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El Natural With A Twist (long 56k!) Update: 10/19

I've gotten tired of dosing my high-tech tanks lately so I decided to try something new for a while. I've setup a tank using topsoil, high lighting (over 3 wpg) and pressurized CO2. I got the idea from a member in our local club who has all of his tanks setup this way and has had great success.

The topsoil used should be the cheapest topsoil that the garden center has. It should not have any added fertilizers, humics, etc... This is the same soil everyone that has setup a Walstad style tank should be using. It will be sandy in texture. I got mine from Home Depot for $1.49 / 40 lb. bag.

The key is to mineralize the soil completely before using it in the tank.

1) Start by placing the soil in a container such as a rubbermaid container outside and filling the container with water so that it covers the soil by a few inches. Then mix the soil into the water well to help the water penetrate.
2) After a couple of days drain off the water on the top and add new water.
3) Again after a couple of days lay a plastic tarp out in the sun and spread the soil thinly over the tarp to allow it to air dry.
4) Repeat steps 1-3 about 4 or 5 times and the soil should be ready to use. It will be extremely sandy in texture now. Also, any smell that was there when you started should just about disappear.



You'll also need the following materials:
Muriate of Potash $12.00 - this is a soluable potassium fertilizer that can be found at most garden centers.

Estes Dolomite $11.00 - Do not use the dolomite found in garden centers as it is not the same thing. This is crushed limestone to keep the substrate from becoming too acidic.

Red Pottery Clay $13.00 - Do not use modeling clay! It is made of polymers. You need real clay that was dug up from the ground. This will serve both as an iron source and a binder to help the soil settle back down when plants are uprooted. Below is the amount I used, not the amount you get for $13.00.

T-Grade 3M Colorquartz Sand $26.00 / 50 lb. bag - You can use any substrate cap you like, I just happen to prefer this one. It comes in a nice black color and it holds a slope like no other substrate I've used. It also holds plants extremely well.
 

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El Natural With A Twist (the setup)

Now for the setup:

The tank I used is a standard 20 gallon long. I started by adding just a little bit of the color quartz sand and wetting it down just enough so that it holds its shape when you move it around. I used this to form a border around the front and sides of the tank. Note: This step is purely for aesthetics and can be ommitted if you wish.

Then sprinkle just a handful of the dolomite and muriate of potash on the bottom of the tank. As you can see from the picture the bags of them that you bought are lifetime supplies. :D

Next I used about 1/5 lb. of clay and emulsified it in a small tupperware container. Do not use your mother/wife's tupperware!This is done simply by rubbing the clay between your fingers until it is in suspension in the water. This takes some time, but is somehow quite relaxing. Then again I like to play in the mud...

I don't have a picture here because I'm also the photographer and my hands were a mess already.

Next mix in the emulsified clay solution with the mineralized soil. Woohoo! More playing in the mud. 8)

Now add this soil soup mixture to the bottom of the tank between your sand borders. This layer should only be 1/2" to 1" thick at the most.

For the next step I added ADA Tourmaline BC, Clear Super and Bacter 100. This is certainly not a necessary step, but I had them laying around at the time.

Now it's finally time to cap everything off with some more quartz sand. I added about 1.5" of sand on top of everything.

Now for the hardscape:
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
El Natural With A Twist (the scape)

Lastly, everything gets planted: This was taken on 10/5/06

List of Plants:

Rotala sp. 'Vietnam'
Rotala macrandra
Rotala macrandra 'green'
Rotala hippuris
Rotala sp. 'Nanjenshan'
Rotala sp. 'mini'
Bacopa sp. 'Araguaia'
Utricularia graminifolia
Pogostemon helferi
Anubias barteri var. 'nana'
Anubias barteri var. 'nana petite'
Eriocaulon sp. 'Guang Zhou'

The rocks have since been removed because they leached too much calcium into the water. I'll try to update this thread with pictures every week or two.
 

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Very simmilar to what I do. but I have never mineralized the soil, I use my own topsoil and screen it then throw it in the tank. I'm running a 80 Gal, 14Gal Hex and a 2 Gal Nano with this system now. the 80 has 2.5 WPG now.

You have a little more light than I do, It will be interesting to see how your's runs over time.

Keep us posted on the tank's progression.
 

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Is the ADA stuff the 'twist'?
 

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Mixing clay with the soil? Why didn't I think of that?

To what consistancy do you emulsify the clay with water?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Mixing clay with the soil? Why didn't I think of that?

To what consistancy do you emulsify the clay with water?
Until it is pretty much all in suspension. Little pieces of it will get mixed in the rest of the way when you combine the soil and clay mixtures.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I took about 1/5 lb. of clay and used a plastic gladware container full of water. Rub the clay in between your fingers and it will sluff off into the water a little bit at a time. Once all of the clay is 'dissolved' into the water then pour it in with the dry soil. Mix the two together. It will be very much like pudding when both the soil and clay are mixed together, but the clay and water itself is more like water with lots of clay in it. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'm having the typical 'new tank' algae issues at present, but the plants are growing well except the Utricularia graminifolia. I suspect the Utricularia is not doing well because of the mineral content in the substrate. I'm hoping to put up a few pics tomorrow perhaps.
 

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Here's a shot of the tank from this morning 10/19/06:

Here it is again after two large water changes and a scrubbing of the front glass only. You can see that I've also added 8 furcatas rainbows as well.

Though I'm having quite the new tank algae breakout, I'm still optomistic. I haven't dosed a thing save for a little excel and the plant growth is very healthy underneath all of that algae. Just look at the color on the Rotala macrandra. The only plant not doing well is Utricularia graminifolia. I suspect that it has to do with the minerals in the substrate. This plant prefers an inert substrate, but I thought I'd try it anyhow.
 

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any updates?
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
still fighting green beard algae. Suprisingly, the Utric turned around and is looking very healthy.
 

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Looks like green dust algae on the macrandra to me...

I also have a hybrid tank like you (just w/o the clay :) ) so far it has turned out to be the most maintanence free tank of them all o_O and it grows plants just as well as my NKP tanks!

I am very curious to see how your tank does though.

Hopefully new pics soon!!!
 

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DataGuru I sincerely hope you don't take this the wrong way, because I don't mean it the wrong way, but we would still be in the 50's if we all thought that way ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
The tank will balance out eventually. The green beard algae is a persistant problem with any tank I seem to setup. I think there is something in the water supply here that triggers it. I've had this issue with Aquasoil as well. After several weeks it settles down and the plants look great.
 
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