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Low Tech Substrate Options

John S

13 Dec 2008
Welwyn Garden City
Hi Folks,
I'm setting up a low tec tank. I was originally going to use soil and gravel as per Tim's tutorial. I'm now thinking about using one of the aquasoils (Tropica or Dennerle etc).

My question is, is the aqusoil enough on its own to sustain the tank (with added ferts) or should I use a soil mix as metioned below and cap it with the aquasoil:

I guess I'm looking for a belt and braces approach but don't want overkill.
Don''t think you can cap soil with aquasoil, to light.
You can use everything you want ( i use sand only always) as long as you add ferts when needed in the amount the growth dictates ( you can use Darrel's " Duckweed Index" to see if you need to add ferts, using the growth and color of floaters to assertain if you need to add ferts).
Thanks Edvert, it did cross my mind that it would be too light. Do you mean you cap your soil with sand or use sand only?

Will check out Darrel's " Duckweed Index.
I move things arround on a weekly basis and I found miracle grow capped with black sand a complete night mare to keep clean.
as soon as I pulled anything out, or moved a rock I had crap floating arround the tank.
If your not like me and leave the plants alone to grow, soil might work for you, to be fair I had great growth.

If your adding fertilisers on a daily basis the soil becomes less critical.. You will be amazed what i've grown in plain sand.
cap your soil with sand or use sand only
You can do both. Soil underneath is more " walstad method '', see Tim''s work. I prefer sand only and fertilize, i feel it''s just a bit more user friendly, less change to be disturbed when moving large plants. I have removed swords with rootsystems that cover 50% of my 400 gallon.
The soil wants to float (or bits of it do) so you need something heavy enough to hold it down.. Tropica is quite light and won't hold it down.

If you ever try it again. than take a pond soil specialy for Lilies that contains a high amount of (blue) clay and peat.. And cap this with a rather coarse filtersand which can be caped again with a fine gravel if you like.

I did setup a tank like that 2 years ago and it is still running fine.. The positive side of the clay based peat soil, it stays soft and mushy, but the clay is a rather cohesive substance. I experience it that darn cohesive i slooped it up in corners and caped it with sand and it didn't shift an inch in 2 years time it's still in the excact same position as i put it. It's that cohesive it supports the sand without any sand sinking into it.. I even took rocks out that were pushed into the clay as support. Nothing out of the ordanary happened had a dent in the substrate looking at a clay wall filled with roots and recapped it again with sand and gravel to cover it. No mess at all.

It still beeing soft and mushy, plants can root in very easily than it forms a clump of clay held even more firmly together with a large hair root structure.
I can gently lift up plants and cut them at the roots without disturbing to much soil. The clay incapsulates the lighter peat particles. It prevents it from comming loose and floating around..

The other good part is this soil is very high in cec, very fertile and long lasting.. I did't fertilize this tank for its intere 2 year lifespan till now.
And it grew an awsome Lileaopsis brasiliensis carpet..

Imho and experience.. Lily soil based on Clay and Peat.. Rocks the boat!.. :thumbup:
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