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Potting soil for substrate

>Does anyone have experiences using potting soil as a substrate?

I second (or 3d or 4th) the recommendation to get and read Walstad's 
"Ecology of the Planted Aquarium" before starting out and also Steve 
Pushak's articles on soil 
substrates:  http://home.infinet.net/teban/how-to.html.

My first soil substrate tank was a small one, 7 gallons, that I set up at 
my office.  I wanted something easy that might not need the kind of 
maintenance and doses of this that and the next thing that the ones I'd 
already set up (laterite and then Flourite) required.  After reading 
everything I could, I set it up per Walstad but had a DIY CO2 bottle 
running to it for the first couple of months.  That little aquarium was so 
successful I set up a new 28-gallon bow front the same way, and now have 
ripped out what was in my other aquariums (a 10 and a 20) and set them up 
the same way.

The 7 and the 28 have never had any algae problems at all.  The other 2 
have a little, probably because the plants that went in them had been 
plants with some algae from the tanks in their previous 
incarnations.  Instead of dosing this that and the next thing constantly, I 
add some of Steve's recommended fertilizer mix every few water changes, and 
it's great.  The 7-gallon has 2 watts per gallon of regular flourestcent 
light.  The 28-gallon has 2.3 watts per gallon of compact flourescent.

The only problem at all with this kind of setup is that you can't move 
things around lightly because the soil does come up when you uproot 
things.  So I find myself leaning to fewer stem plants and ones like limno 
that don't put out as extensive of a root system in between toppings, and I 
do have a wide mouth vacuum device so that when I get too ambitious, it 
will suck up the soil that comes to the top without clogging on dirt 
particles.  Also have a lot of crypts and small swords, but I started these 
tanks with lots of limno and the 7 gallon had hygro in the beginning.  The 
one major rearranging I did of the 7-gallon when I got rid of the hygro 
made the tank so dirty I had to move the fish to a temporary container for 
a couple of hours till things settled enough for me to vacuum up the 
settled soil and the filter took out enough of the rest the water was 
reasonable again.  I don't know if that much suspended soil would be bad 
for the fish, but it seemed like it would.

If you like to tinker and rearrange this is not the way to go.  If you like 
to get things set up in a way that pleases you and leave it alone and just 
look at it a lot, you will probably like a soil substrate tank.

The fish in these tanks have also been quite healthy and I've lost less 
than when I had other kinds of substrates.

Ellen O'Connell
Parker, CO
mailto:oconnel4 at ix_netcom.com