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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've had a 10 gal planted tank about two weeks into a dry start and I am having some trouble settling on a material for the soil cap.

Originally I did not understand the purpose of the cap and had no intentions of using one, however after conducting an experiment with the potting soil in water the purpose is clear. I covered the bottom of a gallon jug with potting soil and added water. Two weeks later about 25% of the soil is still floating at the surface. Needless to say I now understand the importance of the cap. But I digress.

I plan on introducing blackworms to the substrate in order to aid in aeration of my substrate (which is admittedly thick) and to serve as a food source for african dwarf frogs and a honey gourami. I've seen some anecdotal evidence that a fine cap such as sand should be used with blackworms to assist the livestock in hunting; I guess a fine material makes it more difficult for the worms to evade the fish.

However I anticipate a fine substrate like sand would prevent mulm from integrating with the substrate, which is at least a aesthetic issue and maybe a water quality issue as well. It seems to me a coarse substrate like gravel would be ideal for returning mulm to the substrate as it would allow paths for the mulm to settle through.

So I am hoping pea gravel (ideally something a little finer) will offer a compromise, but this is my first tank and I am naive. Your thoughts are appreciated.

Thanks,
Bo
 

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A careful setup with lots of potential. So many different plants, nice ground covering, etc.

With a dry start method, in 4-6 weeks time you should have enough plant growth to help hold the soil down and aerate the substrate. I think either pea gravel or sand would be fine, but make the covering layer as thin as possible, just enough to hold the soil down. (You can always add more gravel later.)

I don't think you need to add worms to aerate substrate, but you could for the live food aspect. Be aware that worm digging can create a mess if you don't have fish/frogs that will control their numbers.

When the time comes to submerge the substrate, do it slowly. On day one, just add water to soak the substrate, then add a little gravel, then a little more water. See how the soil behaves. Wait a day and then add up to an inch of water. If you do this gradually, like the rainy season for plants, your plants and soil can adjust better to the change.

As you pour in the water, make sure you add a ground cover (piece of Al foil) that will block the water's force.
 

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When you start with a dry start, the plants will all grow only terrestrial leaf forms. When you then flood the tank, those leaves are useless to the plant, and they have to grow under-water leaf forms. Also I noticed you have wood trellises set up to hold the plants in place - those will float up and out when you submerse them. If this was my tank I would start over again. I would add a 2-4 mm gravel on top of the dirt, possibly removing the plants first. Then I would add just enough water to have all of the substrate submersed, and replant, if necessary. Then I would carefully fill the tank at least half full of water, add the lights on top, and wait for the plants to get started with aquatic leaves.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you Ms. Walstad and Hoppy for your input. You may have saved the tank, flooding all at once was the plan. I believe I'll just go ahead with sand when the time comes.

The leftmost post is mostly vestigial at this point, one of the ludwigia just gets a little wilty if I have the tank open for any extended amount of time. The rightmost just keeps the baby tears off of the substrate, I don't think it will be necessary when I start to flood.

There is significant root growth in the plants that I've poked around at a bit, I think I will stay the course. I have a great deal of patience with respect to the tank and to combat melting I'll stall a few weeks at a depth about halfway up the stems to allow some submersed leaves to develop while the plants can still rely on the emergent growth.
 

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I used very fine sand as aquarium substrate (regular aquarium, not dirted) for a long time. The looks were amazing and my corys had beautiful long and healthy barbels, but the mulm issue was real and sucking it up without sucking up too much sand required some patience. Also, when I eventually dismantled those tanks, the deeper roots of plants even as hardy as vallisnerias were rotten. I once tried a dirted tank with that same fine sand, but apparently the sand was so fine that it eventually permeated under the substrate and I ended up having a sanded tank with soil as cap. Nowadays I avoid fine sand and I find the 2-4 mm Ms. Walstad suggests as the best option.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Started the flood this week. Daily "heavy rain" with a spray bottle since Sunday.


I ended up just going with a thin gravel cap, did not want to bother with the sand. Left the hairgrass pasture uncapped as I didn't want to impede carpeting. Hairgrass bed is now about 3/4" below sea level and the substrate is pretty much staying put. We'll see if it stays that way, I'm afraid the substrate might be a little thin. But for now I think things are looking good.

I'm thinking about leaving the water at this level for a week or two, it might be my imagination but it seemed to stimulate the hairgrass. Plus I have some concern that the hairgrass will be stunted by demand for CO2 and never carpet once it's fully submerged.

Think algae will be an issue at this level? I've got a siesta programmed into my timer but I haven't activated it yet.

I really like that last picture. The water is coming up much clearer than I expected.
 

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Started the flood this week.

I'm thinking about leaving the water at this level for a week or two, it might be my imagination but it seemed to stimulate the hairgrass. Plus I have some concern that the hairgrass will be stunted by demand for CO2 and never carpet once it's fully submerged.

Think algae will be an issue at this level? I've got a siesta programmed into my timer but I haven't activated it yet.

I really like that last picture. The water is coming up much clearer than I expected.
Looks good to me. That organic soil will produce a lot of CO2 for the hairgrass, maybe more than what it could get from the air.

I don't think you'll have a problem with algae that you can't fix. The clear water and nice plant growth bode well.
 
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