Substrata , Is it worth paying for ?

Discussion in 'Substrates' started by davidcmadrid, 5 Jul 2009.

  1. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    I was going to post this over on the Barr Report site but its not working. Im wondering if there is too much of a hoopla about substrata if you are correctly dosing EI? I read a Barr Report which seemed to suggest that Sand was as good as one of the most expensive brands on the market.

    I am also confused a little about the role anerobic activity plays in tank and root health. Am i correct to think that finer grain substrata promotes this anerobic activity more and that this activity is bad for plants. Am i correct to think that bigger grain substrata promotes circulation of both nutrients , water flow over beneficial bacteria and less anerobic activity ( Hydrogen sulphide as the product ).

    I have developed the impression that a 50 quid bag of substrata over sand is a bit like gold plated speaker cables , there mighr be a difference in a scientific test but not one thats audible to the human ear ( i thought and still think my father is bonkers trying to justify that one ). I dont mean to be offensive to anybody has paid a lot of money for substrata but i just cant really find any evidence that its worth it beyond people who have paid for it saying it is which would be fine except for the Barr Report has opened a door....

    I know that there is a magazine article from the UK mag about it ( written by somebody who sells substrata ? ), is it worth getting a back issue or does it just compare all the ones that you have to fork out handsomely for ? I am a marketing consultant and quite frankly apart from putting products into the consumers limelight the secondary part of the job is "not what it is but what you can make people think it is". Over the last 18 months I can see various marketing people have done a good number on me as i have a closet full of crap i do not need (and if it solved the problem or facilitated a solution it would be pot luck) and am running through each element of my next tank with a fine tooth comb.
     
  2. JamesC

    JamesC Member

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    You'll get many different views on this but IMHO you can grow plants just fine without using ADA AS. ADA AS has done so well because it was really the only substrate up until now that contained any nitrogen and phosphate compounds. I say nitrogen because a lot of the N in ADA AS is ammonium rather than nitrate. Most of the other popular substrates like Flourite and Eco Complete actually contain very little in the way of nutrients, but have good CEC.

    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.

    If you have the money and want convenience then ADA AS is the way to go. But if like me you don't wish to pay for the 'gold plated' options then using a cheap substrate and adding some substrate additives will give excellent results. You could go even cheaper and use a bit of spaghnum moss peat along with a sprinkling of Osmocote for the additives.

    I'm not sure about anaerobic substrates but I think in small amounts it is a good thing. It reduces the iron (III) to Iron (II) making it available for the plants roots. Somebody else may know more.

    James
     
  3. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Hi James,

    Thank you for the reply. I have visited your website and seen you use Quartz sand as your substrata in addition.
     
  4. JamesC

    JamesC Member

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    Yep, that tank only had quartz sand with no substrate additives at all.

    James
     
  5. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    I am kind of surprised there inst more debate about this , i didnt find any in the search function but that Barr report is sort of ground shaking when i consider that a lot of people are prepared to fork out a lot of money for Amazonia etc that could in theory be better spent on C02 / nutrient ( water col ) distribution and light.
     
  6. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Member

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    I have used amazonia and inert sand with good results in both cases. The Amazonia allows me to forget dosing the water column, but after a few tanks using this, and the associted expense I shall be going back over to fine gravel.

    You are right, though. With adequate water column fertilisation, an inert substrate is perfectly adequate. I have moved away from using sand because I tend to get BGA with it, but Argos playsand is a very cheap substrate.

    Dave.
     
  7. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Thank David ( and James ). How much latitude in your experience do you get on missing a dose with " nutrient rich substrata.. is it just a fail safe if you miss one day or could you go on holidays and forget having to worry about getting the neighbour in ? I notice that a lot of people who use it tend to proclaim its virtues so your experience is valuable. A semi educated guess would tell me that unless your dosing the water means nothing you still have to get the neighbours in anyway if the plants get used to that. Im assuming that plants mostly uptake though leaves then?

    Have you come across many plants that refuse to grow in practically inert substrata that did in nutrient rich. Tom B tested one plant have you seen difference across more different species / types ? Tropica are getting a bit more vocal about substrata now but i notice this is right next to a big advert for their own.

    Do you think its practical to assume circulation of the dosed water in the substrata thus delivering nutrients to the roots or does the water tend to be stagnant. In that sense im thinking fine grain stuff might be a hinderance to the strategy.

    Im currently writing up my experience of doing this on a budget , not that i have to but because im getting to the point in life where i realise i have over time spent a lot of money on stuff that isnt really helping anything so just dont see the point. Although it would add up if your doing a bigger tank or something like Zigs entry where he had mountains of substrata in the tank. The jury is out on lily pipes, they obviously dont do anything that the green ehiems dont take care of but they do look pretty :lol:

    Im tending to think I should concentrate on a substrata selection from an asthetic point of view .. one that looks more like a riverbed as oppossed to thinking of what might help with plant growth. I have seen a few planted tanks that had lovely " beds " but i failed to note what they were sadly.

    I do note the danger of " missing a dose " but are the plants not trained with EI to drink nutrients as oppossed to take them from the soil anyway so would missing an EI dose not cause probs anyhow.. how long did you go without dosing ?
     
  8. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

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    David,
    There is little debate because there is no conflict between substrate feeding and foliar feeding. Barr himself will emphasize that plants are opportunist and will take advantage of whatever source of nutrients are available. Ideally they will feed from both locations which reduces the pressures of having to feed from only a single location.

    Some hobbyists, depending on their chosen dosing regime, simply prefer not to dose the water column as much as the hobbyists that use EI. In these cases, having a rich substrate allows them this freedom. There is also no equation that will tell you how many doses one can miss. The pressures for feeding are a summation of all environmental factors. High light creates high uptake rate demands, high CO2 levels drive high nutrient uptake. Each tank is different. Based on your particular tanks environment, particularly the lighting, you might be able to miss many more doses than in my tank. Latitude is variable and must be determined in real time.

    Ultimately, all enriched substrates lose their factory imbued enrichment. Like all substrates however, this is soon replaced by the organic waste buildup in the sediment which provides the roots with nutrients as the waste decays. Granted, the levels of nutrients provided by organic waste probably never equals the initial amount so at this stage the most important characteristic of the sediment is the CEC, which facilitates nutrient transport to the roots. Aerobic activity helps to recycle waste even more efficiently. Generally, clay products have higher CEC and so do a better job, but again depending on the environment this may not be a critical issue.

    Brand new Aquasoil teamed with brand new Powersand is a combination very high in nutrients, but the Powersand peters out after about a month and the AS may lose it's factory enrichment after a year or so in a high light environment. The high nutrient loading in this sediment helps young plants to get going at a fast rate so that the plants are well established by the time the factory nutrients peter out. In the AS system the lighting is medium to low and the water column is only minimally dosed (at least in the beginning), so this system works fine and many swear by it, but one needs a second mortgage to implement. So the core of this ADA dosing system is highly dependent on the soil nutrient content. EI dosers can use this sediment as well, but the EI/PMDD system is much less dependent on substrate quality, so it really isn't as necessary. As Dave and James will testify, one can use just about any sediment with EI/PMDD. So one has to look at the tank environment, the lighting scheme, the growth/maintenance objectives - as well as one finances to determine whether AS is a worthwhile investment. If you intend to dose EI/PMDD style and if you chafe at the price of AS, then I'd say forget it and use a cheap alternative. It's not that big of a deal.

    Of course we shouldn't forget that there are other reasons to get a particular substrate, such as aesthetics as well as the texture, which if you plan to do a lot of uprooting, AS is velvety smooth and is very kind on the hands.

    All plants in this image are anchored in inert sediment+EI, so I see no reason whatsoever to force oneself to pony up the cash for AS if the bill seems unpalatable.
    [​IMG]


    Cheers,
     
  9. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Thanks Ceg. It seems to boil down to if dosing PMDD or EI then buying enriched substrata is just a waste of money all it. As i said its not that I balk at the cost ( ill gladly shell for something that i believe will make a difference and if not going the EI route it does untill the supply is exhausted ) , although it is a bit stiff for what is essentially " muck " . The difference isnt apparantley tangible and if T Barrs experiments are anything to go by SDS will do a better job and look pretty much the same as a three pound bag of sand or 40 pound ( GBP )bag of Amazonia / knott etc. I could buy an autodoser , a few bags of sand and still have half the cost ( if not more ) of Amazonia left over.. plus im not worried about any of the teething problems with it either.


    I did think for a while about the notion that it would help new plants as you mentioned take on but then I remembered watching a few videos about Tropicas production line and there isnt any substrata in sight and id hazzard a guess they are into getting the plants to grow as quickly as possible. I also have all kinds of stuff growing in my experimental tank that isnt anchored down ( semi rooted on a small gauge fishing net ) but i do suppose the roots are more in the breeze.

    The other thing i dug up was some guru from Japan , cant remember his name was using with perfect results fired clay and only moved over to his own branded gear when he started to market it.
     
  10. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

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    Errr..could his name possibly have been Takashi Amano? You know, the guy who owns ADA and markets Aquasoil? :idea:

    If you look closely at the Tropica plants (or just about any grower's plants) you'll see that they are rooted in a special "rock wool", or fabric-like substrate. Plants grown emersed (which these are) definitely need a substrate and this fabric material has excellent drainage while at the same time allows intimate contact with the root hairs. The fabric can be easily permeated with nutritious liquids. It's a lot easier, cheaper, cleaner and effective to use this rock wool versus organic sediment in a production environment. Be sure to remove this material prior to planting into your chosen substrate.

    Cheers,
     
  11. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Yes thats the fella. My point though is that that rock wool is inert and yes while it can be permeated i would imagine that its just as easy for nutrients to permeate the larger grained sands and substratas ? What im not sure is if Brownian motion / circulation can extend down into substrata just aswell as their setup. Is the only difference in growing the plants out of water that they have unlimited C02. I am currently studying James´thread on Akadama and the implications of CEC which comes up as a feature of the best performer in the Barr report. I have been removing rock wool.
     
  12. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

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    Well, there are massive differences between emmersed and submersed growth. Plants growing underwater have a completely different physiology. The method of nutrient transport is different. Not only is the leaf morphology different, but so is the root morphology. In a fluid environment the plants have to develop gaseous distribution networks while in a terrestrial environment they have to develop fluid distribution networks. As a result, this fundamentally changes the dynamics of nutrient uptake. To dismiss these differences as just CO2 uptake is to completely miss the point.

    The dynamics of nutrient translocation within sediment has almost nothing to do with Brownian motion and almost everything to do with the interactions of ionic bonding and polarity. This is a very specific set of interactions between distribution of electrical charges of sediment particles and the electrochemical characteristics of the nutrient molecules. Nutrients typically do not permeate sediment particles but instead are adsorbed and held on the surface through ionic bonds. In AS the nutrients and organic matter are baked onto the clay surface and are mineralized. In Powersand the nutrients are soaked into the crevices of the pumice, like a sponge. Soaking the Akadama clay in nutrients mixture does a similar job, so you get the sponge effect as well as ionic bonding due to the CEC.

    Likewise, there are structural differences of the submersed leaves which facilitate molecular movement across the leaf/water interface. There are very specific ionic pathways that develop underwater that are not available to terrestrial leaves. These are the pathways that allow aquatic plants to, if necessary, bypass or to augment the nutrient uptake pathways of the root.

    Cheers,
     
  13. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    I was asking it as a question :D

    To put it in laymans terms can water dosed ferts permeate down through thicker grained substrata ?
     
  14. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    So basically this can be achieved if one soaks akadama in nutrients for a week in addtion to a solution to stop it effecting the water chemistry ( KH )once introduced ? I wonder James if you have a view on this also , what do you dampen the KH effect with and how would ferts in that solution effect the balance or alter the desired result ( I am assuming that Akadama could soak up dissolved powders ) ? (Actually i might pop this question re Akadama over in its thread )
     
  15. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

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    Well undoubtedly nutrient products from the water column do make it into the substrate and then on to the roots, but also remember that the Law of Conservation of Mass dictates that nutrient products from the substrate also make it into the the water column and then on to the leaves. The mechanism of these movements are varied - electrochemical, osmotic, thermal and so forth. Foliar nutrient uptake of Submerged Aquatic Macrophytes however is so stunningly efficient that the leaves will typically capture and process nutrients much more quickly than the nutrients that permeate through to the substrate and which are then up through the roots. For all intents and purposes we can consider that water column nutrients predominantly have foliar uptake and that the products of nitrification and bacterial breakdown of organic waste within the sediment predominantly feeds the roots. It requires very sophisticated experiments to determine what percentage of water column nutrients make it to the substrate and vice versa.

    In my view, within the context of EI, the role of the sediment and filter media is to help recycle, detoxify and to stabilize the tank through bacterial activity. This is a vital role to ensure health of the tank and minimization of algal blooms. That nutrients are then made available to the plant roots as a result of this activity, I consider a bonus because I'm the one doing the bulk of the feeding. As I mentioned before, in systems where the sediment also has the task of doing the bulk of the feeding, one has to ensure that the environmental demands on the plants don't exceed the capability of the sediment to perform that task.
    I'm not aware of any of the NPK or trace powders that have a direct effect on KH (as none of these are carbonate or bicarbonate based), or whether they would inhibit the effect Akadama has on water column KH. JamesC will definitely have a better idea on this.

    Cheers,
     
  16. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Thanks for the answer , it seems clear that inorganic bacterial activity in the substrate should be encouraged to break down waste and turn it into nutrients as opposed to relying on the dosed water to soak downwards into the substrate. I think this is where a bit of "spagnum moss " or mulm comes in. In regards to the KH i was referring to Akadamas capacity to reduce it in the water and dramatically at that . James suggests soaking it for a week in a solution to hamper this process before introducing it into the tank. I dont know what that solution is, but I am wondering if that can be used to ones advantage and have it suck NPK / traces out of the water its being soaked in. I know from what he has said that it certainly can take trace elements out.

    This is what i refer to. Im thinking in laymans terms that if im happy to wait a week while the Akadama "soaks up the goodness " I can basically make the Aqua soil myself. I found the same akadema James talks about in the local store very cheap. In my case im quite happy to wait because i will then get onto planning the scapes themselves. As you can see there is a fair amount of planning going into this , but im finding the process fun :D
     
  17. JamesC

    JamesC Member

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    I wouldn't bother going to the hassle of trying to soak the Akadama in a fert solution as it's impossible to know what exactly is happeneing. I only added some Ca and Mg so as to reduce the cation exchange when added to the tank. It actually worked very well but many people don't bother with this step and just use the Akadama straight. After a few weeks everything settles down anyway.

    Akadama and other fired clay substrates have a high CEC so they are just waiting for some cations to come floating by. These cations are replaced with H+ ions which is the reason for the KH drop. Akadama actually soaks up loads of stuff including phosphate. It's used in some places as a water purifier. Some pond keepers have also used it in large filters. One thing that most people notice with Akadama is the clarity of the water.

    If you want to get ferts into the substrate add a fine layer of peat with some mulm and a sprinkling of Osmocote as a base layer.
     
  18. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    Thanks James, Im keen not to do a water change every day to be honest, its just wasting water ( i recycle all tank water for plants etc but would just end up pouring it down the drain which is a bit more wasteful given i live in a near dustbowl ). I take the point about you not know what happens , so i speculated in laymans terms that if you could get magnesium into it that perhaps you could get NPK in there too. I did wonder what the result would be though ( creating sites for algea growth ? ) . Ill run through that thread again.
     
  19. davidcmadrid

    davidcmadrid Member

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    On a bit of a tangent but what do you think it would do in a tank filter instead of carbon ,, if i understand the implications of it taking phosphates out of the water it might well take all nutrients out too ?
     
  20. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

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    Well I don't think this product can match activated carbon for surface area so it would not have the same impact on a per liter basis. Similar to the carbon analysis, it doesn't really matter what nutrients it removes from the water column because you are continually dosing more nutrients. I guess it's also not clear why the short term KH transient is such an issue. As James says, in a few weeks it won't matter at all. By the time you're ready to add fish KH won't be an issue.

    Cheers,
     

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