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Best way I've found the best way to get lots of microfauna in an aquarium is to buy a pond plant that's potted with soil. They always seem to come with tons of hitchhikers. What I do is put the plant in a bucket of water outside. If you take water from that bucket and add it to your tank, you'll gets lots of stuff....

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There is a freshwater version of Miracle Mud. It's pricey as heck, but it's out there. It's about $25 for 2 pounds. Miracle Mud is one of those products that has some "true believers" who swear it's a miracle product, and then there are the others who say it's just dirt and you can get similar results (maybe even better) by using bagged topsoil (around $3 for a 25 lb bag) in a freshwater refugium. The Miracle Mud marketing claims sound a bit "snake oil" like to me. They claim it reverses hole in the head disease, enhances fish colors, and is the most comprehensive filter medium on the market. Eh, okay. It's 80% ocean mud and 20% something else they add. I don't necessarily buy their marketing.  If I was doing a freshwater refugium, I'd be more incluined to go with top soil. Oh, and they want you to replace 50% of the Miracle Mud on a yearly basis also. In a 40-65 gallon tank they recommend ten pounds ($125 worth) and then replace half (5 pounds) every year. 

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I believe two little fishies has a freshwater variety that is great. I am using their "mangrove mix" which my mangroves are stemming out but no new leaf growth. It took a while to get this one going, but I have the algae and various gas bubbles forming in the water so I think my bacteria colonies are finally happy. 

 

I would say for freshwater using the Walstad approach is probably the easiest especially if you don't want the kH and gH bump that comes with the mangrove mix. Tons of magnesium as mangroves need magnesium to transport sodium out of the system.

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Miracle mud is more on the principle of all the critters in mud/mulm. Lots of people do this from day a scoop of sand/mud/mulm from a lake river or pond. That would be the seed culture. Then you’d identify everything and if nothing undesirable was in it. You could then culture more of it and eventually sell it like the saltwater version that goes into sumps.

 

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I just started a more Walstad inspired tank.

 

If you only want the critters, more than the dirt, try locating the closest pond supply place that grows plants in outdoor ponds.

 

I just bought $5 of azolla last week. It came with mosquito larvae (fish in other tanks were thrilled with the snack), a dragonfly nymph (it went into the outside pond), a few snails, amphopods, and I think some daphnia. 

I had the plants in a 5 gallon bucket with an air stone, and slowly picked my way through the leaves. There are a few worms in the azolla, I am monitoring as I can't identify. Amphopods went into the Walstad tank, along with two handfuls of the rinsed azolla.

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On 8/7/2021 at 7:50 PM, Streetwise said:

@Littlefish, if you are still trying this, we would love to see a journal. My soil is from a composter, but @Daniel has used topsoil from his property.

There are many techniques, but organic soil is fun for me.

This is 6 mo in.  The swamp muck was like grease it had so much fine organic matter.  We have no clay in our sandy loam soil.  The 2 tupperware are on each side, under each planting. 50/50 muck, sts.

20210808_140254.jpg.789320e44974c9b6707d6b3adf721f45.jpg

 

And this is the bitter, cyano-filled end 2 ys later.

20210606_174049.jpg.ec0fabeb0f5708b0b1aa820d38378872.jpg

 

Broke it down last month.  I have an almost maintenance free 10 g reef tank with live rock, and I'd like to believe that method could be copied in fw.  I suppose Walstad would be closest to that, but I haven't seen any I really like that rival fw high-tech, the way natural sw tanks can rival or be better than sterile-start dead rock (high-tech?) reef tanks.  The ideas I hear on the co-op livestreams of low maintenance/low light planted tanks I like. 

 

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I am doing as Cory says - experimenting with fresh water pond muds and various soils (to produce my own muds). My aim is to recreate a natural biotope, not a normal aquarium. No fish in my tanks but I generally have daphnia, amphipoda and various worms and microfauna I do not have names for. Once had a water-boatman and a dragonfly lava that I took outside to save it after it matured.

Natural muds tend to produce alot of oxygen bubbles during the day (microscopic algae or bacteria is my guess). One tank I had in full sunlight looked like I had a air diffuser/air pump going there were so many bubbles. Growing plants in mud for me is hit and miss. Have had some success, alot of failures. Using mud makes a tank look more like a science experiment than a proper aquarium some times. Its definitely a different look, that most people may not like. Dirty comes to mind - very messy and dirty - like a natural biotope is. Beauty depends on the viewer's perspective.

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Yes local biotopes help greatly for sourcing materials. I find rain filled ditches on the sides of public roads in the country side the best for this purpose. If you are lucky you may find some local natives (aquatic plants).

With regard to using soils in aquaria I am finding that a 30% mix of a premium potting mix with ADA Amazonia V2 works very well. Have had particular success growing glossostigma diandrum in this substrate, a plant that needs a rich substrate. The potting mix needs to be organic but non-wood based, or the water will turn brown. You can test a potting mix by  submerging a bit in a jar for a few days. I have noticed that brown water (tannins) is not so good for the plants I grow.

I mix the potting mix and ADA together, makes the water a bit cloudy for a few days but it clears quickly. But you could put the potting mix or soil down first and cap it with ADA soil if you wanted to. So far I have only been able to grow diandrum in two substrates - its native soil (its a native near me so my local soil is perfect for it) or this ADA mix. From my experience it hates liquid fertilisers and nutrient rich waters and will die within a few days if I try a high-tech hydroponic (liquid ferts) set up under water. 

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On 8/8/2021 at 8:13 PM, Water Box Dreams said:

Yes local biotopes help greatly for sourcing materials. I find rain filled ditches on the sides of public roads in the country side the best for this purpose. If you are lucky you may find some local natives (aquatic plants).

Ditches are the best, this ditch had a lot of good plants:

20200929_6251.JPG.0cbcf1ddd6e60651e0a58f

Myriophyllum among others

20201005_6674.JPG.05867aee836c9de314b412

And nearby in a fresh water pond:

971448334_FieldofBananaplants.jpg.158f79

 

1199514157_CloseupofBananaplant.jpg.e314

 

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