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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.

Tom Barr

2,069 Posts
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.

Tom Barr

2,069 Posts
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$.

Tom Barr

2,069 Posts
Call around the local gravel pits, landscape rock supply or sandblasting places.

If you want it "cheap" you'll have to do the work locally. Even if you find it cheap on the net, shipping will kill you.

Add the time etc looking for it, driving to get it etc, screw it, just ask the LFS or live with Eco complete or Black turface(which does look pretty good really).

One thing I got when I got the lignite was some humic enriched barley straw pellets.

A little cannot hurt, runs about 4$ lb but last awhile(maybe 3-6 months of effective use).

The reason I have for Lignite, soaking it in KNO3/KH2PO4 etc is to try and have an alternative source of nutrients should someone:

1# Forget to dose the water column, a common issue and everyone's done it.

2# Folks wanting less in the water column/trying different methods/leaner tanks.

3# Alternate non CO2 tanks will also benefit, along with low light tanks.

4# At some point many of these newer plants may not really be all that suitable for full time submersion so a special substrate may help them, but also will not harm the normal plants

5# Have it be somewhat fool proof if they cannot get their water column dosing right(most often they cannot get the CO2 correct). Many substrates don't have enough macro nutrients in a slow release form or they have too much NH4(soil).

There are solutions for many of these issues, but finding a super substrate and pushing the limits of what improves plant health is interesting at least to me.

Using high light and fast growers, you can spot issues and discern differences faster than you can with slow growers/low light even though the general upkeep and ease of plant keeping is easier at lower lighting.

I've kept high light tanks(over 5w/gal) for about a decade now.
By looking at the picky plants, the high light situations, you can better optimize the low light tanks using CO2/non CO2 methods.

SW substrates are an entirely different approach and set of issues.

Barley straw and extract never did anything for me in the past in the water column, (Steve got a bag of it and I tried the liquid as did he later and reported about the same thing), what the heck, may as well try the substrate now:)

It's cheap and I know a pond owner I can try it on it I don't like it. I'm not really after the algae killing aspects but want to see if it improves plant growth=> thereby helping reduce algae through that method rather than directly influencing algae and they pellets are a nicer form than bales and they are enriched with humic acids.

So my substrate mix:
Flourite in tank one
Eco Complete in the other

A base of all the mulm from the orignal tank
Barley straw pellets 2 handfuls per 10 gal
Lignite(Diamond black) 1/2" layer
A tad of peat.
Cap with the Flourite or Ecocomplete.

I don't think there's a big difference between the lignite/barely vs the peat alone, but it's relatively cheap and fun to try it out.
But setting up a control to compare it to is not something I care to do and would require a lot of work to do well.

Beyond that, subtle differences are very tough to say much about.

This is why I want to add NO3/NH4 to a substrate, these are big players, Fe etc are small players but still important. I'm after the big fish first.
I may never find much definitive differences with subtle interactions.

Like planted tanks at low light, relationships are tougher to see, but revisiting those lower lighted set ups with experience in high light systems really makes the low light tanks(CO2 or non CO2) run wonderfully and are very satifying.

I'm reviewing some humic chemistry and there's a book on the subject, the Chemistry of Humic waters in aquatic ecosystems.
There's another book with a similar title and blue cover I've read parts of in the past.

When using these, we must be aware of CO2 and the humic's effects on that part(generally people are fooled and add too little CO2) and the effects on the other nutrients.

Adding multiple consituents may allow for different subsets of nutrients to be available ina good usable form. Sort of a "synergistic" effect.

Some long term and absorption from Lignite, Some potential clarifying/organic matter from the straw, reductive power of peat/lignite in a new set up, slow supply of organic matter for the bacteria=> faster/more efficient waste/nutrient cycling, mulm for the material that's being broken down and a culture of living healthy bacteria.

Healthy plant roots and plants will add more O2 and amp the bacteria aerobes also. If you feel you are wasting the Fe from dosing, the lowest O2 levels in your tank will be right when the lights come on, the best time would be about 2 hours before the lights come to dose traces in terms of oxidation/high light losses.

Tom Barr

2,069 Posts
Okay, I can say something about Leonardite(Indian Black brand from general hydroponics) over a longer term. I like it.

The real issues I like it more than other things:

It sinks and stays put, peat is a tad messy even if you use a small amount.
Leonardite last pretty much forever.
Color: it matches Onyx sand perfectly!

The leonardite can be soaked like Activatred carbon(which might not be a bad thing to use either if soaked) with any type of fertilizes.

So if you want to go that route for the initial set up, you could use it like ADA powersand and add "power" to your substrate(for perhaps 1-2 months).

You can also still add peat to leonardite as well.

I add mulm to any and every tank.

Tom Barr
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