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I think it would be fun to start 3 similar aquariums at the same time, but try 3 different strategies for the substrate and fertilizer.

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First a Walstad type dirted substrate - in this case dirt from my yard

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Second, CaribSea's Eco-Complete

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And third, a 'normal' tank with CaribSea's Peace Rive substrate supplemented with Aquarium Co-Op's Easy Root Tabs and Easy Green liquid fertilizer.

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For this experiment (okay, this is definitely not an experiment as I do not have a hypothesis, any controls, or replicants) I will use three 40 gallon breeder aquariums that will likely have sponge filters, heaters, and Finnex lights.

It should take me about a week or two to gather all the resources for this experiment (again, definitely not an experiment as my N on each tank will be 1, but my fun quotient ought to be greater than 1 because this will also be an attempt to setup 3 aquariums that are some more than green water fry tanks or mulm factories).

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Pioneers in dirting their tanks include, @ange, @Jessica., @varanidguy, @ChefConfit, @Shade, @regis, @SmallPekka, @Brandy, @Seized, @Nataku, @NanoFishTanks, @Lynze, @David Ellsworth, @FriendlyLoach, @Sunny Doan, @dublicious, @Byron and @Cosmas.OS. Who did I miss?

With their guidance, what could possibly go wrong?

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Love this idea, and I can't wait to see the results. What's your plan for plant for plant stocking @Daniel? Hoping we'll see some root feeders. 

I'd have to reread Walstad to see what she recommends, but I like to mix raw red clay and aragonite in my dirt, then cap with 1" of sand. Maybe you should throw some iron nails in the dirt to make it a real throwback tank. 🤣

I've set up my last few dirted tanks using this (comes with an ammonia spike in the beginning, like amazonia, I wouldn't really recommend it to someone unless they knew they were immediately stocking with high plant load and ready to handle the algae bloom that the ammonia leaching will cause)-

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COASTOFMAINE.COM

A blend of lobster shells, manure compost, worm castings, kelp, peat and aged bark.  Inoculated with endo and ecto mycorrhizal fungi to improve root function.  Everything your plants need in one bag! OMRI...

 

 And ps, I'd run ada amazonia on everything if I could afford it. Dirt wins out so I can buy more discus, buce and pay my mortgage. 😉

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I find a large sand cap works well for me. I have 2 inches of soil and around a 3-4 inch cap. (55 gallon tank) When I started out with the dirt I dried and wet the dirt multiple times as well as packing it in really well and this helped to prevent bubbling later on. And as plant roots grow in the loosen the bubbles and they rise. I'm a fan of deep substrates so a 5 inch or so substrate doesn't bother me. But the plants are loving it, my swords are starting to sprout above water growth and maybe start flowering and crypt parva is sending out runners faster than before. 

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16 hours ago, Jessica. said:

Love this idea, and I can't wait to see the results. What's your plan for plant for plant stocking @Daniel? Hoping we'll see some root feeders.

My plan was to discuss this with you all and then place an order from the Co-Op.

Since this is essentially a root feeding experiment I am thinking swords big and small, Vallisnera, and Sagittaria. But some stem plants too, Bacopa, Scarlet temple, etc.

It will be hard to resist the temptation to throw in some hornwort in because I have always used that as a nitrogen sink, but unless I prune daily, it will block the light.

Based on what the Co-Op has in stock, help me with the shopping list.

 

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7 hours ago, Streetwise said:

I will be following this. What soil depth and cap layers will you be using? I have been using 1.5" soil, 0.5" sand, 1.0" fine gravel.

I am just sitting here staring at the jar of soil in the dirted tank and thinking about soil depth and what I might do.

My goal is to have about 2" of substrate in each tank, but that is not set in stone.

@Streetwise what is your thinking on 1.5" soil, 0.5" sand, 1.0" fine gravel? It looks like - plenty of soil and then some sand to keep to soil from soiling the tank and then some gravel to hold the plants down?

@NanoFishTanks's thinking seemed to run along these lines.

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I did 1" soil, and 1" sand in my 5 gallon Marineland Portrait. I was worried about substrate taking up a lot of precious real estate in what was already such a small space. Looking back, I do wish I would have added at least another 1/4" to the cap. Either more sand, or some fine gravel. I don't have much of an issue with the sand holding the plants down. I used medium Black diamond blast media as a cap because it was what I had on hand. The soil has worked it's way upward in a couple of spots and I don't believe that would have been an issue with just a little more cap., but I'm really not sure it's much of an issue now either.

  As far as a shopping list goes, the Ammannia gracilis is loving the soil, and with the lower light that I have on the tank plus the floaters shading a little in some places, it's turning all different shades of green, pale orange and deep copper. Beautiful stuff. 

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Just now, Lynze said:

 As far as a shopping list goes, the Ammannia gracilis is loving the soil, and with the lower light that I have on the tank plus the floaters shading a little in some places, it's turning all different shades of green, pale orange and deep copper. Beautiful stuff. 

I just put it on the list.

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I did soil about 1.5" with a 1/2" - 3/4" BDBS cap. When I put the soil in, I added a little water so I could pat the soil down and get it settled as it would be once the tank was filled and there wouldn't be any major air bubbles left in the soil to start. So basically I played around in some mud. Then capped with BDBS.

Plants. All of them. Just, so many. Swords are great, so are vals. I think I started with four swords in my 54? And 30+ valisneria - mind you I had val already growing in other tanks that I was just able to pull a bunch out of and put in the dirted tank to start with. I imagine purchasing that many would get costly fast. But, they'll  multiply like weeds in the first couple months.

Plant the vals to the BACK of the tank! Because of how they reproduce via runners, they will send them everywhere, and fast! If you  put any near the middle of the tank they will have runners shooting up at your front glass in a week, maybe two, tops. At least if you plant them to the back it will take a little longer for them to get to the front of your tank - they'll  still do it though. And moving them is not really a good option as that would involve disturbing the dirt, which is a mess. Be ready to trim your val. Mine were getting leaves six feet long. Which is ridiculous in a tank that's only 2 feet tall. They ran across the surface and then were forming knots, so the scissors came out a couple times in those early months. Later on,  year or so down the road, I wasn't trimming so often.

Stem plants are also good. I stuck rotala and heteranthea zosterifolia (stargrass) in my tank because its what I had. Started with maybe 10 stems each - put one species on each side of the tank. I shortly found myself cutting and replanting these because they grew so fast in the beginning. Used long tweezers to plant the trimmings in an attempt to disturb the soil as little as possible. Built a pretty dense bush on each side of the tank of those two. About two years into the tank, I found the stargrass struggled and eventually died out. So I must have been running short of some nutrient they needed. The rotala, val and swords continued on without issue.

Monitor your levels and dont add fish for at least a month. Preferably two. I found dirt to be volatile in the beginning and even with tons of plants could swing from no/very little ammonia in the water to a whole lot (4+ ppm) in a very short period. Had I had fish in there, that would have surely killed them. But, by only having plants, I just let it ride it out and let the plants grow. After it was stable, then I started stocking with fish.

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9 minutes ago, Nataku said:

I did soil about 1.5" with a 1/2" - 3/4" BDBS cap.

I am pretty sure the 's' in BDBS is sand, what is the BDB 🙂. I have had to look up what LFS, OP, AFAIK, and a whole bunch of other acronyms as this is my first forum. It is fun learning all these neologisms, and sussing them out is like reading license plates.

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@Daniel

BDBS is Black Diamond Blasting Sand. Which you can purchase in 50lb bags from Tractor Supply for something like $10-12 a bag. You'll  find it in the sand blasting area, grey bag typically. Its a nice black sand substrate that is infinitely cheaper than anything 'black substrate' you'll  find at a pet store.

Okay my rams and cardinals may not have been awake yet so they're a touch grumpy about me turning the lights on but here's BDBS in a tank.

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Acronyms are hard! Don't feel bad, I frequently find myself asking about what an acronym stands for as well. There's many out there that are 'common' chat speak like AFK (away from keyboard) but many more that are specific to what forum/hobby/topic you are discussing, just to add to the confusion! Most people know I'm talking about a filter when I say HOB (hang on back) here, but what if I wanted to, say, talk about BARF diets? I doubt anyone here would guess that Bones And Raw Food was what that meant. But its a very common acronym on a wolfdog forum I frequent.

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I'll be following this thread...looking forward to what you discover, @Daniel.

And to be completely transparent...I *just now* realized (after reading your post and the comments) that I have a dirted tank. 😲🙄😬 

When @Jessica. mentioned her favorite ADA soil, that rang a bell. We used ADA Amazonia in our 55-gallon as well as crushed coral for our bottom "layers". We capped it all with Eco-Complete.

I wish that I had known the technical term for our substrate mixture, so that I would have researched it better. We were following the suggestions of another-youtuber-not-cory-whose-name-shall-not-be-mentioned. But we were responding to his zeal, and didn't do our research properly. I think if I had known, I would have been better prepared for some of the huge swings in parameters that we've experienced. I'll be wiser going forward.

Even the beginning of your experiment has caused an enlightenment. Thanks, @Daniel!

Edited by akconklin
"planted" to "dirted"
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I've got 2-3 inches of dirt capped with 2 inched of play sand. The big thing with deeper dirt is to make sure you fully soak it before capping. If there's any air pockets it will eventually erupt out. Also gasses that build up because of decomposing organics in the dirt will do the same thing. I use a skewer to poke around and release gasses in a controlled manner rather than getting an eruption and dirt all over my tank. Do it immediately before a water change incase any of the gasses are toxic 

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Thank you Daniel! I'm not sure about pioneer, but the dirt has yileded good, steady growth and healthy plants.

 

What I used is Miracle-Go Performance Organics, the in-ground variety, and sifted out the large sticks. Layered at an even one inch with another inch or so of pool filter sand on top. This particular soil wasn't too "hot", as in it didn't create a huge ammonia spike when it was initially set up. The only plant I've struggled to grow in it is echinodorus xinguensis, but I suspect it's due to lighting. The plants fared okay until other plants grew in a bit, causing them to get a little shaded. So they will eventually likely be pulled for something more favorable for the current growing conditions.

 

I really look forward to seeing how your experiment plays out!

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