This site is supported by the advertisements on it, please disable your AdBlocker so we can continue to provide you with the quality content you expect.
  1. Support us by upgrading to the lifetime advertisement free version.

    Click here for more information.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. We are after as many aquarium plant images that we can get, doing so will assist us in completing the aquarium plant database.
    Dismiss Notice

New substrate questions.

Discussion in 'CO2 Enrichment' started by argnom, May 18, 2010.

  1. argnom

    argnom Guru Class Expert

    May 24, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Local Time:
    9:25 PM
    Hi everybody,

    I'm due to redo my 28 gal 3 foot tank. It's been running for about a year now, and I'm getting tired of my cheap gravel boosting the KH of my water.

    I did quite a bit of reading on this forum about substrates, but I have to admit that I'm still a little confused. It could be a case of me over thinking stuff again. :confused:

    The one thing that comes back over and over is that you need to set goals before you start (see Tom, you're actually getting through to some of us). Some substrates that are good for one type of biotope could be rubbish for another. Since I have some pretty soft water coming out of my tap (approx 4dKH) I'll keep it simple and go for a "typical" South American biotope. Once I plant stuff, they stay in place, I'm not a chronic tank reorganizer, so I'm, not too worried about fouling the water when moving stuff around.

    My budget is rather limited right now and I would like use stuff from my local garden center if possible.

    Here's what I was thinking of using.

    Heavy generic gravel (non reactive quartz gravel this time...)
    Play sand
    Peat moss + play sand Should I "grind" the peat first as some have suggested or do I leave it as-is. On a side note, I've noticed that getting good quality peat is getting harder, could coir (coconut fiber) be used instead?
    Osmocote (one pellet think)

    I would like my water column to be slightly acidic. I don't really think I need to make it softer though. Is good old peat moss in the canister filter still the way to go? Could coir do the job? I have to admit that I'm not terribly found of brown water. As far as I understand, it's the tannins that soften/acidify the water when using peat. If I put active carbon (I know, some here don't like it, but it's been serving me well for years) and peat will the carbon nullify the water softening/acidifying properties of peat?

    Thanks a million!
  2. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
    Lifetime Member

    Sep 23, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Local Time:
    9:25 PM

    A few thoughts...

    Yes, Tom does get a few of us to listen every now and then lol

    You are doing the right thing by asking your questions with goals in mind.. it is far easier to plan that may find your GOALS change as you ask questions, so be prepared for that!

    If you use c02 that will lower the ph of the water to the acidic side. Are you using c02 at all or plan to? Aside from ammonia not being as toxic at a lower ph, why do you want an acidic water column?

    Why do you want to use the peat? Simply to lower the ph? It WILL soften the water if used and also stain it. Carbon is fine along with regular water changes :)

    Is the sand for aesthetics?

    How many layers do you intend to have?

    I have found that most plants will root decently enough in plain gravel. I only use black flourite..

    I think the gravel/osmocoate method is fine.

    I would personally use flourite and some worm castings. It may cost a bit more than the garden center but you don't need much.. still cheaper than ADA AS....

    I am usually against trying to change the water chemistry in any meaningful way.

    Most plants/fish can acclimate to your tank given proper time and care...

    Or, I tend to pick fish that fit the water coming out of my tap...which are many species..

    If you don't use peat, there is less cost/effort in the associated activated carbon to clear the water...

    Hope this helps.
    #2 Gerryd, May 18, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2010
  3. Biollante

    Biollante Lifetime Charter Member
    Lifetime Member

    Jun 21, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Local Time:
    9:25 PM
    Cheap & Easy


    If your tank is not drilled, do consider drilling and plumbing prior to putting the substrate down.

    You have a couple of good ways to go.

    First, decide what you wish to grow, how you want the tank to look as Gerry suggested. ;)

    If you are looking for an inert substrate sometimes just good old fish store or Wal-Mart enamel covered gravel is just fine, especially if what you want is a colorful substrate. It can be a little difficult to plant in, but it works and adds nothing to the water column.

    Should you decide to go the “sand” route, make sure the sand is actually inert sand “play-sand” can be a number of different materials from inert silica or quartz to crushed coral the former being just fine the latter causing problems. :confused:

    If you go the sand route I suggest you consider a deep sand bed, starts inert but becomes nutrient rich and provides a good deal of filtration. I like a mix of “pool sand” the stuff used in pool filters; it is cheap and has a good structure that tends not to compact. I like to mix two or three parts pool sand to one part silt or if not silt, good quartz sand (may well be play-sand). Two and half inches (6 cm) deep either left “as is” or capped with gravel or even colored sand. :)

    I find that soaking the sand, after rinsing thoroughly then laying it out in the sun for a week or two, back in to soak for another couple of days works well. This is even more important if you are using silt.

    The deep sand bed (DSB) works best if you can tolerate mulm building up, granted few can tolerate Detritus Mulm.

    Then come the enriched substrates, my favorite is Special Kitty, kitty litter, the Wal-Mart store brand, and worm poop (as described in the worm poop section). I put down a layer of peat moss and a layer of Osmocote Plus. Two inches (5 cm) of half-and-half boiled worm poop and well rinsed and presoaked (a week or more) kitty litter. I usually mix in a little peat moss in along with some bone meal, a little good old truly stinky Alaska Fish Fertilizer (5-1-1) and some Gardener’s Choice Vitamin B-1. :gw

    It is a lot cleaner if you cap with inert material, if you wish to use sand (I do not recommend sand) wait a couple of weeks for everything to settle then add the sand.

    This mixture is also great for use with pots. :cool:

  4. argnom

    argnom Guru Class Expert

    May 24, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Local Time:
    9:25 PM
    Thanks for the replies Gerryd and Biollante,

    Enlightening as usual. But I still feel the need for guidance. Perhaps if I clarify, I would make it easier to get help. I think that my last post could have used a little more info. I think point form would be the best way to convey the information. The tank is already setup as follows.

    The current basics:
    28 gal long
    2x39W T5HO (about 10 inches above the waterline)
    Pressurized CO2
    Fertilized water column
    Rena XP2 filter
    Tom's internal reactor

    The current inhabitants:
    10 gold tetras
    4 otos
    4 amano shrimps
    2 mollies to keep the surface clear of scum
    Bunch of baby mollies everywhere

    The current plants:
    Background of sagittaria subulata, an "island" of barclaya longifolia and what I believe to be Limnophila hippuroides right bang in the middle and some glosso in foreground and on the sides. A green tiger lotus is in the back corner.

    The problems with my current setup.

    The KH goes up all the time and I would really like to keep 2 blue rams. My tap water is around 4dKH, so I don't think it should be a problem with a non reactive substrate. They don't seem to be as healthy and colorful when the water is hard. The only thing apart the gravel in the tank are plants and plastic pipes for the filter. I thus presume that the change in KH is caused by my gravel.

    The plants grow well. Everything pearls and all is good. The only thing is that my barclaya longifolia and green tiger lotus seem to have a hard time rooting up. I though that a sandy substrate that includes peat would be better for their seemingly fragile roots. What you think? I very well could be wrong.

    I just don't know about this guys... Worm poop? Boiling it? The smell must be a little musty to say the least. I do like the kitty litter idea it is clay after all. But the worm poop... I don't know about that... I understand the usefulness of using it... but I don't know.

    Perhaps a simple layer of Osmocote and non reactive gravel could do the job if the my "root" theory is rubbish. Plus, I just remembered... aren't blue rams part of the geophagus family? They'll probably dig a whole lot in sand... Messy...

    I will definitely look into drilling the tank. It will be empty anyway.


    /Detritus mulm is a fellow Canadian and I can tolerate Detritus Mulm
    //Not in my tank though.
  5. csmith

    csmith Guest

    Local Time:
    3:25 PM
    Not messy, not musty, not smelly, not anything bad. When you're boiling the stuff it smells, at worst, like mud. It's worth the "trouble", if it is any trouble at all. I just built a 20 gallon a few weekends ago. Layer of osmocote, 50/50 worm castings and sand, capped with 2 inches of sand. I'll be adding another inch or two of sand this weekend (more for aesthetics than "issues") but other than that I've had no problems. You don't even know it's there.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice