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1st Post Alternative Substrate

Discussion in 'Are you new to aquatic plants? Start here' started by brentling, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    This forum is amazing. I am an old fish guy with lots of experience, but I am about a decade out of date. I have kept many aquariums over the years and worked at a nice aquarium store on and off for more than ten years. I love planted aquariums, but "back in the day" we only had plain old gravel to work with. All the fancy new substrates did not exist. I am currently setting up a 125 gallon tank. Its purpose will be heavy plants/high light (72" 8 x 39 Watt T5HO) maybe Co2 down the road. I anticipate having several swordplants as the primary focus, and tons of other plants to fill in. It will have South American fish (cory cats, black ghost, cardinal tetras, black phantoms and Discus). I have tried to read as much as I can on this and other sites. I've read lots of stuff about Soilmaster Select (SMS) as an alternative to ADA Aquasoil, Flourite and Eco-complete. I simply cannot justify $200-$500 for substrate. I've read about the repackaged SMS at aquariumplants.com. I can confirm that Lesco/John Deere (apparently the only distributor of SMS) is no longer selling the product and can no longer get it, although they were very helpful. I am considering between these types of substrate:

    1. Turface MVP
    2. Schultz Aquatic Soil (also sold as Clay Soil Conditioner)
    3. Espoma Aquatic Soil Perfector
    4. Stalite Permatill (which apparently is identical to Espoma ASP except much cheaper and in bigger bags)
    5. Aquariumplants.com Freshwater Planted Aquarium Substrate
    6. Pond Care Aquatic Plant Soil

    The Turface and Aquatic Soil are both fired clay based and fairly fine. The Espoma and Permatil are expanded slate and a little larger and darker. I can imagine mixing the chosen substrate with fine gravel or coarse sand if needed (is there still something like Red Flint gravel in the world? I can't find it!). I had really imagined a dark or black substrate, but am thinking I may have to go with reddish/natural. Also, as I know very well that this is experimental, I will not be adding fish for quite some time after the plants are in place and I will not be adding Discus until everything is shaken up and put through its paces (months from now).

    Does anybody have any experience with any of these products? I have read plenty about SMS, Aquasoil, Flourite and Eco Complete on here and elsewhere, but have not heard mention of the Espoma, Aquatic Plant Soil or Stalite except on Orchid forums. I would love to hear some opinions, or maybe point me to some information that already exists.

    I hope my question is appropriate to this forum. Many articles, threads, etc. I have read are fascinating, science-based, and written at a high level. I have always loved the learning potential of this hobby and am excited to find such an amazing site. I'll tell you how long it has been since I was last active with my aquariums: the Internet did not truly "exist" yet! LOL. I've been finding it hard to get anything done he last few months with all of the information available!

    Thanks for any help!
     
  2. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Welcome,

    I am not familiar with any of these products unfortunately, but I will say that if you are unsure if/how you will fertilize, but want to have plants, then spend a little more and get a substrate that is nutrient enriched.

    This way if you go non-c02, lower light (
     
  3. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    I have been searching here for the post that Tom made about using a mix of sand and soil as a substrate. The gist of it was that the layered approach, with soil on the bottom and an inert substrate on top isn't the best way to use soil as a substrate. It is much better to mix in the soil with equal parts of sand for the lowest level, then add a mix with less soil to sand on top of that, followed by just sand. This keeps the soil from fouling the water if you stir it slightly, and it is easilly accessible to plant roots throughout the substrate.

    I have been using this type of substrate for over a year now, using river silt as the "soil" and soilmaster as the inert substrate. It has been by far the best substrate I have used, and the price is very low. I know you can't get soilmaster now, but the Aquariumplants.com substrate is the same material, and it is cheap too. ADA Aquasoil is apparently the best substrate commercially available, but this DIY substrate is also nutrient rich and grows plants very well. It also lasts a long time and doesn't foul the water even when you pull out deeply rooted plants.
     
  4. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Zeolite sand is also a possible consideration.
    They sell it at pool supply places.

    All these work pretty well, they will bind things from the water column over time and become richer nutrient wise like all sediments in plant tanks.

    SMS is about the best suggestion for cheap alternatives.

    I like the sediment to be heavy and aesthetically pleasing.
    So some of the cheaper stuff really does not hold the plants down well and I'm inclined to use the flourite black, or the ADA AS.

    Or if I wanna be cheap I can use plain sand, say white or tan 2-3mm and simply add all ferts to the water column.

    I can also enrich the sediment sand also if I chose.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  5. SpeedEuphoria

    SpeedEuphoria Prolific Poster

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    Beware of the Schultz Aquatic Soil. I am currently using it and had a huge ammonia spike from it and others have as well. It contains small blue "pills" that i believe to be some kind of fert.
    http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/substrates/53883-help-schultz-aquatic-plant-soil.html

    You are planning on way too much light for not using CO2, 8x39w T5 is way too much light for a 125 w/o CO2. You want to stick with 2wpg max w/o CO2 and if its T5 and good reflectors you prob want more like 1.5wpg.

    There are many nice 1.5wpg tanks using pressurized CO2, like this one:
    Avalon's 100g
     
  6. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    The blue pills are like osmocoat general ferts, they use them as standard sediment enrichment for many aquatic species.
    Yes, they do contain NH4.

    SMS is a better option there and comes in 2 colors.
    16$ a 50lb bag.

    You can also use mineralized soil, preferably some nice red.black clay from a river, rinse it good and let it settle in a wheel barrow for 2-3 days and then decant and dry. Mix 3 parts SMS with 1 part soil. Make a 3/4- 1" layer and cap with 3" of SMS.

    I'm not too keen on going cheap for saving few $ on sediment. Especially if you redo the scape later. The labor required, hunting it down etc is not factored in in many cases.

    For a 55 Gallon tank, 2 bags of ADA are not more than about 50-60$ for me.
    Does not take me more than 15 min of labor to get it.
    SMS, soil etc, rinsing the crap(SMS and processing the soil)..........if I paid myself 10 $ a hour...I'd be at a loss pretty quick.

    It's fun to DIY though and that's not really work for some folks.
    And it's interesting to try different things, but the SMS is light and tougher to plant in than say sand, ADA AS(no rinsing here), Flourite etc.

    Each has a trade off.



    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  7. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    I will need to either adjust my lighting or do CO2 from the start, obviously. I decided on, and ordered 100 lbs of Turface MVP Gray. I am about to order about 20 lbs of Zeolite to add to it. Beautiful 1.5 WPG tank! I hope mine looks half as nice!
     
  8. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    I enjoy the hunt! And I enjoy the whole DIY part. This hobby is an extravagance for me, so I am obligated to spend money wisely as I have little financial means. But I do totally understand the "pay me now or pay me later" philosophy and do want to do it right, but it would cost a proportionately huge amount to purchase ADA AS or Flourite/Eco-Complete for my 125. I ordered 100 lbs of Turface MVP Gray today, so that decision is made. I am about to order some Zeolite to mix in with it. I feel like I want to add one more thing to enrich the substrate, such as you are suggesting.

    I love the mineralized soil idea, but am concerned about my options for collecting it. I live in Kentucky USA where everything is made of limestone. There is even a creek in my back yard I could collect from, but would I need to be concerned about the inclusion of limestone (GH/KH) in what I gather? This stuff is pervasive around here and all over the state. Our clay soils tend to be yellow.

    Thanks so much for the help and advice.
     
  9. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    If you can head out to the Dix River below the Dam off the KY River and get some mud from there, it would be ideal, find some small higher hilly spots away from farmland in a forest or if you head south in the Daniel Boone National forest etc.

    Many many years ago I used some creek sediments from Stonewall creek near what use to be the last homes just outside New Circle/Harrosburg road.
    You have to look around and the place has grown and changed a lot since I grew up there.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  10. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    While you might like the notion and think you are saving $$, the ADA As option is about 27X 4 maybe 5.

    I have a 120 I just set up and used that many. So it's like 150$ or so after it's all said and done. Given the cost for such a good size tank and the other parts, desire to have it come off good and also the issue with replacing a sediment(something I've done many times over the decades), I'd still suggest the ADA AS.

    It's worth while.
    You can DIY CO2 at this scale as well, but not quite as important, but far harder to redo than CO2, the ADA difference is certainly there.

    You want the tank sediment look nice as well, not some hodge podge junky mess.

    Given those trade offs, I'd still suggest ADA AS.
    ADA AS means more water changes in the start up, but the end results from that are good also.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  11. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    Wow, it's a small world... My backyard is just about at the confluence of Elkhorn Creek north of Lexington. It seems we grew up in almost exactly the same neighborhood near Harrodsburg Rd. I will look.
     
  12. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    Maybe I'll try the junky mess in a small tank I have to play with and not the showpiece tank in the living room, eh? I wonder how well and/or in what proportion ADA AS would mix with the Turface that I ordered? I've been kinda thinking about blending a high quality substrate with the Turface all along... Thanks again for your help, and...Go Cats!
     
  13. VaughnH

    VaughnH Lifetime Charter Member
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    One characteristic of Turface/Soilmaster is their light weight. And, that means that any heavier component of a mixed substrate will slowly settle to the bottom of the substrate. That is an advantage in that when you use soil as a component it doesn't collect at the surface to constantly cause cloudiness - it quickly vanishes below the surface.

    The whole subject of what to spend $$$ on in this hobby could stand more discussion. My present thinking is that number one on that list is a nice looking tank and stand - if this is going into the main living area of your home it should look good, and old, worn tanks and stands often don't. After that the priorities get foggy for me. But, I have had a hard time justifying commercial substrates, which basically are dirt.
     
  14. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    We had a farm with a family friend right on the Elkhorn. I called "leech creek" because it was full of them. Grew about everything, it's why I still hate Tomatoes to this day.

    Stonewall was the public school I went to(the snooty private Sayer School prior), I grew up on Hyde Park Drive. Nothing but a large corn farm behind us and a pond, they raise some cattle, then the old Gal who lived there died and the relatives sold the place to some developer long after I'd moved to IN. Got into plenty of trouble and got shot with salt on more than one occasion:cool:

    Ah, those where the days, picking rock salt out yer hind end :D

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  15. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    I think what to spend is a huge concern for everyone but rarely discussed in economic terms as much as in the past. We can all DIY a tank as well, but how good might it look?

    Lights? Pretty easily, but what if they are exposued and easy to see like on an open top.

    Ferts, certainly, they have no aesthetic valve.

    CO2? Yes, making the CO2 system is easy and not seen much(unless you like Disc and ADA glassware, which is why they did it that way I believe.

    Sediment, well, like the tank, like any Driftwood, or rock you put in there, it needs to function aesthetically and functionally for mechanical root holdfast and as a possible source of nutrients.

    It's also something you are going to uproot in, move around, vacuum here and there etc, and also, ADA AS is soft, it's not going to scratch the glass if you get any on a sponge pad etc.

    I tend to stick with things that work for my personal goals.
    I do not suggest others do any differently.
    DIY has many merits, but economics is just one of them.
    Aesthetics might be another, I like my DIY driftwood, looks lots better for the goal I had than other things I've seen.

    And it's fun going on a "wood hunt".

    Just consider sediment in several ways, not just cost.

    I'd say the $ is worth it here for the larger tank.
    Play with small tester tanks all you want.

    Gas tank CO2 is the biggest stumbling block for most plant folks to get into.
    They can all try the DIY yeast, but the cost is nil, the gas tanks make things so much easier but you really do not realize it till later, and about 95% of the folks that have done both, kick themselves for not spending the $ later.

    I'd say on a larger tank, many might feel that way also.
    I have one tank with black flourite, the rest are all ADA AS.
    Wait, i lied, one has dolomite(3 mm), I wanted a white gravel tank.

    The silica white sand does not look as good and while the dolomite will slowly dissolve, it's very slow, giving off some added KH and GH. But with large water changes weekly, there's little issue there.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  16. brentling

    brentling Junior Poster

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    I have been unable to find the type of driftwood I like. No stores here have anything worth buying and I can't imagine buying blindly online. Lake Cumberland is very low right now due to dam repair, perhaps I'll go look there?

    My 125 was a near freebee many years ago. It is so far above my means as to be ridiculous LOL. I am getting "bang for the buck" lights that look very nice (and should crank seriouos lumens), remade the stand I got with the tank to look nice, and expect the plants, fish, rocks and driftwood to primarily be the focus of the tank. Assuming my Turface substrate is as dark as pics I have seen, I hope that it is simply not even really noticed. If the plants do as well as I hope, it will barely be visible! I have definitely decided to to use pressurized CO2 as I can see real value in it. That has been and will be a big research project (which is a good thing in my eyes). I wonder where best to find a used regulator?

    In most of my hobbies/activities I have been able to accomplish much with very litle by digging, researching, and being able to think outside the (Big) box (store). If I didn't, my life would be gray indeed... Thanks again for the help! I am enjoying this forum very much.
     
  17. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Yes, head to the lake, rent a boat and go around the edge, this is the best way and you can fish and swim and make a day of it as well. You do not want to find a nice piece then have to drag it 2 miles back and lots of weird looks, boats are much better;)

    I go to the mouth of a river, drive on the beach and nab it.
    It's likely pretty well leached out, so it'll be in good shape once you get it to sink again.


    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
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