The mind boggles.... - El Natural - Aquatic Plant Central

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El Natural Diana Walstad's low-maintenance, soil-based 'El Natural' method for keeping plants and fish.

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Old 09-24-2006, 06:30 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default The mind boggles....

I don't have a problem, but I do have a question that has left me befuddled. A few months ago I set up a 55 gal El Natural tank. I got some of that really bad soil that take forever to settle down and still release lots of gasses. Anyway, here's a link to my original thread on that tank. http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/f...-new-tank.html
I was getting ready to set up a new 29 gal tank about a week ago and this time did some bottle testing. I turns out that ALL the soil available in my area is just as EVIL. So, I just used the old bag that had been laying open in my living room for the last 3 months. The tank has been set up for 5 days and I tested the water just on a whim. I expected to find really high ammonia and/or nitrite b/c that is what happened with the other tank. But NO I find all readings are 0. The plants are growing and there's a little brown algae starting even. Why would 2 tanks set up with the same soil, water, water conditioner, and even fed the same fish food react so differently do you think? The only thing that I can think of is that with the first tank I did a very poor job and the tank was very cloudy. With this 29gal tank the water was almost crystal clear right from the start (hey I learned from my mistakes). But I don't know if that is much of an answer. I would love to hear any theories you might have. Did sitting in my living room change the soil? I think not, but it's gotta be someting right?
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Old 09-24-2006, 10:40 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The reason is simply that ammonia and nitrite is aired out of the soil. I read a study from the swedish farming university where they turned the soil in a concrete mixer for five minutes to reduce the ammonia in planting soil.
If you don't have access to a concrete mixer I would suggest spreading the soil in a thin layer on a large plastic sheet to evaporate the ammonia.
Leave it overnight and you should have an easier start in the aquarium.
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Old 09-25-2006, 06:45 AM   #3 (permalink)
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So it was just letting it air out in my living room. I would never have guessed that. Cool study!!!
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Old 09-25-2006, 10:51 AM   #4 (permalink)
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I have to admit I only stumbled on the paper googling for somehing else
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Old 09-25-2006, 12:15 PM   #5 (permalink)
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[QUOTE] I was getting ready to set up a new 29 gal tank about a week ago and this time did some bottle testing. I just used the old bag that had been laying open in my living room for the last 3 months. The tank has been set up for 5 days and I tested the water just on a whim. I expected to find really high ammonia and/or nitrite b/c that is what happened with the other tank. But NO I find all readings are 0. The plants are growing and there's a little brown algae starting even. Why would 2 tanks set up with the same soil, water, water conditioner, and even fed the same fish food react so differently do you think? The only thing that I can think of is that with the first tank I did a very poor job and the tank was very cloudy. With this 29gal tank the water was almost crystal clear right from the start[QUOTE]

Ammonia is a gas that readily escapes into the air. Maybe hobbyists should let their bags of soil air out a few days before using the soil.

Also, if the soil (left in the bag) was moist and unsterilized, soil bacteria would almost surely be degrading ammonia, nitrate, etc-- just as they do on agricultural soils. Your letter brings up a point that I had never thought of. A bag of soil that's been freshly prepared by the manufacturer may have more fertilizers than the same bag that's been sitting on a store shelf for 6 months. This may cause variation in results with the "same" soil brand.

Finally, water cloudiness from soil turbidity can create lots of problems. Soil dust on the leaf surface will automatically result in a coating of bacteria and algae on leaf surfaces, thereby blocking light uptake, gas exchange, nutrient uptake, etc. Its not a good way to start a new tank.

I think we've all learned something from your "mistake". Thanks for the info!

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Old 09-26-2006, 08:17 AM   #6 (permalink)
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To be honest I still have problems with excess gasses in my 55 gal tank adn yellow water. Considering that the only soil I can get in my area is high in ammonia I will certainly be "airing" it in the future. I thought I was doomed to difficult El Natural settups but was still commited to them. This tidbit of info should be posted somewhere in BOLD so everyone knows and can benefit.
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Old 09-26-2006, 10:17 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Perhaps Data Guru will eventually incorporate this little tidbit in her website's soil preparation guide.

As to the 55 gal giving off gases and yellow water-- that's not necessarily a bad thing. Are the plants growing?
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Old 09-26-2006, 04:24 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Great info!
I linked it from the sticky here and added it to my article.
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Old 09-26-2006, 05:54 PM   #9 (permalink)
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interesting bit of info.

I only wish the missus would let me keep a pile of dirt in the living room for three months!
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Old 09-26-2006, 07:49 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Unfortunately, this wouldn't work at my house. My cats pee in any available pile of dirt/gravel/sand. I had old flourite sitting in a cat litter bucket, and my biggest fattest cat managed to squeeze himself in there to urinate!

Could you get the same affect by spreading soil onto baking sheets and baking them in the oven at low temps overnight?
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