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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I don't have a problem, but I do have a question that has left me befuddled. A few months ago I set up a 55 gal El Natural tank. I got some of that really bad soil that take forever to settle down and still release lots of gasses. Anyway, here's a link to my original thread on that tank. http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forumapc/el-natural/29523-ammonia-level-in-new-tank.html
I was getting ready to set up a new 29 gal tank about a week ago and this time did some bottle testing. I turns out that ALL the soil available in my area is just as EVIL. So, I just used the old bag that had been laying open in my living room for the last 3 months. The tank has been set up for 5 days and I tested the water just on a whim. I expected to find really high ammonia and/or nitrite b/c that is what happened with the other tank. But NO I find all readings are 0. The plants are growing and there's a little brown algae starting even. Why would 2 tanks set up with the same soil, water, water conditioner, and even fed the same fish food react so differently do you think? The only thing that I can think of is that with the first tank I did a very poor job and the tank was very cloudy. With this 29gal tank the water was almost crystal clear right from the start (hey I learned from my mistakes). But I don't know if that is much of an answer. I would love to hear any theories you might have. Did sitting in my living room change the soil? I think not, but it's gotta be someting right?
 

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The reason is simply that ammonia and nitrite is aired out of the soil. I read a study from the swedish farming university where they turned the soil in a concrete mixer for five minutes to reduce the ammonia in planting soil.
If you don't have access to a concrete mixer;) I would suggest spreading the soil in a thin layer on a large plastic sheet to evaporate the ammonia.
Leave it overnight and you should have an easier start in the aquarium.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
So it was just letting it air out in my living room. I would never have guessed that. Cool study!!!
 

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I was getting ready to set up a new 29 gal tank about a week ago and this time did some bottle testing. I just used the old bag that had been laying open in my living room for the last 3 months. The tank has been set up for 5 days and I tested the water just on a whim. I expected to find really high ammonia and/or nitrite b/c that is what happened with the other tank. But NO I find all readings are 0. The plants are growing and there's a little brown algae starting even. Why would 2 tanks set up with the same soil, water, water conditioner, and even fed the same fish food react so differently do you think? The only thing that I can think of is that with the first tank I did a very poor job and the tank was very cloudy. With this 29gal tank the water was almost crystal clear right from the start
Ammonia is a gas that readily escapes into the air. Maybe hobbyists should let their bags of soil air out a few days before using the soil.

Also, if the soil (left in the bag) was moist and unsterilized, soil bacteria would almost surely be degrading ammonia, nitrate, etc-- just as they do on agricultural soils. Your letter brings up a point that I had never thought of. A bag of soil that's been freshly prepared by the manufacturer may have more fertilizers than the same bag that's been sitting on a store shelf for 6 months. This may cause variation in results with the "same" soil brand.

Finally, water cloudiness from soil turbidity can create lots of problems. Soil dust on the leaf surface will automatically result in a coating of bacteria and algae on leaf surfaces, thereby blocking light uptake, gas exchange, nutrient uptake, etc. Its not a good way to start a new tank.

I think we've all learned something from your "mistake". Thanks for the info!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
To be honest I still have problems with excess gasses in my 55 gal tank adn yellow water. Considering that the only soil I can get in my area is high in ammonia I will certainly be "airing" it in the future. I thought I was doomed to difficult El Natural settups but was still commited to them. This tidbit of info should be posted somewhere in BOLD so everyone knows and can benefit.
 

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Perhaps Data Guru will eventually incorporate this little tidbit in her website's soil preparation guide.

As to the 55 gal giving off gases and yellow water-- that's not necessarily a bad thing. Are the plants growing?
 

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interesting bit of info.

I only wish the missus would let me keep a pile of dirt in the living room for three months!
 

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Unfortunately, this wouldn't work at my house. My cats pee in any available pile of dirt/gravel/sand. I had old flourite sitting in a cat litter bucket, and my biggest fattest cat managed to squeeze himself in there to urinate!

Could you get the same affect by spreading soil onto baking sheets and baking them in the oven at low temps overnight?
 

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In the three months that the soil stood in your livingroom, something else might have happened besides the airing out.

In the time the soil stood in your living room, no organic matter would be added to the soil. That means that the bacteria in the soil had 3 months to degrade the existing organic matter.

So the soil you used in your first tank could in theory have contained a whole lot more organic matter than the same soil you used in your new tank, 3 months later.

If your livingroom also has a higher temperature than the soil in the ground that would only let the bacterias work faster.

So, less organic matter, less bacterial production, less leaked ammonia and free N2 into the water....

Is my theory, its just that though, a theory...
 

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sarahbobarah, no need to bake the soil. That might acually kill the bacteria, which as I understand it, would not be a good thing.

Just spread it out somewhere you cat can't get too, a shed or something.

(can't edit my post...)
 

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Well darn it. I can't edit my posts, and I just saw I copycat'ed Dwalstad(I missed what she wroted because I thought it was the qoute to the OP). Didn't mean to step on any toes, sorry...
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Dwalstad: Yes the plants are growing great! Even newly added crypts don't melt, even when I accidently snap off their roots :shock: and the yellow water is not too bothersome. Although crystal clear water would be nice it is not that important to me. It will happen eventually.

My goldfish and dojo loaches are happy as can be, even though they have their noses down close to the gasses much of the time. The goldfish just love eating off that 24 hour buffet. The loaches have changed color a little bit since I switched to an El Natural tank. They have a hint of rust color now, but I don't believe it is anything serious, as they still act fine and show no other signs of disease or stress. Actually, they are happier with all those plants to hide in and dig up :)
 

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Would this make it possible to use a couple of bags of potting soil that have been stored for about 5 years? Would the bacteria have broken down the excess enough in that time to be useable? I normally wouldn't mind going out to get the topsoil, but every store around here only carries potting soil.
 

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Because of this thread, I left soil out to "air" in shallow cardboard box lids in my basement for nearly a month before using it to re-do my 30 gal tank. Of course, it got completely dry, too, but I moistened it before putting it into the tank.

I really think letting a soil out-gas, age or mature is a VERY valuable key! I'm convinced! My most recent setup has been the least problematic of any soil underlayer setup that I've done before.

I also have a friend who recently set up her first soil underlayer tank, and I told her to let the soil air out. Her tank is doing really well too.

And thanks Betty for linking this thread into the NPT procedures sticky! This technique certainly gets my vote!
-Jane
 

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I believe that the soil scrkpr referred to in the #1 post was some kind of commercial potting soil. These soils are often loaded with quite a lot of fertilizer and, also, they are usually sterilized. If they were not sterilized, bacteria would oxidize all the ammonium to nitrate. Probably when they are left open to the air, they get recolonized by bacteria that then oxidize all the ammonium. When they dry up the bacteria of course are inactive and can't do anything.

I have found that sometimes dried up soil causes a lot of bacterial growth when it is put under water, whereas moist soil never does. The only explanation I can think of is that drying may have killed a lot of the soil organisms and then they decay rapidly when the soil is covered with water.

I think the beneficial activities of the soil organisms can best be encouraged by putting the soil in a covered container like a sweater box or larger covered plastic container. The cover should be on loosely enough to allow some air exchange, but not so loose that the soil dries up. One or two weeks should be plenty of time for the decay and oxidation of all easily decomposable organic matter.

If there is very much nitrate in the soil there will be bubbling when the soil is covered with gravel and then water in the tank. The bubbles are nitrogen gas produced by denitrifying bacteria that use the nitrate the way we use oxygen in respiration. When the oxygen is used up many bacteria can turn to nitrate as a substitute. They give off N2 in the process.
 

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Well to sort of answer my own questions above, i thought i'd post the results of a bit of testing i've done. The old bag of soil i had did fine although it was mostly broken down peat. I went to Ace picked up a few bags of there cheap hyponex stuff, took a large storage tub (it had a crack i fixed with duct tape) and dumped the soil in there. I've let it sit and air out in there and a couple of times a week I go in and stir it up. A week ago I put it in the first of the 55 gallons, it bubbled for about the first day and after that it seems to be doing fine. The only other bubbling I have noticed is when I planted some glosso I found while out shopping.
 
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