Substrate gravel Question - 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 03-24-2020, 09:14 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Substrate gravel Question

I've just recently finished the book "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium." It was very informative but I feel like I was a little too eager to start and rushed through Chapter 11 the Practical Aquarium set up. I must have over looked the finer details of the gravel section and chose the bagged pea gravel pebbles from Home Depot which is bigger than the 2-4mm that Ms. Walstad recommend. I only came across this error when I developed some water algae issues and reread some chapters (I've bought a Green Killing Machine UV sterilizer and added activated carbon to the quick filter.) I feel like I have followed everything else that was suggested pretty closely. I've used organic potting mix and layered the bottom ~ 1"-1 1/2" deep and I've planted heavily with a lot of variety. My water is soft and alkaline but I've added a large agatized coral with calcium deposits on it. I have an LED light with red and green diodes on order for the plants (Beamworks EA full spectrum) and the tank has been running for approximately 1 week. Iím also using the Aquaclear 50 power head with the quick filter like the book has suggested. I have some Cherry Barbs, a betta, and Corydoras in it already and they are doing well so I've ordered five Philippine Blue Angelfish online and they will be here Wednesday. What is your opinion about my gravel error? It was layered approximately 1.5Ē on top of my organic substrate but Iíve removed some to make it more like an inch. Should I tear down the tank and start over with smaller gravel or should I just add some 2-4mm gravel to pack the holes? Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

Secondary question, my newly planted Vallisneria, Dwarf sagittaria, mini alternanthera and lobelia are starting to get paper thin leaves that are becoming see-through do you think itís because of the water clarity issues? I feel like I will lose them to die off soon.

List of plants:

Alternanthera Bettzickiana Red, Anacharis, Bacopa Carolinana, Cardamine Lyrata, Cryptacorn Wenditii, Dwarf Ssagittaria sublata, Creeping jenny, Lobelia Cardinalis, Needle leaf Ludwigia, Ludwigia Ovalis, Vallisneria Asiatica, java fern.

Example of the gravel: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Vigoro-0...E&gclsrc=aw.ds

Soil:
Harvest Organic Raised Potting Mix; total nitrogen 0.10%, Available Phosphate 0.05%, Soluable Potash 0.05%, Slow released Nitrogen from Poultry litter 0.07%
Ingredients: Aged forest products, Sphagnum peat moss, Ground Dolomite fieldstone
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Old 03-24-2020, 11:50 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

The pictures help a great deal.

It bothers me that S. subulata is getting paper thin leaves. It could be that there's no calcium in water. It may take awhile for the soil and coral you've added to release Ca into the water. And/or it could be that soil is going severely anaerobic. Probably that 1.5" of soil is pouring lots of nutrients and DOC into water and root area. You need to address this.

Water changes will help. I would remove 75% of the water and then only fill the tank half-way with water. This will make it a 50% water change in all. You've got a lot of empty space above those plants that's just going to fill with green-water algae. You may need to do a couple more water changes in the new week or two. Reducing water level will make it easier. The shallower water should give plants better access to the overhead lights. Once the plants reach the surface, you can fill the tank to the brim.

Right before you do any water changes, poke the soil layer gently with a sharp object (opened paper clip or long, thin nail). This will introduce oxygen into the soil layer AND release some of the soil's DOC. That could be what is hurting the S. subulata, etc.

If that rock is resting on the soil/gravel, it is suffocating the soil layer inducing fermentation, to release of all kinds of organic acids. I would remove the rock temporarily. (Rocks should rest on the bottom glass of tank, never to cover the soil layer.)

I couldn't tell from your picture whether the stem plants were all bunched together. Make sure that stem plants are spread out a little so each stem has its own access to light and nutrients.

The more of the gravel you can remove, the better. Use a spoon to "surgically" remove it. The roots of those small plants will have trouble winding their way through a deep layer of gravel. The gravel is only to hold the soil layer and plants down. Now, that your soil has been submerged a week, it probably will not float to surface when you mess around with substrate.

I don't think you need to tear down the tank. You've done a beautiful job of planting. We all have to work out problems in an initial setup. The tank is only a week old. It's good you asked for help in a timely manner.
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Old 03-24-2020, 05:39 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

I really appreciate the advise Ms. Walstad. I have spent the better part of 4 hours following it to the best of my ability. I did the 75% water change, removed a bunch of gravel, lowered the big rock onto the glass bottom, Removed the plant bunches and planted the individual stems, then filled the tank back up to about 75% capacity. I had to keep the quick filter submerged slightly above the bottom so that the power head can flow which placed the outlet above the 50% mark. I took step by step picture to show my progress; I'll post them tomorrow.
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Last edited by Chris829; Yesterday at 03:56 AM.. Reason: Added pictures
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Old Yesterday, 04:12 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

Here are pictures of the new plant distribution. I separated the bunches and planted individual stems.
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Old Yesterday, 04:34 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

MUCH better! Thinning of the gravel layer and better spacing of plants will be a big help.

Notice the tea-colored water. That organic soil is now in midst of rampant decomposition. I would be prepared to do more soil poking and water changes. Once the plants start growing and water clears, you can relax.

Is this a 75 gal tank?
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Old Yesterday, 06:56 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

I defiantly will do the water changes and soil manipulation as you have suggested. Thanks again for sharing your expertise.

Yes it is a 75 gallon tank.

After spreading out the plants I think most of them will make it. The Needle Leaf Ludwigia looks pretty stringy and The lobelia cardinalis looks like it has seen better days but the Mini Alternanthera Reineckiii has melted away. The root balls are still in the soil so I hope they come back...they were tissue cultures and small to begin with.
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Old Yesterday, 04:38 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

Well, I hope that my advice helps.

I missed the key fact that it's a 75 gal. For a big tank like this, I would have included large, good-growing rooted plants (i.e., 2-3 Amazon swords, Aponogeton, or a Red Tiger Lotus, etc). They would better fill up a big tank like this and take advantage of that rich soil layer. Here, you have the opportunity to show off some big beauties.

Let's hope the Vallisneria does well.

I would definitely reduce the water level until you get a larger biomass growing well in this big tank.
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Old Today, 03:10 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

I did not think of the large plants. I thought my background plants would do the trick but I really like your idea and plant selection especially the Red Tiger Lotus.

I will lower the level some more and then I will see how everything grows and where the tank wants me to add the Tiger Lotus....thanks
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Old Today, 08:44 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Substrate gravel Question

That's the spirit! I've always wanted to grow Aponogeton boivinianus, but never had a tank big enough.
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