Substrate Requirements/Suitable Products

jaypeecee

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Hi Folks,

In my line of work, I often needed to produce a specification that listed all the features, attributes, parameters, etc. when procuring/purchasing a new product. I learned how important it was to be clear in my mind exactly what was required to meet the needs of the task in hand. So, I still adopt that mindset when making new purchases. But I don't go overboard when buying a new shirt, for example!

With the above in mind, I started to work through the 60 pages of substrate threads here on UKAPS. But, then, I realized that I didn't really know what was required of a substrate. Here's a few that come to mind:

[1] Something that anchors plants (roots) in place.

[2] Should have a high cation exchange capacity (CEC).

[3] What nutrients should it provide, if any?

[4] Does it need to have an open structure to allow for aeration?

[5] Should it contain organic material, e.g. humic substances (HS) or be inert?

[6] For how long will it release any ammonia, nitrates, phosphates, etc. into the water column?

[7] How many layers of different materials can I accommodate or is one layer sufficient?

[8] Must not be abrasive to bottom-dwelling fish, e.g. Corydoras

[9] Must not need changing for at least five years.

[10] What colour(s) should it be?

[11] How much am I prepared to pay?

[12] How easy will it be to vacuum the surface of the substrate?

Please feel free to add to this list. Then, comes the tricky bit - deciding on suitable products. All suggestions welcome!

JPC
 

zozo

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My 5 cents on it except 10 and 11, don't worry too much about the rest. :)

CEC is more of an issue with terrestrial botany. In aquatic systems the water-column can/will provide all it needs.

Same for Nutrients, if water column provides since the tank is flooded obviously these nutrients drain into the substrate.

Inert substrate initially can not leach anything, hence it is inert.

Humic substances are essential for a healthy aquatic system, can be added on top if it's not in the substrate.

Plant roots are rather adaptive, up to a microscopic level with rhizoids, as long there are nutrients you can grow plants on glass marbles or solely in the water without substrate.

Open structures eventually can/will clog with detritus. In some cases, it can form an issue and in other cases it can work as a benefit. For example, deep sand substrates, some advise against, others swear by it. So it's a ?? nobody really knows a valid answer for.

:)

A lot of it comes down to personal experiences. And in a lot of cases, personal experiences are percieved as something universally applicable. Obviously that's far from the truth.
 
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Tim Harrison

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I'm not going to add to your list but ADA AS or Tropica AS will meet most requirements.
I'm guessing that the R&D departments of both companies had a list very similar to yours...
 

jaypeecee

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In aquatic systems the water-column can/will provide all it needs.

Plant roots are rather adaptive, up to a microscopic level with rhizoids, as long there are nutrients you can grow plants on glass marbles or solely in the water without substrate.

Hi @zozo

Thanks a lot. From my list of 12 items, it would appear that your two statements above are all-important. So, if I understand you correctly, the main requirement of the substrate is item [1], i.e. something that anchors plants (roots) in place. All other requirements can be provided by fertilizers/nutrients in the water column. Am I correct? If so, why bother with all these 'exotic' substrate materials?

As regards the terminology that I used in my original post, I use the term 'substrate' to mean all the layers that sit on the bottom of the tank as inferred in item [7]. That could be an 'active' bottom layer covered by a 'cosmetic' top layer.

JPC
 

jaypeecee

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I'm not going to add to your list but ADA AS or Tropica AS will meet most requirements...

Hi @Tim Harrison

Thanks very much for your feedback. I see that Tropica AS "lowers the pH value and slightly affects the water chemistry". This concerns me a tad - in what way does it affect water chemistry? I don't like surprises!

JPC
 

Tim Harrison

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The blurb says it's rich in organic acids and nutrients etc. And it's been used by many folk for many years with great success so I doubt there's any cause for concern. Either way I like it because it's a great planting medium.
 

zozo

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If so, why bother with all these 'exotic' substrate materials?

It's next to marketing a personal preference and believing in it and feeling comfortable about it does the rest. :) But if you put 10 bags of different substrate materials next to each other then each label on the bag says it's Excellent substrate. And then people creat excellent planted aquascapes on Kitty Litter. And that bag doesn't say anything at all about being an excellent plant substrate, but it seems to be.

Simply pick one that fits your budget and is aesthetically pleasing to you. And for the rest, concerns are, it should be practical for what you like to create. For example, would you like a scape with high elevated substrate parts, then sand only might not be the best choice?

Then what are your plans about planting? Would you like to grow a carpet with small plants? Than a fine-grained substrate at that part is easier to penetrate and more gentle to the small delicate plants with handling them.

Thus from that viewpoint, creating layers of different types of substrates can be practical. If you like to create elevations in the substrate then a coarser grain is easier kept in place. Do you want small carpet plants on this elevated part? Then cap that coarse material again with a finer grain substrate that is easier on the plants.
 

Conort2

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Hi @Tim Harrison

That sounds good. Do you top it off with a layer of gravel, for example?

JPC
You just use it as it comes, don’t rinse it or anything like you would with gravel. I’d recommend the slightly more expensive powder versions, even easier to plant in and your corydoras will be able to root about in it much like sand.

cheers

Conor
 

jaypeecee

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You just use it as it comes, don’t rinse it or anything like you would with gravel. I’d recommend the slightly more expensive powder versions, even easier to plant in and your corydoras will be able to root about in it much like sand.

cheers

Conor

Hi @Conort2

Thanks for that. Sounds like the powder version is the way to go.

JPC
 

Tim Harrison

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Powder is quite a bit more expensive and usually used at the front or in small tanks to create a sense of perspective, and powder is perhaps a little easier to plant in especially for carpet plants. Normal size AS is used elsewhere. Alternatively, some folk use a layer of normal capped with a layer of powder, that is at the front. If you decide to do the latter make sure you're happy with the hardscape first since any rearranging will mix the two up and ruin the effect.
 

Oldguy

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buying a new shirt

I use an inert substrate with rounded grains. Once coned into buying a bag of Florite or some such stuff. The ideal grain size for me would be the size between coarse sand and fine gravel. Difficult to find so I settled for fine gravel, deep but over under-gravel filter plates with a canister uplift (gravel 'tidy' made from geotextile)

Set up running for 15 years and counting. Fertilize the water column. Glue/tie plants to wood etc. Most just gently pushed into the gravel. Wood typically starts to fall apart after about ten years. Nothing seems to last.

Now as to shirts, I have been known to pay up to £5 to £6 for a nice one but typically £1.50 (new in boxes) they are my contributions to charitable causes. For a really old one (80 to 100yrs) in good nick I have thought of going up to £30 if I can find one in my size and not too many gravy stains.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to All.
 

jaypeecee

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Now as to shirts, I have been known to pay up to £5 to £6 for a nice one but typically £1.50 (new in boxes) they are my contributions to charitable causes. For a really old one (80 to 100yrs) in good nick I have thought of going up to £30 if I can find one in my size and not too many gravy stains.

HI @Oldguy

Excellent! :lol:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too!

JPC
 

jaypeecee

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Powder is quite a bit more expensive and usually used at the front or in small tanks to create a sense of perspective, and powder is perhaps a little easier to plant in especially for carpet plants. Normal size AS is used elsewhere. Alternatively, some folk use a layer of normal capped with a layer of powder, that is at the front. If you decide to do the latter make sure you're happy with the hardscape first since any rearranging will mix the two up and ruin the effect.

Hi @Tim Harrison

Many thanks for your feedback.

From what you say, I think I'd be wise to stick with the basic Tropica AS.

JPC
 

jaypeecee

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Hi Everyone,

I am very much aware that the substrate develops its own ecosystem, the benthic zone, if I understand it. I suspect that @dw1305 knows a good deal about this. Do I just allow this to develop naturally or do I need to intervene in some way, e.g. bacterial additions? I think I know the answer but feel the need to ask the question.

JPC
 

jaypeecee

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Hi Everyone,

Just when I thought I knew how best to proceed, I then started to have more questions. @zozo said "Plant roots are rather adaptive, up to a microscopic level with rhizoids, as long there are nutrients you can grow plants on glass marbles or solely in the water* without substrate". That being the case, I firstly need something that satisfies requirement number [1] above. Something like JBL Manado would meet that need and I believe it will have a high CEC but @zozo says that "CEC is more of an issue with terrestrial botany. In aquatic systems the water-column can/will provide all it needs". But, I already have JBL Manado as that is what I'm currently using. At this point, I need to take a slight detour in my reasoning so please bear with me...

Isn't it easier to control the plant nutrient supply if the nutrients are being provided from just one source - the water column? If nutrients are being supplied by both the substrate and the water column, it must be a nightmare to control this. And how can one measure nutrients being supplied by the substrate? The test kits debate aside, it is at least possible to measure nutrients in the water column. For less experienced plant-growers like me, I often haven't a clue what is causing my plants to look 'off colour'. But if I can check for magnesium, for example, and it is non-existent, then that's better than guessing. Then I can add a dose of magnesium.

I am therefore moving away from the idea of using products like Tropica AS. But, please advise me otherwise if my logical mind is leading me astray.

All comments gratefully received.

* so that makes the idea of root feeders a myth, doesn't it?

JPC
 

Tim Harrison

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Growing aquatic plants can be very straightforward and simple. There is no need to worry about controlling the nutrient supply or testing if you water column dose enough fertz to guarantee zero nutrient deficiencies. That's what eutrophic dosing methods like EI were designed for. This in turn leaves you free to pick a substrate that fits your requirements, in terms of practicalities, aesthetics, and budget; from inert sand to ADA AS and everything in between.

Personally, I usually use a nutritious substrate as well as dosing fertz. Although it's not essential plants can uptake nutrients through both leaves and roots so it just makes horticultural sense to feed both sites. It also gives you some wriggle room when it comes to missed doses and mistakes. But I have used inert sand before and the plants did just fine...

10575948724_b70ab7536d_b.jpg
 

jaypeecee

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There is no need to worry about controlling the nutrient supply or testing if you water column dose enough fertz to guarantee zero nutrient deficiencies. That's what eutrophic dosing methods like EI were designed for.

Hi @Tim Harrison

For me, the EI Method is not an option. 50% water changes on a weekly basis are unworkable. Thirty years ago, it may have been different. But, physically, I wouldn't be able to lug around umpteen kilograms of water every week. I have my health to consider. But, thanks for the suggestion.

JPC
 

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