What is the best substrate when on a budget?

Discussion in 'Substrates' started by Animal Mother, 26 Oct 2009.

  1. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    I need some suitable substrate for my 4' Osaka 320. I want a planted biotope tank so I need a decent substrate but can't afford AS or anything else in that price range.

    Are there any other options which are more affordable and will still be good for a planted setup?

    The tank will have CO2 and fertiliser.

    The tank is 120x45 so I will need 54l for 10cm of substrate and 27l for 5cm of substrate.

    Are any of these suitable? Are there any other options?

    http://www.aquatics-online.co.uk/catalogue/freshwater-planted-substrate.asp
     
  2. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Member

    Messages:
    1,389
    Location:
    N. Wales
    Play sand from Argos, Tesco etc.

    dave.
     
  3. Jack middleton

    Jack middleton Member

    Messages:
    172
    I also suggest you put a thin layer of clay cat litter under the play sand, I'm having great success with this in a high tech tank, I also mixed the substrate in with KNO3 and KH2PO4 to give it a bit of an edge.
     
  4. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    Surely that isn't a suitable planted tank substrate?

    I was thinking more along the lines of a cheaper AS equivalent.
     
  5. Dave Spencer

    Dave Spencer Member

    Messages:
    1,389
    Location:
    N. Wales
    Feel free to find a cheaper one. ;)

    Why do you not think it is suitable?

    Dave.
     
  6. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    I'm sure it's very cheap.

    I thought that for a successful planted aquarium you require a substrate with some sort of nutrients for plants.
     
  7. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,953
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Neo, The Matrix has you. :shifty:

    If a product even comes close to AS then it won't be cheap. The deeper question here is; Are you interested in growing great plants or are you more concerned simulating some environments substrate? Amazing plants can be grown with nothing more than sand. If you concentrate more on dosing the water column and paying close attention to CO2 as well as flow and distribution the substrate choice becomes moot.

    Cheers,
     
  8. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    Please bear with me as I am new to this, hence why I'm asking. ;)

    I'd like something a bit better than sand, so somewhere between sand and AS in effectiveness and price will suit me.

    Are any of these suitable?
    http://www.aquatics-online.co.uk/catalogue/freshwater-planted-substrate.asp
     
  9. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,953
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    Yes all the items listed are suitable, but so is sand. None of those items, however comes even close to Aquasoil. I guess it depends on your budget. If you are new to planted tanks then you need to go to the tutorial section and start with the article entitled EI DOSING USING DRY SALTS

    The fact of the matter is that we are dealing with aquatic plants which are capable of feeding directly via the leaves. While it's always a good idea to have a nutritious substrate, it's not strictly required specifically because of the special ability of direct feeding via the foliage. This is the major difference between rooted terrestrial plants and aquatic species. Since foliar uptake of nutrients is much more efficient than root uptake, adding nutrients to the water column greatly enhances growth performance, obviating the dependence on root uptake.

    You haven't fully described your tank so it's not clear whether it is a CO2 enriched unit or whether you will use the non-CO2 approach. If you do add CO2 then you need to be aware that CO2 uptake accelerates the demand for nutrients so water column dosing becomes even more important.

    Plants will feed from the roots if available, but the problem is that few of the products shown on that weblink have sufficient levels of the most important nutrients - Nitrogen, (N) Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K).

    This is why the other inmates have suggested sand to you in those previous post, as outrageous as it sounds, because it's super cheap and because you can dose the water column and never miss "suitable" substrate. There are plenty of products out there trying to take your money. If you can achieve you goals without going to the poor house then it's wise to take that route.

    If you study the link to the dosing article you'll see image showing what can be accomplished by water column dosing. All the plants in that tank except for the foreground plants were rooted in basically inert gravel.

    Hope this clarifies. :wave:

    Cheers,
     
  10. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    Thanks. :thumbup:

    I did, look at my first post.

    I'll be feed nutrients (TPN+) to supplement this. :thumbup:

    My current tank is a basic planted affair just into gravel but with CO2. Some plants do well, others not too well. I wanted to move away from basic substrates because (I thought) that the range of plants you can have and their success is based partially on the substrate.
     
  11. George Farmer

    George Farmer Founder Staff Member

    Messages:
    7,091
    Location:
    Cambridgeshire
    A nutrient-rich substrate does give you more 'room for error' with regards dosing nutrients into the water column.

    So you can grow great plants in plain sand, but you'll need to dose regularly. TPN+ is a good all-in-one liquid fertiliser. EI can be very effective too, and if you're dosing dry chemicals it is the least expensive.

    I can also recommend the Tropica AquaCare Plant Substrate. 1 x 5 litre bag topped with regular 1-3mm gravel is ideal for your size tank and won't cost much at all. The substrate does not contain much, if any nutrients, but it does have a high CEC that means it takes in nutrients from the water and makes them available to the plant roots. This, in my experience, is better than plain sand alone.

    You can take your pick from any other substrates on the market. They all perform well, especially if your tank has enough light, good CO2, good circulation, good water column nutrients and good maintenance practice. These factors in combination are a lot more important than the substrate choice alone.
     
  12. a1Matt

    a1Matt Member

    Messages:
    2,498
    Location:
    Bromley
    IMHO...

    cheapest inert substrate - play sand.
    cheapest substrate with the ability to hold nutrients - Akadama.

    I grew plants sucessfully in plain gravel for a few years and then recently switched to Akadama. I am very pleased with it. See the akadama sticky in this section for more info.
     
  13. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    Cheers for the informed reply George, it is very helpful.

    Please bear with me.

    What is EI?

    What is CEC?

    The cheapest I've found Tropica AquaCare Plant Substrate in 5kg is around £20 (inc. p&P), how would this compare to using something like Eco Complete at £20 for 9kg?
    Is one better than the other and why?

    Thanks. :thumbup:
     
  14. JamesM

    JamesM Member

    Messages:
    1,913
    Location:
    The BIG End, South Wales
    A large bag of pea shingle from Wickes is only a couple of quid, and its all you need tbh. Clive's advice is golden, you won't go wrong taking it :thumbup:
     
  15. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    I've pea shingle in my exisiting tank, it's a good substrate but not suitable for the look I want to achieve this time, thanks anyway.

    Who is Clive?
     
  16. Jack middleton

    Jack middleton Member

    Messages:
    172
    ceg, otherwise known as clive.

    Clay Cat litter is similar to the tropica substrate, High CEC (cation exchange capactiy) the ability to take on nutrients and release them slowly over time.

    EI is estimative index.
     
  17. ceg4048

    ceg4048 Expert/Global Moderator Staff Member

    Messages:
    8,953
    Location:
    Chicago, USA
    If you will be using TPN+ then you will be addressing the water column issues. You just have to ensure that you use enough of it. You may need to experiment with the dosages.

    It's an extraordinarily bad idea to blame poor growth performance or to blame poor range on the substrate alone. You need to take a broader view such that poor growth performance should be blamed on poor nutrient uptake, poor CO2 uptake and/or poor flow which exacerbates the first two. There is absolutely nothing in the substrate that cannot be provided via water column dosing. So in the case of your poor performance you can only blame sand if you were not dosing the water column sufficiently. If you had some plants that did well in the same tank with others that did not do well then you should assume that the plants that did not do well were less efficient feeders or were weaker specimens. Again this is overcome by adding more of everything. Not all plants are created equal. Plants such as Watersprite or Hygros are strong and robust feeders and therefore require less nutrients/CO2 compared to Nassea or Blyxa species for example. So if these species are sitting in a tank side by side you need to tailor your dosing/CO2/flow to the requirements of the weaker species, otherwise the stronger ones thrive while the weaker perish. The sediment will only be partially to blame. Your technique bears the brunt of the blame.

    EI is a water column dosing tailored to high light CO2 injected tanks. The technique is described in the link I gave you in an earlier post.

    CEC describes the ability of a substrate to sequester nutrients from the water column and to later pass them on to the plant roots. A high CEC is desirable. Clay has one of the highest CEC values, so anythinng made of clay is good generally. See a short description of CEC in the thread
    eco complete and sand?

    If I'm not mistaken the Tropica product requires that you cap it with gravel, otherwise it disintegrates and clouds the water. Other than that they may be about the same. The CEC values are not published, so it's difficult to compare. This is yet another form of marketing coyness which adds to the confusion. Have a look at JamesC's 200 litre Akadama journal where he uses a relatively cheap clay product "Akadama" (having high CEC) to get great results.

    In summary, very few substrate products are high in NPK thereby rendering them all about the same because they all are more or less clay based and some add organic material, but none stand head and shoulders above the rest and yes, they are a little better than sand which has a lower CEC. If we could compare CEC directly it would be an easier choice.

    You can read more about substrates in the following threads:
    Substrate nutrients and EI dosing
    Substrata , Is it worth paying for ?
    JBL 'Manado' All-in-one substrate?

    Cheers,
     
  18. andy

    andy Member

    Messages:
    261
    Location:
    Lewes, East Sussex
    I have a 1" layer of john innes no 1 potting compost and a 2" layer of playpit sand in my high tech tank. Plants seem to love it and look superb.
     
  19. Animal Mother

    Animal Mother Member

    Messages:
    54
    Thanks all for your advice, there's loads for me to think about now. :crazy:

    I'd rather use a clay based substrate as it'll give me more margin for error as you say, I would consider topping with a more innert substrate though for cosmetic reasons, although I'd rather not have a substrate that'll cloud up when disturbed.

    My current tank is just pea gravel and I don't dose anything except for CO2 :oops: , so any nutrients are from fish waste only. My Cryptocoryne undulata and Echinodorus tenellus seem to thrive in those conditions though. :thumbup:

    So, it looks like I've got loads of reading to do. I'll have to base my decision also on what a Rainbowfish Biotope would look like.

    Thanks again. ;)
     
  20. Egmel

    Egmel Member

    Messages:
    724
    Location:
    Guildford, Surrey, UK
    Right, going to shove my 2p in here as I've been doing this on the cheap since I started and I've made some interesting mistakes along the way :eek:)

    Ignore TPN+ it's really expensive for what it is and James has helpfully calculated the recipe for how to make it. Have a look at it hereand then have a look in the ferts section to find out where to buy the ingredients.

    Mixing Substrates - I used pond soil topped with play sand when I started out, it was good, I wasn't dosing the water column at the time so it helped the few plants I had in there. However it mixed together fairly quickly as things got moved or re-placed (or with the excavations of snails) plus the soil has a limited amount of nutrients in it so doesn't last forever.

    I also tried some clay balls like the type you use under orchids to keep the air moist, they looked ideal but floated... so if you're going to try something a bit off the wall then check it meets the basic criteria first - will sink, no perfumes, won't crumple to pieces the moment you put it in water.

    Play Sand - This is what I've been using to good effect for the last couple of years, it's fine with a dosed water column and I've a tank with lots of thriving crypts (plants which are more traditionally thought to be 'root feeders' but which we now know get on fine with nutrients coming through the water column).

    I have just ordered akadama - mainly on an aesthetic level, I like the idea of a darker substrate with larger particles and if it happens to give a boost by having a high CEC then all the better. :)

    So generally, if you're trying to keep it cheap then decide what look you want and buy the cheapest option that fits, then dose the water column to suit your CO2 and Lighting conditions. If you feel you need more nutrients at the plants roots then you can always add root tabs, I've bought some but have yet to need them as I find I need to prune often enough as it is :lol:
     

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