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Dear Aaron,

First of all, thanks for sharing such an informative article on the subject.
In fact your article was quoted in a Malaysian based Planted Tank forum and it has attracted a lot of attention and encouraged many to try out the said process.

I have a some related questions on the subject of DIY substrate and I hope your experience will be helpful.

In my locality, laterite ( locally called 'red earth' and which I belief is the Clay you mentioned ) is readily available.
A few of the local hobbyist including me is also toying with the idea of using this laterite as the primary substrate for our planted tank.
What do you think, if we mix this laterite ( without top soil ) with some fine gravel/course sand and use the mixture as the bottom substrate then, ( to prevent excessive clouding of water ), top this bottom substrate with another layer of pure fine gravel/course sand.

I also assume that using this laterite, we do not have to mineralize it the way we use top soil instead.

Your comment and recommendation is highly appreciated.

Rgds

BT Lee
 

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Discussion Starter #102
Aaron,

I've deicded to transform my bore-looking, bare bottom 150g discus tank into a planted one. And I would like to use your method for the mineralized soil as substrate for the plants. Is there a way to calculate the amount of topsoil/clay, say, per 10g? Thanks.

disvegas,
What size is the bottom of the tank? You can't really go by gallons because some tanks are taller, etc...

For my 50 gallon breeder w/ a 36" x 18" bottom I used 1 bag of topsoil mineralized and sifted, 1 lb. of clay and just enough potash and dolomite to sprinkle the bottom, but still see through the glass.
 

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Discussion Starter #103
Dear Aaron,

First of all, thanks for sharing such an informative article on the subject.
In fact your article was quoted in a Malaysian based Planted Tank forum and it has attracted a lot of attention and encouraged many to try out the said process.

I have a some related questions on the subject of DIY substrate and I hope your experience will be helpful.

In my locality, laterite ( locally called 'red earth' and which I belief is the Clay you mentioned ) is readily available.
A few of the local hobbyist including me is also toying with the idea of using this laterite as the primary substrate for our planted tank.
What do you think, if we mix this laterite ( without top soil ) with some fine gravel/course sand and use the mixture as the bottom substrate then, ( to prevent excessive clouding of water ), top this bottom substrate with another layer of pure fine gravel/course sand.

I also assume that using this laterite, we do not have to mineralize it the way we use top soil instead.

Your comment and recommendation is highly appreciated.

Rgds

BT Lee
BT Lee,

That's neat to know it's spread globally. Again though, it was never my idea to begin with. I just wrote the article. The idea was first introduced to me by a friend of mine in my local club.

The laterite is an excellent substitute for the clay in the minerzalized soil "recipe." However, it doesn't have the nutrients that the topsoil does. Also using too much clay has been known to cause cloudy water and algae issues. You just want the soil to have a 5-10% clay content. It's just enough to provide good flocculation to allow the soil to settle out of suspension when plants are moved around and to bind nutrients in the soil.

Is topsoil hard to find or expensive? I just buy my topsoil for about $2.00 USD / bag.
 

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Dear Aaron,

Thanks for the prompt response and the good direction.

I suppose the reason for assumming the use laterite only without top soil is due to my misunderstanding of the term and nature 'top soil'.

Although 'Gardening Soil' is easily availiable in garden supplies shops ( they cost about US$1/= for each 5 liter bag ), in our local community, garden supplies outlet are typically small businesses and the use of local language is the norm.
As such, I was unsure if the soil typically used for gardening is the right 'top soil' we should be using.
Another concern is the uncertainty of foreign matter and thus possible toxicity in such gardening soil.
( in fact, some of the hobbyist has already statred their experiment with 100% laterite recently, hahaha )
One other reason that lead us to assume use of 100% laterite is because we read that laterite is rich in Iron, an important mineral that is hard to obtain on a DIY basis.

Anyway, your latest response has cleared up this matter, thanks again.

Since we are on the subject of substrate, may I ask for your comment for my following idea :-

I have a 5 ft tank that has a foot print of 150 cm X 60 cm.
In our local community ADA soil has been a highly recommended choice of substrate.
However considering the size of my tank and the cost of the ADA soil, I reckon I will need about 80 litre of it and it will cost me around US$250/= for the ADA soil alone.
I am wondering if its worth the trouble if I were to use say a mixture of laterite ( this should provide a long term source of Iron ) and sand for the bottom layer of substrate ( especially the back portion to build up height ).
Then, to minimise clouding of water during future replanting / maintenance work, top up this bottom layer with a layer ( say 2.5 cm ) of clean sand.
Then, for good measure, lay a thin layer ( say 2.5 cm ) of ADA soil on top of this layer of sand.
Oh, I also hear that there is this '5 Elements' sort of chemical from ADA that is typically laid at the bottom of the substrate to give them long term benefit.
I will consider using them as well.

Again, in the above proposal, do you think it is necessary to mix mineralized top soil to the said laterite bottom layer?

Your comment is highly appreciated.

Cheers!

BT Lee
 

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Thanks AaronT. My tank's bottom is 18" x 72" and the height is 24".

What size is the bottom of the tank? You can't really go by gallons because some tanks are taller, etc...

For my 50 gallon breeder w/ a 36" x 18" bottom I used 1 bag of topsoil mineralized and sifted, 1 lb. of clay and just enough potash and dolomite to sprinkle the bottom, but still see through the glass.
 

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Discussion Starter #108
Should I get rid of the peices of wood that are in my top soil. There is some that floats to the top when I am soaking it.
Yes, you can screen the soil once it is dried out.
 

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Discussion Starter #109
Dear Aaron,

Thanks for the prompt response and the good direction.

I suppose the reason for assumming the use laterite only without top soil is due to my misunderstanding of the term and nature 'top soil'.

Although 'Gardening Soil' is easily availiable in garden supplies shops ( they cost about US$1/= for each 5 liter bag ), in our local community, garden supplies outlet are typically small businesses and the use of local language is the norm.
As such, I was unsure if the soil typically used for gardening is the right 'top soil' we should be using.
Another concern is the uncertainty of foreign matter and thus possible toxicity in such gardening soil.
( in fact, some of the hobbyist has already statred their experiment with 100% laterite recently, hahaha )
One other reason that lead us to assume use of 100% laterite is because we read that laterite is rich in Iron, an important mineral that is hard to obtain on a DIY basis.

Anyway, your latest response has cleared up this matter, thanks again.

Since we are on the subject of substrate, may I ask for your comment for my following idea :-

I have a 5 ft tank that has a foot print of 150 cm X 60 cm.
In our local community ADA soil has been a highly recommended choice of substrate.
However considering the size of my tank and the cost of the ADA soil, I reckon I will need about 80 litre of it and it will cost me around US$250/= for the ADA soil alone.
I am wondering if its worth the trouble if I were to use say a mixture of laterite ( this should provide a long term source of Iron ) and sand for the bottom layer of substrate ( especially the back portion to build up height ).
Then, to minimise clouding of water during future replanting / maintenance work, top up this bottom layer with a layer ( say 2.5 cm ) of clean sand.
Then, for good measure, lay a thin layer ( say 2.5 cm ) of ADA soil on top of this layer of sand.
Oh, I also hear that there is this '5 Elements' sort of chemical from ADA that is typically laid at the bottom of the substrate to give them long term benefit.
I will consider using them as well.

Again, in the above proposal, do you think it is necessary to mix mineralized top soil to the said laterite bottom layer?

Your comment is highly appreciated.

Cheers!

BT Lee
People have been using laterite as a low substrate for decades. It does help, but you will still need to dose the water column with macronutrients. If you choose to use mineralized topsoil in addition to the laterite the need for dosing lessens dramatically. Topsoil is the top fertile layer of soil.
 

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People have been using laterite as a low substrate for decades. It does help, but you will still need to dose the water column with macronutrients. If you choose to use mineralized topsoil in addition to the laterite the need for dosing lessens dramatically. Topsoil is the top fertile layer of soil.
Dear Aaron,

Thanks for your response and advise.

You have certainly clarify a lot of doubt and help me understand the issue much better.

Just a little side tracking………

Before going into planted tank, I used to keep a lot of fish in my 2 5 foot tanks.
I feed them heavily ( mainly large discus and crown loaches ) with pork heart meal.
To keep the water reasonably low in nitrate ( I have a 3.5 ft sump biological filter to take care of ammonia and nitrite ) I have a continuous flow arrangement to pump out about 500 liter of water each 24hr and replace it with tap water with a float valve connected to the tap water inlet to the sump.
With that, I found that I am able to maintain NO3 level at about 20 ppm ( no plant ) without any other water change regime ( more than 1 year now ) and the arrangement has been so convenient and maintenance free.

When I convert one of these tank to planted tank months ago, I was told I need to maintain proper level of water column fertilization ( macro, micro and TE ) and I have to stop the automatic water change system because I believe the continuous flow system will lead to high lost in these water column fertilizer.

But without the continuous flow system and the high fish load ( and heavy feeding, hahaha, I just cannot resist that ), I have problem with BBA which I think is due to high phosphate level arising from the fish load and feeding.

With a little twist of luck, I have just found a very cheap local supply of various fertilizer and minerals ( K2SO4, chelated Fe and trace elements that is phosphate free ) for hydroponic gardening.
I believe I can put these micro nutrients into gelatin capsules and embed them into the substrate for slow release as well as enrich the water column by dosing directly with litter consideration of cost.

With that in mind, I intend to restart the continuous water change system to minimize the phosphate level and hope that this will lead to less BBA problem.

As always, your comment and advise appreciated.

Cheers!
BT Lee
 

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Thanks again AaronT. I will post some pic in the near future of my new setup. It's going to be pressurized co2, diy light and lots of plants, discus, school fish, plecos, cories and maybe loaches.

You'll need 2-3 bags of of topsoil for a tank that size.
 

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Calculate it for tank floor size, not gallons.

I used 2 - 2 1/2 bags of topsoil in my 180g, 6x2 footprint. I used about a bag of topsoil in my 75g.

So a bag of topsoil was getting me about 5-6 square feet of tank floor.
 

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Thanks Ingg for your input. One question for you and Aaron though, is there such as a thing as putting too much substrate? If I filled my tank with 1in to 11/2 in thick of substrate, would that be too much?

Calculate it for tank floor size, not gallons.

I used 2 - 2 1/2 bags of topsoil in my 180g, 6x2 footprint. I used about a bag of topsoil in my 75g.

So a bag of topsoil was getting me about 5-6 square feet of tank floor.
 

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What do I do about the small pieces of wood that would not come out when I sift. Should I just scoop them up when they float up in the water.
 

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Thanks Ingg for your input. One question for you and Aaron though, is there such as a thing as putting too much substrate? If I filled my tank with 1in to 11/2 in thick of substrate, would that be too much?
If the soil portion gets too deep, you run the risk of getting an anaerobic pocket in the substrate.....whether 1-1 1/2 inches is 'too deep' I'll leave that answer to the other guys :)
 

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What do I do about the small pieces of wood that would not come out when I sift. Should I just scoop them up when they float up in the water.
that'll work well :)
 

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Aaargh! fyi, if you leave a container of mineralzed soil open, a cat _will_ use it as a litter box!! :(
 
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