Jump to content

Thoughts on substrate on new dirted tank?


Demobanana
 Share

Recommended Posts

So I began to set up a dirted tank, but I don’t know if I have enough. In the pictures you can see there’s around an inch and a quarter (there’s some space beneath the black space) of organic seed starter- https://images.app.goo.gl/tD9k5GbNHix5uKM98 I assume it’s different from your standard miracle gro- and about the same amount made up in pool filter sand, pea pebbles (not pea gravel!) and a small bag of Caribsea gravel. I have a unsettling feeling that it won’t be enough though…so should I buy more substrate? I just don’t want it to be too expensive, and I ran out of all my sand and pebbles. Also I’ve heard sand isn’t great since it suffocates the dirt and everything. In the pictures included you can also see all the gravel pictures, measurements, a little diagram I drew and my ammonia (~.50) level after filling and draining my tank (once yesterday- the day I set it up) and again today. So…thoughts? Also I’m kinda nervous because the substrate seems to be mixing and pouring water on the substrate from a certain height seems to somehow bring out a little bit of dirt.

C76B01C3-6D3E-4B1E-A0B5-2AB3E488EC09.jpeg

F1931A2B-7C5B-4D93-BBB3-25CD6327F9FD.jpeg

9565CEE3-D66E-479B-B5A4-14D14EB33ADA.jpeg

B26AE180-CE33-48F6-8976-3488830DBEE6.jpeg

3FC3CD85-7F14-4B3B-BC26-13F6C176A549.jpeg

FA87C42F-B048-4F65-A67A-D6225A3EF978.jpeg

516B8F31-A529-4D09-BB80-3AB8DCB5ADB3.jpeg

97107849-3BB3-463A-A61A-F28E4AC60BA1.jpeg

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here’s a few of my observations. My 55 is dirted and it has worked out well so far. You kinda have to use sand, because you need a solid cap for the potting soil. None of it can be openly exposed to the water or it will clump and float around your tank. It’s clay based for the most part.  Here’s what worked for me. 

1). Make sure you use ORGANIC POTTING SOIL. You don’t want to introduce excess nitrates into the system by using regular potting soil. It appears you did that, but I just wanted to reiterate that for people who may read this thread in the future. 

2). I did a two and a half inch potting soil bed and a one and a half inch sand bed. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done about three inches of soil and two inches of sand to get the “deep sand bed” effect that, if done correctly, can make an aquarium use all of its own waste products, with oxygen being the end game. I haven’t noticed any issues with soil suffocating but I will certainly notify if I do. I planted an Amazon Sword and it greened up in like a week once it’s roots found that soil and it’s growing nicely. 
 

3). You aren’t really able to gravel vac something like this because you don’t want to break up the sand cap too much. You’ll mix it all up and have a soil-y mess, so if you’re heavy on aesthetics, this may not be the substrate for you. 
 

4). Don’t dig into the sand cap too much. Push plants down into it with planting tweezers or your hands for bigger plants. You really don’t have to worry too much about disturbing the cap if you’re careful and you have a deep enough sand layer. Just don’t dig it out to put a rock down in it or something. Make sure you are pushing anything you put in down into the sand so it compacts that layer and keeps the soil in place. 
 

5). As for mixing, you have to have the sand as the layer directly above the soil. Gravel isn’t going to cap it. If you layer the sand on the soil and then do whatever you want above that, you won’t have any issues. You could experiment with a gravel layer between the soil and sand but you have to have a lot of sand to cap that. 
 

I literally just used play sand from Lowe’s and Miracle Grow Organic Potting soil. It cost me $20 to do a 55 gallon and I had substrate left over. In terms of value, I am of the opinion that dirted substrate for planted tanks is the best possible option. I rely on the plants for my aesthetic more than the substrate though.  

Edited by Tarsas
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you are fine with what you have. You. could add more sand for your cap, I like 2-3 inches cap. If you are asking if you need more dirt I think you already have more than enough.

By having a dirted tank you kind of signed up for the possibility of soil leaching into your water all the time. Especially when it comes to planting or moving plants you will be pulling up soil so be cognizant when doing that and change water out when you do.  

I'm guessing you added fresh soil straight into the tank?

If so expect to have really high amount of nutrients in the water and you may have to do a lot more upfront water changes at the start to keep everything balanced. As you get more plants and your tank matures more, you shouldn't have to do nearly as much.

But I would feel around your cap with your fingers and look for soft spots. Sometimes your sand layer isn't as even/thick as you think and there may be a spot where there isn't enough sand covering the dirt.

As for filling the water in your tank, maybe use a bag or a bowl to pour your water in so that it doesn't come crashing down and disturbing your cap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 7:32 PM, Tarsas said:

1). Make sure you use ORGANIC POTTING SOIL. You don’t want to introduce excess nitrates into the system by using regular potting soil. It appears you did that, but I just wanted to reiterate that for people who may read this thread in the future. 

Hmmm...the bag did say it was Organic seed starting mix....also there was virtually no wood in it if that means anything for the ammonia.

On 7/12/2021 at 7:32 PM, Tarsas said:

2). I did a two inch potting soil bed and a one inch sand bed. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done about three inches of soil and two inches of sand to get the “deep sand bed” effect that, if done correctly, can make an aquarium use all of its own waste products, with oxygen being the end game. I haven’t noticed any issues with soil suffocating but I will certainly notify if I do. I planted an Amazon Sword and it greened up in like a week once it’s roots found that soil and it’s growing nicely. 

Is the waste product usage thing that big of a deal? I dont mind doing water changes for the waste products. And really, I have around an inch of sand. Sword is also a thing coming soon.

 

On 7/12/2021 at 7:32 PM, Tarsas said:

You aren’t really able to gravel vac something like this because you don’t want to break up the sand cap too much. You’ll mix it all up and have a soil-y mess, so if you’re heavy on aesthetics, this may not be the substrate for you. 
 

4). Don’t dig into the sand cap too much. Push plants down into it with planting tweezers or your hands for bigger plants. You really don’t have to worry too much about disturbing the cap if you’re careful and you have a deep enough sand layer. Just don’t dig it out to put a rock down in it or something. Make sure you are pushing anything you put in down into the sand so it compacts that layer and keeps the soil in place. 
 

5). As for mixing, you have to have the sand as the layer directly above the soil. Gravel isn’t going to cap it. If you layer the sand on the soil and then do whatever you want above that, you won’t have any issues. You could experiment with a gravel layer between the soil and sand but you have to have a lot of sand to cap that. 

dont plan to gravel vac too hard, if at all and definitely going to make sure the cap is in place when putting plants down. And i put a thin layer of pea pebbles directly on the dirt and then the sand so...I think its good because its barely a layer.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 7:47 PM, Koi said:

I think you are fine with what you have. You. could add more sand for your cap, I like 2-3 inches cap. If you are asking if you need more dirt I think you already have more than enough.

By having a dirted tank you kind of signed up for the possibility of soil leaching into your water all the time. Especially when it comes to planting or moving plants you will be pulling up soil so be cognizant when doing that and change water out when you do.  

I'm guessing you added fresh soil straight into the tank?

If so expect to have really high amount of nutrients in the water and you may have to do a lot more upfront water changes at the start to keep everything balanced. As you get more plants and your tank matures more, you shouldn't have to do nearly as much.

But I would feel around your cap with your fingers and look for soft spots. Sometimes your sand layer isn't as even/thick as you think and there may be a spot where there isn't enough sand covering the dirt.

As for filling the water in your tank, maybe use a bag or a bowl to pour your water in so that it doesn't come crashing down and disturbing your cap.

yeah....maybe I should ge a little more sand. Dont have a lot though. Also yeah i am aware of the nutrient leech and the bag

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 8:18 PM, Koi said:

I would just buy another bag of sand just to have  extra laying around. I constantly had to add like a cup of sand whenever soft spots started to appear in my cap.

I would but Ive found sand is pretty bad for my stem plants and takes them a while to not just rot their stems and roots undergrounds after a little. thats why I want to try the gravel on top. You think another bag of that would work? because honestly i dont have room for a big sand bag.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 8:28 PM, Demobanana said:

I would but Ive found sand is pretty bad for my stem plants

If you are planning to only use dirt as your source or nutrients then I can see how sand might be problematic for you. I wouldn't say sand is the worst for stem plants but if you have a really fine grain sand, the stems will have to work a little harder to push roots through.

Gravel can work, but try looking for one that is a smaller grain size than what you have right now. Also try planting the stems deep so that it is already touching the dirt. Hopefully having the stems already in the soil will help with rooting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 8:49 PM, Koi said:

Gravel can work, but try looking for one that is a smaller grain size than what you have right now. Also try planting the stems deep so that it is already touching the dirt. Hopefully having the stems already in the soil will help with rooting.

really? is it safe for the roots to be in direct contact that early? I planted a val runner in dirt once and it meted all its leaves. It grew roots but in a month or so nothing was above the sand. Also, any suggestions on getting the correct gravel size? When I look it up all of them virtually look the same. 

Edited by Demobanana
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 8:57 PM, Demobanana said:

really? is it safe for the roots to be in direct contact that early?

I'd imagine so, I stockpile my extra stem plants and grow them emersed just so I don't lose certain varieties and those are just grown in mud basically. Other than that I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't be safe.

I can't really speak to why it didn't work out for your val... Val tends to be pretty sensitive to changes for me but I would chalk it up to you getting unlucky with that runner. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 9:17 PM, Koi said:

I'd imagine so, I stockpile my extra stem plants and grow them emersed just so I don't lose certain varieties and those are just grown in mud basically. Other than that I can't think of a reason why it wouldn't be safe.

I can't really speak to why it didn't work out for your val... Val tends to be pretty sensitive to changes for me but I would chalk it up to you getting unlucky with that runner. 

cool cool I'll go ahead with that after a few water changes. thanks for the input

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 9:49 PM, Demobanana said:

Hmmm...the bag did say it was Organic seed starting mix....also there was virtually no wood in it if that means anything for the ammonia.

Is the waste product usage thing that big of a deal? I dont mind doing water changes for the waste products. And really, I have around an inch of sand. Sword is also a thing coming soon.

 

dont plan to gravel vac too hard, if at all and definitely going to make sure the cap is in place when putting plants down. And i put a thin layer of pea pebbles directly on the dirt and then the sand so...I think its good because its barely a layer.

You want to start as flat as possible with as little external factors influencing your tank as you can manage. It’s just easier that way. And yes like everyone else has mentioned, use something like a colander to add water. Otherwise you will disturb your substrate. Any filter or anything you use with a high flow, make sure you have a rock or something there to protect the sand. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/12/2021 at 9:32 PM, Tarsas said:

2). I did a two and a half inch potting soil bed and a one and a half inch sand bed. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done about three inches of soil and two inches of sand to get the “deep sand bed” effect that, if done correctly, can make an aquarium use all of its own waste products, with oxygen being the end game. I haven’t noticed any issues with soil suffocating but I will certainly notify if I do. I planted an Amazon Sword and it greened up in like a week once it’s roots found that soil and it’s growing nicely. 

I did this with roughly that much sand and topsoil (mineralized and large organic wood bits removed of course), and perhaps my results aren't typical, but it was an absolute disaster. Somehow ended up with tannins leaching for years, constant hydrogen sulfide smell, even if I took a skewer and poked around the substrate every other day, gas bubbles and skewering causing the soil to mix with my sand... no thanks. But like I said, maybe I'm just not good at dirt tanks. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/13/2021 at 7:58 AM, Phantom240 said:

I did this with roughly that much sand and topsoil (mineralized and large organic wood bits removed of course), and perhaps my results aren't typical, but it was an absolute disaster. Somehow ended up with tannins leaching for years, constant hydrogen sulfide smell, even if I took a skewer and poked around the substrate every other day, gas bubbles and skewering causing the soil to mix with my sand... no thanks. But like I said, maybe I'm just not good at dirt tanks. 

I really haven't had an issue. I do have some tannis I think because my water is tinted brown, but Missouri water is ridiculously hard (like 50.8 MG/L dissolved calcium and 391 MG/L TDS) and comes out of the tap at like 8.8 PH, so a little tannis softening it definitely isn't hurting anything. I used potting soil mixed with compost which I was somewhat worried about because of the excess decaying waste, but it seems like that helped me out a lot because it jumpstarted the bacteria I was adding and I had the nitrogen cycle going in no time at all. I think it just kinda depends on which soil you use. 

I actually have seen some air pockets in the substrate but I've never had any issues with the dreaded anaerobic bacteria pockets. Those bacteria are vital in nature for breaking down nitrites/nitrates. 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 7/13/2021 at 5:58 AM, Phantom240 said:

I did this with roughly that much sand and topsoil (mineralized and large organic wood bits removed of course), and perhaps my results aren't typical, but it was an absolute disaster. Somehow ended up with tannins leaching for years, constant hydrogen sulfide smell, even if I took a skewer and poked around the substrate every other day, gas bubbles and skewering causing the soil to mix with my sand... no thanks. But like I said, maybe I'm just not good at dirt tanks. 

How quickly did you get the smell and tannins from when you set it up? Do the tannins come from the wood specifically or anything else? Because like I said I have virtually no wood in the seed starter....

Edited by Demobanana
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The fish were in tubs with similar conditions. I put them in a bucket for a day, and then added them to that tank on its second day. I moved plants from my tubs, and some of the water.

This worked out well for the White Clouds, but the new tank was not messy enough for the Neo shrimp that were also moved indoors. This was an important lesson. I only keep shrimp in well-seasoned tanks now.

I should add that this is a tank I run for my folks, so I only see it about once a month. When I visit, the last thing I want to do is a water change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...