details on his Madagascar Lace plant
Perhaps the best compromise soil, if you are interested in using some,
is a loamy soil which is a mixture of sand, silt and clay and is
primarily mineral. The organic content is very low. One precaution that
you can use with topsoil, is to mix it with water to form a very runny
mud and pass this through a piece of window screening to remove any
fibrous materials. You can place a 1/2" layer of this in a baking dish
and let it dry and then cover it with a thin layer of gravel. Set your
plants in this and then place them in a suitable aquarium with adequate
minerals in the water, good light and CO2 injection and Voila! These
trays can be removed at any time, rearranged and its easy to fuss with
the plants with little danger of muddying up the aquarium.
Other people only use soil in shallow pots. Same advantages.
Personally I have tried three different soil setups of greatly varying
construction and all have worked extremely well. I didn't use pots or
trays. My first experiment was perhaps a little too fertile and so I
would not repeat that recipe again. The more fertile the substrate is,
the more explosive is the growth of the plants however you must be
cautious or you can get problems with algae. I no longer add fertilizer
to a substrate except later on in the form of clay balls, where I can
control things much better.
> Furthermore, do you have to tear up your substrates on a semi
> periodic basis?
No, there seems to be no reason to do this. Remember, that if you have
nutrients in a substrate containing soil, you probably do NOT want to
disturb it except to uproot plants for aquascaping or sale. At that
time, it's probably a wise precaution to perform a good water change
although I have removed a large sword plant recently without any
problems at all. With stem plants, I seldom uproot them, just snip them
off and replant or sell the top which is the most attractive part of the
> I realize heater cables can help this from happening but
> when I do a gravel vacuum, I find a lot of detritus in the gravel bed.
I don't think you should gravel vacuum a planted aquarium substrate.
Heater cables don't stop the formation of detritus. In fact, I think
most would agree that except in tanks with very high fish loads, the
detritus which works into the substrate is a valuable source of
nutrients for the plants. If you were keeping large Cichlids like
discus, it would probably be wise to lightly vacuum only the surface to
remove excess food and feces and to practice frequent water changes. I
don't keep discus however in Jack Wattley's Handbook of Discus, he
recommends daily water changes if you can manage it especially for the
fry which are fed several times a day.
Steve Pushak Vancouver, BC, CANADA
Visit "Steve's Aquatic Page" http://home.infinet.net/teban/
for LOTS of pics, tips and links for aquatic gardening!!!