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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
Ordered all the hard goods. Now I'm committed!

In my attempts to put together a viable selection of plant species, it occurs to me, based on the number of what I think are pretty common species out of stock, that inventories will likely be different by the time everything is here and ready to go such that I may just need to wait to assemble my pile o' plants. I like to have all my ducks in a row, have a comprehensive budget, etc. before I pull any triggers on any major projects like this, but I guess I'll have to live with a little ambiguity in this instance.

In other news, it has become clear that my daughter is excited about Guppies and not Puppies. I've been playing topical YouTube videos while I cook or whatever for educational ambiance, and she's been getting excited and exclaiming "guppies!" any time there's a fish on the screen (which usually is actually a guppy due to the subject matter I'm after). So that's encouraging!
 

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Is there something specific you're referring to, or simply a general warning?
It is specific. When a terrestrial soil is first submerged, it goes into a state of chemical and biological chaos for first 6-8 weeks. All of sudden, the soil has no oxygen! That changes everything. There's a huge release of nutrients into the water.

The trick is to get your plants growing during that first 8 weeks, so that they are strong enough to compete with algae. Otherwise, that flood of nutrients will stimulate algae and then any plants you add will have to compete with an established competitor.

Eventually, the soil will settle down to become a stable "sediment." I discuss the chaos of submerged soils in my book.
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
I skimmed the table of contents, and skipped straight to the allelopathy chapter as the subject I felt I was least familiar with. I've had about 15 minutes with it so far... Due to shipping time and just finding time, it's going to take me a few weeks to get through all the preparations before I do anything that's difficult to undo (ordering plants in my mind). I'm hoping to be able to get more time with the book between now and then. Next step is going to be getting my substrates cleaned up and read for action.
 

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I'm hoping to be able to get more time with the book between now and then.
In my experience, reading the book cover to cover before starting was invaluable. Obviously I didn't retain everything on the first go, but I learned a lot and I knew where in the book to find an answer for questions when they arose.

This isn't in everyone's capability (depends on how much time you have, your personal learning style, how familiar you are with the science already, etc.) but I recommend it to anyone trying the method.

In short, spend time with the book before starting, and you'll thank yourself after.
 

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You may (or may not) be interested in my small, low-tech, low-maintenance, close-to-nature aquariums – earlier today I posted an update after the first six months:

Hello from my workroom!

I've read through all the comments above and here some ideas (although you have already ordered the hardware):

1) Chose a mix of plants which are:
  • cheap
  • easy/beginner
  • fast-growing
2) Let the plants “do their own thing” - some will do well, some badly. (The three most important things in an aquarium are plants, plants, and plants!)

3) No duckweed. It will annoy you when it quickly carpets the whole surface (but is easy to skim off with a spoon).

4) It seems logical to me to have an LED classified as “daylight”, i.e. 6,500 Kelvin or more.

5) I have a heater in the guppy tank set to 20 C / 68 F to “take the chill off” if it gets really cold in the room. The tank on the window sill can go down to around 17 C / 63 F if I leave the window ajar over night, but the cherry shrimp, snails, etc. don't mind.

6) I have a sustained breeding population of guppies in the 60 liter / 15 gallon tank. I've been hesitant to put guppies in my 10 liter cube (I see yours is 7 liters) as that looks a bit cramped to me, but I haven't tried it and others will know better.

7) When I started six months ago I was wondering what I would do if the guppies had too many babies. But the population seems to regulate itself. I've read that guppies eat some of their own babies, and I only feed them once a week, and I think some fish give of hormones which inhibit reproduction and thus stop their water column from getting over-crowded.

8) I think you wrote that you will make sure that your young daughter doesn't over-feed the guppies (after the initial phase I now only feed mine once a week).

9) I've read that most female guppies you buy in a shop are already pregnant – this seemed to be the case with mine. I've also read that, once impregnated, they can repeatedly give birth without the help of a male.

10) You should be prepared for some of the guppies to die quite soon. Apart from any initial “shocks”, some might have a lifespan of only 12 months and they may already be six months old when you buy them. So it would be nice for your young daughter if some babies came along quickly. (In fact, I not only leave rotting vegetation in the tank, hidden away at the back, but also any dead fish or other animals – but presumably you wouldn't want to be doing that.)

11) I've read that most of the fancy/pretty snails available do not reproduce in aquariums (they need salt water for that) so I chose types that do breed well in aquariums – ramshorn snails (blue and red ones are pretty) and bladder snails (small and do not look anything special). Both kinds multiply like mad!

12) I started off with ten red cherry shrimp. Fascinating little creatures! But I think they are also masters at hiding out of sight – in the first couple of months I may have seen one shrimp once a day, and of course I was worried that most had died. But after a month or two they started to appear in greater numbers – according to the internet, this is quite a common experience.

13) If you're not too impatient, then yes, I would introduce the various lifeforms over the timescale mentioned – you'll be on the safe side for letting the system stabilize itself if you leave days/weeks between the plants => snails => shrimps => fish.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Halfway through the book. This week is a vacation for us, and I've been using daughter's nap times to read. Meanwhile, the glass box (does "aquarium" refer to the vessel or the complete system?) arrived today. It's not the highest quality, but it was the lowest price I could find that checked all my boxes, so it'll do just fine.

Book made me realize I'll need to check the pH of my potting soil. I made it for my zero-maintenance garden beds (yes, there is a theme), and I think I used sphagnum moss for a good part of it. It's a few years old at this point, but is likely still be quite acidic. Might need to find an alternate source.

Progress continues, and the strategy is being refined. Feeling good about things.
 

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Halfway through the book. This week is a vacation for us, and I've been using daughter's nap times to read. Meanwhile, the glass box (does "aquarium" refer to the vessel or the complete system?) arrived today. It's not the highest quality, but it was the lowest price I could find that checked all my boxes, so it'll do just fine.

Book made me realize I'll need to check the pH of my potting soil. I made it for my zero-maintenance garden beds (yes, there is a theme), and I think I used sphagnum moss for a good part of it. It's a few years old at this point, but is likely still be quite acidic. Might need to find an alternate source.

Progress continues, and the strategy is being refined. Feeling good about things.
Lay an inch of it a jar and then add water. I would pay particular attention to the nitrite level. That will give you an idea how much nitrification has taken place inside the bag of potting soil while it was lying around and exposed to air. This leads to a discussion of the "mineralization" process (which is sort of a misnomer - it's more like the flushing or rinsing process) which everyone goes through in setting up the aquarium (which would include the tank, the soil, water and all its inhabitants IMO.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
The potting soil is my own mix from bulk material for my zero-maintenance garden (seeds/plants in, food out, repeat, the end). It's sphagnum moss, compost, and I forget which of vermiculite/perlite (if it floats, I'll remove it). The soil I have slated for this project has been sitting unplanted in the sun for the last few years in a terra cotta pot on the deck. So, intense high altitude sun (though there's a layer of mulch on top), mostly dry, some freezing and snow, and lately an unusual amount of rain. The original compost/organic fertilizer load had maybe two light plantings, and otherwise it's just been sitting like that.

Background disclosed, what would I be looking for exactly with that test, and how would I be interpreting it?
 

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The potting soil is my own mix from bulk material for my zero-maintenance garden (seeds/plants in, food out, repeat, the end). It's sphagnum moss, compost, and I forget which of vermiculite/perlite (if it floats, I'll remove it). The soil I have slated for this project has been sitting unplanted in the sun for the last few years in a terra cotta pot on the deck. So, intense high altitude sun (though there's a layer of mulch on top), mostly dry, some freezing and snow, and lately an unusual amount of rain. The original compost/organic fertilizer load had maybe two light plantings, and otherwise it's just been sitting like that.

Background disclosed, what would I be looking for exactly with that test, and how would I be interpreting it?
You stated in your last post that there was some concern about the soil's acidity. It's easy enough to add some to a jar of water. As Diana stated upstream, water changes everything. Test it for PH. Test it for ammonia, Test it for nitrites (which at high levels can kill fish.) Test it for nitrates (which is significantly less toxic, but still needs to be kept an eye on.) Those could be your water's "parameters" once it's all added to the tank. Basically, you won't know until you scale it up in an actual tank. But the jar test should give you some idea how much mineralizing you will be facing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
Right. The question I have is what would I be looking for in the results of an ammonia/nitrite/nitrate test? What would high/low values tell me about the soil and it's suitability for the project? You stated previously that mineralization would more accurately be described as flushing/rinsing; I would expect after a few years of rain and snow that what I have here is pretty well flushed/rinsed. I'm just hoping it never got so dry/hot as to sterilize.
 

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Growing sorghum is very different from raising six guppies in 7 gallons of water. Believe me when I tell you that you want the soil to be as close to "sterile" as you can get it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 · (Edited)
If I were doing my best to not kill six guppies (raising is such a strong word), then maybe. But I'm mostly doing my best to not kill a big wet pile of plants. The six guppies and a handful of shrimp and snails are support staff and motivation. (At least this seems to be the best way to think about it in my current head space.)

I'm halfway through the book. The chapter on soils and substrates is in the second half, but I read the chapter on bacteria yesterday. They're pretty mission critical from what I gather. How do you figure the soil should be sterile?
 

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Where are you sourcing your soil? I disagree about sterilizing the soil if coming from a bag. I don't know about sterilizing soil from outside. I probably wouldn't recommend using soil at all that you would feel the need to sterilize anyway.

Soil should contain enough nitrifying bacteria to start the cycle. But bacterial nitrogen cycling is a secondary process in this method, and plants will be the main source of filtration. Other bacterial processes play different roles in the system, as you read about in the chapter on them.

Overall, I don't think soil sterilization is necessary nor beneficial.
 

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I used the word sterile in quotes because the thread creator seems to be confusing the mineralization process with rendering his soil "sterile" (his choice of words, not mine.)

Rather than argue about terminology (before he's added a single cup of water to his tank) perhaps it's best to let him finish reading Diana's book. My hunch is that by the end of this weekend he will still be confronted with the same task: rinsing enough soil to cover about an inch and a half of the bottom of his tank, perhaps covering it with an equal amount of gravel to keep it from swerling around and putting his plants in. Mind you, if he's at all concerned with killing his plants he can perform the same task (minus the gravel) in a small container and just use his "master kit" (which comes with a complete set of instructions) to test everything from acidity to a whole host of byproducts of the Nitrogen Cycle.
 

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Keep it simple--as you learn. Soil that has been sitting around for years is not going to have killer levels of ammonia or nitrite. If soil is very dry, I would soak it before putting in the tank so it doesn't float during planting. Take your time and use your common sense. Don't make soil layer more than 1" thick for such a small tank. Gravel/sand layer less than 1".
If the soil grows garden or houseplants, it will grow aquatic plants--considering that other conditions are okay (water hardness, light levels, plant biomass, etc., etc.). Your potting soil sounds decent. Even if soil starts out acidic, the pH will neutralize over time (my book, Fig VIII-5 on page 130).

My article, Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp' has pictures of a setup. It's on my website.
 

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Discussion Starter · #60 ·
The soil is potting soil, just not a commercial mix. It's made up of the same components as the commercial stuff, and it's gone through a few growing seasons. For these purposes, consider it used bagged potting soil.

I used the word sterile in quotes because the thread creator seems to be confusing the mineralization process with rendering his soil "sterile" (his choice of words, not mine.)
No confusion here between sterile soil and mineralization because I still don't even know what mineralization is referring to exactly. My concern about the soil being sterile (or close to it) is because it's a substrate and bacterial population intended to be in thoroughly moist conditions that's gone long periods in the very dry, very intense high altitude sun (I live at ~7k'). Very extreme environment. High heat and dry conditions are not conducive to microbial longevity. Those microbes that did survive the dry cooking process may not be ideal, or may even be harmful, and could set up some undesirable chemistry when conditions swing to the far opposite end of the spectrum. Think botulism in canning.

I will swap it out with some of the active stuff in the garden that's been kept at optimal moisture, temperature, and nutrient levels for an extended period of time, and will be biologically healthy and diverse. As a bonus, I just happen to have used "organic fish emulsion fertilizer" in the reservoirs, which is just fish mulm, so they'll already be attuned, at least in part, to the food source. I have a corner where I haven't planted the final third of my greens for the season, and by the time I do, it'll be moist and thoroughly active.

You (@johnwesley0) suggested testing it (the potting soil leachate) for ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite. Is the intent to see if the levels are high in a very conventional aquarium maintenance way? In which case the remedy, as I currently understand it, is to perform frequent water changes until those levels stabilize. If, however, there's something else to be gathered from those numbers, I'd love to know it. It's entirely possible I'm overthinking it, and the conventional parameters are all you're suggesting I take note of. That's what I've been trying to ask.

My plan in that regard is to get an appropriate amount of soil, pull out any big chunkies, stir it up in a bucket of water to skim off any floaters, then pour off the water and let it dry out enough to be workable. I'll test the pH of the leachate at this phase, and if it is acidic I can simply add some of our well water (very hard) and maybe a little sodium carbonate solution. That will eat up any excess H, and simultaneously crash out some Ca for later biological use. Any excess Na should be trivial and the plants will have dealt with it long before any fish are added, not that they'll likely care much at those levels.

Also, FTR, the buy list has been provisionally modified. Half the Master Test Kit is pH related, and I'm swimming in much easier/higher quality pH testing stuff for work (it's my company, and I own all the equipment personally, so no conflicts there). I haven't yet run the numbers to see where the economics fall on the number of tests vs. cost vs. expiration dates though.
 
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