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FAQs on Soils for Planted Tanks

Related Articles: Soil Supplements for Freshwater Planted Aquariums

Related FAQs: Substrates for the Aquarium Garden

can i just use the garden soil?
<Not all, no... some is too high in nutrient levels, some has other (unsuitable) components...>

setting up Walstad aquarium (with pot soil) - plants and PH trouble!     6/6/13
Greetings from Minnesota and of course - thank you for making our hobby better, one advice at a time!
<Salutations from California on this fine day; and thank you for your kind words>
I'm currently setting up my 3rd Walstad tank. I've kept fish for few years now and found Walstad tanks,  with subtropical species quite interesting.
Weather loaches are awesome! (though bad at predictions of weather - they are great at anticipating dinner!)
New tank:
The substrate is made of organic potting mix
(no fertilizers, at least as written on a bag) - about 2 inch thick, .5 inch of fine gravel op top of soil and 1-1.5 inch of smooth white sand (not aragonite)
<Likely silica (Si02) based>
 on top.
Tank is 55g, filtered by Eheim Ecco 2236 (approved for up to 80 g)
PH is a mess, GH is a mess - going from 8.0 in the evening to 5.6 in the following morning. I'm on the first week of this and expect PH to settle eventually.
<Yes; likely "the organics" in your soil are decomposing...
no light phase of photosynthesis to counter as during the day>
2-3 times a week 50% water changes for the first month (scheduled).
Tank is in front of the south-facing window and has a light as well for evenings
The biggest problem for me is the drastic difference between D. Walstad's explanation in the book "Ecology of Planted Aquarium" and my real-life experience. According to author, she is able to set up the aquarium and add plants and fish the same day - and it works!
<Mmm, I wouldn't do this. Diane may well have found a good mix (literally) of soil, sands... but this would be rare for most all>
 No plant die-out, no PH madness, no  crazy algae blooms. But in my experience every single of 3 Walstad tanks I set up goes like this:
Week 1 through 3 - PH is all over the place, any plant I place in the tank dies. Leaves fall off or disintegrate into brown slime. Promise I'm not using agent orange-grade chems in my tanks! :)
<Yes; predictable>
Week 4 through 12 - PH is more stable, plants still die back, but most hardy species (hornwort, Val.s, Cabomba, Anubias) eventually come back. I usually add fish on week 3 or 4. Fish may be stressed out. I also gotten a crazy amount of algae during this time.
 <Also to be expected>
Months 6 and onward - tank is rock solid. Fish are happy. Plants are growing fast and thick! Growth is sustainable for years after. Even moss balls grow faster!
Can you help with this conundrum? Why is my tanks take so long to boot up?, - far longer than "non-Walstad" aquariums, and drastically longer than same-day-add-fish that Walstad describes.
<Likely you and DW's soil sources/types are the majority of difference here... Her's has far less soluble, digestible organic component>
Or would it actually go faster if I break all rules of cycling and add all of the plants and all of the fish now?
<Again; not a good idea>
Would it help to use water from established tanks to top of the new aquarium during the water changes?
<Mmmm, a guess; but this would likely help to shorten the run-in period you describe for your first three systems... But not by much... a day or two>
Or place a plate with crushed coral in the corner of the tank? ( i cannot add it to sand, as the tank will contain Weather Loaches, rehomed from 30 gallon first Walstad tank.)
 <I'd leave off w/ this addition>
Incense, crystals, singing bowls, mood lighting, prayers, motivational poster? I'm willing to try anything! :)
 <Heeeeeee! Ten jumping jacks and barking at the moon at midnight! You might want to read a long while on the Krib... consider experimenting w/ Fe +2 and 3... But really, am a heavy better on the soil... try a different mix... w/ less humic material. Maybe posit your query to Karen Randall, Diana herself...>
Elena E, failed scholar of slow-as-Ramshorn-snail eco-experiment.
<Not a failure yet! Bob Fenner>

Aquarium substrate, garden soil for substrate 8/23/2009
Hi guys just wondering if I could use garden soil for substrate.
<Yes, you can use good quality loam. However, there are some issues. The first is that garden soils contain a lot of material that won't live underwater, including animals, and these will rot, creating water quality problems. Secondly, garden soils contain a lot of nitrate and phosphate, and these will increase the chances of algae problems. Finally, garden soils may have specific water chemistry affecting components; chalk for example will raise pH, hardness, and carbonate hardness. It is almost always best to use inexpensive pond soil which you can buy from garden centres. I use this all the time. It costs about £4 for a 25 kg bag. It has a low nitrate and phosphate content, and contains nothing that will die underwater. Mixed 50/50 with pea gravel or silica sand it makes a superb bottom layer for the planted tank. Stick a gravel tidy (or pond-safe plastic mesh) on top to keep everything in place, and then add an inch or two of gravel or silica sand, as required.>
I read a article on The Krib of someone using garden soil. If so how would you do that? I have 7 Discus and I want to put them in another tank. what would you recommend on switching the discus. If using my tank water from my tank I have running now and my whisper filter and change none of the carbon or the sponge in the filter. Do you think i would have to cycle the tank. I just don't want to lose any fish. Just trying to get a tank for live plants and Discus.
Thanks, Darby.
PS What kind of gravel or other substance recommend.
<Do see here:
Cheers, Neale.>

Carpet plant on sand???... much reading re planted tanks, part. substrates, soil
Hi, as always I want to thank you first of all. I'm starting a 55 gallon tank and I'm thinking of using garden soil covered with pool filter sand.
<Mmmm, I'd be very careful here... such fine silicate doesn't allow sufficient diffusion/movement of water through it... the soil is too likely to "rot", gasify, bubble out from underneath>
I've read that both of these are safe and cheap. first in your opinion is this true?
<My experience differs... I strongly encourage you to posit this and other planted tank queries on "The Krib" (AGA's site)... and go with more roundish, larger diameter substrate... I'm a fan of SeaChem's Fluorite, CaribSea's planted tank gravels...>
thing is I've always wanted to have a carpet
<... Of?>
grow and I've tried in my 20 gallon which also has sand but i haven't seen the moss grow, neither onto the sand nor on anything actually, maybe i just don't notice it. so i want to know if this is even possible. can i grow a carpet plant over sand?
<Mmm, If I understand your question, yes... there are plants... Glossostigma, Echinodorus tenellus, Eleocharis and more that can be cultured thus... You need to read, understand the soil, substrate, water
quality, lighting needs... and provide them...>
if not what do you suggest is the best substrate for it to grow?
<... posted...>
can i just use the garden soil?
<Not all, no... some is too high in nutrient levels, some has other (unsuitable) components...>
i don't think i can leave the garden soil uncovered because i believe it starts floating around from what I've read but i may be wrong, please let me know. and again thanks for everything you're all great. SHA BOIN BOING!
<Uhhh... read here:
Esp. the parts mentioned as subjects above... Bob Fenner>

Peat moss to induce breeding?  10/6/08
Hi -
I have some Rasboras, some black Neons and some cherry barbs, all of which at one time or another seemed like they were ready to breed (as evidenced by males chasing the females around, and especially the Rasboras turning upside down on a leaf).
<Certainly seems possible; that said, the tricky bit is getting the females in "condition", i.e., ripe with eggs.>
However nothing has really happened or any eggs I may have missed have been eaten. I bought a small 2 gallon tank with some marbles on the bottom to put a small pair of fish to see if maybe they would mate and then could be removed quickly. i have not added any pairs yet to the tank. what would you recommend to induce mating?
<No single formula for all possible species. But in the case of Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) breeding is quite difficult. You need extremely soft water around 2 degrees dH (here in southern England where the water has a hardness of 20 degrees dH, that's one part tap water to nine parts rain (or RO) water. You also need to ensure the pH is stable, possibly by doing large water changes frequently, but more than likely by using a pH buffer to fix the pH at the required 5.5 or so. You also need to raise the temperature to around 26-28 C, and then make sure the tank is positioned somewhere it gets morning sunlight. The water also needs to be filtered through peat or treated with blackwater extract, and not too deep, around 20 cm. Assuming all these things are provided, they should spawn eventually, laying their eggs underneath broad leaves (such as Cryptocorynes). Your 2 gallon tank is way too small for breeding fish; look for a standard breeder tank at least 30 litres in capacity and 60 cm long. Spawning is often a frenetic process with much chasing, and you'll frequently need to maintain the adult fish in the breeding tank a fair while, and of course provide decent water quality for the developing fry, something impossible in bucket-size tanks.>
i hear adding peat moss to filter, raising temperature, may help. thanks, bob
<Do spend time with Baensch's Aquarium Atlas and the like, researching the species you're interested in. Cheers, Neale.>  

What to do with Toxic Gas Trapped in Soil? -- 09/19/07 Hi, I wonder if you can help you. (You all seem really busy at WWM.) I did search for the answer, but I only found that gas DOES get trapped in the substrate, not what to do about it. I have a 55 gallon planted tank that has been running for a year now, with 5 year old angelfish (the mated pair is going into the 25 gallon tank soon), 3 nickel sized angel fish (they're doing fine together), 11 neon tetras, 2 swordtails (both male), and a Pleco (5-6"). I have the black EcoComplete substrate, which has worked fine for me. However, I recently went in to replant a couple of the plants, moving them from the end that gets about an hour of sunlight each morning to the side that doesn't. When I lifted up the plant, the substrate was fine, but when I stuck it into the other end of the tank, air bubbles came out. I've read that this is an extremely bad sign, meaning that the plants at the other end of the tank haven't really grown their roots, and that there's some kind of nitrogen compound trapped in the substrate. First of all, is this an emergency-immediate problem? Secondly, is there a way to fix it without taking out the fish from tank or harming the fish? (Can I just poke some holes in the substrate with my finger to let the gas out or is that a big no-no?) And what's the long term solution? Should I switch out the 80W for more light? (The plants are all alive, just not thriving, apparently.) Thank you all for your time and effort and any help that you can provide, Nea <Greetings. The "gas in the substrate" problem is wildly exaggerated within the hobby. Here's the basics: Anaerobic decay can result in the accumulation of a gas called hydrogen sulphide (H2S). In theory, because this gas is toxic to fish, any bubbles of H2S can harm or kill your fish. However, in practise H2S oxidises very rapidly, and once it is in contact with oxygenated water the H2S gets converted to plain old sulphur (or as the Americans spell it, sulfur). This reaction is so fast that it is for all practical purposes instant, so small amounts of H2S will be rendered harmless long before the concentration in the water reaches dangerous levels. Marine aquarists have learned to embrace anaerobic decay, and routinely set up filters (e.g., deep sand beds and mounds of living rock) that perform anaerobic decay. I also have yet to see a pond that *didn't* have masses of anaerobic decay going on in the thick, gooey mud at the bottom of the pond. But for whatever reason, freshwater aquarists are still skeptical. So let's put things into perspective. Anaerobic (or at least dysaerobic) conditions are normal in muddy freshwater substrates, and most plants actually prefer them to the clean, oxygenated plain gravel substrates we usually give them. Under anaerobic conditions the mineral ions they want are "reduced" and more easily absorbed than they would in their "oxidized" states. Plant roots carry oxygen into the substrate via a tissue called aerenchyma, which you can think of as being a bit like a snorkel. Some of the oxygen carried down to the roots escapes and immediately around the roots the conditions are partially, but not completely, oxygenated (i.e., dysaerobic rather than anaerobic). So wherever plants are growing, the actual risk of dangerous levels of H2S developing becomes even smaller. Occasionally poking the substrate with a stick to stir things up a little won't do any harm, and I always add Malayan livebearing snails to planted tanks because they do this automatically, behaving rather like earthworms do on land. In my view, these snails are indispensable and as you probably know they never, ever harm plants. Now, this brings us to the question of why your plants aren't growing. This is almost certainly nothing to do with the substrate. Since you're using a proper plant-growing medium, Eco Complete, and I hope to a reasonable depth (not less than 8 cm, but no more than 12 cm without a heating cable), so that aspect should be solid. No, the problem is almost certainly lighting. For good plant growth you need at least 2 Watts per gallon. You can get by with a bit less in shallow (<30 cm deep) tanks using shade-tolerant species (like Java moss and Anubias) but in all other cases the more light the better. In practical terms, you're aiming for at least 4 tubes that run the length of the tank. Ideally, these should be plant-friendly tubes with a "colour temperature" of around 6000 Kelvin, though to some extent plants will adapt. Fitting reflectors behind the tubes is a cheap way to maximise your returns by directing as much light as possible into the tank. Bright-light plants, which tend to be those species with light green or red leaves, may need even more light than 2W/gal., in which case adding additional tubes or switching to a higher output light source (like mercury vapour lamps) becomes important. I hope this helps, Neale>

Planted aquarium soilags article  - 11/02/06 Hi Bob, <Earl> I am in the process of setting up low tech (2wpg no CO2) planted tank, I plan to pretty much follow the guide lines in your article, but I'm a little confused as how to go about this. <Let's try to clarify...> In your article you say "I include up to 50% peat in my soil; most of the times utilizing a "African violet" type house plant mix for the rest of the remainder, and a little laterite".  Where the confusion comes in is all the African Violet mixes I have looked at say they have Peat in the mix but don't tell me how much, so do I still mix peat and African Violet mix 50/50? <Could... this mixture should be "water-logged" ahead of use... to help "keep it down"> and is a red clay soil OK, as opposed to laterite, and how much is a little? <Mmm... I'd skip on most red clays... or at least test/see if this material will stay put... Could be a real mess> And being a new setup do I layer the soils? A couple fistfuls of peat followed by a little clay soil, and African violet mix @ 4oz's per sq/ft, topped with sand/gravel, or do I mix it all together and top with sand/gravel? <This last... with the mix of whatever make up thoroughly wetted... best, soaked a few days ahead of placing> Thanks Earl   <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Sprouting Old Plant Bulbs  9/8/06 Disregard the title if it sounds like an emergency - it's not. No fish are suffering! Just my pride. What I have done is so idiotic! Hopefully I will not be barred from ever writing you again. < Hey, we live off this stuff!> I was cleaning out a section of my utility room (mostly full of fish equipment and hurricane prep -- after all, this is Florida here) and I came across this package of plant bulbs I must have purchased a few years ago and forgot about. They are Aquarium Plant Life brand, a package of about 5 bulbs that you're supposed to be able to drop into an aquarium and have root in a few days. Ok, so I also stumbled across my old 10 gallon glass tank and a bag of blue and black gravel mix, and a bag of perlite and vermiculite mix. (In case you can't tell, I mix things.) Somehow, I thought I would experiment with all three of these! So I covered the bottom of the tank with perlite and vermiculite --which I figured was probably not aquarium safe but thought it would be ok, since I was only meaning half-heartedly to grow these plants and never add fish-- then topped it off with nearly an inch of the blue and black aquarium gravel. I mistakenly thought this layering would give the plants some nice deep airy rooting substrate with an (albeit thin) anchor of dense gravel! Well, I poured the water in from my faucet attachment and boy oh boy do I have a mess. I put a screened top over the tank and a shoplight is casting ghostly formations into the brown water. I cannot imagine this ever clarifying. After reading online about perlite and vermiculite (apparently these materials are used for pool construction and fireproofing? hmm...) I can see now that these probably will not ever do well submerged. I netted out most of the perlite, which floated to the top as though made of Styrofoam. I believe it's the vermiculite that is causing the brown clouding of the water. I dropped the bulbs in already along with a couple of fertilizer tabs... once the water filled the tank it was impossible to scoop them out, like bobbing for apples! Should I dump this mess outside? < Take the tank outside. Pour the water and floating things through a fish net. Pluck out the bulbs and dump the rest into your flower bed. Rinse the gravel in the 10 gallon with a garden hose until it overflows clear and the gravel is clean. Empty the water and set the tank back up where you want it. Place the bulbs back into the tank. If they spout at all then you can worry about lighting and fertilizers then. If they don't sprout then just fish them out with a net.> I could do so easily, the tank is right near the front door. It probably wouldn't hurt the plants outside. I was tempted to tonight, but I thought I would ask your opinion. I don't think this stuff will ever settle... if it does, isn't it bound to cloud right up again? Also after mucking around in this water, my hands feel dry as all get-out. Maybe it has to do with the fact that these are pool construction and flame proofing materials!! ;) I feel so dumb having this tank which now looks like a....liquid intestinal evacuation! So, would it ever be *feasible* to grow these plants of *questionable* origin in this *experimental* substrate, just add hard tap water and fertilizer tabs? I'm so sorry to ask, but I would love to know... if not, I'd be happy to pitch the fowl soup... Thank you for even reading this far! Nicole < Plant the bulbs. It is the only way we will know if they are any good.-Chuck> Use of peat   2/7/06 Hey guys   I have a question about peat moss? I found while reading something  awhile ago, something on how peat moss helps purify or cleans water, so I am  looking to get all the facts I can find. <An old-timey approach to softening, acidifying... making more hard/alkaline water for aquatic life that appreciates such...>   I would also like to know the facts on all the different kinds of  moss and the effects they have on water, for example Spanish moss, Hiawatha  green moss, and whatever else there is for mosses. <You are wise here... as they are different... and some makes are treated with alkaline material... best to rinse, even boil, cool, drain water from before using...>   Next question is where would I find what I need for a 29 gallon  fish aquarium loaded with fish that has been up and running for 5 months?   Rick <What you need? Am not following you here. You might want to peruse WWM... re peat moss, water quality... Bob Fenner>

Change the Substrate for Peat Sake  12/5/05 I'm inclined to agree. I was a bit concerned about what you asked about the "white 'stuff' on the bottom of the tank" being the "peat fungused...(is that a word?)...up and decomposing." I double checked the substrate and the only white thing I can see is the white sand on top of the gravel on top of the peat...but is there a large risk in the peat? The peat was purchased at a garden center and I checked with the company that no chemicals/fertilizers are used in the peat--just straight peat.   I've noticed quite a few air pockets (QUITE a few) in the peat and was somewhat worried that these might pose a problem down the road, as I don't know of any kind of "sand sifter" like the worms in my reef tank. Could these become unhealthy? Are they trapped O or something noxious or are they just converted Nitrogen?  I've noticed the same in my sand as well. The tank doesn't have an unpleasant odor or any other indicator of "unhealthy" gasses or water conditions that I can't test for with my test kits. I don't know if I will ever do the peat in the substrate, though it was wizard for my plants...and I think I'll get some in there soon, too.  What would grow well in a 28" deep tank w/ 250w 10000K MH lighting and (2) 40w 6500K fluorescents...and a sand/gravel/peat substrate? I'm going to replace the 10000K with a 6500K, but that won't be for another 10 months or so. I want a bright side of the tank and a darker side so that nervous fish have a refuge and the bright for plants and for viewing pleasure. The discus has even started venturing into the brighter part of the tank which has been a real treat. I'm also planning on doing a cloud of cardinals (20+) and that should look nice. Anyway, Thanks again for all the help. Branon. < I would recommend laterite or fluorite as a substrate for an aquarium with both plants and fish and skip the peat moss.-Chuck> 

Low pH I appreciate comments on my present situation...  I am in the process of setting up a 54g planted community tank that will have a South American flavor, although it will not be a strict biotope.  I've terraced 2 to 4" of gravel, and laced it thoroughly with Laterite.  I followed the advice of my LFS and mixed 2 liters of peat pellets in with the gravel and laterite. <Hmm, not something I'd do, I don't think; I prefer to have peat in my filter where I can remove it if I so choose.> The problem:  My pH was too low, 5 to 5.5 <Zowie!> and the water was yellow.   <To be expected, when you use peat and/or bogwood - running carbon in your filter may help remove the yellow/brown stain.> So I emptied the whole tank and tried to rid of much of the peat, and I got a lot of it out, maybe a third of it.  Now that a day has gone by the yellowness is much less but the PH is still 5 - 5.5.  PH from my tap is alkaline, about 7.5.  What should I do to get the PH to the 6.5 - 7 range?    <There are lots of buffering materials on the market; one that comes to mind is made by Seachem I believe, and comes in a green-labeled clear bottle, the product itself is pink.  I don't for the life of me recall the name of it - perhaps Acid Buffer or Discus Buffer.  This might be something to try, if your water hardness is very low, as I suspect it is.> Is there any way other than to break it down and manually remove the peat, pellet by pellet?   <This reminds me of childhood days, when I liked nothing better than to sort nuts from bolts in my Dad's garage....> Or perhaps easier, just get rid of the whole gravel bed and start afresh, this time with very little or no peat? <If you do this, go without peat in the gravel, for sure.  You don't want to put something in the substrate that you may have to remove - as you surely understand now, it's a very undesirable task.  Addition of peat in the filter(s) is far and above a better way to go about it, in my opinion.> Or should I just go with it as is?  To me it seems that PH is too low. <It is (though there ARE some fish that would like it), and by the sound of it, is unstable as well, yes?  My vote - either remove the substrate and redo, remove the peat from the substrate (have you got any children that might be talked into such a task? lol), or perhaps try a buffer to raise the hardness of your water to keep the pH a touch more stable, and livable.> Thanks for your comment. <Any time, Jeff.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina> Jeff Zegas

Discus, peat and carbon Hi Guys, <Hello Adam> I am about to setup my first discus tank! I hear peat is a good thing to add in the filter system. <Can be, yes... as a "natural" source of pH, alkalinity adjustment, addn. of tannins, flavines...> But, as with most things, there is a down side - the yellow colour it turns the water. If I use carbon as well will I get rid of the colour AND the other good stuff as well. If so then the carbon will defeat the purpose. <Mmm, only to some extent. Fine to use both> Some people suggest that peat leaches ammonia and phosphates. Is this true? <Not "good" peats (non-alkaline treated, well-decomposed, "darker" types), that have been properly prepared (lightly boiled, left to cool)> Also, if I do use peat how long should I use it before replacing? <A month or so is about right. Best to place in (Dacron polyester) bags that you can easily place, remove... twixt mechanical filter media... as in in-between "fiber" in a corner, outside power or canister filter> Some suggest only a day or two and others about a month! I tend to think that more regular changes would be best otherwise the peat will act as a bio filter (I'm assuming that is a bad thing ... is it?). <Really best to "just experiment" here. For your type of source water, substrate in the system, other interactive effects, to see what "goes on" over time> I know that the fish don't mind the yellow colour of the water but I do and I want to have my cake and eat it too. Are there any additives that you recommend in place of peat. <A few "black water tonics" (e.g. those by Tetra, Dupla, others) that are "extracts" from peat> Thanks for having such a great site. Cheers, Adam Langman Australia <Thank you for being part of it. Bob Fenner>

Planted Aquarium Substrates, Peat Use Hi.  Im restarting my 55G and 29G, and buying a 90G.  The 90G will be heavily planted, the other two moderately planted.  Im hoping to use a peat, sand, and gravel mix to keep the cost down.  What peat should I use, and wont it make a catastrophic mess when I vacuum?   What proportions of each would be best? <A darker, heavier peat is best... if you can, boil it (so it will sink) and let it cool... The peat really needs to be placed in such a way that it can't/won't be disturbed (else it will indeed "go everywhere"). Either use a screen (fiberglass as in window) with a mix of fine gravel and peat (about ten-twenty percent by volume) with the screen over it and just gravel over this, or resolve to never gravel vacuum the lower levels of a deep bed with only the lower half mixed> One more- my 29 and 55 are 4 years old- how long is the silicone good for?   <Decades> My 55 has dead algae spots under the silicone- should I replace the seal? <Mmm, I wouldn't. The actual "seal" is the area between the glass faces... the bit in the corners is mainly to keep you from gouging into the functional area with a sharp tool> You've answered many questions for me recently, and I thank you.  With any luck this will be the last of my questions. Thanks, James P. Prov, RI <Glad to be of assistance. Bob Fenner, whose parents were born in Providence, myself not far away in Northkingston>

WWM article Greetings Sir, I just finished reading your article "On the Use of Soil In Aquarium Gardening" from Web Media.com, it was a very enlightening subject that is close to home on an ongoing project of my own. I was wondering if I could reprint an excerpt or two in a forum on aquascaping in response of a disagreement that is been too lengthy for my own taste. Sincerely, IS Zachary D Standridge <If this is a non-commercial use you are welcome to its use. Please see here re our content use policy: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/WWMUsePolicyStmt.htm Bob Fenner>

Aquarium Lighting Question, (and planted tank nutritive substrate) Bob, I have read almost everything on your webpage, simply the best resource I have ever found on aquarium gardening. As a person who got into the hobby about 3 years ago I have been forced to learn most things the hard way by listening to people who it turns out had no clue. As I have a science/engineering background I definitely appreciate the way your articles are written, especially the presence of references. <Thank you for your acknowledgement.> On to my questions, I have been in the process of recovering my 50 gal 48" aquarium from neglect following moving, and incorporating the learning's from my recent investigations. I have got rid of undergravel filtration and am now running a pro-aquatics canister at ~155gph. I am using a substrate mixture of laterite, black onyx sand, and gravel. Next up is lighting. I was wondering if you had any input on the advantages/disadvantages of twin tube compact fluorescents? <Lots of personal and second-hand experience, not much scientific> I found a company (AHSupply.com's) that is selling systems that seem very cost effective using these type of bulbs, complete with true solid state ballasts.  <Am familiar with this outfit from bulletin boards> I am simply suspicious due to the relatively low cost (~$124 for a system that supposedly should produce ~220W), and if the bulbs of sufficient quality are readily available from sources other than this supplier.  <Do take a look at the reports of others re AH: http://wetwebfotos.com/talk/> Also I have a water question, I have a potassium based water softener, what concerns, if any, should have about using this water untreated in my planted aquarium, and is there special nutrient supplementation I should do to account for what is lost in the softening process? <Would not worry re the potassium issue (typically unimportant as rate limiting or overabundance in these applications), and the re-constitution of your source water hardness, mineral content may prove an issue... depending on the species you choose, how much biomass, boosted metabolism/growth you intend or drive... Easy enough to do a "bio-assay" and grow what you will/want, note its appearance... and/or utilize test kits to assure your water is within whatever practical ranges of chemical, physical make-up... In practical terms... for folks like me (basically lazy) the addition of some "straight tap" serves well-enough here... even when utilizing "excess" light, CO2 infusion...> Any help would be greatly appreciated, but I am sure you get a great deal of questions. Thanks, Nate Berg <A pleasure to interact, learn.> ps. Any sources for bulk laterite? $15/box adds up pretty quickly... <Not currently. Do check with the Krib, ours and other chatforums. Bob Fenner>

Soils (for planted aquariums. More information...) Robert, I read your article on The Aquarium Gardener Series "On the use of soil in aquarium gardening. First, there are commercially available substitute soil that I have seen. In fact, I used it on my 75g tank. They are stick like granules similar to those of Kare's "root of nutrient stick" but a lot smaller. Are these better that the real laterite soil? <Hmm, don't know. Have they been working out for you? There are "stick like" amendments that are made for terrestrial use that incorporate "slow/er release" fertilizers that I know do not work... too much nutrient, too fast... But w/o knowing the name/composition of the one you're referring to, I can't say> Since I can just dig some laterite from my backyard do you think this kind of soil would be better that supplement I am using? <... Really, the only way to tell is to set up some example tank/s and try it out> The only thing is that, like in your article, it would be very unpractical and painstaking if I'd have to change the bottom layer of laterite every time there is a depletion in the trace elements in it.  <Oh, this is actually not such difficulty... Many folks supplement as time goes by, via pressing fertilizers as solids into the substrate, and/or adding dilute liquids to the water itself. Total tear downs can be in intervals of years> Do you know any means in making the soil compact and dry so that I can shape them into dry sticks then later use them when needed? <Good idea... you might try low temperature oven baking (on a nice warm day when the windows, doors can be left open) and wetting-forming and redrying the soil> Hoping for your reply. Regards, Leo <You have many good ideas... worth trying, experimenting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Re: Soils Bob, Thank You for your reply. The brand I am using come in the name UP. <Hmm, never heard of this product...> It is a company from Taiwan or Singapore. They said that this is the latest technology which means they say "even better than laterite". I am not sure with this claim though. I'll try on experimenting on solidifying the soil. <Do you have an address? A description of the product contents? Bob Fenner> Regards, Leo

Re: Re: Re: Soils for planted aquariums Bob, Its all in Chinese. I'll checked again further on this. By the way, I also have access to laboratory grade chemicals. Would you know any formulation to [produce any kind of fertilizer, trace elements, or iron supplement? <There is bandwidth archives dedicated to such. See our links on www.WetWebMedia.com for the URL for "the Krib" for the AGA/Aquatic Gardener's Association... much there. Bob Fenner>

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