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Akadama - A cheap substrate

Ray said:
Did you go any further on this one James? My local garden centre sells it but I'm too nervous to try because dosing is an unknown and I don't want to end up with a massive 6 month ammonia spike...

Maybe better with Aqausoil which has a known documented shrink wrapped ammonia spike :D

Haven't done anything yet as I just don't have the time. For the time being it is on a long term hold as there are safer ways of introducing ferts to the substrate. I have thought about making some DIY root balls full of goodies. Just need to find some time now.

I've been using a DIY substrate for about 10 years now. Although, as is often pointed out, my set up is not yet a high tech one (I can't afford pressurised CO2 for one thing), I have had very good results with pretty much every plant I have tried, even growing plants described as needing higher light levels in a low light setup without them turning leggy.

There is no Akadama in it though. :lol: It's a mixed substrate of lime free fine gravel, activated carbon (the same sort as sold for us in filters), peat and API Leaf Zone laterite. Oh and re the carbon, the reasons I put it in were at the time there were a few articles around supporting it's use in planted tank substrates for a few reasons:-

1) To increase the biological capacity of the substrate as it has a very very high surface area to volume ratio that can be colonised by benificial bacteria, both filter bacteria and nitrogen fixing bacteria that help plant roots to extract nitrogenous nutrients from the substrate.

2) As commented here re zeolite, to work as a store for excess nutrients, releasing them back into the water column at a later time (kind of links with all the opinions that used to say over time activated carbon leeches stuff back into the water).

I used to recharge this using Dupla Root balls about every 2 years or so, but I neglected this for a while. I've just used some JBL root balls however to help get things moving again.

I don't know how much of this was based on conjecture and opinions, but for me it has always worked well, with healthy plant growth even in both low light no CO2 conditions, and in higher light (about 3.6 watts per gallon) with DIY CO2 and trace dosing (I don't NP dose as as has already been commented upon my tapwater supply is fairly high in these, and also as I have commented before I find I get a lot of nitrogenous nutrients and phosphates from detritus from my animal life and fish food), to the point where I have to prune even my Ammania Senagalensis weekly, my Ludwigia twice weekly and my Bacopa Monnieri every 2 weeks (these been the only stem plants currently in there), all of these pearl nicely, and the ammania and Ludwigia are lovely shades of red and green.

As to Akadama, I'll be seeting up a small (about 5 gallon) planted nano some time around christmas for dwarf shrimp, this would have been great for this but I have the horrible feeling that it would be unsuitable, which is a shame.

Just researching my options before I redo my tank in a couple of months. I am thinking of replacing the Tropica with Akadama and have a few questions ( I have re-read the whole article but I may have missed the answers I am after.)

I will again be using mulm on the bottom, then ¼inch Leonardite (I bought 2 tubs last time and still have 1), then I want to use the Tropica substitute and finally top it with something like fine river gravel/sand.

I want to try a different cap/barrier from the playsand to get a different more natural and less reflective look.

So the question I want to ask is: Can I use Akadama as my Tropica Substitute and add my fish (I only have 1 tank) or does it have an ammonia spike? With the Tropica it went in and the fish followed several hours later. No huge water changes after either, just the normal weekly 20% change with no casualties.

If so then I can start trying to source some ASAP to get everything in order.

I wouldn't put anything on top of the akadama as it would soon bet all mixed up. Ok for putting a layer below and topping with akadama though. Akadama is inert so no ammonia spike, just a drop in pH if you don't pre-treat it with something like calcium sulphate. I put my fish and shrimp straight back in after converting my 4 footer to akadama.

If you want a nutritious substrate then akadama is not the way to go. It does seem to work exceptionally well compared to other inert substrates if you like water column dosing. A fine layer of peat and mulm at the bottom is IMHO the best way to go and you could also add some osmocoat to this layer which adds slow release NPK. Then top with akadama. This is what I'd now do if I was doing it again.

Akadama is great for one reason - it's cheap. If cost wasn't a worry then I'd use ADA AS without question. I'd also prepare it the same way though with peat and mulm at the bottom and possibly with a bit of osmocoat added in.

I hate mixed substrates as they always end up all mixed up together.

Not to ignore advice James but I was assuming that Tropica was pretty inert and a similar product in that it soaks up nutrient rather than provide it?? I was just going to put the gravel on top for the effect/colouration. I will again be PMDD+P dosing.

I've not had a problem with the Tropica mixing with sand even though I have plecs and rams who all like to dig. The only time I did have a problem was when I rescaped using the same substrate. Root pulling meant 24 hours of cloudy water. Other than that I have learnt to put in the plants and leave them alone (especially as I am concentrating on crypts)so mixing shouldn't be a problem.

After a 30 mins or so research I can find Akadama quite cheaply but sourcing a decent amount of fine 1-3mm gravel seems to be the problem. Very expensive as most places sell it in 2kg bags. Have found one supplier of 25kg but nowhere near as cheap as playsand. lol. Will have to search a few garden centres next weekend.

At least I know it isn't going to spike now.

Disaster looming probably. lol

Thanks for the reply
Right well a bit of googling later and...

Health and safety PDF on Hydroleca - states it's "Brown calcined clay granules"

Which according to this site means :
Calcined clays : When fired at high temperatures, some clays, fuel ash, and shales form stable compounds that possess low bulk densities and internal porosities of 40-50%. Though calcined clays alter the physical attributes of media in a positive way, they also decrease the level of water-soluble phosphorus in the mix. Because calcined clays are characterized by a high cation exchange capacity, fertilizer application rates may need to be modified if calcined aggregates are incorporated into the media mixes (Bunt, 1988).

It appears that the CEC value isn't as high as Zeolite but is still fairly high.

So... I think I might give it a go if I can find any in B&Q over the weekend. I'd rinse it first then leave it to soak in water with some DIY TPN+ added to 'prime' it. If it doesn't work then I can always use it in the garden :)
Egmel said:
So... I think I might give it a go if I can find any in B&Q over the weekend. I'd rinse it first then leave it to soak in water with some DIY TPN+ added to 'prime' it. If it doesn't work then I can always use it in the garden :)
Complete failure, it's more buoyant that I realised, even after being soaked for several hours. Ah well nice idea while it lasted. :rolleyes:
I bet you had to laugh! good cec- tick, inert- tick, porous- tick, floats- bugger!
NatureBoy said:
I bet you had to laugh! good cec- tick, inert- tick, porous- tick, floats- bugger!
That was pretty much it! I knew it was too good to be true at around £3 a bag!
I was looking at the same stuff at the weekend- it's funny where paths lead!

In the end what I went and bought was a bag of Akadama AND a bag of this stuff I found called Hortag- a much more solid baked clay product, almost grit like, but still porous, inert...and weighty. This is going to go down and form the base 2-3inches on top of which will be the akadama. I've got a good feeling about all this- cheers James for blazing the trail.

I'm not planning on putting any fert tabs down but may squeeze the contents of a filter media over it first to kick start some substrate biology.

Will probably turn the water black! :eek:
Hi, I'm considering akadama for my new 48L x 24W x 20H, the thing that puts me off though is the colour but when looking online found something called kyodama,also a bonsai 'soil'. Looks interesting & a viable alternative, it is darker which attracted my attention first off, is slightly smaller grained being described as a traditional volcanic grit, it apparently provides perfect drainage whilst holding on to moisture & is pH neutral whilst having virtually no inherent nutrients. Anyone had any experience of this stuff?
Edit: This place http://www.greendragonbonsai.co.uk/ does a peat mix with this stuff which could be worth looking into if it wasn't used over something like Tropica substrate maybe?
When looking at different substrates I brought a bag of Kyodama to see what it was like. Volcanic grit is a very good description for it. It is hard and also quite sharp. Also I would think that it has a low CEC so won't hold onto nutrients very well. I decided it wasn't any good for growing aquatic plants in and spread the contents of my bag around the garden.

Hi James,
Sharp-EEK! :wideyed: Certainly no good then especially considering the other drawbacks you mention. Thanks for the info
Quite a few folks used this in Portugal when I was there last month.
But more have been using ADA As alone.
Still, this and the SMS are cheap alternatives.

If you want to add some nutrients, you might consider Osmocoat or something similar, maybe 5 grams per 30cm on the bottom layer, or 1 cm of mineralized mud etc.

I find it semi amusing that folks often go back and forth between old methods and new ones. These are things we did many years ago. Folks tried many concoctions over the years.

While some work well, if you take good care of the water column, other basics of aquarium care, CO2 etc, these sediments can only then be fairly judged. Many lack/ed that skill.

I've done the entire run of sediments.
I know what to look for and am surprised every now and then. But overall, I like the ADA AS. The other one I really like is Black SeaChem Flourite sand.

I am willing to spend a lot of time in the aquarium, replanting and gardening, I am willing to spend $ for lights, CO2, and my space in my home, I am going to have good items for each part.

This includes the sediment. I really no longer care to do a DIY sediment mix for my personal tanks or clients. I could save some $ and build my own aquarium too, I've done it in the past.

I think simply trying sediments out in pots and then have the same species in the same type of locations in a bare bottom tank can tell you a lot pretty fast. You can test and see.

The other issue is how the light, CO2, and water column nutrient load affects the results. This leads some to claim all sorts of things, while others see little differences. You need a good control and to consider the other things that occur.
I use this stuff for my bonsai :D

Tom Barr
plantbrain said:
If you want to add some nutrients, you might consider Osmocoat or something similar, maybe 5 grams per 30cm on the bottom layer, or 1 cm of mineralized mud etc.
After you mentioned osmocote a while ago I had a look into it and have now added it to my tank as well. Not sure if it's made a difference as I don't have another tank setup the same minus the osmocote to compare it to, but I can say that the crypt wendtii I have in there has gone mad and has grown so large and fat that I'm soon going to have to remove it. Here in the UK you can buy these -http://www.gardendirect.co.uk/miraclegro-controlled-release-plant-food-tablets-33-x-5g-tablet-p-1620 at B&Q very cheaply. They are basically osmocote stuck together in small packets. I just push them down into the substrate just like you do a root tab. Out of interest the root capsules that Tropica sell look exactly like they are made from osmocote, except they are a lot more expensive of course.

If I had the money I wouldn't mess around doing things cheap, but just head straight for aqua soil. But I just can't explain to the wife how I need to spend a couple of hundred pounds on ADA substrate.

I put these in my pot plants, but I did wonder about a planted tank! In my local equivalent of B & Q they have two types, one with just Macros and one (for flowers, apparently) with traces including copper. This made me wary for shrimp, not knowing release rates and levels and so forth.

How many did you add to your tank and is it the kind with copper in - judging by the picture in garden direct (flowers) I guess it is?
I used the one with both macros and micros. Reading the ingredients on the packets some contain only macros and others macros and micros. Initially I planted just a few, but then a week later I put the rest of the pack in. So that's 33 in all, in a 120cm tank. Possibly a bit overkill but shrimp seem fine and I've had it in there for some months now. It's slow release and also as copper is a cation it may be held in by the Akadama anyway.