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Discussion Starter · #41 ·
Hang on a minute, everybody! I just got to thinking. This mix is kind of calcium poor, so I thought about it and on top of dolomitic lime which for the most part is equal in calcium and magnesium, CaMg(CO3)2, maybe we should tip the scales a bit in favor of that 4:1 calcium:magnesium ratio.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Dolomitic Lime 2%
3. Aragonite 8%
4. Muriate of Potash 0.5%
5. Peat granules 5%
6. Horticultural Carbon 10%
7. Azomite 10%
8. Humus 54.5%

BUT, why do we rely on a salt such as potassium chloride, the muriate of potash? I really don't like the extra chlorine hanging around, but we need potassium, no two ways about it but the amounts suggested seem really low when you think about it. Why not langbeinite, K2Mg2(SO4)3, instead? Less salty, way more potassium and it has extra sulfur and magnesium in one go. It is sometimes sold as sul-po-mag. It breaks down to 22% potassium, 11% sulfur and 22% magnesium, the remaining 55% is just oxygen.

So, let's rejigger some things:

1. Laterite 10%
2. Sul-Po-Mag 5%
3. Aragonite 5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 55%

Sorry about that guys, Niko really got me thinking about something this morning and one thing led to another. I'm sure you understand how it goes.

So, let's say you want to make 1 Kg of this stuff you'd do 550g humus, 100g azomite, 100g carbon, 50g peat granules, 50g aragonite, 50g sul-po-mag, 100g laterite and there you are.

We're really close guys, I can feel it...
 

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Discussion Starter · #43 ·
Hydrogen sulfide comes from bacteria in anaerobic conditions not necessarily the presence of just sulfur which is hard to get away from considering how much sulfur is in every living (and dead) thing so it is not a concern.
 

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Someting about Calcium in the substrate that is in a form that's very useful to the plants:

Here's a picture of a dolomitic kind of material - meaning it has Ca and Mg:


I've said that a few times before - I had a tank with a layer of "chat". This is a gravel used for underlayment of new asphalt roads. I guess it compacts well and it is cheap. It's light grey in color. I got it 10 years ago when I knew little about using CO2. I ran a lot of CO2 and the water in my brand new tank became milky overnight. You could see through it but it was opalescent. Also a thick bubbly film developed on the surface.

While trying to fight that film I kept the tank running with about 4 wpg of light. Upon removal of the film with newspapers and scooping it out it would return in about 10 minutes. During this period (about 4 weeks) I saw astonishing growth on plants that had roots (swords) but also on Rotala. After a month in this 55 gallon tank I took so much plant cuttings to the LFS that they gave me $40 cash (and you know how stingy all LFS owners are).

The tank was brand new. There was nothing very useful in the substrate yet. Supposedly. But the substrate was releasing so much "stuff" under the influence of the CO2 that the water was getting milky and flocculation was forming the thick film on the surface.

Now for the interesting observation: It was not unusual to see a 6 inch leaf at 5 PM on a plant that had no new leaf that same day at 8AM. In a brand new tank, without fertilization of the water, no fish to feed, and with a thick film + heavy opalescense blocking the light.

I fixed the tank substrate (threw it away) and replaced it with Fluorite. For the almost 30 days of the tank's milky life the gravel had become a mass of roots so long and strong that it was impossible to remove the plants without tearing up the roots.

With the Fluorite the amazing growth was gone forever. But hey, I got a "real" planted tank substrate, right? Soon I started dumping dry fertilizers in my water... Now, 10 years later I absolutely hate to see that we are doing the same darn thing.

Since then I tend to believe that it is not only the presense of nutrients that is mandatory. The nutrients also need to be forced into reactions that make them very, very available to the plants. And yes, the milky tank had zero algae. Till later that is - when I dripped fleet enema for P, added spoons of dry powdered "Tree Trunk Remover" for N, "No Salt" table salt substitute for K, and Epsom Salt for Mg...

How does all that have to do with the current discussion?
The "chat" that I used as a substrate and got unbelievable growth is dolomitic. That's the moral of the long story.

And I'd really like to see this new substrate work!

--Nikolay
 

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Discussion Starter · #46 ·
The sul-po-mag isn't dolomitic but the aragonite is. The reason for this decision is to get more calcium in the soil while still having the ability to buffer. Notice also the relationship between magnesium and calcium if you look at them chemically. The idea is to get as close to the ideal 4:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium because too much magnesium will inhibit the uptake of calcium in plants and likewise too much calcium will inhibit the uptake of magnesium.

That's why I made that change. I also agree with Niko, a dolomitic substance of some kind is required and aragonite fits that bill while giving us more calcium and buffering the soil from too large of pH swings with a touch more magnesium than we are used to thanks to the sul-po-mag and its plethora of potassium.

Two new ingredients gave given us a whole new universe of options, I think.
 

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Discussion Starter · #47 ·
What about us with hard water? Would the presence of Dolomite or Aragonite still be useful? Perhaps a totally different set of ratios? What do you guys think?
I say yes because calcium is a major macronutrient required for a number of life processes in plants, most importantly their cell walls and I too have liquid concrete coming out of my tap but it has been my observation that it is quickly ripped out of the water column and by your better quality, high CEC substrates (for a time) as well as the plants themselves. Having it available to the roots can only make consumption and translocation more efficient for the plants and seeing as it is part of the soil, it won't throw off your water chemistry and still makes for a much needed buffer in the form of aragonite while still being magnesium lean, which is important.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 ·
Some new developments have occurred with a lot of outside help. At the behest of Silvering, I think a restatement of my purposes is in order. I was honestly not going to start evangelizing until after the new year, but an opportunity came.

Restatement:

The idea is to engineer the substrate for maximum nutrition and greatly increased service life. Using my own experiments, research and experience as a terrestrial gardener, I think I have something real here. One of my goals is to end all water column dosing and substrate fertilization which will, I think, help improve stability and better control algae. The idea is to not keep the tank teetering between starvation and apocalyptic pollution, our current most popular methods, but to introduce more of the natural cycles found in the world, namely, a full carbon cycle, an iron cycle and a sulfur cycle while engineering zones of anoxic and anaerobic activity that are vital in nature but small and controlled so that these processes cannot go on a runaway reaction by taking advantage of the natural processes and dynamics between plants and animals.

Some of the materials you may not have considered or heard of but they are available and cheap.

Here is the list and the suggested proportions.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Sul-Po-Mag 5%
3. Aragonite 5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 55%

Humus
Some of you recall how to make MTS, if some of you are new to it or need a refresher, check out the standard recipe here, How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot - Library - Aquatic Plant Central by Aaron Talbot. Notice, it is a little time consuming and messy. There is another way. Start out with humus. No rinsing and drying. Humus is as reduced and mineralized as anything organic can get on this planet. This is the end result of all that effort already in a bag for less than $3/40 lbs. This is a big part of the problem solved. You can use this, Denali Gold or this, Organic Peat Humus, 40 Pound Bag. Remember, don't use anything with manure in it or extra chemicals. In short, the end product that people have been putting in their tanks is just another name for mature compost.

Azomite
This is the magic bullet. Reputable studies have been done on this incredible mineral on how it greatly enhances plants and shrimp. It contains a salt or oxide of nearly every element. Have a look at the guaranteed analysis below. I know what you're thinking, you're seeing some heavy metals on there, namely Copper and Arsenic and you have to be wondering what Dysprosium and Praseodymium could possibly do for you. Some of the more worrisome elements, again, are depleted (like the Uranium) or oxidized (everything else that looks troubling) and will thus be passed through an organism harmlessly or bioremediated by your plants' natural abilities. In fact, studies on shrimp show it to greatly improve them, Shrimp Studies. Horticultural questions and other concerns are addressed in this FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions.



Horticultural Carbon
This will 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.

Peat Granules
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 tannin's health tonic like properties. I can see how in our aquariums perhaps having smaller distributed sites of acidity would help get more out of our MTS. It would almost be the same thing as adding the traditional 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 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.

Aragonite & Sul-Po-Mag
Notice this new MTS has no muriate of potash nor dolomitic lime. I have never been comfortable with the sizable amount of Chlorine in the potash but we need Potassium and the dolomite is mostly Magnesium. If Calcium is so important to plants, why is it conspicuous by its absence in traditional MTS? Also, there is something that not a lot of people are aware of when it comes to the relationship between Mg and Ca. Why not langbeinite, K2Mg2(SO4)3, instead? Less salty, way more K and it has extra Sulfur and Mg in one go. It is sometimes sold as sul-po-mag. It breaks down to 22% K, 11% S and 22% Mg, the remaining 55% is just Oxygen. The sul-po-mag isn't dolomitic but the Aragonite is. The reason for this decision is to get more Ca in the soil while still having the ability to buffer. Notice also the relationship between magnesium and calcium if you look at them chemically. The idea is to get as close to the ideal 4:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium because too much Mg will inhibit the uptake of Ca in plants and likewise too much Ca will inhibit the uptake of Mg. A dolomitic substance of some kind is required and aragonite fits that bill while giving us more Ca and buffering the soil from too large of pH swings with a touch more Mg than we are used to thanks to the sul-po-mag and its plethora of K. Ca is a major macronutrient required for a number of life processes in plants, most importantly their cell walls and it has been my observation that it is quickly ripped out of the water column by your better quality, high CEC substrates as well as the plants themselves. Having it available to the roots can only make consumption and translocation more efficient for the plants and seeing as it is part of the soil, it won't throw off your water chemistry and still makes for a much needed buffer in the form of aragonite while still being Mg lean, which is important.

Laterite
Sadly, I don't have a lot to say about Laterite that hasn't already been said. It's an enormous, stable store of Iron, the most consumed of the micronutrients. There isn't a whole lot to discuss on this one ingredient except that I propose using it in much higher concentrations than it is normally used to facilitate the natural Fe and S cycles found in nature and for its catalytic abilities in all living systems which I am trying to recreate, more or less.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Now, with help of a fellow by the name of Madness, some very interesting substitutions and sources for them. Most importantly, they come from sources outside of the hobby meaning since they aren't marketed for aquarium use, the expense will be five times less.

For the Peat, Madness discovered something that brings a whole lot more functionality to the table and quite frankly, looks like it will kick out the peat altogether. Menefee Humates. Let's use Rocky Mountain Bio Products own words. It may seem naive, but because of the extraordinary tangle of federal regulations around fertilizers, soil additives and other related material, you have to be pretty truthful about the claims of your product or you get in some really big trouble. Let's take this as given.

Guaranteed Product Analysis:

A natural trace mineral, carbon, and humic acid based granular soil conditioner that acts as an organic chelator and microbial stimulator. It has a unique carbon matrix incorporating a high concentration of trace minerals and organic acids, specifically humic acid, which improves the plant's ability to take in vital nutrients. For plant growth and development.

Listed by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) for use in production of organic food and fiber.

Humic Acids ……………………… 50.00%
Nitrogen (N) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230; 1.00% Potassium (K2O) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;.. <0.10
Phosphate (P2O5) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;. <0.10% Calcium (Ca) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230; 1.04%
Sulfur (S) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;.. 0.18% Magnesium (Mg) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;.. 0.14%
Iron (Fe) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230; 0.30% Manganese (Mn) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230; 0.0004% Copper (Cu) &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;.. 0.0002%
PH &#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;&#8230;. 3.4%
This can be confirmed through various sources and in literature so it isn't some snake oil or another and brings a little bit of nutrient to the process and especially those organic acids that make consuming nutrients so much easier for plants.
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
A fascinating replacement for the aragonite is Aragonite Raw. Aragonite is aragonite, but finding large quantites of it for cheap is hard, again it's adding the word aquarium next to an everyday product that suddenly makes the price jump up by about a factor of 5. Aragonite Raw has some other things going for it, though. Again, we'll let the operation speak to us with their own copy.

Raw Aragonite (a-rag-o-nite) is the purest Calcium Carbonate in the world; Whatever the application, nothing out-performs Raw Aragonite.

NITROGEN

Recent analytical testing of Raw Aragonite shows that there are 250,000 Aerobic bacteria per GRAM which is a very high amount. Aerobic bacteria is responsible for nitrogen fixation from the 70,000 pounds (35 tons) of raw nitrogen (in the form of N2) over each acre of soil. Aerobic bacteria ingests the N2 nitrogen and leaves nitrates in the soil when it dies. Nitrates are very stable in the soil. They do not disseminate into the air like chemical nitrogen and you do not need nitrogen preservation costs. For the same price of only nitrogen, you can use Raw Aragonite and get nitrogen, calcium, sea trace minerals and micro-nutrients.

Raw Aragonite also inhibits the ammonium loss by absorbing the nitrogen into the physical aragonite. THEREFORE, reducing the need of chemical nitrogen stabilizers.

At 250,000 bacteria per GRAM, that's 113,500,000 bacteria per pound of Raw Aragonite applied at 400 pounds per acre, it would be 45.4 billion nitrate producing bacteria per acre or over one million bacteria per square foot. Another great attribute of Raw Aragonite is that the bacteria is producing soil nitrates 24 hours per day, not just when the weather conditions dictates when plants can grow. The food source carbon for the bacteria is the aragonite or any organic matter in the field.

CALCIUM

When you purchase raw aragonite, you are receiving calcium that is soluble and can be spread in the Spring or Fall. Raw Aragonite goes to work the moment it comes in contact with the soil. Raw Aragonite has 37% calcium, less than 1% Magnesium with an array of micro-nutrients like boron, sulfur and zinc. Also, it has the rich, sea trace minerals.

Since Raw Aragonite is predigested by the sea creatures, it has a high absorbability to the plants. Aragonite in its raw state (not heat dried) brings to the soil some fantastic biological benefits. We have seen on countless farms that by appling the Raw Aragonite to the soil, we are able to limit the amount of fertilizer that is needed to grow a quality crop. Raw Aragonite can be used with any ROW CROP, VEGETABLE, PASTURE, HAY FIELD, LAWN OR GOLF COURSE.

Testimonial plant tissue results shows that the Raw Aragonite's calcium is absorbed into the plant within seven days. This is a faster accumulated rate than liquid calcium because this calcium, continually, comes up through the roots of the plants. With over FIVE years consecutive field applications, there has been no change in the soils Ph.

APPLICATION

The application of Raw Aragonite is with a lime spreader or fertilizer buggy. To encourage the continual reproduction of the Aerobic bacteria, it is delivered with a 3% to 5% moisture content. Application rate varies from 400#'s per acre for grasses and small grains; 500#'s for soybeans and corn is 650#'s per acre. If you are going back to back on corn, apply 750#'s per acre.

The Raw Aragonite calcium will be used before the soil calcium will be used because of the ease for plants to utilize it. Ag lime needs time to break down for plant utilization. If weather conditions are bad for optimum plant growth, it is common knowledge that one can apply either nitrogen or calcium to force a plant to grow. Raw Aragonite has both nitrates and calcium to provide continued growth during these periods. The plants will be more resistant to blights and fungus infections since they will be healthier. Insect pressure will be less due to the tighter cell structures of the plants.
Again, we have a little extra nutriment, a little more magnesium but not much and once more we find this is conducive to culturing soil bacteria. This is why the differentiation between this and mere aragonite at the LFS is important. Once more, I tip my hat to Madness for his searching.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
Another gentleman by the name of Traveller found a good substitution for the sul-po-mag and its other brand K-Mag called simply Min Plus. This substitution came about because it seems not everyone would have easy access to the sul-po-mag and looking at its analysis, it looks pretty good. It also buffers some but it is not dolomitic. This could be also used as an excellent substitute for the azomite if that is also hard to acquire.

Here's their copy.

A soil enhancer and 100% remineralizer consisting of natural organic minerals,
Minplus offers the benifits of rapid growth with reduced use of artificial chemicals.

Volcanic Rock
In the form of a fine powder, volcanic rock dust contributes to soil friability and contains micro-nutrients not found in commercial NPK fertilisers. It also serves as a natural insect deterrent.

Silicates
Silicates are necessary in building plant protein and in the synthesis of certain vitamins in plants. Silicates function as a vital element in protecting plants against insects and fungi attack, strengthening qualities and have been found to influence other minerals useful in plant metabolism.

Calcium
Plants need calcium for normal cell division, as a component of cell walls, as a component of the salts inside the cells and as a part of the genetic coding materials.

Magnesium
Magnesium is a key component of the chlorophylls, the green coloured cells in the plant. It is therefore vital as chlorophylls are the cells which perform photosynthesis. Also, plants need magnesium before thay can make use of phosphorous and magnesium also activates several different enzyme systems.

Iron
Iron is a constitutent of many compounds in plants that regulates and promotes growth. It is especially important to the function of chloroplasts, the plant cells that contain chlorophyll, which are the particles that perform photosynthesis.

Potassium
Potassium strengthens plant stalks and helps undo the stress induced by excess nitrogen.

Phosphorus
Phosphorus is the "Go" food for plants.

Trace Minerals
Minplus contains over 70 macro and micronutrients (such as copper, zinc, molybdenum, etc.) to replace depleted minerals and elements not supplied by commercial NPK fertilisers. Think of these as salt and pepper - you don't need a lot of it, but without them, plant growth would suffer.
 

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"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."

Can we start a thread on this?!
 

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Discussion Starter · #54 ·
Sure! I'll put it on the to do list ;).
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 ·
An updated ingredient list with recommended substitutions.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Sul-Po-Mag 5% Can be substituted with K-Mag or Min Plus (also known as Rock Dust).
3. Raw Aragonite 5% Effectively replaces aragonite.
4. Menefee Humates 5% Completely replaces the peat granules.
5. Horticultural Carbon 10% Bio Char looks like a good type/brand to use.
6. Azomite 10% Can be substituted with Min Plus (also known as Rock Dust)
7. Humus 55%
 

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Discussion Starter · #58 ·
Accessibility, relatively inexpensive and having it in an already powdered form where you can find it is just really convenient. If you have other suggestions I would love to explore them.
 

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Well, I personally have a bunch of red clay underneath just about everything where I live. It takes a bit of refining, but that isn't too difficult. Also I have one lfs, and the lack of competition makes for some lousy prices. I haven't ever seen powdered laterite, where would I find it?
 

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Discussion Starter · #60 ·
Dupla sells it in powdered form and the old boxes of API First Layer. The old boxes look like this:



The new boxes look like this but they're pellets:
 
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