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Burke Harris substrate options

Burke Harris wrote:
> I am planning on setting up a 30 gallon tank which I plan on planting
> heavily. I already have a planted tank with just gravel, a couple of bags
> of seachem flourite and the occaisional infusion of sera tabs. In my new
> tank i want to try something a little more sophisticated. I already have
> some some flourite and was considering using a layer of top soil underneath
> it, or mixed with it under a top layer of gravel with some fine mesh for
> separation. Has anybody out there tried this? if so what happened? I would 
> welcome any sort of advice regarding substrate options.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with combining the fluorite and
topsoil but this may not be necessary.

People often choose a substrate product such as Fluorite because they
want a simple method and they're not concerned over the cost (cash
outlay). Properly integrating topsoil is going to be a little more
complicated; about as complicated as using topsoil independently. I
think you need to study up about the use of soil before hand.

People choose to use topsoil for a variety of reasons. One reason is
that they are tailoring the substrate to their requirements and topsoil
is going to provide a substrate with higher fertility than other options
(like subsoil, clay, etc). You would do this either to get higher growth
rates or to specialize in certain aquatic plants that really need a rich
substrate to be grown effectively. There are probably very few plants in
this latter category; I can only think of Cryptocryne nurii and possibly
Cabomba. Certainly not everyone is going to agree that a "rich"
substrate is necessary. I'm just suggesting why someone -might- make a
choice to use topsoil.

Another way to use topsoil is simply to mix or dilute it with other
materials like sand and clay. In this way, you would be trying to create
a substrate well supplied in trace nutrients and of moderate fertility.
Another treatment is to mix the topsoil with water and screen it to
remove fibrous organic material (read other articles on this in the

Another reason that people combine all sorts of substrate materials is
that they want to cover the bases and hope that by mixing a little of
everything, they'll come up with a better substrate. I'm not saying
that's a good reason. Probably the best way to get the "best" substrate,
is to do a fair bit of reading and to really understand what your
objectives are and make an informed choice. I encourage you to review
the materials on my website and on the Krib.

The idea of using a fine mesh has been mentioned before so you should
probably search the APD archives using several similar keywords [egg
crate, screen]. The problem is that plant roots inevitably grow right
through the stuff and if your objective was to prevent disturbing the
substrate during uprooting, this will probably have the reverse of the
intended effect. I would discourage you from using mesh.

It seems like the aquatic plants digest number is showing up in the
subject headers of a lot of postings lately so its time to remind folks
to take the extra second to change the subject line to something
summarizing the topic they want to discuss. Later on, when others
respond to that thread, they should also use the same subject line and
this way the thread can be linked together in the archives. I really
encourage folks to Read The Archives. 99% of questions have already been
discussed and answered with a wide variety of opinions in the archives!

I have only two comments on planting Discus tanks. My first comment is
"change the water frequently". My last comment is "change the water

On the subject of sick fish in planted aquariums my comment is "change
the water frequently".

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!!!