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Substrate advice

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by DavidR, Apr 26, 2005.

  1. DavidR

    DavidR Prolific Poster

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    I was needing some advice on choosing a substrate for a new tank or the replacement of an existing one. I keep two display tanks, one for my cichlids, and one for pretty plants and small fish.

    I've been using Flourite for years now and I'm really not impressed. The color is kind of ugly, and root growth is not all that great. I'm thinking about about going with either Onyx, play sand, or soil/sand. I don't want to use Eco Complete because it costs too much. I can trade plants or services for Onyx at the LFS, and I already have some to get me started. Frankly, I'm tired of spending tons of money for substrates that I'm failing to believe are necessary for certain set-ups.

    My first experience was with soil/sand. I was highly impressed. No algae problems and grew some incredible rooted plants, with incredible roots! Bad thing was anaerobic pockets, even with tons of MTS's, but they did keep it harrowed nightly. Might be good for my cichlid tank since I never uproot anything and the fish don't dig?

    I've also used Onyx in small tanks, and I have a 10g set up right now with it, however, my experience is still limited with it. Much better roots, growth seems better, but there's too many other variables to consider to make this conclusion. Easier to maintain than soil & sand mix. I'm wondering about the nutrient supply for rooted plants as well as stem plants as opposed to play sand. How will play sand fare in a stem plant tank as well as a rooted plant tank (swords, crypts, anubias, etc)? Would I benefit more from Onyx in either type of tank? Play sand would certainly be cheaper (than Onyx) and easier to maintain (than soil).
     
  2. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Re: Substrate advice

    Onyx is my preferred substrate.

    Given the water column's role with plant preferences, substrates play only one real role, cycling of waste(mulm). Even a soil rich substrate will not grow plants in a richly fertilized water column any better than a control.

    You can even cut the roots off to prove this(I have a few studies where this was done).

    So any porous substrate will be decent, but weight and grain size are the main things to consider.

    I've been very pleased with Onyx on both counts.
    I'm not partial to Flourite's color, but the solution is to plant the substrate!
    There are other solutions as well.

    In order for you to make a fair comparison, you need to balance to roles you want for each source of nutrients, substrate or the water column.

    Onyx will supply some things, Fe/KH/Mg/Ca. But the Water column sounds much more the issue you have had.

    I have no issues with any substrate, but I know some will do a better longer term job. If you focus more on the water column and less on the substrate, you'll have better results no matter what. It's easier to control but requires some consistent dosing, even that can be worked on with less light or non CO2 methods.


    I'd prefer less root growth personally. Leaves look much nicer.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  3. Ian H

    Ian H Guru Class Expert

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    Re: Substrate advice

    So am I to chop off the roots of my amazon and positively glowing crypts Tom? :D

    David, I like you cosidered the expense of putting costly substrates into my large tank. Here is my solution http://www.barrreport.com/forums/showthread.php?t=518. I have to agree with Tom that the fertilisation is more important with than the substrate. The substrate I have used holds the plants so well though..........no lead strips. I like the black look and the grain size is good to me.

    Ian
     
  4. fosteder

    fosteder Guru Class Expert

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    Re: Substrate advice

    I too am setting up a new tank using Onyx Sand as the substrate, mainly from Tom's suggestions and I like the color/grain size. Tom, you say to use either BD leonardite or peat with mulm added to either. Is the peat that you are talking about the stuff you get at Home Depot in big plastic squares? The same stuff you plant outside? Do you have to be careful not to disturb the substrate if you use peat? I'm only asking since I have a big bag of peat already, it would save me from ordering leonardite.
     
  5. aquabillpers

    aquabillpers Lifetime Charter Member
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    Re: Substrate advice

    I am using 2mm - 3mm inert gravel over subsoil (not topsoil) that has been soaked for a few weeks. I add nutrients when required, which isn't very often.

    I haven't had any problems with substrate gas buildup nor with cloudy water when plants are moved around. I use only a half inch or so of wet soil under an inch or so of gravel.

    Good luck!

    Bill
     
  6. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Re: Substrate advice

    Plain old Scott's brand ground peat is all I use.
    Nothing special.
    I do not use loose moss though, ground only and prewetted/soaked.

    I don't add much. BD leonardite is very much like Onyx sand in appearence and is nice and heavy. I'll add about 1lb to 20 of Onyx.
    It does not float.

    The peat is only added at a handful per sq foot on the bottom, not much.

    Onyx, unlike Floruitew, does not get algae attached to it like hair algae or BBA. The grains are small enough to moved around so that the algae do not have a good place to grow.

    Flourite is larger and flat and almost too hard to remove some plant root systems from. So it makes a decent place for some algae species to grow.
    I disturb the substrate ecvery so often for this reason with all the substrates.

    Sub's also go flat if you slope them.
    I prefer something that does not make a godawful mess everytime I rearrange things or start a new tank with old gravel.


    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  7. KLB

    KLB Junior Poster

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    Re: Substrate advice

    Hmm, really wish I would have found this website before spending sixty-dollars on Eco Complete for this little 20g I am setting up, although I have no idea the cost of Onyx... Could you give me some idea the cost of this material and who in the Bay Area do you get it from?

    It is pretty funny how my understanding of planted tanks has gone from one end of the spectrum to the other in just two short weeks of reading forums and FAQ's on the internet. Had I found this website prior to a couple others I could have saved myself enough money to set up my 100g as well as this 20g. I now have several pieces of equipment that are brand new and already antiquated. Looks like I will be Ebaying a Tunze substrate heater, and Aqua Medic membrane co2 reactor which is being replaced by a homemade in-line reactor from ten dollars in acrylic and some bio-balls I have already. I think I will stick with the Eco Complete so long as you feel it is not detrimental to getting a tank cleanly up and running...


    Ken
     
  8. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    Re: Substrate advice

    Well Ken, you could have spent a few 1000$$ over many years like me first:)
    There was no computers, no internet, no decent book of any kind when I started.

    EC is not bad, I've used it, and was sort of happy, my main issue is the weight.

    The soil sand tanks do bvery well in the start up, because there is plenty of nutrients for the plants, vs someone who did the same with a plain sand or plain Flourite, fluorite etc does not have macro nutrients.

    ADA's substrate,power sand ALSO has macro nutrients in it as well, so comparing them on equal terms when not dosing the water column much in the start up is not a fair nor a reasonable assumption...........

    Some might find this simpler in the start.
    New folks often do not dose enough, they also do not add enoughg plants in the start, so adding macro's is good for those folks.

    Roots.........well, if you add nutrients to the substrate and none/little to the water column, the plant has little chocie and invest in their roots to get the needed nutrients.............

    If you add enough nuttrients in the water column, then you'll get less root biomass/plant shoot biomass ratio.



    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  9. KLB

    KLB Junior Poster

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    Re: Substrate advice

    Thanks for the post Tom, not the end of the world and surely not the first time I traveled that road of mispent dollars in this hobby ;) The substrate heater still irks me a tad as it was neither cheap nor returnable, oh well... I figure the Eco is not going to be detrimental and next thing I need to do is figure out your EI method of dosing the water column and which items to order from Greg.

    Thanks Ken
     
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