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Discussion Starter · #81 ·
Here ya'll go!

Wetland soils: genesis, hydrology, landscapes, and classification,
Edited by J. L. Richardson and M. J. Vepraskas
2001 CRC Press LLC, ISBN# 1-56670-484-7
Chapter 4 "Redox Chemistry of Hydric Soils", page 85

This and many like it are what I've been consuming. I believe this one is available through Google Books for free. There are many like it all of them terribly insightful.
 

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The more I read and think about this the more it seems like something I want to try out. However, I am still uneasy about not having at least some unstable organic matter for an initial load. I use perlite as a water polisher in all of my tanks with a powerhead in them, would dusting some of this filter material between the mix and the cap fall outside of the philosophy of this experiment?

Is the aragonite supposed to be a sand sized aragonite or aragonite crystals? I ask because I am going to substitute calcite for aragonite since I have an easier source for calcite than aragonite and calcite would more likely stay in my substrate and out of my water column while aragonite would dissolve into my water column.
 

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Discussion Starter · #83 ·
The more I read and think about this the more it seems like something I want to try out. However, I am still uneasy about not having at least some unstable organic matter for an initial load. I use perlite as a water polisher in all of my tanks with a powerhead in them, would dusting some of this filter material between the mix and the cap fall outside of the philosophy of this experiment?

Is the aragonite supposed to be a sand sized aragonite or aragonite crystals? I ask because I am going to substitute calcite for aragonite since I have an easier source for calcite than aragonite and calcite would more likely stay in my substrate and out of my water column while aragonite would dissolve into my water column.
It's flexible like that, sure enough! The thing that worries me is calcium, magnesium, iron, chlorine and sodium. The usual liming material are quite rich in sodium or chlorine which is undesirable though they are great buffers. Aragonite is somewhat dolomitic though it is mostly calcium. Add sul-po-mag and soft rock phosphate and you get your sweetener at about a ratio of 4:1 maybe 5:1 Ca to Mg without going overboard on any one thing and not have to sacrifice diversity and potassium. Potassium I feel cannot be overstated enough.

That ratio is the sweet spot where where Fe, Ca and Mg don't interfere with each other's uptake and you still get to buffer. It's all a balancing act.

To answer your question, yes, calcite is fine. If you want to add organic materials, I'd be careful because it does require a certain amount of oxygen and it's hard to control for the components as in one load of mulm has more P than another. Using organic stuff like that could have other consequences like making noxious gases. I haven't thought about that yet. It is an interesting proposition though.

Or, if your concern is ammonium to begin a cycle, I have found that upon initially filling a tank with this substrate that there is a flush of ammonium from the humus, up to 2 ppm's. A test tank pretty much cycled fully in 16 days with no other additions and only two water changes. Perhaps this was your concern?
 

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It's flexible like that, sure enough! The thing that worries me is calcium, magnesium, iron, chlorine and sodium. The usual liming material are quite rich in sodium or chlorine which is undesirable though they are great buffers. Aragonite is somewhat dolomitic though it is mostly calcium. Add sul-po-mag and soft rock phosphate and you get your sweetener at about a ratio of 4:1 maybe 5:1 Ca to Mg without going overboard on any one thing and not have to sacrifice diversity and potassium. Potassium I feel cannot be overstated enough.

That ratio is the sweet spot where where Fe, Ca and Mg don't interfere with each other's uptake and you still get to buffer. It's all a balancing act.

To answer your question, yes, calcite is fine. If you want to add organic materials, I'd be careful because it does require a certain amount of oxygen and it's hard to control for the components as in one load of mulm has more P than another. Using organic stuff like that could have other consequences like making noxious gases. I haven't thought about that yet. It is an interesting proposition though.

Or, if your concern is ammonium to begin a cycle, I have found that upon initially filling a tank with this substrate that there is a flush of ammonium from the humus, up to 2 ppm's. A test tank pretty much cycled fully in 16 days with no other additions and only two water changes. Perhaps this was your concern?
I can certainly understand the concern with Cl and Na. What I have access to is pure calcite, which is CaCO3 and nothing else, as is aragonite. It's simply a more stable form. However, what I have are calcite crystals and if I don't have to run them through a ball mill I'd rather not, but if the consistency required is one of sand I will. Would the crystals work(the average size is around 5mm) or would a more even distribution be needed than the large size would allow be desirable?

Your contentions about gases and caustic substances make sense. My thoughts are adding the organic material(in the mulm trapped in the used perlite) high enough in the substrate that it would slowly settle into the bio-bed over time. Part of my concern is that my background is in hydro- and aeroponics which the predominant philosophy is to understand how nature works and try to make it more efficient(a fair amount of hubris I know, but even in planted aquariums we see higher rates of growth than is typical of plants in nature). Adding organic material that is partially stable but will still degrade steadily, especially around the oxygen rich established rootzones, seems like it would be a good middle ground for me while the humic soil matures. The flush of ammonia you mentioned makes it sound like this would be unnecessary and may lead to fertilizer burn. I'm curious precisely what the label on the humus read in this tank(since humus seems to be a bit of a term of art among soil manufacturers, with humate or humic acid being used for the scientific understanding of humus).

I'm still researching the potassium issue, but am thinking of adding a small amount of greensand( glauconite sand that is mostly potassium iron silicates) as well as the azomite and sul po mag to provide a long range source of potassium(and iron) though the amount of mineral potassium in azomite seems like it might make this addition unnecessary, though.

Thank you for your thorough replies, you've given me a lot to think about and I'm tempted to set up a proper controlled experiment using your recipe as close as I can get to it, my usual recipe, a couple of mixes similar to your recipe and a commercial substrate like ADA aquasoil. If I can figure out a few kinks to control exterior influences, that is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #85 ·
I'm glad I got your interest ;). And nothing has to be milled into a powder. Pellets, crystals, nuggets, whatever you got it's all good. I just suggest milled for convenience sake but it is not a requirement. Also, I'm getting in some more fresh humus this week. I'll check the label for you. You're absolutely right about a lot of stuff being more a term of art.
 

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That I know of, there is no such aquatic plant that can do that. If there is, I'd be happy just to possess it.

The humus itself is a mere a sink for nutrients and is to host the very biological activity I'm describing and thus promote. I also comes with a few nutrients, though not many, can serve as an alternate, bio-available carbon source and triggers favorable hormonal responses from plants.

The same activity that will eventually create P and N. This ought to be easy after a tank is established in this fashion given the fact that it is a closed system and we do tend to overfeed and not vacuum our substrates hence my insistence on a capping material with a very high CEC. You hold N and P in the substrate from food and poop and the necessary bacterial activity will release it into a useful form provided you can meet or exceed chemical oxygen demand. This can be tricky.

There is wisdom in this. If you can PM me a reminder for tonight, I will share some of my source material where wetlands were studied and this material reveals, incredibly enough, that high P and N are actually lethal to wetlands, encouraging the production of some very caustic substances that are also anti-microbial as well as, surprise surprise, trigger massive algae blooms that do throw such habitats into tailspins.

On average, the typical bog receives less than 1 gram per square meter per year of N or P ,astonishingly enough, which is enough to replenish what is in reserve in the soil of the bog. Remember, the plants in that bog are getting what they need from the biological activity in their natural substrate is providing it almost on demand as it reduces all the poop, dead bodies, leaves, etc, which happens constantly, such that adding more throws the system into chaos. A bog is, after all, an organic soup so throwing that little extra in there is a bad thing.

This is what I intend to replicate. A completely biological solution that does not force us to essentially have our tanks teeter tottering on the brink of eutrophication or starvation. This is where I seek to find the balance. Ultimately, the system will be self feeding as long as you feed your fish and do a water change every now and again.

Almost naive the sentiment but I feel strongly that replicating the wetland ecosystem is the way to go and that means establishing several elemental cycles like iron and sulfur and the accompanying microorganisms. Granted, getting enough P and N in for the initial start up is still proving tricky but that's why it's a public discussion. Many minds are better than just one.
with all due respect, doesn't walstad outline this in her treatise, "Ecology of the planted Aquarium"? more importantly doesn't she practice this "biological solution" in the keeping and maintenance of her own tanks?

apologies if i missed the main idea of the thread. i will reread it again

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Discussion Starter · #87 ·
You are correct. She and Sean Murphy are the two folks I've drawn my inspiration from. But more importantly there is a garrulous fellow around here named Niko who has been trying to hammer home the same point as well. His use of the Socratic method really helped me.

No where I differ is that this is intended for use in a high tech tank, though it is just as good for a low tech one, and there is also the idea of engineering the substrate to suit your needs the way a farmer does. The proportions I state are merely suggestions. I'm trying to reformulate a new baseline right now but in the future anyone should be able to reformulate it to meet their own needs based on their current or targeted growing conditions. Traditional MTS and Walstad tanks are not really adjustable in this fashion. The use of humus as the entire basis is unique to this method and it is entirely because of it's stability and it's useful as a matrix/sink with a high CEC and all those stimulating humates and fulvates.
 

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ahh i see thank you for clarifying, and again i meant no disrespect. regarding soil mixtures and/or "engineering" soil to perform in a specific fashion, I would research emergent growth formulations.

imo soil used in emergent growth setups is naturally the next step to a fully submersed soil. i believe emergent growth setups and/or DSM setups owe its success due to highly localized biological processes (basically decomposition of any organic matter) in the soil.

Highly localized because the volume of water in emergent setups is usually only enough to saturate the soil; prevents the unwanted "dump" of nutrients into the water column causing all kinds of havoc algae bloom to name one. The other is, decomposition in highly enriched soils with lots of organic stuff (peat, humic substances, mulm, detritus etc.) is extremely acidic. Some of the best terrestrial soils out there boast water retention particles and reaching a pH of 5... this makes sense because it is through decomposition (biological processes you cited) that nutrients become bio-available to plants. This can be bad however as you know in an aquarium especially if it is to support fauna.

Because I believe the above to be true, then I have to accept the long term performance of the soil. It has been documented that MTS has a finite period of time before it has to be "recharged" with nutrients. This is probably why inert substrates like eco-complete perform well overtime with water column dosing and supplemental root tabs. The substrate is basically just the media that hold the plant down and trap nutrients in the form of mulm, plant detritus, poop, etc. (Also why you shouldn't gravel vac eco complete). the other downfall of MTS is due to its natural decomposition over time (i.e. peat, humic substances as underlayment etc.), it eventually turns to a very tight almost non porous clay, which presents its own set of problems (ie. severely anaerobic substrate, lo redox etc.).

Long story short... there is no "magic soil" you can create that is an end all be all for a planted tank. There is only the understanding we have of conditions and parameters that will be met, with or without our aid, regardless if the tank thrives or crashes.

Perhaps there is soo much focus on the enigmatic "magic soil formula" because it happens at the most exciting part of our hobby...the beginning.

as for a recipe here's my two cents:
- sphagnum peat (serve as media and humic component)
- enriched potting soil (serve as media and fertilizer, usually osmocote pellets)
- crushed dolomite or seashells (GH booster, pH buffer)
- pool filter sand or blasting sand (serves as cap, inert media, promotes drainage when mixed to underlayment)

This is my (and probably many others before me) soil mix used for my emersed and submerged potted plants. So far with positive results.

i look forward to see what you come up with in your own search good luck! :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #89 ·
Long story short... there is no "magic soil" you can create that is an end all be all for a planted tank. There is only the understanding we have of conditions and parameters that will be met, with or without our aid, regardless if the tank thrives or crashes.

Perhaps there is soo much focus on the enigmatic "magic soil formula" because it happens at the most exciting part of our hobby...the beginning.
No worries, I'm not a magician :slywink:. And I agree with all those sentiments. Engineering a substrate with more control over the inputs that will meet or exceed those parameters while not overloading on organics that could potentially turn into something awful seems very realistic to me, perhaps even a bit conservative. It's all about balance. No magic here.

as for a recipe here's my two cents:
- sphagnum peat (serve as media and humic component)
- enriched potting soil (serve as media and fertilizer, usually osmocote pellets)
- crushed dolomite or seashells (GH booster, pH buffer)
- pool filter sand or blasting sand (serves as cap, inert media, promotes drainage when mixed to underlayment)

This is my (and probably many others before me) soil mix used for my emersed and submerged potted plants. So far with positive results.

i look forward to see what you come up with in your own search good luck! :)
Thank you and I did consider those choices but passed them over. I used something similar to that too in my emergent set-ups and it is great... for emergent set-ups. Submerged pots work well in these instances too but I don't want to see pots in a tank and compaction issues come into play too frequently for my tastes. I have had the occasional pot turn into a stink bomb despite my best efforts. I stopped submerging them altogether shortly after the first couple of times. Meh, it happens. You reevaluate and move on.

Sphagnum moss I discounted because it can over acidify, compact and it has some antibacterial properties (though not a lot) that I would rather avoid.

Enriched potting soil offers me no control about what I want to put in my substrate, I have to accept what Scott's (makers of Miracle Gro) thinks I should have, way too many organics that can still decompose and compaction is still a concern.

Aragonite is already included so no worries there and it is dolomitic so there is a little Mg.

I've never been a fan of sand but that's a personal choice for me. Just not into it.

You also have to remember, this mixture is meant to be used for fully immersed tanks so you'll have materials under water pressure far and away from an emergent set up and not nearly as much oxygen. For me it's about loading with minerals using a biological matrix that is already in a maximally reduced state that can feed the plants until the needed flora and fauna can establish themselves and the natural processes begin to take hold. From my reference material and from samples I've taken in local Texas waterways, what I'm proposing here is pretty close to those submerged systems just a lot less silty, rocky, better retention and certainly a lot less compacted.
 

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i see. i totally share your concern about compaction; it is probably why potted plants turn into stink bombs. i can see this lead to super anaerobic fermentative breakdowns and
methanogenesis etc.

your goal is very intruiging, once you mixture is finalized at the start, how would you deal with the long term? wouldn't your soil eventually run out of juice (i.e after 12 months) and turn into comoacted clay regardless?

also i hear (i may be wrong) that TX and parts of SoCal have super hard water, also called liquid rock (ie. +1200ppm GH). how does this come into play with your soil mixture strategy? wouldn't this encourage you to use even more humic organic substances in your soil?




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Discussion Starter · #91 ·
You've got it one. I too have liquid concrete. Out of the tap, pH 9 and I run out of test solution before I can figure out the KH and GH. Our water comes from a limestone aquifer. This was a major concern for me and why I got a little happy on the acidic components and anything nutritious that could buffer at the same time.

Of course the beauty of having a component system with lots of gradation is that if you live in New York or Oregon where the water is very soft, between pH 6.9-7.5, you can reduce the leonardite, add more aragonite or sul-po-mag, etc. And I suggest doing that because there is some seepage that will make it into the water column. A volunteer who got ahead of me noticed that his KH lowered, the pH changed by only .1 degrees but his GH rose up significantly, from 16 to 28. He also had 2 ppm's worth of ammonium so we know there's nitrogen in there.

I do fully expect it to run out of juice and deplete significantly if it was a plant only aquarium. If I keep fish, feed them well and regardless of my water change schedule, the processes should be in place to continue recharging the humic portion, charcoal and the high CEC substrate. If however over the long term these processes can't be fed fast enough or depletion is too great I would naturally admit to this publicly but at that point, I would begin very mild water column dosing, say something like PPS Pro if only because I would be using the water column dosing to recharge the substrate. This is how Amano-san does it (and why he does it) and should be the point of water column dosing in the first place.
 

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very kool man... i wish i had harder water lol. my KH is like 1 and pH likes to get low in my tank (6.0-6.4). i've been relying on EI GH boost at wc, and even then my KH doesn't budge. i'm afraid for my potted plants in my grow out 30breeder :(

so for now just daily monitoring, add a powerhead... hope i get enough waterflow and surface agitation to keep from getting too acidic; both in the water column and top layer of my substrate.

its great chatting with you man, great exchange. pm me anytime if you wanna bounce ideas bro :)


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Discussion Starter · #93 ·
I am happy to announce that we have a production recipe ready to go! It represents a baseline and because it is a component system, it can be adjusted to suit various needs. It even has a name. We took a vote at APE and the name Enriched Humic Substrate or EHS won.

Humus = Aquarium length x aquarium width x desired height (not to exceed 2 inches) / 231 = amount of humus needed in gallons
Horticultural Charcoal = 1/4 the volume of the Humus
Aragonite = 5 ml per gallon or 1/4 cup per 10 gallons
Azomite = 15 ml per gallon or 2/3 cups per 10 gallons
Colloidal Phosphate = 15 ml per gallon or 2/3 cups per 10 gallons - This is more commonly known as soft rock phosphate and is 18% bioavailable P.
Glauconite = 5 ml per gallon or 1/4 cup per 10 gallons - This is more commonly known as green sand and is a rich source of K, Fe and Mg.
Laterite =30 ml per gallon or 1 ounce per gallon
Leonardite = 30 ml per gallon or 1 ounce per gallon
Sul-Po-Mag = 10 ml per gallon or 1/2 cups per 10 gallons

Here's some extended commentary.

Ferti-lome Charcoal
Based on two volunteers' experiences, I decided to relent and just incorporate the charcoal. I strongly recommend charcoal chips as opposed to finely milled powder like biochar. I found a charcoal I like by an outfit called Fert-Lome. They are in wide distribution. A Google search will find many sources and Google shopping will help you find the best deals.

Ancient Forest Humus
Using the same volunteers' feedback, I think I found an excellent source for humus. This outfit sells Ancient Forest brand Alaskan humus and it's pretty good. It required no sifting and has a little bit of clay in it. You can break it up more if you want, in fact the clods break up very easily. I found maybe a single small twig in the one gallon I used out of the 2.5 gallons I bought.

Leonardite appears to have a number of by names but those names seem to always have a little asterisk at the end noting that it is derived from leonardite. I've seen it called humate concentrate (technically correct which is the best kind of correct :)!) or concentrated fulvates (not technically correct but not a deal breaker either). This is another one where Google is your friend.

A cheap source of aragonite will be from organic supply places. They tend to call it powdered limestone and it is very finely milled and is 100% raw aragonite and a lot cheaper than what you'd get from various aquarium suppliers. See the credited sources after the next paragraph.

Everything else I found the best price/quantity/quality/shipping on eBay, believe it or not. It was that simple. None of this stuff is as rare as we thought it was in the beginning so even the previously recommended substitutions may not even be necessary though having alternatives is nice.

I would like to take a moment and plug eBay sellers kelp4less in Idaho who provided the aragonite, soft rock phosphate and leonardite. And greensensenatural who helped with the Sul-Po-Mag and glauconite.

Until I can make a pretty brochure or nice infographic, here's a simple guide in pictures. I'm not presenting this as a final work, I just want to get this out there for everyone. By the way, I would not mind painting my walls the color of the Sul-Po-Mag. It's really pretty!

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2.5 gallons of EHS ready to go!


Here is a journal started by one of the members of my home forum with an EHS tank and an MTS tank side by side,
http://www.aquaticplantenthusiasts....l-twin-20-gallon-tall-mts-ehs-case-study.html.

Most importantly, I will be appearing with Glenn Mccreedy and Betty Harris to discuss EHS and Walstad aquariums on Robert Hudson's Aqua Botanic blog radio show on Saturday, 28th January, 2012 at noon CST. Glenn and I will come on the last half of the show. You can read more about it and tune in at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/aquabotanic/2012/01/28/aqua-botanic-radio-using-soil-in-the-aquarium. There's an 877 number so you can call in with your questions. Please join! The more the merrier. The show will also be archived as a podcast so you can listen later.

As ever, everyone is invited to follow along in the major research & testing thread at http://www.aquaticplantenthusiasts.com/substrate/4256-new-recipe-procedure-mineralized-topsoil.html.
 

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Very interesting read also a good reference thread for supplements.

I have to wonder at what point does this stop being MTS and
becomes DIY ADA Substrate? Wouldn't this cocktail be rather expensive
to mix-up? Can these ingredients be purchased in small portions
for one or two vendors to contain shipping costs?

I'm left thinking this is that classic struggle between theory
and practical/affordable application.
 

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Discussion Starter · #96 ·
That is a good point. Many budget minded hobbyists have brought that up and alternatives exist, many discovered by folks right here. As I mentioned in my initial post, this is horticulture for its own sake and, I think, a relevant if not a minor contributory evolutionary step on the way to that holy grail, the self sustaining tank.

I put this together without cost in mind. I decided if there was something worth discovering or if anything new or useful pops out if it then I will go whole hog and not cheap out. One of my criticisms of the hobby is that we do tend to be rather cheap, or at least North American hobbyists can be which is funny because this isn't a cheap hobby.

ADA does have it right for the most part. What I and others are especially interested in is how to break it down into a component system. ADA tanks don't last forever but they do last a long time. We know how they work for the most part, the ecology is sound, but what if you want to use just one component or you have everything else working out for you but there is one addition that gets you closer to a goal, just one component and you don't want to tear down just to have an entire ADA system. This is the other half of my efforts which are ongoing.

Right now, I'm seeing how long it takes to exhaust everything in my test platform. So far, potassium was the only thing to give out and that happened 6 months later.
 

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I do appreciate the effort you've put into this project as I'm working toward the same goal

.... I think, a relevant if not a minor contributory evolutionary step on the way to that holy grail, the self sustaining tank.
I am taking a much more organic path http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showthread.php?t=154884

Shock & entertainment value aside, the initial point was do not fear Organic material and anaerobic bacteria as they are an important part of the equation. After running that Ten gallon for over a year, which I feel validates my premise, I have plans for a 2nd tank to fine tune the concept and offer a less dramatic option. :D

I was especially interested in your use of Horticultural Charcoal as a nutrient sink. My plans for the next tank include using hardwood ash as a potassium source. After reading your thread and doing some additional research I can see the benefit of incorporating some wood charcoal into my next mix.

BTW - I'm currently dosing with Azomite in my tanks and my Aquapoinc system and I feel the results are very positive for plants, fish and inverts.

The cheap mindset goes beyond the hobby in the USA it's part of the "New-Normal". What I find funny is someone complaining about a Hobbyist's Swap plant being $1 more than an online vendor and the post is sent from a $500 cell ph. ;)
 
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