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Discussion Starter #1
Hey gang,

I figured out how to DIY my own Ferti-Plant plus for pennies on the dollar:

The main active ingredients are Lignite, a low grade coal rich in humic acids, and also Laterite which we should all be familiar with. Many hobbyists are touting its efficacy, so this tells me that the humics are the key. This is especuially true for higher light tanks, though I suspect the this substrate enrichment would be great for low light, low maintenance, and non-CO2 tanks.

First, Ferti-Plant + is *mostly* a quartz or volcanic sand, (I can't tell which) which has been enriched. Any sand will do, but a finer grade is better as it will hold the laterite and other goodies down better, and ultimately will provide more surface area. I used #1 blasting grit, but any fine gravel or coarse sand will do. I suspect that Pumice sand in a similar size would produce the best results due to high porosity.

The big mystery is the Lignite. This is simply a low grade coal which means that it won't burn as well due to it not being as far along in the decomposition process as a higher grade coal (Google Lignite). IE: it is high in undecomposed organic matter. After a search, I learned that Leonardite is a special deposit of Lignite and has the some of the highest quantity of natural occurring humic acids known. This is a popular product for organic gardening, and hydroponics. I found Leonardite at a hydroponics store under the brand name "Diamond Black" and is a General Hydroponics product. 1lb was $10 where I got it and I'd bet you could get it cheaper shoppong online. A Google search yields many options.

Next is the laterite. I used Aquarium Products at the recommended quantity, but you could use any laterite. I learned from Jamie Johnson's web site that Aquarium Products laterite has the highest Fe content of any laterite on the market, although many hobbyists report inferior growth to Dupla Root. That shouldn't matter much in this case. At any rate, the quantity of laterite in FertiPlant + is low and in powder form.

Viola, DIY Ferti-Plant. I used significantly more laterite in my mixture than Ferti-plant does, and about the same amount of humics (Lignite or Leonardite) as FP. I figure it comes out about like this for cost for 100lbs of DIY ferti-plant:

-100lbs blasting sand- $5
-1lb tub of humics- $10
-110oz AP laterite- $30 from Big Al's including shipping. This is a generous helping of laterite. Add $10-$15 for Dupla Root substitute.
total: ~$45-$60 for 100lbs

Versus 11lbs of Ferti-plant + for ~$50 including shipping (Florida Driftwood)

So, you see, even if you wanted to add another pound of humics or use Dupla Root, the savings are still substantial.

Happy gardening.
 

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Hey John,

Can you please provide major differences you noticed in your tanks between "previous substrate" vs. your "miracle/current substrate".

If you need space to post pictures, let me know and I will upload them to my FTP.

I was talking to GianCarlo the other day and we planning to hit AC in March or so. I want to get in touch with Ghazanfar and go rock collecting around his area. I also want to get that JBJ tank.

It would be nice to see that miracle tank in person :idea:
 

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Hi Wheeler

great writeup! Can you let us know what proportions you use hehe and how much of your miracle mix would you use on a 40 gallon tank?
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Ptahkeem,

Use about a half inch as a base and cover with whatever substrate you usually use. I like Eco-Complete or plain coarse sand. If you don't want to make 100lbs (!), then just take the amount of sand it takes to make a half inch layer on the bottom of your tank and add the manufacturers recommended dose of laterite. I use 2tbs per 20 gallons of Humics outlined above. I'd use about a 1/4 cup or maybe slightly less for your tank. You could use more or less-- It's not an exact thing, but be aware too much will destructively acidify your substrate. I'd stick to 4-6tbs in your 40g case.

One important issue is to make the entire substrate deep enough. 3" minimum to get best Fe reduction/avaiability.

Jay,

I amended the above formula further. I only outlined the way to DIY the ferti-plant. I also used a whole cup of worm castings (20g tank) in addition to the above as well as a couple handsfull of activated carbon (that's an experiment). There's not much to compare between substrates really. Last time I used plain gravel. I have to use about 1/3 of the traces and Fe that I did before, and so far, I'm getting more reliable growth across the tank. Also, plants that did so-so, or not well at all before are thriving. Wait until you see the Blyxa japonica.

I also notice that I wasn't able to dose the last tank with NO3. I attribute being able to now (proceeding cautiously), because the last tank was Fe limited due to the lights, O2, and no place for the substrate to make it available again. Providing iron is the key, IME, with really intense lights, and I wasn't able to do that as well before.

A full blown soil tank is the next project.

Hey, if I'm around, you guys are more than welcome to pop by and check it out. Maybe I could tag along to AC? Lemme know as soon as you can and I'll have the tanks nice as possible for you.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Hmmmm-- Laterite from any LFS or cheaper from an online source like Big Al's, Drs. Foster Smith, or Dupla Root from Florida Driftwood. Blasting grit from any building supply. Look in your phone book for the closest ones. Be careful that it is pure quartz and contains no limestone or shell fragments. Apparently, blasting grit content varies by local.

http://www.altgarden.com/ is just an example of a place to get Diamond Black-- first place I found on Google. Go to the "Additives" section and scroll down. If you'd like to shop around simply Google "Hydroponics" and pick a store:)

HTH
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Just an addendum to the initial post:

Please be careful when combining humics or other acidifying agents with Laterite as the aluminum can become toxic at low pH's. You don't need much to get the benefits. The above level, 1tbs per 10g, has proven safe for me.

Enjoy!
 

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Diamond Black

Hello John,

It's interesting that you're using the Diamond Black (I think we corresponded re: this product recently) - I found this additive last year while browsing thru a hp store and have been using it for some time; it seems to be an excellent amendment so far, particularly when used in conjunction with other additives to build a more substantial substrate. I've not tried it with your particular combination of ingredients, but your mix sounds promising. Thanks for the great post! :D
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hey Erik!!

Yeah, we chatted about Diamond Black and other substrate stuff which prompted me to look more deeply at the whole situation-- I stumbled on it while looking for worm castings at a HP store like the day after. It's exactly the same stuff as Ferti-Plant. I'm just glad that you told me about it or I would've passed it right up :)

Pyrosol which you also mentioned looks promising as a substitute for Laterite. I'll get around to giving that a shot one day...

I actually meant to give you credit for the DB stuff, but I forgot. :oops:

Did you get the Vladimir Simoes method translation from Enrico? He mentioned that you were also asking for it.
 

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There seems to be some debate over the plant available nutrients to these when I did some research on some of the papers on soil fertility with lignite.

I'm just wondering what it has that's better than say, peat alone.
It's cheap and seems to have a good CEC.
But it seems to be mainly an issue for humics and fluvic acids, rather than a source of macro nutrients.

Also, like activated carbon, it think it'll absorb many nutrients if you soaked it say in KNO3, KH2PO4.

You might try that, add a know amount of NO3 or PO4 and see how much is absorbed by the lignite.
If it absorbs a fair amount on it's own, then you are certainly in business.

Adding onyx sand or flourite, eco complete, florabase, Turface etc would supply the iron perhaps in a better form than laterite.

I doubt there's much advantage to the addition of laterite if these iron rich substrates are already added.

But I might try the addition of a nutrient broth to it and then see what happens.

Regards,
Tom Barr
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yeah, there's no significant nutrient that Lignite/Leonardite will provide on its own. It has all the right juices to make the ones you add along with it more available, though. But you knew that, Tom 8) What are the issues with Lignite enriched soils?

A good NO3 soak is a good idea... What about a urea or NH4 soak? Frankly, I'd just as soon add what I need to the water for macros. Too many algae variables when constantly uprooting for 'scaping purposes, but the soak could be a great method for "low-tech" tanks...

At any rate, I added some NPK via the worm castings, granted it's not much. Iron, and I guess other traces, are my main concern at the high light levels I've been experimenting with as they seem critical for macro use by plants-- That's where the castings excel, I believe. So far, the Fe/traces that I've needed to dose is MUCH reduced, and as roots continue to develop, I expect it to become less critical.

Peat is great-- I love it, it works. It's also much messier than granulated humics and has less *punch* as far as I can tell. The *punch* may or may not be an issue for most plant tanks, but the mess and stain are from peat. Enter activated carbon... That was just a little something I added on top-- It was laying around. Not sure if it's doing much(?) other than adsorbing tannins and metals.... I'm sure it's full by now, though-- ripe for plant use.

Laterite is just convenient (can be bought in smaller quantities for less), and is a main, active component of FP+. Flourite sucks, but could be brought to life by the humics, I guess. Eco-Complete is kinda on my ****-list (excuse the French) because it is so potent, it grows algaes right in the bag at the LFS, and seems to foster green algaes in the tank all things being equal. If you can get it past the first 4-6 weeks, I *really* like it. It would probably be a champ as a medium for the substrate outlined above capped with plain, coarse sand. I don't have experience with either FloraBase or Onyx.

FP+ seems to be becoming more popular, but it's a rip off at the going price. I can brew 100lbs per 10lbs of FP+ for the same cost or better. If peat is the same or better, I can brew 200lbs for the same price. Lignite is cleaner and more potent per quantity, I suspect, so I'll stick with that.

Thanks for the input, Tom and Erik.
 

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Man this is turning out to be a really awesome thread. Ok so you guys were talking about soaking the lignite, or black diamond, in a KNO3 and KH2PO4 bath? So Im assuming that the lignite will adsorb these nutrients and store it for use by the roots of our plants correct? If this is the case would you be so kind as to recommend some amount or should I just experiment? Also do you think the lignite would adsorb Fe? I am trying your, Wheeler's, mix out except that I am substituting in Schultz Aquatic Plant soil since I can get it so cheap at home depot, $5 a bag.

Heres what I was thinking about doing:
Lower layer
Aquatic Plant soil
Black Diamond
Possibly some silica sand?
Carbon
Laterite

Top Layer
Eco complete
Tahitian Moon sand

What do you guys think? If you have any suggestions I am open to them and I would like to learn more about this pre-soak in NPK and possibly other trace minerals.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
The macro soak will definately work, but to what end? I'm not sure-- It might be awesome or insignificant. My preference with macros is to keep the majority of it in the water where I can easily adjust them. Being someone who's constantly uprooting plants... You can see the dilemma there. If you wanted to try this scientifiaclly and report back it might be nice.

Use distilled water, a known quantity of NO3 or PO4, and soak the lignite in it for a a predetermined time and test how much nutrient is left unbound in the water afater your time is up. Easy experiment and ultimately useful for us, I think. I don't have the testing equipment, or I'd try it.

No need to soak it in traces. That's what your plant soil is for. Soils have a limitless supply of traces, at least for our purposes, and they'll be rejuvenated everytime you add liquid ferts, mulm accumulates, etc.

No need to add peat, but it won't hurt anything in moderation.

Hehe-- Schultz APS is even cheaper than laterite. It may be the cheapest solution.

I only tried to copy FP+ as closely as possible in the inital thread, but substitutions are feasible or smart. As Tom mentioned, laterite kinda sucks compared to the stuff we have available now. The most potent thing would be natural soils, but that's probably overkill in most situations.

The essential ingredients for this type of substrate are: an appropriate filler, organic matter to provide humics, and a long term source of traces. Anything else is a frill, but maybe appropriate for your case.
 

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Wheeler said:
Use distilled water, a known quantity of NO3 or PO4, and soak the lignite in it for a a predetermined time and test how much nutrient is left unbound in the water afater your time is up. Easy experiment and ultimately useful for us, I think. I don't have the testing equipment, or I'd try it.
Howdy John...

Bring over some lignite sometime this week, I can run this one easily...

Jeff
 

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Okay John you talked me into to messing with it:)
I want to try the macro soak.
I have a couple of ten gallons sitting so I can start themn up as soon as I stop down to get some. I'll try and find the Diamond stuff, otherwise I'll find the deposit the material came from. I'm not certain how consistent this material is based off what I've read.

It's also cheap and looking at it and some to locations of the deposits where it's from, seems some of the best is from AK and ND.

A macro soak might amp the start up phase, allowing the plants to get well established.

By the time these nutrients are depleted, there will be a nice cycle of removal of nutrients by plant roots while nutrient additions are being absorbed through detritial breakdown and from the water column above.
Reabsorption by the lignite(ideally) would hopefully occur fairly rapidly.

The humic and fulvic acids may help aid in easier CEC bonds allowing for more rapid cycling and more slightly more available forms of nutrients.

I know peat does this so there's no reason not to accept the lignite does not do this as well.

All this slightly non labile carbon provides a slow released form of carbon that act as electron donors.

I think the best substrates systems have some of each type of carbon, CO2, highly labile
Oganic detrital mulm, moderately labile forms of carbon
Peat moderately non labile forms of carbon
Lignite, slow non labile forms of carbon.

Seems lignite will also last the longest. Peat has a long life in aquariums if you add a fair amount. But it's messier than lignite I'd bet.

Lignite is just old peat that's been mashed good.

But the macro soak, for folks that want to do the lean water column method, this would be useful. So with that method, the results may be dramatic vs a water column doser might find it not to help particularly but importantly : not hurt either.

It's also interesting from a non CO2 prespective vs soil and cost about the same.

I am very leary of NH4 the more I work with it. I know it has to be bound up good and not allowed to be transferred into the water column after replanting etc.
This extra binding may make it energetically less available to plants but there's a lot of energy difference between NH4+ and NO3-.
8 electrons, there are not many reactions in plants that require that much reduction.

I suppose if the NH4 is only on the inside of the grain and outside is oxidized, that might work, but it's playing with fire still, grains break open, reduction can release NH4 in the lower layers of the substrate etc.

One thing that might be interesting, soak something like this for a week etc, then dry and coat with some semi diffusable coating, perhaps coat w/peat also. Something that would slow down the diffusion.

What I do not know:
How much absorption capacity for NO3 or PO4 does 100grams of lingite possess? How many grams of NO3 can 100 grams of lignite hold?

How long does retention last? What is the rate of diffusion out of the a fully saturated 100gram sample?

Some tougher to answer questions: how would plant roots effect these nutrients based on their water column conditions?
How would reduction in the substrate impact the diffusion rates?

I'm going to guess/assume based off the sample's absorption/resorption rates in the plain water and leave it at that.

Regards,
Tom Barr
 

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How about if I were to mix some Diamond Black with Terralit/Laterite, under a layer of Eco-Complete...how would this fare?

So Tom, your basically saying that peat and diamond black are the same thing except for life-longetivity?
 

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What about soaking Aquatic Plant soil along with the diamond black and everything else in the NPK solution? Also if you were to soak carbon in the NPK solution wouldnt that take up and adsorb the NPK mixture fairly well? If the carbon does do this would plants still have access to it in the carbon?
 

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What about soaking Aquatic Plant soil along with the diamond black and everything else in the NPK solution? Also if you were to soak carbon in the NPK solution wouldnt that take up and adsorb the NPK mixture fairly well? If the carbon does do this would plants still have access to it in the carbon?
 

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Are you folks aware that they make a Turface Black also?
Poor man's Eco complete if you ask me.

I'm not certain peat and lignite are precisely the same thing. To that I would say no.

I would add Profile, turface etc rather than laterite, it's cheaper and has plenty of iron and other traces, good CEC, porous etc.

I really don't know how much realistically peat vs lignite will improve things but they cost about the same, one is heavier, perhaps more concentrated, better able to absorb more nutrients perhaps and is a workable medium vs light fluffy peat(even if soaked).

So on that note alone, I'm happier with it.

I think whatever cap you want to add on top is fine, but the better stuff is something like onyx sand, flora base, eco complete, but sand should also work relatively well.

I'd still add mulm to any tank's base.

I have not found Eco complete to be an algae magnet in the start up phase, I have yet to get any type of algae attaching to it.

But if I added some NH4, I bet I could change that.

I still don't like Eco complete's light weight and replanting, even with tweezers. Remines me too much of Turface except black.

BTW, you folks can buy black turface also, I think it's close to the same cost, perhas a better poor man's DIY Eco complete come to think of it.

If you don't mind the weight of Eco Complete, then Turface "black" should not bother you either.

You can mix Eco complete or Black turface with black silica sand for added weight also.

After adding mulm, lignite/peat etc, I do not think you would find much difference in Eco complete vs Black turface.

That would be the best DIY substrate I would think:

Black Turface(about 8-10$ for 50lbs dry)
Lignite, 10$ for 50lbs
Mulm= free
Peat= 2-3$ for 10lbs
Black sand if desired.

Might only run 30-40$ for 75 gal tank.
Not bad vs 20$ a bag for eco complete x 5-7, Fertiplant at 50-70$ a tub,
Roughly a savings of close to 100-150$.

Regards,
Tom Barr
 
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