Can i use soil as my nutrient substrate if so how do i do it

Discussion in 'Substrates' started by Ark, 15 Oct 2007.

  1. Ark

    Ark Member

    Messages:
    136
    Location:
    Hanham Bristol
    hi i wondered if i could just put some standard b&q or homebase compost in my planted aquarium underneath a 2inch layer of gravel
    its much cheaper then all the substrate on the market

    if so
    do i have to do anything to the compost
    is there any special brand i should buy
    do i clean it before i put it it
    how much should i use
    tyvm in advanced
    Ark :?:
     
  2. Maximumbob

    Maximumbob Member

    Messages:
    119
    Location:
    Cheshire, UK
    have a quick look at the "Sub on the cheap" thread 2nd from bottom. There is already some info there.

    I would also browse a bit on the EI natural and Low tech forums on this site... there is more information to be had there.

    There are various ways of using soil in your substrate, you just have to decide the direction of your tank as well. High / medium / low tech / maintenance.

    gotta run to work.. i'm sure te other guys can explain better...
     
  3. Matt Holbrook-Bull

    Matt Holbrook-Bull Founder

    Messages:
    963
    Location:
    Dorset, UK
    if your going to use soil, make sure you steralise it well first (maybe in an oven to kill all the bugs and microscopic life), then soak it for at least 2 weeks.. soil can contain alot of NH4 that will send your tank spiralling into untold algae issues.

    personally, i prefer to use aquatic compost you buy from garden centers as its already sterile, again, presoak it for a few weeks and itll do lovely!

    others may have some other ideas on this, so please feel free to add it!
     
  4. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,937
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi,
    An alternative to the two week soak if you are impatient is to boil the soil for two hours or bake at 350 for two hours. This is a way of elliminating the ammonia/ammonium. Soaking as Matt said is the preferable option because this is accomplished by bacteria, which will be useful in the tank. If you're impatient then boiling is faster since it mineralizes the nitrogen but it kills the bacteria.

    Cheers,
     
  5. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    Re: Can i use soil as my nutrient substrate if so how do i d

    Don't use potting compost as it is peat based and will cause all sorts of problems. Your best bet from a Garden centre would be a soil based potting mix, such as John Innes seed and cutting mix, without extra fertilisers.
     
  6. Matt Holbrook-Bull

    Matt Holbrook-Bull Founder

    Messages:
    963
    Location:
    Dorset, UK
    i would use specific aquatic compost for ponds, as it has all the ammonia removed.. most potting composts will have a broad spectrum fertiliser in it, which will include NH4. also, the added grit added to aquatic pond compost will help keep it down and enable water flow through it
     
  7. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    Is the ammonia all that bad? After all Aquasoil Amazonia gives off fairly large quantities at first! And if it's capped under gravel might the plant roots not be taking it up and growing with it as they are supposed to prefer that source of N rather than NO3? Obviously huge quantities would get into the water column and cause water quality issues but small amounts in the substrate?
     
  8. Matt Holbrook-Bull

    Matt Holbrook-Bull Founder

    Messages:
    963
    Location:
    Dorset, UK
    IMO its very bad.. the tiniest amounts of NH4, even lower than you can even register on a test kit, can send your entire system into algae hell.. NH4 traces are probably the fastest algae triggers we have.. hence you need to be so careful even cleaning your filter media so as not to destroy any bacteria, the small time it takes for them to grow back can be catastrophic.
     
  9. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    I agree, in the water column and would be very annoyed and worried if I could get a reading on a test kit for it. But ADA stuff does give off NH4 and people rave over it, expecially some of the people on about the initial growth rate....
     
  10. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,937
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi Ed,
    In my opinion ammonia is all bad. If it's in the soil it can and does leech into the water column and cause algae. You're right about AS having ammonia and the result is normally algae if left unattended. Remember that when you set up a tank you are normally fiddling with plant positioning, rearranging etc so you can't help but to disturb the substrate enough to exacerbate leeching. If you are dosing the water column like you should there is no need to depend on ammonia at all. Remember that you don't need huge quantities of ammonia to start an algae bloom. Blooms can be initiated at ammonia levels registering zero on a test kit.

    I appreciate that there are some schools of thought that consider ammonia an ally in the fertilization scheme, and that is usually the very low light schemes. Ammonia was not considered so fiendish when the aquarium lighting technology was still in it's infancy, however since the advent of higher intensity and better reflectors, ammonia now plays a much larger role in algae inducement.

    Those aquarists with higher lighting opting to use AS or any soil type known to produce ammonia are best served by accomplishing multiple large water changes every week for the first couple of months to mitigate ammonia concentration buildup.

    Cheers,
     
  11. Ed Seeley

    Ed Seeley Member

    Messages:
    3,262
    Location:
    Nottingham
    First of all I agree that ammonia is usually a bad thing in any tank, especially in the water column, but in the substrate is it ALL bad??? After all I have heard people really raving about the initial boost of Amazonia???
    The metabolic pathways for Nitrogen assimilation (from what I have read, it's not an area I have experimented in) prefer ammoniacal Nitrogen as it is easier for the plant to uptake it. Indeed I'm sure I have read somewhere (can't remember where, but probably APC) that plants have to reduce Nitrate to allow it to be assimilated.
    Ammonia and even urea seem to be the favoured form of nitrogen added to terrestrial fertilisers, partly because of the production costs, but also because of the results of their tests.
    I have a feeling that fluctuating ammonia may be the real cause, because, if you think about it, ammonia in a tank will usually come in bursts, e.g after a feed, when a tank's disrupted etc. It's not something you'd want to maintain at a relatively stable level!!!

    Totally agree with the comments on fiddling more when the tank is new, but surely this could equally apply to a tank with a soil substrate? Why should a soil substrate have to be free of ammonia when an ADA tank doesn't???

    A lot of points on reducing algae and boosting plant growth, in my humble opinion, seem to settle on stability as the key. Stability favours higher, specialised organisms over more basic ones, and it always seems to me that an older, more settled tank (well maintained) works better, rather than there being any particular 'magic' value of nutrients,CO2, light, etc. I have had big problems with the EI method and algae, which I feel is completely down to me simply not being organised/consistent enough to maintain stable levels and daily dosing, rather than any flaw in the method. For me low nutrient tanks work best, as it suits me and my fish.
     
  12. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,937
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Hi Ed,
    Yes, there is a lot of raving about AS but as you know, raving about something doesn't make it the best choice. I use AS and I like it a lot but there is only one reason I would rave and that is because it feels like crushed velvet when I stick my fingers in it. I just absolutely love the feel of it. Every other substrate scratches and bites. Slivers get under my fingernails and torture me like a Khmere Rouge prison camp. Not so AS. Its as smooth as whipped cream.

    In fact, a recent study indicates that AS performs no better at plant growth than river silt and is bested by several other producs such as Soilmaster Select, an American soil conditioner used in baseball stadium turf. There seems to be a world gone mad about ADA products in general and AS in particular. The problem is that few people bother to test the performance. There was a recent post by someone showing a picture of a plants root growth after a week. It might have been several inches of growth but the poster failed to compare this growth with the plant grown with other soils so he/she had absolutely no reference by which to judge the growth performance. I like the AS but I try to be realistic about it's performance while being wary of it's pitfalls. As I said, I do multiple weekly water changes to limit my exposure to ammonia buildup.

    I believe you are correct in that although plants uptake NO3 it is first reduced to NH4 prior to the stripping and assimilation of the N, however, NH4, even in plants is toxic at certain levels. Anyone with a dog and a lawn can attest to that. The plant is very careful to regulate the reduction rate of NO3 to avoid toxicity buildup in the conversion chambers. It's easy for terrestial fertilizers to use urea and ammonia salts. There is no need to worry about algae and as you say these are less expensive to produce than nitrate salts (that's just a guess though). NH4 is preferred by aquatic plants only at very high concentration levels. Below about 2.5 ppm NH4 the NO3 is preferred. Above this level NH4 is preferred. The testing and uptake mechanism of terrestrial plants are comparable up to a point.

    I agree with your statement regarding stability, however I believe that the stability of any system is more dependent on the equilibrium, variety and balance of organism population as a whole (and their metabolic products) rather than the presence of specialized versus basic species. A newly setup tank is totally unstable primarily due to the lack of nitrifying bacterial population. A poor population results in an inability for example to oxidize the NH4 to NO2 so we see a spike in NH4. Similarly, the low population of the next level of organisms results in the inability to properly oxidize NO2 to NO3 so we observe a spike in NO2 until that population rises and stabilizes. These are just a couple of important species. When that same tank is a year old there may be thousands of species each filling their role, whether specialized or generalized, which contribute to stability.

    EI does not attempt to establish any special values of nutrients concentration, it simply aims to ensure that the values are always at least enough to avoid starvation. EI also does not insist that you dose daily. You can dose all at once or every other day or whatever you want. It is a concept, not dogma. If, as you say a low nutrient tank works for you without algae and without plant starvation then essentially you are dosing EI. I can hardly see the difference other than in your low nutrient tank you may not be as low as you think, or that you have a much lower light. We would need to analyze more thoroughly each system's configuration in order to determine why one dosing method works and the other doesn't. Actually this is a great subject for a cookbook article! Thanks Ed.

    Cheers,
     

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