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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
hey guys,

i'm a little worried that my substrate has gone bad! the fish and plants seem fine, but whenever the substrate is disturbed it is quite bubbly! NO2, NH3, and PH are all normal. this is my Walstad 20g and has been up and running for about a year. hmmmmmm
 

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I would not be too concerned if your fish and plants are both doing fine. My aquarium is not densely populated with rooted plants so I have similar concerns. What I did was use a small chop stick ones you get from a Chinese restaurants when dining and used a knife to make a point at one end(optional). Then I just poke into the dirt a dozen spots every few weeks to aerate the soil and release the bubbles. With a pointed chop stick I just rotate as I go down the substrate. Having a point helps to not push the substrate into the soil, at least that's my logic.
 

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Also try smell the water when the bubbles are released, if they smell bad then the soil may be bad so try my previous step more frequent and all will be ok;) Don't poke too much at one time(if soil is bad) or you might release too much toxin into the water and harm the fish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Phewf! I have some areas with lots of roots - but the areas with not as many are definitely bubbly. I'll release the gas more often and perhaps follow that up with a water change, if i notice any smelliness. Perhaps I'll try putting in a carpet plant with deeper roots. Also I have a tall tank so I can use a taller plant than you might normally use for a carpet without it looking silly. Will that solve this problem on a more permanent basis? Does anyone have any plant species suggestions?
Thanks Alex!
 

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hey guys,

i'm a little worried that my substrate has gone bad! the fish and plants seem fine, but whenever the substrate is disturbed it is quite bubbly! NO2, NH3, and PH are all normal. this is my Walstad 20g and has been up and running for about a year. hmmmmmm
My substrates bubble like crazy the first 8 weeks after setup.

Your tank, though, is a year old. If the bubbling is mainly in areas where plants aren't growing, then this is a "horse of a different color". It sounds like organic matter has accumulated and your substrate has developed anaerobic pockets. This is not good for your fish, plants, and the tank ecosystem.

Poking the substrate is a good short-term solution. For the long-term, you may have to add bigger plants, increase water circulation to those problem areas, or increase lighting (to encourage better plant growth). Hard to say what the exact solution is, but it sounds like you'll figure it out.
 

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It's my understanding that the substrate undergoes continual decomposition, by design, releasing CO2 and nutrients naturally so that we don't have to fuss with it. If there isn't a nasty swamp gas rotten egg smell happening, and water chemistry continues to remain normal, it sounds like a well set up Walstadt tank doing it's legendary thing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks Diana as usual for the advice!

I did a mass substrate poking yesterday and then did almost a complete water change to get rid of any toxins i may have disturbed. strangely, most of the bubbles didn't give off any smell, but i think i found a couple of pockets with that rotten egg smell. but i think i may have caught this problem it in time and i'm off to the LFS to get some heavy rooting plants to solve the problem on a more long term basis. when i put them in i'll do another gas releasing session and hopefully all will be good. i've been experimenting with fussy plants for the last 6 months or so with varying degrees of success, but i think it may be time to go back to some of the old hearty standbys. All fishes and plants are still looking good today but my eyes are peeled for strange behaviour!

any heavy rooters to suggest?
 

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I don't know if it's what you're looking for as it's not a carpet plant, but nymphaea stellata (dwarf lily) builds huge root systems. When I removed the rather small one from my 29G its roots had spread to cover half the bottom of the tank (30" x 12") and aside from a few floaters it wasn't more than five or six inches tall. Plus they come in red, which is always cool.
 

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Any of the large swords have lots of roots. My water sprite had a crazy root system. If you want smaller plants, dwarf sagitaria carpets every tank I have. It spreads well. I broke down a tank and the dwarf sag roots were like a mat covering the entire tank bottom. It's not so 'dwarf', either. It'll grow about 4 inches.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
MEA i also am a fan of dwarf sag. I'll have to steal some from another tank - it would be a great help in this case. Although it grows really tall in this tank, which is why I removed it in the past. I was also recommended pygmy chain sword at my LFS - does anyone know how well these root?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Hey all here is the latest. I put in a TON of pygmy chain sword and they are all sprouting new leaves, which is encouraging. I also put in 12 stems of sunset hygro which are also doing well so far. There is now not a square inch of my substrate that is not planted. Am I right in assuming that if my substrate were really toxic that the new plants wouldn't be doing very well? I'm not convinced that there aren't toxins in the water column though - and I'm on the look out for weird fish behaviour. I've done 2 more gas releasing sessions followed by 50% water changes. In general my guppies are hanging out in the mid-top half of the tank more than I remember them doing before, and after a water change they seem to swim all over the tank for a day or so. Am I reading into this too much or is this a fish behaviour indicating a toxic environment. Sorry if I'm being a bit of a paranoid freak!

If I wanted to test the water column for toxins what would I test for? Is there such a test available?
 

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Agree with MEA. The large swords have lots of roots. They also need a lot of iron so keep any eye out for the color of the leaves over time.
 

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You are doing good to release the gases and then do a water change.
The plants will not do so well in an anaerobic soil. They need oxygen in the root area. If the plants are starting to take hold, then you have probably done what you need to with the substrate for now.

Watching the fish for reactions is a good way to monitor it.

The best 'test kit' for the gas you are releasing is your nose. If it smells bad, it is bad.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
My guppies have now been back to the curious, swimming everywhere ways for 4 days with no water change. So, for now all seems to be back to normal. I'm still going to keep a regular once a week substrate poke with water change schedule. Every now and then I'll find a bubble pocket that has that not so good smell - so I'm not quite satisfied that all is fixed yet. But thanks to everybody's advice I think it's on the mend!
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
the bubbling won't stop!!! yet plants seem to be doing fine and growing up a storm. especially the new plants I put in to help the substrate (which include dwarf sag, sunset hygro, and dwarf hairgrass (i think...) and ludwigia glandulosa).

BUT the trumpet snails aren't burrowing and the guppies (which seem to be fine otherwise) won't feed off the bottom, my kuhlis which usually like hanging out in their cave are taking up residence mid-tank in the plants, and now a thin fluffy white layer (of fungus?) gathers on the gravel in between gas releasing sessions. argh!

i guess i will have to start fresh.......? sigh. i'm hoping it will last until the new year? I will be away for 15 days over christmas so i'll have to do a big water change, cross my fingers and hope for the best. then I'll do a new set up in Jan. i'm asking for a 20 gallon long for christmas in light of this issue. if santa brings it i'll document it for everyone.

SO I'd love it if everyone can give me all their hints on avoiding this rotten substrate problem. Here is my summary of what I think caused this problem.

1. I though I stuck to the 1-1.5 inch layer of soil and 1-1.5 inch layer of gravel. But I think that my gravel which is quite small must be too thick.

2. I also didn't get rid of any sticks or wood chips in the soil before submerging.

3. I have a tall tank in which I have gorgeous tall stem plants & vals, and a HUGE arrow anubias - but carpet plants have not done very well due to too much shade on the substrate.

Are there any other reasons you may have that could have caused this and hints on how to avoid it?
Thanks everyone!
 

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Did you let the dirt breath before you put it in the tank. The El Natural set up suggest spreading out your bagged topsoil and let ammonia gas off overnight before using it in a NPT. Also it is best to sift the dirt before you put it in the tank. I found it easiest to sift it through a window screen.

Perhaps Marsilea minuta would better as carpet plants. They are low light plants.

How about some pictures of the tank?
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Hey all,

i just got back yesterday from christmas holiday and i was really nervous about what shape my tank would be in when i got back. i was picturing lots of floating fish and decomposing plants. but no, that's just not the case! i was very relieved when ALL my guppies swam over to say hi. here is a picture before i did my gas release and water change.

before i left 2 weeks ago i tore down a nano i had started and i jammed those plants in everywhere there was free substrate in my main tank. i also put in fresh carbon and changed most of the water. i trimmed all the stem plants and replanted them and they've grown 2-4 inches, and my arrow anubias has 2 new baby shoots, sag has started spreading, and the pygmy chain sword has taken on a nice reddish hue. all my levels were totally normal - but i did notice several guppies glancing from time to time and it is still bubbling like crazy. so i don't think bubbling is going to stop - but it's also not doing too badly considering how gaseous it is. as before, only a few of the bubbles actually smell bad.

so i guess i am aquarium shopping again??? - but it doesn't seem like i have to be in a too much of a hurry. i'm going to try a 30' long 25 gallon - that way i can keep all my tall plants and have more dirt to play with, yay!
 

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