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RE: Ducks, Laterite and Clay... Amen!

This is another one of those I said, he said posts.... (and I promise this
is the last I'm going to say on the subject of laterite for at least a

I said...
>Alysoun McLaughlin is getting bored with our discussion of Laterite...
>Oh God! Here I go again.... Quack, Quack, Quack....
><further explanation of the specific qualities of laterite vs. other clays,

Alysoun said...
>I do understand the distinction, James!  <g>

>However, for our practical purposes (i.e., growing aquatic plants), is
>really an *observed*, rather than *hypothetical*, advantage to using bona
>fide laterite rather than Substrate Gold?

Whoa! Alysoun, please refer back to my initial post. Read it again, please.

I was discussing the common confusion, at least among those who don't know
much Geology, between a clay which is called a laterite and all other clays.
Heck, even Roger Miller used laterite and kitty litter in the same sentence
a few days ago <g>.

If you will recall, I said that "clay" is a relatively generic term,
referring more to a mineral material with a particle size of less than 0.002
mm. The word "clay" doesn't tell you _anything_ more than that. It states
_nothing_ about the actual minerals involved, nor their origin or age.

I believe I mentioned Bentonites (Fuller's Earth), a common enough type of
clay which is used in a lot of "kitty litters", due to one of it's physical
properties - it absorbs moisture, expanding in the process. Great thing to
soak up your cat's pee, but I'm still not convinced about it's suitability
as an aquarium substrate. At least, not in any of _my aquariums_ (I don't
have a cat who wishes to pee in my aquariums. hehehehe).

I also know that many people have experience with pottery clays, most
usually Red Art Clay. I have a bag of it, I have used it in the past, I will
use it in the future. I can tell you that I have OBSERVED, in my own tanks,
a very definate difference between a substrate using Red Art Clay and one
using Duplarit G. Regardless of the "hypothetical" differences - there are
definately "observable" differences.

You seem to be mis-reading me on at least one level. When I said that while
all laterites are clays, but not all clays are laterite, I meant just that.
I drew absolutely NO distinction between Dupla brand Duplarit G and Karl
Schoeler's Substrate Gold.

I have admitted on numerous occassions that my only knowledge of Substrate
Gold is secondary - I've never seen it nor used it. But, that aside, from
everything I have been able to read on it, Substrate Gold IS "genuine
laterite", and I would venture an extremely well educated guess that it will
give results every bit as good as Dupla's more expensive product.

As Roger Miller pointed out a few days ago, not all laterites are the same,
and some may be better at growing aquatic plants than others, but from what
I can tell, the major difference is that some types of laterite might be
more prone to leaching into the water column and causing a reddish stain or
cloud when disturbed. But this has nothing to do with their effectiveness in
growing plants. It is merely a housekeeping issue and can be rectified by
placing the laterite layer under a good layer of clean gravel and make sure
that your tanks have good mechanical filtration.

Your original post indicated to me that you were confusing other clays with
laterites. That's where the duck analogy comes in. Many people who post
here, and many, many more who post to the USENET rec.aquatic.plants
newsgroup (the great unwashed?) frequently make comments like "I've got a
Dupla style tank with kitty litter substrate..." (substitute any number of
alternatives for the words "kitty litter"). There continues to be a great
number of people who are thinking this way. While I have said that, in my
view, the use of actual Dupla brand products is not necessary to have a
genuine "Dupla style" tank, I think that at the very minimum the substrate
of such a tank should contain laterite, not kitty litter, not red art clay,
not play dough.

I do not say that Red Art Clay cannot be used in a substrate with much
success, especially when mixed with a small amount of fertilizer, preformed
into balls and inserted into a plain gravel substrate. I do this myself, and
it does work well for heavy feeders. But it 'ain't laterite.

Now, as to your latter question :

>"Perhaps I should have phrased it differently... if it's not a duck, but
>you really care about is the wings and feathers, will a pheasant do?

VERY good question. One that has bugged me for years. One that I hope to at
least make some stab at answering with my planned "system study". I am a
firm believer that there are many ways to skin a cat (you know, I hope the
SPCA doesn't get wind of how we abuse cats on this list), and many roads
lead to Rome, and I think that there are many ways to grow aquarium plants.

The Dupla strategy is successeful - it has been proven time and again by
aquarists from all over the world (that's a direct quote from George Booth).

Steve Pushak's HTBASS strategy is successeful, at least in the hands of a
careful and experienced person - I have spoken numerous times here on the
fact that I have a tank set up following Steve's methodology and it works.

So, lots of things work - if you know what you are doing. But, and this is a
VERY big "BUT", not everyone knows what they are doing. This is not a
put-down to anybody, it is just a statement that appears to me to be true.
This hobby contains a lot of people with a wide range of abilities and
backgrounds. Just as some cooks can make dinner without referring to a
recipe, while others might need one in order to boil an egg, some people
make substitutions which work, others make substitutions which don't. Those
who are successeful generally matched the properties, both chemical and
physical of their substitution with the original material. Those who end up
failing generally follow some half assed advice they got from their sister's
boyfriend's brother's schoolteacher, who got it off of the Net.

So, if you _want_ to use kitty litter in your substrate, be my guest. If
your prefer Red Art Clay, go ahead. But never assume that such substitutions
are going to work as well as something which has over 20 years of documented
research behind it. It may, or it may not.  And if you _do_ choose a novel
substrate, do all of us a favour and document your set up, maintenance, and
results carefully and post it for others to learn from. That's why we are
all here (I think).


James Purchase