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Most (if not all) of these points about soil and water chemistry will come up in the book. My advice is to finish reading, then decide what to do about hardness and soil choice.

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.
I think johnwesley is suggesting this because when we buy soil for use in our aquariums, we try to find soil with a relatively low nitrogen content (<0.3 N). Since you aren't buying the soil, you don't know how much N it contains, and these tests might give you an idea what to expect in your first few weeks using it. A high N soil will give you a very wild start while a low N soil will be relatively more tame. For example, my soil only had 0.2 N, and my ammonia/nitrite/nitrate values have been nearly 0 pretty much since day 1. Everybody's tank is different though.

Of course, it's also just a good idea to have a baseline for all the metrics you'll be recording regularly while the tank settles in. Hardness, pH, and ammonia/nitrite/nitrate are the ones that API sells and the ones I use.
 

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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.
This is what I meant. I'll leave the PH testing in your capable hands. :)
 

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Nano Walstad
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Discussion Starter · #63 ·
Ho-kay. Book complete. What kind of weirdo reads what I'm going to characterize as a college level textbook in preparation for getting their kid a guppy? Geez... I might be an incurable nerd. Hopefully there's a genetic component to it.

So, to pick up where the conversation otherwise left off, my intended garden soil is firmly in the potting soil camp as laid out in the book. I'll check the pH while I'm getting it prepped just to make sure it's not too extreme, but I'm not going to give it 6 weeks to settle in or I'll run into cold weather when I'm trying to get the tank populated.

Parts and pieces are mostly arrived now, so material progress will begin imminently!
 

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Ho-kay. Book complete. What kind of weirdo reads what I'm going to characterize as a college level textbook in preparation for getting their kid a guppy? Geez... I might be an incurable nerd. Hopefully there's a genetic component to it.

So, to pick up where the conversation otherwise left off, my intended garden soil is firmly in the potting soil camp as laid out in the book. I'll check the pH while I'm getting it prepped just to make sure it's not too extreme, but I'm not going to give it 6 weeks to settle in or I'll run into cold weather when I'm trying to get the tank populated.

Parts and pieces are mostly arrived now, so material progress will begin imminently!
Thanks for reading book. It should put you way ahead of the pack and save you money in the long run. See my today's post on Tank Oxygenation...
 

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Discussion Starter · #65 ·
Thanks for not only taking the time to write it, but making yourself so freely available in a forum like this. Thanks as well to everyone else for their input. Hopefully now that I've read the course textbook, I'll ask fewer uninformed questions.

Now that I have the foundation in place (both mentally and materially), we're going to start playing with dirt, and all sorts of fun toddlery things. She has health problems that have kept us all homebound more or less since she was born (the pandemic is also a major contributing factor to this, obviously), so these sorts of educational activities (that are also stimulating for us) are gold plated platinum wrapped in a diamond studded tortilla. We've managed to keep her up with, and even ahead of, the developmental curve, but every day gets harder and harder as she grows and it takes more to form those neural pathways. My plan for today is to get the tank cleaned up and ready to go, and hopefully start making the substrates ready. Last night at bedtime, she said she wanted to go to the playground today, so that may take precedence (but if we can't find an empty/safe one, we'll be back here doing this anyway).

I already stated that we don't have time from a weather perspective to give the soil chemistry six weeks to settle, but I think we can manage a decent whack at a dry start. If I maintain my usual productivity cadence this week, I hope to have the appropriate plants ordered by this coming weekend, and in hand early next week.
 

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I already stated that we don't have time from a weather perspective to give the soil chemistry six weeks to settle, but I think we can manage a decent whack at a dry start. If I maintain my usual productivity cadence this week, I hope to have the appropriate plants ordered by this coming weekend, and in hand early next week.
In setting up a tank, I have never waited 6 weeks for soil to settle. I don't have patience to wait 6 weeks. My book, page 138, describes tank setup same day with soil out of the bag. As soon as you get your plants, you should get them in the tank. You want them growing well before the soil chaos, which is not immediate.
Of course, if you want to mineralize soil outside tank beforehand for 6 weeks, that will work, but I don't think it's necessary.
 

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Discussion Starter · #67 ·
I do recall you saying you've never waited that long, and that part of why I'm not sweating that piece. You also stated in Chapter 11 (I don't have the book to hand, so can't quote the exact page number) that you recommend the DSM. My current plan of attack has me ordering/purchasing/planting plants in 2 tranches to accommodate this. Is this no longer recommended?
 

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I do recall you saying you've never waited that long, and that part of why I'm not sweating that piece. You also stated in Chapter 11 (I don't have the book to hand, so can't quote the exact page number) that you recommend the DSM. My current plan of attack has me ordering/purchasing/planting plants in 2 tranches to accommodate this. Is this no longer recommended?
It's page 182. She prefaces it however by saying it is for "Hobbyists who are not in a hurry..." My understanding is that the DSM (dry start method) has the advantage of 1) involving minimal amounts of water, 2) allows plants while in their emergent form to use nutrients quickly and 3) eliminates algae as a confounding factor. But you'd still be faced with many (10?) weeks of acclimation (gradually adding water) for the process to run its course.

One hack, if it is available locally, might be to purchase plants that are already growing in their submersed forms. In other words, they would have to be purchased in-person, at the site where they were grown, underwater rather than in their emerged form put into a tube and mailed to you. Using locally grown plants would enable you to mineralize the substrate with the plants in situ, as it were.

And, actually, so long as you are not too worried about losing a few leaves in the process (hobbyists call it "melting"), you can probably mineralize while using plants that were mail-ordered as well (I have a feeling that 90% of hobbyists who worry about such things do just that.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #69 ·
I'm not in a hurry other than beating the cold weather when livestock is being shipped. There are a few aquarium shops that have submerged plants locally, but I failed to note who had what while I was doing that tour. None had an especially extensive selection, and it would severely limit my options. If I can find the bandwidth, I might try to revisit the shops that had plants to see what they have between them and take notes. If I can get a full compliment pre-submerged locally, that'll save a few weeks.

From memory, another advantage of DSM setup was to give the plants a chance to establish roots THEN adapt to being submerged rather than trying to do it all at once. That's the thing that stuck out to me most anyway. I doubt the full X weeks is necessary to see some advantage, and it gives me time to tackle things in small bites in the time I have available and with the attention span I'm working with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #70 ·
Practical question time:

Today I scrounged some time (in a rainstorm it turned out) to clean my fine gravel/coarse sand and potting soil. I ran a bunch of water through the gravel and poured off everything that stayed suspended, got out as much of the fine sand as I could, etc. Went just fine and as expected. The result appears to be a nice, clean, fine gravel/coarse sand (a little smaller than I recall the typical pet store bagged "aquarium gravel" to be from my youth) with natural coloration. Perfect!

The potting soil on the other hand... I thought I would float out any of the perlite/vermiculite (whichever one of those it is that floats if that's what I used), and any sticks or whatever I might have missed when sorting through it. The complication is that... probably 90% of it is floating... So the question is one of expectations from the perspective of the baseline Miracle Grow bagged potting soil. SHOULD it be floating? Will it saturate and sink (it's currently sitting out there full of water under this assumption)? Will PART of it saturate and sink, and the rest should be poured off? Is the point of the fine-ish gravel on top of the potting soil to hold it all down? Is it just my home brew potting soil that's especially buoyant (in which case, I'll put it all back where it came from and go get some of the bagged stuff)?

What should my expectations have been? Is there something happening that I'm simply too naive to be taking away here?
 

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Practical question time:

Today I scrounged some time (in a rainstorm it turned out) to clean my fine gravel/coarse sand and potting soil. I ran a bunch of water through the gravel and poured off everything that stayed suspended, got out as much of the fine sand as I could, etc. Went just fine and as expected. The result appears to be a nice, clean, fine gravel/coarse sand (a little smaller than I recall the typical pet store bagged "aquarium gravel" to be from my youth) with natural coloration. Perfect!

The potting soil on the other hand... I thought I would float out any of the perlite/vermiculite (whichever one of those it is that floats if that's what I used), and any sticks or whatever I might have missed when sorting through it. The complication is that... probably 90% of it is floating... So the question is one of expectations from the perspective of the baseline Miracle Grow bagged potting soil. SHOULD it be floating? Will it saturate and sink (it's currently sitting out there full of water under this assumption)? Will PART of it saturate and sink, and the rest should be poured off? Is the point of the fine-ish gravel on top of the potting soil to hold it all down? Is it just my home brew potting soil that's especially buoyant (in which case, I'll put it all back where it came from and go get some of the bagged stuff)?

What should my expectations have been? Is there something happening that I'm simply too naive to be taking away here?
Diana covered this possibility in post #59:

If soil is very dry, I would soak it before putting in the tank so it doesn't float during planting.
It will probably sink after a few days.
 

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Discussion Starter · #72 ·
The potting soil wasn't very dry. Quite moist in fact, as it's straight out of the productive garden rather than the dry pots. I may not have stated it here, but I ended up swapping some of the dry potting soil from the pots with some of the active soil in the garden from a section I haven't planted yet for the season, then replacing that subtracted amount with some from the aforementioned pots, which will be thoroughly hydrated come planting time as if it had been there all along.

If "very dry" requires a good soak to sink, then moist might as well. It's out there soaking now, and I'm going to stir it occasionally to check on it over the next few days.
 

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Discussion Starter · #74 ·
I'm planning (insofar as one can plan juggling a job and a health compromised 2yo in a pandemic) to try to sneak off to the two aquarium supply shops that had plants, and take detailed notes of what they have pre-submerged. If I can make a functional, workable, and aesthetically pleasing set of plants from what's available, I'll be able to skip the planned abbreviated dry start. If all those stars don't align, I'll be doing at least a few weeks' worth of dry start.

In semi-related news, I want to try to get a bit of a slope to the substrate media for aesthetic purposes. In order to avoid too much depth to the soil or gravel creating an anaerobic area within the tank, I just dug some ceramic tile out of the basement, and I plan to break it up and stack it to raise the bottom of the tank without setting up any problem areas. I think I have some slate down there as well, and might use that instead. This is a new idea that I haven't fully fleshed out yet...
 

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Discussion Starter · #76 ·
I won't put anything in the aquarium that doesn't behave from the get-go. Tomorrow (hopefully), I'll do the recon mission. Tuesday is spoken for from a scheduling perspective, so Wednesday is the earliest I might skim the floating portion from the dirt bucket. If enough of it behaves to get me where I'm going, I'll use it and proceed. Otherwise, I'll get a bag of the recommended organic miracle grow stuff, and use that instead. I'm a little concerned that the amount of pulled for this project might not be enough once the floaty bits are skimmed, and I might have to soak some more to get my 1-1.5" depth. I have a similar concern with the gravel, but that's a lot easier to work with.
 

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I don't have much experience with DSM. I did it once for fun, but it takes too long.

Soil floating... My potting soil floated, but it didn't cause a problem, because of how I set the tank up. As I worked, I put in the layer of potting soil and a little gravel (1/4" layer?). I added a little water, maybe just 1/2 inch above the substrate. I started planting. As I put the plants in, naturally the soil floated upwards. (After all, wood pieces contain air.) So I covered the exploding places with gravel as I worked. The added gravel was heavy enough to hold the soil and plants down. One inch gravel is plenty to hold down moist potting soil, IF one is careful. Over time, those wood pieces would lose their air and become less buoyant and stop floating.

Proper tank setup takes time, care, and thought. For my tanks, I used 95% of the potting soil that I put into the tank.

Garden soil doesn't have the floating problem.

At the risk of repeating myself, I would suggest rereading the chapter in my book on substrates. It contains a detailed section on tank setup.
 

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Discussion Starter · #79 ·
A day has passed, and I've been going out there to stir the bucket every so often. It looks like a decent percentage of the soil seems to be crashing out (or whatever you call it in this context). I think we'll be all good to go on this front once enough time has passed for me to be able to take that material to the next stage. I guess dirt floating is on a spectrum, and unless it's totally saturated it'll float. Initially, at least 90% was floating, and as of a few minutes ago, that ratio seems to have inverted.

Meanwhile, I took the child on a field trip to the two top aquarium stores in the area, and surveyed the available submerged plants. I'm not familiar enough with these things to really know what I was looking at in real time, so now I'm going to do my engineer thing and do a bunch of googling while making a spreadsheet!
 

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Discussion Starter · #80 ·
I might actually be able to skip the transition phase! I'm still figuring out what exactly I have to choose from, but there are 75 plant species, 67 of which are submersed, available between the two best aquarium shops in the Denver area. I should be able to cobble together a functional setup from all that without the need for a DSM!
 
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