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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been toying with an idea for producing MTS that may be a lot less effort and a lot faster, perhaps slightly more costly and more nutritious.

Today, we start with a good organic potting soil, sieve it, soak it, dry it, wash, rinse, repeat for about 6-8 weeks until we come up with good MTS and even then we need a few more additives to stabilize pH, prevent putrefaction and other obnoxious byproducts. I have had another thought about it. Please read on and tell me what you think.

Let's start with the basis of all good soil, humus, sometimes called peat humus or Michigan peat. Now I've been a terrestrial gardener a bit longer than an aquatic one but I know my soil and as a gardener you have to know humus. This is what makes your soil dark and carbon rich. Essentially this is as decomposed as any organic matter can possibly get. It is essentially carbon, inorganic acids, some mineral salts and a few proteins, waxes, oils, resins and other reduced matter. Humus can be described as already being mineralized as in all the ions present are oxidized and thus in a reduced state mostly as cations. This is good to know and from here I extrapolate.

You can by good quality sifted humus, sold as peat humus, that is already sufficiently reduced. From here, what if we were to go ahead and cut it with -

1. Laterite
2. Dolomitic Lime
3. Muriate of Potash
4. Peat granules
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon)
6. Azomite

Perhaps you'd want to dry out your humus a bit more, but I think working from it first, then cutting in the above six items, you would have a lot of something special and quick. Working out the proportions and actually trialing such a mix is something I can't do for about another 6 months until I replace and rebuild two more of my tanks (I'm exchanging my many smaller ones for a few large ones). The Azomite is especially intriguing to me as an additive for our applications. I feel good about a mix like and I'm willing to risk it with my next set-up.

The Azomite I first thought was so much New Age woo-woo, but it looks like there is really something to it. It is a mineral found in Utah that is straight up mined, crushed and powdered. That's it. It looks like there is sufficient agricultural data to back it up so I will say I believe their claims. I went ahead and lifted their analysis and have reproduced it below for your convenience. Looks pretty good to me though the presence of heavy metals like Arsenic and Lead is troubling but as long as it is oxidized and in low enough concentrations, I'm okay with that. Notice it is not a big source of Iron, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. Now what you're going to do with 900 ppm of Fluorine is beyond me as well as a few others like Cerium, Lanthanum, Lithium and Rubidium. Still, it looks pretty good.



The idea is, working with humus, which is already mineralized and as reduced as anything can get, we maybe dry it out at most which would take probably several hours at worst depending on season and climate or, if you're brave enough and you have a really understanding significant other, a few hours in an oven then dope it with the above list all in one go, evenly mixing all of them throughout and end up with a massive reserve of nutrients and reduced carbon capped with something like arcillite or anything with a massive CEC and who knows, maybe even water column fertilizing would be unnecessary and you'd have a lot of truly high quality MTS whose content you absolutely control that would be virtually on demand all year 'round.

Naturally, the point of posting is to get reactions, tips, hints, guinea pigs and guidance, especially guidance on, if useful and practical, what proportions of ingredients to use without creating a noxious saline sludge. Perhaps even discuss viable sources of the materials themselves, prices, availability, chemistry, stoichiometry, studies already in existence, etc, etc.

Thank you for reading and please discuss and criticize, please, criticism is especially welcome.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
What is the purpose of the peat granules and the horticultural carbon?

I've never heard of azomite, but I can see why you would add it for micronutrients.
In terrestrial gardening peat is a great way to create pockets of acidity that serve as little sites of ion exchange facilitating the oxidation/reduction process beyond what soil organisms can do. I cannot find an example of this in the hobby only the use of peat to add tannins in the water for blackwater biotopes and spawning the fish from such places as well as the tannins health tonic like properties.

I can see how in our aquariums perhaps having smaller distributed sites or acidity would help get more out of our MTS. It would almost be the same thing as adding the soil sweetener (dolomitic lime) in an MTS tank, a site of base chemistry that slowly liberates calcium and magnesium over time and like the peat pellets it's actually a very localized in effect.

The very mild reactions between the two would have, I predict, a very limited but stable buffering deeper and more consistently throughout the dirt layer as well as promote a more diverse ecosystems of microbes. The calcium and magnesium precipitants formed would be more bioavailable and there would be a more mobile economy of iron; The condensed tannin would not only not interfere with iron absorption but keep it nice and mobile for the roots.

As for the activated carbon, it would serve as another sink for nutrients, below the substrate. It actually releases what it has adsorbed over time once saturated and has an affinity for large organic molecules, like the ones that sometimes make a dirt tank smell boggy, not bad, just boggy. Personally, I like that smell; It's the smell of productive life but capturing some of those molecules for later use by microorganisms and plants would be even better. Given enough time it eventually turns to dust just adding to the soil profile. Another benefit is the fact that it is so chunky. It would create beneficial voids for improved circulation and oxygenation which is very important for plant roots. I would actually propose putting the charcoal between the MTS and the cap for precisely this reason. This is a great way to even get away with a thicker layer of MTS and still have a mature, though smaller, and easier to manage anoxic layer which will form and should in healthy tanks.

The anoxic layer is important and I feel poorly publicized and discussed. This is the nexus for the carbon cycle and the universe of the sulfur cycle which plays a very important part of the iron cycle. This ought to be given its own thread but it has been mentioned by other luminaries like Tom Barr and wetman (aka The Skeptical Aquarist) and is an important foundation piece of ecology in general.

I'm starting to digress badly so I'll stop typing for a few moments :), forgive me. I got excited.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Interesting concept! Do you have any recipe for us to try out?

I have many of the ingredient already for a substrate in line with Tom Barr' low tech method.
but I love to try something new. I will likely substitute some ingredient like monopotassium phosphate for muriate.
That's part of my problem is what proportions would we want to use and what I need guidance with. I also won't be able to try it on myself for another few months when I'll be setting up new tanks, probably just two more and then I'm done. If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it would be 70-80% humus, then perhaps equal parts of everything else. That feels right but since I have the luxury of essentially making it up as I go along, I would want to figure out what's the most amount of the other components you could put in there to get some really fertile soil.

Let's say:

1. Laterite 5%
2. Dolomitic Lime 5%
3. Muriate of Potash 5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 60%

This is just a guess. I would say more Azomite because of its nutritive properties and more carbon because it's a sink and I like the idea of sequestering nutrients away for later use by roots. That's just me. In fact, I would try this very mixture when the time comes to put up my next tank but that won't be for a little while.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
How about:

1. Laterite 6%
2. Dolomitic Lime 6%
3. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
4. Peat granules 6%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 61.5%

Now that you mention it, the lime seems high too. Let's cut that in half which gives us.

1. Laterite 7%
2. Dolomitic Lime 3%
3. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
4. Peat granules 7%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 62.5%
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Mature compost is one way of producing humus. As long as it fits the definition of being composed entirely of reduced carbon and inorganic acids then it qualifies. Peat humus would be a lot closer in mind to what I intend to use and is a lot less ambiguous than other definitions hence why I provided the link in my initial post back to Wikipedia's article on it because that definition is absolutely what I mean, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humus.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I still think the percentage of lime is too high. Little bit of that goes a long way. Perhaps increase the laterite? Also, that azomite sounds like some good stuff. Im excited to see how this goes!
This is what I love about the Internet and forums like this: How quickly and efficiently you can collaborate and change things up :D.

How about:

1. Laterite 10%
2. Dolomitic Lime 1%
3. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 63.5%

I shaved a little more off the peat granules and added some to the humus.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Great to see progress! I got all the ingredients in one form or another. I will wait a few more weeks for more input before trying out any recipe.

Would people recommend using activated carbon in a powder form or will granules be good enough?
Granules, I think. In fact, the carbon I'm used to amending terrestrial plants soils with comes in rather large nuggets. I would say chunks no smaller than a 1/4". I might even go as far as using some premium stuff, like that Seachem Matrix Carbon or even just sticking with the horticultural carbon you can get at the hardware store for cheap or from a greenhouse supply chain. It's up to personal preference but if it were me, I'd do something like this stuff, http://www.doitbest.com/Mulches+and...+Organics-model-17502-doitbest-sku-702715.dib.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Something like this: http://www.denaligold.us/denaligold.html

Avoid anything that has manure in it so read those labels carefully :eek:! Humus is the last stage of decomposition and in this state, ecologically speaking, it is fully mineralized. Having the word organic in the label or copy could mean anything so don't be drawn in by that alone.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I am considering doing a more natural soil type substrate to rescape my 75 gal and this thread is really interesting. I have pretty hard water at 11 dKh. Do you think it might be better to leave the dolomite out? And that azomite seems pretty sweet, but do you think those metal traces, ie copper, would have any negative effects on shrimp or other delicate fauna?
That's another thing that's hard to answer. Does it contain 12 ppm's of elemental copper or some salt? Probably a salt of copper but we know some of those are dangerous too. I do know that it takes less than .4 ppm to kill all the snails in a pond but it also is quickly accumulated in plant tissues, so this is something we'll need to think about.

Good catch, by the way ;)!
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
So, If I understand this the humus would not need to go through the 4-6 week process? That would be awesome, I am in the process of attempting the original recipe but a short cut is always welcome :)
That's actually half my point is saving us time, trouble and effort as well as figuring out a way to make it even more nutritious.
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
...and if you cap with the substrate I mentioned earlier and that I have recently fallen in love with, as seen here, http://www.fosterandsmithaquatics.com/product/prod_display.cfm?c=5163+5178+14264&pcatid=14264, you'll have a ridiculous CEC that will sequester all those nutrients away for later, more efficient use. Maybe there is the potential to abandon water column dosing after all that? I don't know, but I consider that a personal goal of mine.

This stuff is the bomb, by the way. As near as I can figure it is 70% arcillite (highly calcined [fired] monmorillonite clay) and 30% zeolite. It's very light but doesn't get airborne the way Turface or Oil Dri does and holds down plants nicely. It's burrower friendly, the color leaves a lot to be desired but I can look past that and it is way cheaper than anything else I've run across. The stuff is so adsorptive that it sucked out the calcium from my tap water (in Texas, this is called liquid concrete) making it nice and soft and the silicic acid from a new tank so no diatoms. 24 hours after installing it I had to top up the tank a full inch of water because it drew that much into itself.

This will be the substrate of the future and this MTS recipe will hopefully be there under it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
Dug a little deeper on the shrimp issue:
http://www.azomite.com/index.php?op...icle&id=77:shrimp-studies&catid=44&Itemid=152

This would definitely suggest that it would be quite alright, if not beneficial for shrimp. I am thinking that while it is 12 ppm copper in the azomite, that will be mixed with all the other stuff, and then it will still be mostly water in your tank, diluting it much further. Prolly shouldn't pose a threat I suppose. I am pretty sure CSM+b has some copper and I know that flourish does.
I would feel even better about this if I could find one more independent study or many more, even. I will trust this company and their work for the moment. Their numbers are believable but there's nothing wrong with wanting some gravy too, I think.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 ·
I really want to give this a try, I am currently setting a 240 planted tank and have already started the MTS process. I would love to find some humus to use instead, but all the stuff I seem to find here is still very organic. Would the substrate/cap that you listed in your last post be superior to eco complete? I have about 3 1/2 bags of eco left from a tank that I tore down and was gonna wash it and cap with that for the CEC property of it.
I think it is, but don't take my word for it. There are a number of articles out there comparing the CEC of various materials and arcillite was the highest and most accessible. This section of this article is what started me on my quest, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cation-exchange_capacity#Standard_values. After that, some better understanding and some really gnarly googling, the choice became clear to me. A similar thing happened when I was looking into MTS after the fact and that's how I ended up here. I've probably been thinking about this for 2 years now and figured the time was coming to at the very least say something to someone and find out how right or wrong I am. So far, a few indicators look positive ;).
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
Niko, your inbox is full...
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
I follow Aaron Talbot's guide pretty closely doing 4-6 cycles. That's worked well for me so I stick to it.

As far as the price of humus, a hardware store or gardening supply center will have your back, especially in the Autumn or Spring. Google is also your friend in finding good brands and deals and don't be afraid to call the distributor and ask questions. I have no problem doing that because I like to be sure of my sources.

If you have the soil about ready to go, try adding everything else sans the humus and see how it goes. I think there is probably more margin for error than I think. Ultimately, MTS made the traditional way shouldn't be that much different from good humus and vice versa. You're just speeding through the composting process is all at the end of the day.
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 ·
Here's what I think we needed: http://www.outdoorlivingbymrmulch.com/browse.cfm/organic-peat-humus-40-pound-bag/4,128.html.

The real stuff, proper peat humus and at $2.90 per 40 pound bag that's exactly right. They also have a handy calculator for figuring out how much you need, http://a.mrmulch.com/2011topsoilcalculator.shtml.

Look at the picture of the stuff. Look familiar? It's already MTS, MTS is humus to begin with so this makes logical sense. Making MTS is just speeding up the composting process.


They suggest 3.1 bags for 1.5" in a standard 120 (48x24). Since my proposed recipe calls for about 2/3 humus, we'll say 2 bags, that's 80 pounds for $5.80 plus shipping. All the other stuff can be easily sourced for cheap. I think I'll go ahead and start stocking up.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Dolomitic Lime 1%
3. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 63.5%
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 ·
Not really though I am aware that Fluval makes some ready to use. I believe there is also a pond company that distributes some. I think Eheim also sells some.
 

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Discussion Starter · #35 ·
I'm still amassing the materials myself to engineer the mix. I won't have another tank to try it on for sometime yet. Anyone who wants to take the plunge or even wait to do it with me has my full support.
 

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Discussion Starter · #39 ·
Post a formula and ill try it when I set up a new 20g hopefully in the next month.
It was hiding in post #31.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Dolomitic Lime 1%
3. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon (or Activated Carbon) 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 63.5%

This is pretty much what we figured by group consensus. I personally believe in the power of crowdsourcing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #40 ·
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