Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs? - 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 08-12-2019, 12:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

Dirt Lovers! I obtained some useful info on STS (Safe T Sorb) during a Nano Tank aquascaping demonstration by the noted aquarist Mark Denaro (author of The 101 Best Freshwater Nano Species). Demo was sponsored by the Raleigh Aquarium Society (RAS).

Mr. Denaro used STS as the substrate (2 Photos). Attractive product, inexpensive, and used for years by Aquatic Gardeners Association. 40 lb bags sell at Tractor Supply stores for about $7. Apparently, STS works well for large High Tech tanks with artificial CO2 injection and fertilizers.

For an NPT, I would not substitute it 100% for soil; it doesn’t have any organic matter or major nutrients to get plants off to a good start in a new setup.

HOWEVER, STS might make an excellent cover/cap for a soil substrate. I’ve always used gravel or sand, but I think that STS might be better. Here’s why. Unlike gravel, it will “capture and bind” nutrients released by the soil substrate in a new setup. The release of excess nutrients into the water is often a problem with fertile soil substrates. Fresh STS would act like a nutrient sponge in a new setup. Long term, the STS along with the soil, would serve as a reservoir of nutrients for rooted plants.

STS is special. It is a montmorillonite clay heated to about 800F. This moderate heating partially solidifies the natural clay particles, changing them to a firmer, more glass-like material. Clay is converted to pottery, usually with much higher temperatures (~1800F?), while kitty litter is heated (300 F?) only to dry out the clay. Apparently, the STS breaks down a little over time but nothing like kitty litter, which eventually forms a gummy mess.

For a comparison of gravel versus STS as a soil cap, I set up two 2 gal tanks with an organic potting soil underlayer. I capped the soil in one tank with gravel as usual; the other with STS. I planted Sagittaria graminea and S. subulata in each and changed water twice in both tanks (Photo). The next day, the STS tank’s water still had some turbidity, but most was gone the next day.

On the third day (Photo), the gravel cap tank had orange/brown-tinted water, which is pretty typical. (An organic soil often releases humic acids.) What was amazing, though, is that the STS tank did not show this tinted water! My soil textbook describes the absorption of humic acids by clay particles.

On fourth day, I changed the water and both tanks looked decent (Photo)

Also, the pH was neutral in the STS tank and high (~8.2) in the gravel tank. This reflects the STS absorption of bicarbonates, which could bring down the KH. (STS is known to sometimes reduce the KH.)

I measured and found no ammonia in either tank. (I may have to repeat experiment using a more fertilized soil.)

I think the STS cap would counteract the occasional, temporary release of excess nutrients and humic acids from some soils. Plus it looks nice and is inexpensive!
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Old 08-12-2019, 01:44 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

I love this stuff and use it as a cap in almost all my tanks. Also, if the soil substrate is highly organic (as is the case with most commercial potting mixes) I mix STS half and half with the potting mix for all the reasons that make it a good cap.
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Old 08-12-2019, 01:58 PM   #3 (permalink)
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With your experience and valued opinion, I'm now really fired up.

Thanks, Michael!
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Old 08-15-2019, 03:16 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

Racoons got into the tanks two days ago and ended my experiment. Alas, I took photo today of the aftermath and after removing some plants. It shows the greater tea-color from humus in the tank with gravel (tank on right). Note how the tank on the left with STS has much less humus color.

Clay is negatively charged and so is humus. They should repel each other. How then does clay bind humus? The answer is “cation bridges.” My soil textbook* shows the binding of humus to clay via cation bridges. That is, clay binds cations shown in the figure as metals (Al+++, Fe+++, Ca++, Mg++, etc); humus in turn binds to the cations. Sometimes, this binding includes water, as shown in Fig 18.6b. The textbook makes a point that Na+, with only one positive charge, will NOT serve as cation bridge.

* Wild, Alan. 1988. Russell's Soil Conditions and Plant Growth (11th Edition). John Wiley & Sons (NY), 991 pp. Figure is from p. 582.
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Old 08-15-2019, 08:37 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

This is really an amazing new proven informations. I recently set up a walstad bowl, even with just kitty litter mixed with my potting soil, I can right away see the advantage of having clay. Not too much of those tannin colors. And I think I’m getting very less algae this way compared to my previous set up without clay.
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Old 08-16-2019, 06:50 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

I hate raccoons!
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Old 08-16-2019, 01:33 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rodgie View Post
This is really an amazing new proven informations. I recently set up a walstad bowl, even with just kitty litter mixed with my potting soil, I can right away see the advantage of having clay. Not too much of those tannin colors. And I think I’m getting very less algae this way compared to my previous set up without clay.
Very interesting and thank you for writing. I honestly had not realized the value of clay, in whatever its forms. I may add a small revision in next printing (#12) of my book about this! Granted, I've been a little slow to pick up on this. It was only the STS results--very stunning-- that sent me back to my soil textbook.

BTW, the STS used for the August RAS (Raleigh Aquarium Society) demo was provided by Neil Frank, previous editor of 'The Aquatic Gardener'. Neil is now using STS in his tanks. It was his idea for Mark Denaro to use the STS for his aquascaping demo.
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Old 08-16-2019, 05:29 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

Thank you Ms. Diana. I wouldn’t be confident to set up my bowl without Sir Michaels help. Clay mixed with the soil is so far showing me really better results. Though knowing that the cat litter will turn into a mud. I put the clay first as first layer (tiny amount) then soil on top, and lastly the 2-3mm natural gravels. I’m sure cat litter mud would suffocate the soil over time if i put it above the soil.

By any chance you’re gonna come up with a new revised book about ecology of planted aquarium Ms. Diana?
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Old 08-17-2019, 04:03 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rodgie View Post
Thank you Ms. Diana. I wouldn’t be confident to set up my bowl without Sir Michaels help. Clay mixed with the soil is so far showing me really better results. Though knowing that the cat litter will turn into a mud. I put the clay first as first layer (tiny amount) then soil on top, and lastly the 2-3mm natural gravels. I’m sure cat litter mud would suffocate the soil over time if i put it above the soil.

By any chance you’re gonna come up with a new revised book about ecology of planted aquarium Ms. Diana?
You seem pretty savy on this kitty litter business, such as not putting it on top of soil. I plan to try a few experiments with kitty litter and STS. It seems I was too fast to condemn clay in general based on dismal results with a commercial clay product (Dupla's laterite).

I don't plan to prepare a revised edition of Ecology of the Planted Aquarium until or unless it needs to be revised. I don't see that much has changed. A new edition would be mostly cosmetic and to slap on a newer publication date so that book doesn't look "dated."

For the clay-humus binding business, what I'll probably do--as I've done in the past--, is add "replacement pages" with the next printing. I will make sure that the eBook gets updated as well.
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Old 08-19-2019, 05:58 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Safe T Sorb Clay for NPTs?

I was getting ready to tear down the two experimental tanks when I realized that it would be easier just to reset the tanks up and "soldier on." I will continue to follow tanks for next precious weeks of summer to see if there is any effect of STS on plant growth.

More importantly, I realized that I was falling into the beginner trap of expecting only perfection with no setup problems.

Thus, I removed most of water yesterday, replanted with S. graminea, S. subulata, and a sprig of H. difformis (submersed form). Yes, the soil was disturbed and lying on surface, but so what? (If the tank ends up like Mysiak's, it won't matter.) I added small stones to hold plants down and a 1/4 cup more of soil covering. Then, I changed water twice.

Photo shows tanks after their new makeover. Tanks will now get enhanced night-time security!
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