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Old 12-15-2015, 06:10 PM   #531 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

Great article! I've been looking into this, and this post will definitely influence how I go about it.
2 Questions:
Would either of these work? They both say they are fertilized. There's not much to choose from in winter here, but I can wait until spring if needed.
Scotts 1.5-cu ft Lawn Soil (Item #: 319905 at Lowe's)
Miracle-Gro 2-cu ft Flower and Vegetable Garden Soil (Item #: 156800)
Is there one that would be better than the other?

What would be the benefit of this method over a straight Walstad setup?

Thank you!!
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Old 01-16-2016, 07:26 PM   #532 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

Hi AaronT
as a new planted aquariast,
would adding the red potting clay to my already established 10 gal tank help my plants?
my substrates are basic commercial types from the pet store.
I have been dosing with API Leaf Zone, and some of my plants are getting yellow after 6 mos.
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Old 01-16-2016, 07:28 PM   #533 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

also, I have avoided using Seachem products for plants as the dosing directions are for larger systems.
if I were to use that product, how much should I dose for such a small tank?
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Old 01-23-2016, 11:42 AM   #534 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

Read the ingredients in the products. The more organic materials (bark, sawdust, manure, peat and so on) the worse- You will be sifting and floating off as much as possible of these organics to get down to the actual soil- the sand, silt and clay content. Which can be close to none in some of these prepared blends.
Here is a test question: If you went out into a field, scraped away the layer of weeds and roots and so on, how much sawdust, manure and peat would you find in the soil underneath? That material from the field is more likely to be correct compared to a prepared potting soil blend. Now, some companies are actually packaging the real sand-silt-clay portion of soil, and not adding any compost or similar. This is the sort of thing you want to start with. Look for a bag with a hole in it. If the material looks fluffy, organic, peat, sawdust or like it has sticks in it, or if it smells like ammonia or manure these are the wrong things.

ddi: I would not simply add clay to an established, running tank. The point of adding the clay to the soil then capping it is that the clay is a beneficial thing when blended with the rest of the soil particles. Then the mineralized soil you have made is capped (covered) so the particles do not come out into the water.
What kind of substrate is in your 10 gallon tank? If it is a soil-like material, you might be able to use it, but to add the clay means redoing the whole tank. Take everything out, blend the substrate with the clay, and rebuild, including a cap over the substrate.
The Seachem product line is OK, if you don't mind paying for the shipping of water. Why not buy the active ingredients and add the water yourself? You can buy the dry fertilizers and dose whichever your tank needs.
However, there are 2 ways of using the Seachem product line for small tanks.
a) Get a very small eyedropper to measure the right dose.
b) Put a small amount of each Seachem product in a separate container, and dilute it with distilled water. Then dose according to how you have diluted it. Do not make up too much like this at a time (perhaps a week or two worth at a time.) Example:
Seachem Flourish Iron is dosed at 5ml/50gallons.
If you have a 10 gallon tank you only want 1ml. There are eyedroppers and children's medicine droppers (ask at a pharmacy) and syringes (no needle) that measure in this range.
If you want to dilute the Seachem product, here is an example: shake well, then measure 5ml fertilizer + 5ml distilled or reverse osmosis water.
Then dose the tank with 2ml per 10 gallons. If you do the initial mixing accurately, then this will give you a more accurate dosing.
However! The average 10 gallon tank does not hold 10 gallons even if all the substrate, decor, plants and fish are gone. If you are going to go to the effort of diluting the ferts to be more accurate, then you also need to be much more accurate as to EXACTLY how much water is REALLY in the tank.

Not worth it! Just get any of the eye dropper/syringe things and use that on the product as it comes out of the bottle. Reduce the dosing by 10 or 20% to account for the reduced volume of water in the tank. Dose a 10 gallon tank to suit 8 gallons of water. (.8ml, in this example)
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Old 06-27-2016, 09:04 AM   #535 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

180 gallon, CO2, 3watts/gallon-Can I use osmocote plus 00 tablets in substrate with mineralized sub soil. If so how many tablets/square foot or linear (inches)? With Monte Carlo as ground cover, would inert substrate be ok, or would Amano soil be preferred as a cap. Thinking roots of Monte Carlo would not be able to get down with 1 1/2" average cap depth. All answers appreciated.
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Old 09-13-2017, 07:24 AM   #536 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by AaronT View Post
How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate

Over the years dedicated aquatic plant hobbyists have developed many different methods to maintain vibrant freshwater flora. After having tried almost all of the popular fertilization techniques, I have finally found one that produces consistently healthy aquatic plants. That fertilization method imparts essential nutrients by using mineralized topsoil as a substrate.

When I joined the Greater Washington Aquatic Plant Association about four years ago, I attended my first official meeting at the home of Sean Murphy. Sean is a Fisheries Biologist by trade and has been employing mineralized soil in his planted aquariums for nearly two decades now. He developed a “recipe” for the soil substrate during his collegiate studies of wetlands soils. It is his recipe that I have recently begun using with great success.

Using topsoil or potting soil as a substrate is not a new idea. Aquarists have been using this method to grow healthy aquatic plants for decades. However, this method does seem to pose some problems, namely algae outbreaks resulting from light intensity that is too strong. This is especially true when you first set up your aquarium with this type of substrate. The algae likely results from the excess nutrients that decomposing organic materials release in the soil. The decomposing organic materials are not bio-available to the aquatic plants. As the tank matures, the algae dissipate slowly as the organics in the soil finish breaking down.

Mineralizing the soil beforehand helps to speed the breakdown of organic materials in the soil. In turn the mineralized soil will help shorten the initial algae outbreak period that many aquarists experience when using a soil substrate. Soil mineralization occurs from exposing bacteria, enzymes and other soil microbes to oxygen in a moist environment. The microbes break down the organic materials in the soil into bio-available minerals. As an added bonus these new bio-available forms of nutrients are generally only available to plants and not to algae.

There are a few other components to the mineralized soil recipe. Clay provides a source of iron. The clay also serves to bind with the soil as a flocculating agent. When plants are uprooted or disturbed, the added clay will help the soil to settle back to the bottom of the tank. Adding Dolomite to the base of the substrate will provide plants with the necessary calcium and magnesium they need for healthy growth. The calcium and magnesium in the dolomite will also help to keep the soil from becoming too acidic. Lastly, add soluble potash for an initial potassium source.

It is still possible to use pressurized CO2 and high lighting with this method of fertilization. I have setup four tanks using this method and all of them have been high-tech setups using CO2 and high lighting. I rarely ever have to dose any supplements save for the occasional dose of potassium. Use caution when dosing and dose very little amounts at a time.

I’ve composed a list of materials and step-by-step instructions for those readers who would like to try the mineralized soil substrate method.

Materials Needed

Cheap topsoil
Pottery clay
Muriate of potash
Fine gravel or coarse sand
• Large container for soaking soil
• Screen made from scrap wood and chicken wire
• Nylon screening material
• Large plastic tarp

Step 1 – Purchase and Rinse the Topsoil

Open the bag of topsoil and distribute in the container of your choice for soaking purposes. I use large Rubbermaid containers that are readily available from any mega-mart. You will want to use cheap topsoil and not potting soil. Potting soil has additives to avoid such as fertilizers, vermiculite and peat moss.
Fill the tub with water so the water level is a few inches above the top of the soil. I like to stir it around a bit to help break up any big clumps and evenly distribute the water. Let this soak for a day or two. Come back and slowly dump the water off of the top. Now add in more water so the soil is well covered. This water changing process helps to “rinse” the soil of any possible fertilizers or other harmful water soluble chemicals.

Step 2 – Allow the Topsoil to Dry

Pour the excess water out of the container as you did when changing the water. Lay out the large plastic tarp, preferably in direct sunlight. Dump out the muddy soil and spread it relatively thin over the tarp. Allow the soil to dry completely. This can take a day or two and depends greatly on how warm the temperature is where you are drying the soil. This part of the process could be done indoors. Though due to its messy nature, I suggest doing it outdoors if possible. When the soil is completely dry, add it back into the soaking container.
The drying process is the part that allows the microbes in the soil to begin mineralizing the nutrients. Exposing it to air oxygenates the soil.

Step 3 – Repeat the Rinsing and Drying Cycles

Repeat steps 1 and 2 three to four times. Repeating the steps is necessary to further mineralize the soil and remove any lingering fertilizers. The soil mineralizes the most during the time while it is still moist and exposed to air on the large tarp. By soaking it over again we reintroduce the needed moisture for this process to take place. When the soil is near fully mineralized it will have a very grainy texture. Another way to tell that the soil is ready is by smell. There will be virtually no smell coming from the soil once it is mineralized.

Mineralized Topsoil

Step 4 (optional) – Sift the Soil to Remove Debris

Screening the soil can help to remove any large organic materials that the short mineralization process employed thus far cannot remove. I have setup tanks where I skipped Step 4 and others where I used it. I have found that adding this step to the process helps to further eliminate algae issues after a tank is newly setup.
You can use a wooden frame with chicken wire stapled to four sides. Then place nylon screening material overtop. Place a few handfuls of soil on top and gently push the soil across the surface of the screen. Make sure to put a container underneath to catch the sifted soil. Below is a picture of the sticks, leaves and stones that can be removed during this step. The resulting sifted soil will feel like airy sand.

Screening Setup

Step 5 – Add the Clay

Now that you have a mineralized soil to use as the substrate, you will want to add in the aforementioned clay. Estimate how much clay you will need so that the resulting mixture of soil and clay is about 5% to 10% clay. If you prefer measurements I use about of a pound of clay per square foot of tank bottom.
To add the clay you soak it in a container of water to help emulsify it and make it easier to incorporate into the soil. A second option to add clay is to dry the clay in the open air and then crush it into a powder and add it to the soil. In either case you will want to eventually add enough water to the mixture to form a nice runny mud.

Mineralized Soil Mud with Clay Added

Step 6 (optional) – Create an Aesthetic Border

Now comes the fun part of setting up the aquarium. Add the gravel of your choice just along the front and side edges of the aquarium bottom. Wet it just enough that it holds a slope and press it up against the sides. Doing this step ensures that we will not see the different layers of substrate when viewing the tank from the front and sides. In this instance I have chosen to use 3M Colorquartz T-Grade Black Sand as a substrate top layer. I prefer this coarse sand for many reasons. It is very dense and holds a slope for a long period of time. The finer granules also allow for easy planting.

Sand Border

Step 7 – Add the Dolomite and Muriate of Potash

Sprinkle a light dusting of both the dolomite and muriate of potash on the bottom glass of the tank. The bottom of the glass should still be somewhat visible.

Sprinkling of Dolomite and Potash

Step 8 – Add the Mineralized Mud

Fill in the borders you’ve created with the runny mud mixture of mineralized soil and clay. This layer should be anywhere from ” to 1” deep.

Mineralized Mud Added

Step 9 – Top With Gravel

Cover the mud with more of the same border gravel from step 6. If you skipped step 6 then simply cover over the mud with the gravel of your choice. Cover the mud by about 1” in the front to 2” in the back of the tank to create a nice sloping substrate effect.

Gravel Top Layer Added

Step 10 - Slowly Fill the Aquarium and Begin Planting

Begin planting and filling the aquarium as you would any other planted aquarium. Use caution when filling the tank with water. Go slowly to avoid disturbing the substrate and uncovering the soil.

The End Product

I hope this has inspired you to try something new. I know I had wanted to try mineralized soil for some time after seeing Sean’s beautiful aquariums. I finally got up the courage to set up a small 20 gallon tank last year and now I’m hooked. With a little patience and trial and error, I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

My ADA 90-P aquarium with a mineralized soil substrate

My AGA 75 gallon aquarium with a mineralized soil substrate
I'm living in the land of The Hardest Water You'll Never Want. Is Dolomite a step I can skip? Seriously though living in Phoenix Arizona and when tested only 7 other cities in the U.S. bested us. Ph is 8.2 out of the tap. We replace our kitchen faucet yearly. Not kidding!
Thanks for the article. It's been many moons since it was posted so if anyone else is keeping an eye on it I'd sure appreciate an answer. <3
Yesterday I was reading your name as Dulchmulch lol
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Old 09-13-2017, 07:56 AM   #537 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

With hard, high pH tap water you definitely don't need dolomite. Another thread that you may find helpful is "Suitable soils for the Walstad method" in El Natural forum.
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Old 09-13-2017, 08:03 AM   #538 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Michael View Post
With hard, high pH tap water you definitely don't need dolomite. Another thread that you may find helpful is "Suitable soils for the Walstad method" in El Natural forum.
thank you. That's good news because I couldn't find it and it's lovely to find our ridiculously hard water is good at least for something! I think I may have already read that post. Title sounds familiar but I'll check it out again. Thanks so much for the reply. I honestly didn't think I'd get one given the age of the post
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Old 09-13-2017, 08:41 AM   #539 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

What Michael said
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Old 09-13-2017, 10:18 AM   #540 (permalink)
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Default Re: How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot

Thank you!
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