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RE: Sand additives for a 20-30 gallon tank

In APD #697, Ryan Ingram was asking about substrate suggestions for a 20-30
gallon aquarium. He has acquired 30 lbs. of sand and was wondering it would
be suitable, either alone or with additives.

Sand, provided that it is not "ocean beach sand" (lots of CaCO3 from shells)
should work, provided it is not REALLY fine (like powder). It might not be
optimal, but it will work. In a tank that small, the substrate layer should
not be deeper than a couple of inches, so under-oxygenated areas should not
develop. But using sand, you are going to have to be careful about what you
use as a substrate additive to add plant nutrients. As you have discovered,
there is a wide variety of possibilities, from commercial laterite to
back-yard soil or even stealing some of your cat's litter.

If this is your first planted tank, it is much wiser and safer to stick with
something that you can be reasonably sure will work without causing
problems. That rules out kitty litter, and I would also suggest that you
steer clear of topsoil and/or peat moss. For the amount required in a tank
of this size, commercial Dupla "Duplarit G" is not going to set your
finances back too severely ($17.95/240g from Pet Warehouse). You could
alternatively use Aqualine Buschke Terralit ($19.95/4.4lbs from Pet
Warehouse), or even go the real luxe route and use Aqua Design Amano's Power
Sand ($18.00/2 L from Nature Aquarium Imports). As you can see, there are
plenty of commercially available alternatives, each of which has been
formulated to enrich an aquarium substrate and each costing UNDER $20.00.
Use any of the three as a layer UNDER the sand (mix the Duplarit with the
lower 1/3 of the sand, just pour either of the other two over the bottom of
the tank and then top with clean sand).

Sand ALONE is not enough. Sand alone, with two years of "fish poop" is
better, but do you want to wait two years? Sand and homemade clay balls or
kitty litter (both of which might just fall apart under water) is going out
on a limb that I don't think is warranted. Topsoil works, but there are so
many variables involved with its selection and possible contaminants that I
would only suggest it to an experienced plant grower.

And do yourself a favour, don't get "creative" and use multiple additives -
I've been there, done that, and ended up with a mess. When dealing with an
aquarium substrate, simpler really is better.

In ALL cases, regardless of what you use as a substrate additive, remember
that you should also use a macronutrient liquid fertilizer and a liquid
iron/micronutrient supplement - each of the products I have suggested is
part of a comprehensive "system" which has other products designed to work
together to provide complete nutrition for your aquatic plants.

James Purchase
Toronto, Ontario