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Discussion on substrate and fertilization

BigTom

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So why use ADA or any other substrate product when cat litter or sand would suffice ??? Do these commercially designed products offer better plant health and growth ???

There's no doubt that ADA and other Gucci soils are excellent substrates - nice to work with, easy to reuse, nutritious with a high CEC - but there are plenty of people also getting excellent results for a fraction of the cost with cat litter, garden soil and plain old inert sand /gravel, which should instantly demonstrate that they're not essential.
 

George Farmer

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I like to use both active soil (ADA Aqua Soil, TMC nutraSoil etc.) and water column nutrients. This ensures the plants are always well-fed, and if I miss the occasional liquid dose, it does not matter. For epiphytic plants water column nutrients is important too, especially in higher-energy systems.

Also the soils have other benefits, as well as nutrients and those listed by Tom's excellent post.

Many buffer the pH at 5.5 - 6.5 and soften the water, making the aquarium more suited to delicate softwater species. A great example is crystal red shrimp. Before active soils were commonplace, keeping these shrimp was relatively difficult. Even those with hard tap water are keeping delicate shrimp now.

I have set up around 50-100 aquascapes, some using inert gravel/sand, some using base layer nutrients topped with inert, some using active soils.

Anecdotally I can say that the aquascapes with active soils have experience healthier and faster plant growth than the inert. The nutrient base layer somewhere in-between.

So if I can afford it, and the aquascape suits it, I will try to use active soil substrates as much as possible. I know I don't need it, but I believe I get better results with it, for both plants, shrimp and most fish.

But it is important to stress that these substrates will never negate the requirement for decent maintenance practice. That, in my experience, is the fundamental key to any successful aquascape providing the kit and the technique are fine.
 

mal blackburn

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Looking at the pictures shown are very nice indeed and show that plants dont require an active substrate to grow but as George states that plants do better if the substrate is active. What I would like to know is how well would an aquascape in cat litter or quartz gravel fed by means of EI or PPS compare over a long time period of years not months up against an aquascape or planted tank raised either the ADA way or by means of any other decent substrate commercially available ? Would they both stand the test of time ?
 

ceg4048

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How much time are we talking about?

Here is EI + LFS gravel mixed with molar clay. Is 2 years enough time?
8395190228_83ed477164_z.jpg


Here's a tank at 3.5 years.
8677234843_79c77ea265_z.jpg



Get over it people. Sediment doesn't matter.

Cheers,
 

Michael W

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13 May 2013
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I agree that sediment does not matter. If you want to get the same affect as ADA etc can't you just soak some cat litter in a bucket of water with a EI/nutrient enriched water? Ok granted it won't have the ph changing and buffing properties but don't people usually use these substrate in order to provide another source of nutrients for plants? This can basically also be created with DIY root tabs or store brought ones inserted into any substrate even better if its cat litter correct me if I'm wrong.
 
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So why use ADA or any other substrate product when cat litter or sand would suffice ??? Do these commercially designed products offer better plant health and growth ???

Im sure Big Tom just answered this?

Its all a money making game, supply and demand, Fanboys. Call it what you must.
They will have some benefits, but you could make do without, if you choose to. Its a choice. Like Sausages or Bacon.
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
Many buffer the pH at 5.5 - 6.5 and soften the water, making the aquarium more suited to delicate softwater species.
In terms of water softening think you can make your own "active substrate". I've never tried it but I'm pretty sure you can, and this is how.

Active substrates can lower pH, because they have a high CEC and the initial exchange sites are filled with a proton (H+ ion), this is described as having a "low base percent saturation". Ion exchange means that H+ ions are swapped for other cations, including the basic cations Ca++, K+, Mg++ etc with exchange occurring dependent upon the relative abundance of ions and place on the lyotropic series - <Cation Exchange Capacity in Soils, Simplified>. We use pH as a proxy for acidity and alkalinity, and it is the ratio of H+:OH- ions. Add H+ ions and pH falls, another way to think of this is that acids are "proton donors", and bases "proton acceptors".

Clay minerals from areas of high rain-fall with acid soils naturally have all their CE sites filled with H+ ions, because all the other ions have been exchanged for H+ ions (from the rain-water), this is the "Akadama" or laterite scenario, where only the very tightly bound Al+++ and Fe+++ ions are left. The same applies to sphagnum peat, which also has CEC, all the exchange sites are filled with protons, in this case because sphagnum peat only forms in rain fed mires..

So to make your own active substrate that combines a low base percent saturation with a high CEC, you can take a substance like Tesco's moler based clay cat litter, and leave it out in the rain for several months and the exchange sites will have all the basic cations replaced by H+ ions.You could add sphagnum peat if you wish.

You might be able to speed the process up by using a stronger acid than rain water (really dilute carbonic acid H2O +CO2 ~ H2CO3), but you would have to take the anion into account, meaning that either acetic acid (CH3COOH) in solution as "white vinegar" or a solution of citric acid ( C6H8O7) might be better than hydrochloric acid HCl (H+ Cl-), although you wouldn't need very much HCl.

cheers Darrel
 

NatureBoy

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27 Aug 2008
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Hi all, In terms of water softening think you can make your own "active substrate". I've never tried it but I'm pretty sure you can, and this is how.

Active substrates can lower pH, because they have a high CEC and the initial exchange sites are filled with a proton (H+ ion), this is described as having a "low base percent saturation". Ion exchange means that H+ ions are swapped for other cations, including the basic cations Ca++, K+, Mg++ etc with exchange occurring dependent upon the relative abundance of ions and place on the lyotropic series - <Cation Exchange Capacity in Soils, Simplified>. We use pH as a proxy for acidity and alkalinity, and it is the ratio of H+:OH- ions. Add H+ ions and pH falls, another way to think of this is that acids are "proton donors", and bases "proton acceptors".

Clay minerals from areas of high rain-fall with acid soils naturally have all their CE sites filled with H+ ions, because all the other ions have been exchanged for H+ ions (from the rain-water), this is the "Akadama" or laterite scenario, where only the very tightly bound Al+++ and Fe+++ ions are left. The same applies to sphagnum peat, which also has CEC, all the exchange sites are filled with protons, in this case because sphagnum peat only forms in rain fed mires..

So to make your own active substrate that combines a low base percent saturation with a high CEC, you can take a substance like Tesco's moler based clay cat litter, and leave it out in the rain for several months and the exchange sites will have all the basic cations replaced by H+ ions.You could add sphagnum peat if you wish.

You might be able to speed the process up by using a stronger acid than rain water (really dilute carbonic acid H2O +CO2 ~ H2CO3), but you would have to take the anion into account, meaning that either acetic acid (CH3COOH) in solution as "white vinegar" or a solution of citric acid (C6H8O7) might be better than hydrochloric acid HCl (H+ Cl-), although you wouldn't need very much HCl.

cheers Darrel


Hi

Overtime does an active substrate generally lose its CEC as the sites are filled with the basic cations or does an equilibrium establish?

If you inject CO2 into the water would the H+ ions this creates have any "reactivating" potential on the substrate?

cheers
 

wet

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15 Jan 2012
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This is a radically different discussion from APC in regards to how ADA substrate (N, etc rich) pairs nicely with what we know about their water column dosing, but perhaps you will find it interesting and it sparks other ideas too. The niko says high tech can't go a week with no maintenance thread - Page 4 - General Aquarium Plants Discussions - Aquatic Plant Central

I think of my substrate as a safety net. I believe it is critical without water column dosing, per Walstad , etc (though important to note Walstad does account for water column through food and tap water top offs).

Also, Aquasoil is just easy to plant in :) The cost of not having ground cover float up repeatedly is huge for me and makes Aquasoil look much cheaper.
 

BigTom

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I find Aquasoil an absolute pain in the backside to plant in compared to sand.

And that thread is absolutely terrifying, but then I have absolutely zero interest in the underlying chemistry of my tanks. I just want them to look good, be filled with healthy plants and fish and be really easy to look after and robust to mistakes, forgetfulness and total neglect. All of which are easily achievable without even knowing what a molecule is, thanks to the sort of advice we were debating in that other thread :p

I can't imagine an easier way to put 99% of people off the thought of having a planted tank than pointing them at that sort of discussion.
 

wet

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So we skip the 1%? (I think it's a much bigger number than that. Notice who those folks are and what they have contributed back to the hobby.) Why?
 

wet

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How do you think folks found and learned these lessons? By experimenting or not experimenting? By discussing and sharing or not discussing and sharing?
 

ceg4048

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How do you think folks found and learned these lessons? By experimenting or not experimenting? By discussing and sharing or not discussing and sharing?
We discover this by experimenting, observing the results and then by sharing the results. We do not use marketing tactics or hoopla. We also assiduously avoid hype and propaganda. Are you looking at the photographs of the results? The results are not good enough for you?

What we discover is that there are a lot of high priced products in the market which work well, but which are not accessible to people on a budget. We discover that there are many cheaper ways of accomplishing the same objectives without spending lots of money. We study the fundamental principles of plant growth, which allows us to attack the problems directly instead of spending lots of money.

We discover repeatedly that you do not need to spend a lot of money to have excellent growth performance and excellent plant health. We discover also that there are simple methods of achieving these goals and that you don't have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. Once the principles of plant growth have been worked out it then can be very easy to implement.

Amazonia is my favorite substrate in the world. As Tom mentioned in his earlier post, the substrate has a lovely velvety feel, which is rewarding if the hobbyists is always sticking his/her hand in the sediment to rearrange the scape. Other sediments are harsh and biting. The substrate is also packed with nutrients, so it allows you to skip dosing. That's a real advantage. As you mention sediment dosing does not rely on flow/distribution and does not require manic attention to a dosing regimen. However, there is no way anyone can rationally argue that this sediment to be cheap.

Cheers,
 

parotet

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Valencia, Spain
That is the reason I like this forum... Really interesting thread for a newbie!

Just one question. When you mention that with enriched substrates you can skip dosing what do you mean? Can you forget it just during a long weekend, during a whole week? I know it will depend on your layout but just to have an idea. My tank has more and more input needs ( especially concerning daily liquid C and ferts dosing) and I fear what is going to happen if I cannot take care of it for 10 days...

It is not my case, I use JBL Manado that is just clay (at least it looks like) but I want to know if using enriched substrates would solve this problem in a future tank




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dw1305

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Hi all,
Overtime does an active substrate generally lose its CEC as the sites are filled with the basic cations or does an equilibrium establish?
Yes, exchange sites will be filled with basic cations over-time, it is "exchange".
If you inject CO2 into the water would the H+ ions this creates have any "reactivating" potential on the substrate?
I don't know, because of the lyotropic series Ca++ would remain bound, but you might be able to acid wash the bound ions out because exchange depends upon both concentration and the tightness of bonding, if you had a huge amount of H+ ions they would tend to replace all other cations, even ones that are more tightly bound.

cheers Darrel
 

mal blackburn

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4 Mar 2013
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It seems I was wrong to think that plants wouldn't grow very well in an inert substrate such as just gravel or the likes. And they seem to do very well given the right lights and feeding regime. Something I am not yet accustomed to. I am on upward learning curve when it comes to a planted tank, but my personal journey is governed by the type of fish, the type of tank, and the budget I can allow myself. I cannot see myself using any type of specialist soil as it would just be kicked up all over the place. So I am opting for a Manado base with added nutrition topped with pea gravel. I have CO2 injection and EI dosing at a later date. The type of environment is still under consideration, but will consist of many rocks and large plants.
 
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