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Akadama - A cheap substrate

JamesC

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Introduction

Having decided that it was time I changed my silica sand substrate for something better I looked around at the options available. For my 200 litre tank I was going to need a fair amount of substrate and all the commercially available ones would cost me a fortune for the amount that I required.

Tom Barr recently published an article where he tested several different substrates growing Myriophyllum spicatum (spiked water-milfoil). The results were quite astonishing, and I quote from the article "SMS had the highest total growth, followed by sand and potting soil, then Delta sediments. ADA and Lake Tahoe sediments had the lowest total growth other than the sand which acts as a non nutrient control". OK this was only one experiment using only one type of plant, but even so the results were very positive towards the SMS. SMS stands for Soil Master Select and is a baked clay that is used as a soil improver due to it's water retention properties. In the States I know of a lot of people who use SMS as a substrate very successfully, but unfortunately it is not available here in the UK.

The hunt was on for something that was very similar, easily available and cheap. A product called Akadama that is used by Bonsai growers caught my attention. This is a baked clay that should have similar properties to SMS. There are different grades of Akadama so had to try out different ones. The best one I found is called Double Red Line Hard Quality and has a very good grain size of 0-6mm. There is also a finer grain size variety of 0-3mm called Shohin Double Red Line Hard Quality, but this I thought was a bit fine for my needs.


What is Akadama?

The name Akadama comes from the Japanese words for red and ball. It is a volcanic clay that is mined from a depth of about three meters from old Japanese Cryptomeria forests. The deeper it is mined the harder it becomes. It is then dried and baked to remove any organic matter and diseases. Finally it is crushed, sieved and graded into different particle sizes and then bagged up. It is used by many bonsai growers for its ability to retain water and nutrients while still providing porosity and free drainage. When wet it darkens making it easy to see when it has dried out which is a useful benefit for growers.

Akadama has a very good CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity) value which means that it will pull out of the water any cations, eg Mg++, Ca++, K+, etc and hold onto these making them available for the plant's roots. The Akadama works similar to a cation exchange resin used in domestic water systems for softening water except rather than exchange magnesium and calcium for sodium ions, it exchanges magnesium, calcium, etc for hydrogen ions. The exchanged hydrogen ions then react with any bicarbonates in the water causing the KH and pH to drop. Also due to magnesium and calcium being held by the Akadama the GH will drop as well. After a period of time and a few water changes the water parameters will settle down.

Being a baked clay Akadama is very porous which means that there should be very good water circulation through the substrate helping prevent any dead spots and providing plant roots with nutrients.

akadama-bag.jpg
akadama-closeup.jpg



Setup

I would advise anyone wishing to try this substrate to purchase the Akadama in the picture above. Some Akadama's are very soft and crumble easily. The one drawback is that the Akadama when bagged up is very dusty and will require a lot of rinsing.

You now have two choices. If you are not concerned about the KH dropping sharply then the Akadama can just be placed straight in the tank and used straight away. It is advisable to do very regular large water changes to dampen the KH changes. It took two weeks of almost daily water changes until my tank settled down. The other choice is to pre-treat the Akadama with a strong GH solution to speed up this process out of the tank. After a week soaking, rinse well and use in the tank. Any KH drop should now be minimised.

Other ideas are to place some mulm from a mature filter or substrate in the bottom of the tank before the Akadama goes in. This will help kick start the substrate with bacteria and make it mature quicker. A scattering of peat in the bottom will provide favourable conditions for bacteria and the plant's roots. Also a scattering of Osmocote in the bottom will provide nutrients in a slow release capsule. Some or all of these can be used.

As a rough guide to how much you need to buy use this formula:
Width of tank (cm) x length of tank (cm) x thickness of substrate required (cm) / 1000
This will give you the volume of substrate in litres. Divide this figure by 14 to obtain number of bags required.

Test tank using Akadama after four months

akadama-tank.jpg



Other peoples tanks

A selection of other planted tanks I've found on APC that have used Akadama as a substrate. Interesting to also see what has sometimes been added to the Akadama.

A Piece Of Sintra
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/aquascaping/31522-piece-sintra-180l.html

PasoDoble 128
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/aquascaping/47331-pasodoble-128-a.html

400L Planted Aquarium
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/aquascaping/45508-400l-planted-aquarium.html

Aqua Diary 65L
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/aquascaping/8782-aqua-diary-65l.html

Rasbora's Olympus
http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/aquascaping/35406-rasbora-s-olympus.html


Final thoughts

How well does it work is a good question and one I can't truthfully answer. All I know is that it is better than using my silica sand, especially with the crypts which I never had a great deal of success with before.

As the substrate is fairly nutrient free to start with it is best suited with a water column dosing method such as Estimative Index or PMDD + PO4.

Even though it is graded 0-6mm I have found that most of the particles are in the 3-4mm region with only a few larger ones around the 6mm mark, as can be seen in the photo above. This to me is almost perfect.

I've only been testing this substrate for a few months so am not sure yet about it's long term stability. So far it's been great but I have noticed that when disturbing the substrate there is a small amount of 'dust' produced. If you are someone that likes to constantly rearrange your tank then you may find that the Akadama breaks up a bit, but this is fairly normal for this type of substrate and shouldn't be a problem. Also it is recommended not to place heavy objects like large pieces of slate or rock on top of it as it is likely to become crushed.

Anyone who has Amano's Nature Aquarium books may have already noticed that he uses Akadama in quite a few of his early tanks before he switched over to Aqua Soil. I only noticed this after I had started to use it.

And finally how much does it cost? Each 14 litre (~10KG) bag cost me £6.50 from my local bonsai dealer.

Follow my 200 litre tank journal using Akadama - http://ukaps.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=860


UPDATE 19/12/08
My 200 litre Akadama tank has been running for nearly a year now and I can report that all is well with the Akadama holding up well will no noticeable crumbling. When I do another tank with Akadama I will make one change in that I will add a sprinkling of Osmocote in with the sphagnum moss to provide some extra NPK for the plant roots. Osmocote is a slow release fertiliser that comes in small capsules.

I have read recently that Akadama is being used for pond purification systems and also for removing water pollutants from places like road run offs. It apparently has a great capacity for absorbing all types of compounds and not only cations as I initially thought. One compound that it has a great capacity to absorb is phosphate which is why it is used in pond purification systems. Could also explain why at first when I measured phosphate levels in my tank they always appeared to be zero. This is great for the plants if Akadama is used with a water column dosing method as the Akadama will provide nutrients for the roots on a long term basis. Another bonus which I have noticed at first is how clear the water was, most likely due to the absorption properties of the Akadama.

James
 

George Farmer

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James, you the man! Worth a sticky, for sure.

Thanks for sharing your hard work, yet again.

Are you up for that PFK reader visit soon...?
 
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This substrate is widely use in asia for aquascaping. I was going to use them initially but then I thought they were a little too big to hold down HC and other less well rooted stem plants so I give it a miss. Appearance wise it looks very much like Dupla substrate
 

Garuf

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And it's better than ADA? I must say I am shocked. Does Mr. Barr explain why this is or is it just one species? or...
 

JamesC

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This substrate is widely use in asia for aquascaping. I was going to use them initially but then I thought they were a little too big to hold down HC and other less well rooted stem plants so I give it a miss. Appearance wise it looks very much like Dupla substrate

For the first month or so I had HC at the front to test how well it grew. Growth was exceptional with very lush green leaves. It soon covered the whole front of the tank in a thick mat and had to be removed to make way for something else. When I did remove it, it also pulled up a lot of the Akadama showing how well it had rooted. Sent it up to George in exchange for some of his crypts that he had removed from his tank.

And it's better than ADA? I must say I am shocked. Does Mr. Barr explain why this is or is it just one species? or...

I wouldn't go as far as to say it was better, but £ for £ it probably is. The test was done with water that was continually changed so that any leaching of nutrients into the water column would not affect the results. In a enclosed system the results may well be different. Well worth signing up to the Barr Report as there is a wealth of information there.

James
 

GreenNeedle

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James

I must say that this looks like Tropica which is also a clay based substrate. I guess Tropica works in the same way in trapping the nutrients from the water column to feed the plant?? No idea.

This is a pic of my tropica before covering it:

Tropica.jpg


As you can see it looks almost identical in colour and the way it remains in particles. 4 months on I can still see through the glas that under the sand it is still in particle form.

Andy
 

Themuleous

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Very interesting James, I was thinking of changing the substrate in my emersed nano as the HC isn't doing very well, was going to get ADA AS but its darn expensive, will def give this a try now!!!

Much appreciated :)

Sam

EDIT - is this not the same thing as aquaclay?

EDIT 2 - we get ripped on in the aquarium business, don't we? :twisted:
 

GreenNeedle

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Did you notice the - Collect Only tag.lol

I dont drive so that rules me out. he, he

Andy
 

Simon

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I've just found this and I'm amazed! I've kept bonsai for 10 years and have always used Akadama...never considered it as a substrate.


It does seem to break down after around 4 years with bonsai, not sure if being submerged in water will effect this.

One thing I can add that might help. You can buy Japanese sieve sets for this kind of material, this will give you the control to grade the particle size from around 2mm-6mm
 

Themuleous

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Andy - thanks for the link matey, Hermitage ain't to far from me and I'll certinally be down that way with work at some stage no doubt. I'll myself some for sure.

Simon - from my limited bonsai experience most 'soils' need to be kept moist, so I would think the result might be similar. Substrate in aquariums get changed fairly regularly as well. But cheers for pointing it out. Any tips on what to look for re the sieves? Could you recommend a shop? A small gauge colander or similar might do the same thing, thinking about it.

Thanks guys :)

Sam
 

Simon

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Sam,

The Japanese bonsai sieves come with a set of size graded interchangeable grids....that way you can acurately seperate out the particle sizes. A bag of red line akadama with have particles from 1-6/7mm.

http://www.kaizenbonsai.com

they sell everything, infact some of the other Japanese substrates may be worth investigating. I use one called Kiryu for my Pine trees, it's harder than Akadama.

With regards to the Tropica substrate. I believe one of the key ingredients of this is Sphagnum moss. In bonsai sphagnum moss is used to rescue sick trees or aclimatise collected material. It seems to have some amazing properties that trees thrive in. I had a quiet valuable maple that got really sick, I took it out of the pot and planted it in pure fresh sphagnum moss....it staged an amazing recovery. So, I can understand aquatic plants reacting well to this miixed in a substrate.

Simon
 

JamesC

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Simon said:
This is a really cheap supplier of Akadama in Kent area....just 6.50 a sack!


http://www.lvbonsai.co.uk/soil.asp
That's where I get mine from. Luckily he's only 5 minutes drive from me. Runs his business from home and has an amazing setup in his garden. Real nice bloke as well. Even tempted to have a go at bonsai's myself.

With regards to the Tropica substrate. I believe one of the key ingredients of this is Sphagnum moss
Yes the sphagnum moss (or peat) is of great benefit and the main reason why the tropica substrate is so good. Also the reason why I suggest to add some to the Akadama.

I did try other bonsai soils but decided that the Akadama was best, mainly because of it's good CEC and colour. The Kanuma looked as though it could be good but the colour put me off.

James
 

Moss Man

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Simon said:
This is a really cheap supplier of Akadama in Kent area....just 6.50 a sack!


http://www.lvbonsai.co.uk/soil.asp

Perfect!
I was just about to ask JamesC where his local bonsai nursery is, as I'm from Kent and into Bonsai trees but have found it pretty difficult to find a decent bonsai nursery. By the looks of the trees in the gallery, this guy knows what he's doing.

It's an added bonus that they sell Akadama soil cheaply, as I'm setting up a few tanks and can set all of them up as low-light planted.

Great article James :D

Cheers,
Mike
 

Simon

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When I finally get round to setting up my Lido, I think I'll give Akadama a look. Although I prefer a darker substrate. Perhaps Akadama with a layer of eco-complete on top.
 

JamesC

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I've made a slight change to the original article. This is what I've added:


I've only been testing this substrate for a few months so am not sure yet about it's long term stability. So far it's been great but I have noticed that when disturbing the substrate there is a small amount of 'dust' produced. If you are someone that likes to constantly rearrange your tank then you may find that the Akadama breaks up a bit, but this is fairly normal for this type of substrate and shouldn't be a problem. Also it is recommended not to place heavy objects like large pieces of slate or rock on top of it as it is likely to become crushed.


James
 

JamesC

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The Double Line Akadama is fired but not quite sure how much. On the bag it states it is 'Hard Quality' and compared to the other types of Akadama I've looked at, it is hard. I even hear ADA users commenting on how Aqua Soil breaks down into smaller bits and creates a 'dust cloud' if lots of replanting is done, so it's nothing new.

If you're at all concerned about this then test it first. I'm going to keep my tank running on it for some time to come to see how it goes. So far it's been running 4 months and I'm always fiddling around with it and so far it's fine. Just kicks up some dust when I replant.

In time we'll get a better picture of what it's like when others have tried it as well.

James
 

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