soil or worm castings--can't get either to work (turbidity issues)


Junior Poster
Sep 2, 2010
First my goal: Live plants, no CO2, 1.5 watts/gal, LOW MAINTENANCE AND MINIMAL WATER CHANGES. I have no delusions of winning an aquascape contest.

I read Diana Walstad's book. I bought four different bags of soil, 3 different bags of cheap stuff and one bag of Miracle Grow Organic. I put them in bottles, covered them with gravel and let them sit for a few days. The three cheap soils all had turbidity issues (yellowish water). The Miracle Grow water looked relatively clear, but had a lot of floaters. According to the bag, its almost entirely bark and peat moss. However, I read in some forum that it can causes issues with ammonia.

Next. Tom Barr recommended worm castings with sand. I got the directions from his 2009 post and followed them exactly: 100% pure worm castings, rinse, remove floaters, boil for 15 min, rinse again, and again and again and again and again... Problem: even after numerous rinsings the water looks like black coffee.:confused:

Tom says some Brazilian aquascapes had success with worm castings a decade ago. Anyone, on this forum ever used them that can tell me what I'm doing wrong?

If I break down and decide to spend $150 on Aqua Soil, does it have turbidity issues also?


Junior Poster
Jun 3, 2010
My experience is with AS Amozonia II and have not had any issues with cloudy or stained/discolored water. During the initial fill and large plantings or any other major disturbance to the sediment, the water will become turbid...but it has always cleared very quickly for me.


Guru Class Expert
Oct 29, 2007
Northern Virginia
I just redid my tank with a WC layer.

I rinsed at least 5 times before boiling for 15 min. I then rinsed it at least another 5 times after I boiled the castings. The water started running clearer, but it wasn't clear. It just wasn't dark black like it was when i first started rinsing. Once the water was noticably better I put the castings on a tarp and dried it outside for about 8 hours. The mixture was not entirely dry, but it was fairly easy to work with. I then mixed this with black sand, so that the ratio of sand to worm castings was 50/50. I spent 10 minutes mixing it together. I added this layer to the bottom of my tank and spread it around evenly. I topped it with osmocote, dolomite and K2SO4. then capped it with Eco-Complete, but there's no reason why you couldn't use turface, flourite, sand, etc.

I was very careful when filling the tank to put a plate in and no stir up the substrate too much. Once the tank was half full, I planted my stems and crypts and a little foreground, I then filled it up let it run overnight and put the fish back in during the morning. Water clarity has been good. I've had it running about 2 weeks now. So far so good, no fish issues, plants are coming around.

I have done soil as well, but capped it with gravel or flourite black sand. Both worked pretty well. The gravel with soil tank has been running for about 2.5 years now, following the walstad instructions, I don't change the water hardly at all, plants grow really well (but I don't add CO2, and I keep simple plants in this tank). Its a 6G tank with 10 Espei Rasbora, and dozen amano and cherry shrimp. The biggest pain is clearing the duckweed every so often. If you choose soil, I would go with the cheapest mix that you can find that is actually dirt and not soiless. Stay away from soils that have perlite in them, its a pain getting rid of all it. I used 99cent potting soil from walmart, worked just great. You don't want any added fertilizers in the soil either. Use the plainest cheapest potting soil.

Good luck
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