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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi. Not sure what to title this thread, nor whether even to post it as El natural, however, here it goes.

I've been running several aquaria for three or four years with a setup inspired by the El Natural ideas, but also, having thought about some concerns about keeping the soil underlayer away from the water, borrowed on some ancient memories of talk about 'gravel tidies' that I remember from salt water fish keeping discussions many years ago.

My setup has been a soil underlayer (~ 1 inch deep, variously adding peat and vermiculite as variations), with a layer of horticultural fleece (UK description, no idea what it is called elsewhere), then a ~ 1 inch layer of pea gravel (mixed 2-5 mm grains I guess)

My original reason for doing this was to avoid fish digging down into the soil (they should hit the fleece then get nowhere further) and also to facilitate (re)moving plants around the place as I figured the roots would not penetrate the fleece, so therefore would not disturb the dirt.

My results have, to me, been good. Some roots do get around the edges, or through wee holes in the fleece, and some fine roots do penetrate a small way. I have seen no issues with H2S. I do get big, non smelly, bubbles of gas from the substrate in the early stages (first couple of months), and because of the fleece (probably), they erupt in just a few areas (like yellowstone park in miniature??)

I have had one of these setups going for a couple of years and not seen any obvious problems. My worry that the fleece would block recycling of nutrients between the water column (ie fish food/ fish waste) and the underlayer have not yet manifested...
Anyway. I have much more to add, but first, I'm curious if 1, anyone else hase done similar stuff, and 2,
 

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I have set up a couple tanks with a "cover" over the soil. What I used is black fiberglass window screening. The problem with these tanks is I have too deep of a sand topper - 3 inches. The plants are doing just OK. Ultimately for me the plant roots are not reaching the soil. I have been thinking of removing 2 inches of the sand. These tanks have been set up for 10 months. My only fear is that the soil under the 3 inches of sand has gone bad. Since this time my new tanks have been to Diana's standards - 1" soil, 1" topper (sand).

Anyway, not really much help because of my sand issue. I think the "fleece" you refer to is called landscape cloth here in the USA. That would not have been my first choice since it is rather dense. If you want to try again, use the black fiberglass window screening - much larger holes for the roots to penetrate.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
That's a good thought. There's a balance between allowing roots through the layer and not. Letting them through easily must help with keeping the undersoil 'fresh', but must also make it harder to uproot well established plants that need to be moved. I'll look out some other, more open, types of fabric and have a go. Whatever, putting any barrier between the undersoil and the capping layer is going to restrict water/gas movement, so it's probably even more important that the top layer is shallow enough. I must work out how to post pictures...
 

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Maybe I'm not seeing this correctly but it seems to me that any permeable barrier laid down between the soil and top layer is going to be problematic when it comes time for transplanting. The roots of the plants will grow down through the barrier to get the nutrients in the soil, requiring the barrier to be cut all the way around the plant before it can be lifted from the substrate. Also, such a barrier would inhibit the natural circulation through the substrate needed to prevent anaerobic gasses from building up, and restrict the natural off-gassing of good gasses as a by-product of healthy soil decomposition.

It's been my experience there is no clean way to remove plants from a soil substrate, and the best method for me has been to rake the gravel away from the base of the plant. Then use a knife or sharp chisel to cut extraneous roots around the plant (they would get trimmed anyway before re-planting), before lifting the plant as gently as possible from the soil. Invariably this muddies the water a little, but on the positive side, this muddying always settles down quite quickly and by the next day the water is crystal clear again.

Is that everyone else's experience and if not, what am I doing wrong? :confused:

I'm also thinking the best way to deal with plants you know you'll want to move is to plant them into pots which are buried in the substrate. I've never used pots before simply because they look like potted plants. Now... if they made a low-profile clay pot specifically for aquariums that could be buried all the way to their rims, I would certainly give them a try. Does anyone know of such a pot?
 

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When I remove plants from a soil substrate I hold them at the base and pull them out very slowly, using my other hand to hold/strip the dirt from the roots. After I get about 3" of root out I trim them off in the substrate. I don't trim the roots before pulling the plant out because of how densely planted and interwoven everything is. I usually have a minor amount of dirt stirred up that's settled out or removed by the filter by the next day.
 

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I usually have a minor amount of dirt stirred up that's settled out or removed by the filter by the next day.
That's been my experience. Uprooting and moving plants is not that big a deal. Just remember to turn off the filter/powerhead while you're uprooting plants. The soil will settle within an hour or two.
 
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