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Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 3:25 pm
by JCrush
Hey everyone ...
I'm in the process of preparing for the arrival of my new aquarium, 180 gallon (72 x 18 x 30). It should be delivered soon. My question is what substrate/s should I use. My plan is to stock my tank with live plants and fish of course. Keeping in mind my depth from surface to bottom is 30", I've decided to purchase three "Kessil A360WE" LED lights. Powerful enough to adequately light the bottom depth of my tank I think . I'm still not sure however what substrates to choose from, Eco complete, Laterite, plane sand or what ever. Maybe layering a combination of substrate's my be the best answer to save money .... just not sure. My target is to have a 3" minimum layer which I think should be sufficient for plant growth. Suggestions from the forum as to what types of substrates I should consider should help make my decision a little easier. Thanks.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 8:47 pm
by essabee
I personally use 3 inches of substrate for my tanks; but most people never exceed 2 inches. I use a inch of lateritic clay mixed with gypsum and calciumphosphate - the clay I obtain from the laterite nodules quarry. This clay causes the water to go murky so I cover it with 2 inches of plain river sand mixed with dark gravels to get a mottled effect and not the beach effect. The top 2 inches is sufficient for planting and the clay remains undisturbed and my tank water clear.

Laterite is rich in iron but is deficient in calcium, phosphorus and sulphur. The prepared substrates sold for aquarium (including laterite) are less rich in minerals and will not cause the water to get murky. Plain sand does supply any nutrient at all.

Aquatic plants have the ability of absorbing their required nutrients from the water through their foliage - only a few species of aquarium plants depend more heavily on their root system for nutrients. So the substrate as long as it is not too completely inert and can anchor the plants will be sufficient - nutrients can always be supplied to them via water as is the normal practice by modern aquarium hobbyist.

2 inches of substrate would be sufficient for planting. If you would like to do some aquascaping - you may exceed the thickness but it would not be necessary for your plants. Let aesthetics and economy guide your choice of substrate (or mixture of them) as there is hardly any other cause to choose one over the other.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 10:20 pm
by JCrush
Ok thanks essa for your information and advice.

Good to know it is acceptable to use a combo of mineral rich substrate and regular sand. I've spent a ton of money already and a way to save a buck or two is always good to know at this point. Three inch deep eco-complete is going to be big bucks to cover 72" x 18". Not sure if I have a laterite quarry near me though. Maybe spreading an 1 1/2" of sand on the bottom and some eco-complete or store bought laterite on the top may be the ticket. Or maybe sand on top and laterite on the bottom? What ever .... this will save a little coin.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sat Oct 03, 2015 8:11 am
by ScottFish
I've mixed the iron-rich laterite with the "normal" stuff in most of my tanks. I recommend 2 inches at the front with an incline to 3 inches in the back (and sides perhaps.) If you want to save money (and who doesn't!) perhaps put the laterite only in the plant areas. For ex. line the back of the tank plant zones with rocks and your special substrate behind it.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sat Oct 03, 2015 11:02 am
by essabee
ScottFish wrote:I've mixed the iron-rich laterite with the "normal" stuff in most of my tanks.


Laterite iron is in the insoluble ferric state and is not available to the plants directly. So when you use laterite place it deep where anaerobic bacteria can convert it into ferrous iron. Ferrous iron is soluble and available to plants. Anaerobic bacteria population in aerobic areas will not be high and neither will the ferric iron be converted to ferrous state by them. We cannot even use ferrous salts to the water column for the plants as the in aerobic watery stage ferrous will quickly be oxidised into ferric state.This why when we use iron fertilisers we add chelated ferrous iron to the water column. The chelated iron acts like ferrous non-reactive capsules from which the plants can extract the iron.

Strong blue/indigo lights may convert some of the ferric iron to ferrous state - but you can hardly expect that in a planted aquarium.

So next time you set up your aquarium, please don't mix the laterite but place it deep - will save you some money by being of utility and not of waste.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sat Oct 03, 2015 1:26 pm
by Diana
You can also look into the montmorillonite clays such as Safe-T-Sorb. These are lighter than sand or EC, so something like 50 lb would be enough for your tank, if you want to combine it with something else. They have high cationic exchange capacity, so whatever nutrients are in the tank (either water or substrate) can get attached to the clay and held in a way that plants can get them.

I have a 125 (floor is 72"' x 18") with 1 bag of Soil Master Select (50 lb, I think, bag is long gone), color was charcoal (no longer available) and Eco Complete, 3 bags. The EC settled though the SMS, and the SMS is now the top layer. I can barely see the difference in color- the SMS turned almost black when it was wet (looked grey in the bag).

Alternate sources of montmorillonite clay:
Turface- Irrigation and sports field supply stores like John Deere Landscape, Ewing Irrigation and Horizon Irrigation should carry it. Several colors available, some rather garish, but I think they have a dark brown which has some aquarium possibilities.
Kitty Litter- Do some research. Some brands tend to fall apart faster. Non clumping, no perfume. White or off white.
Oil Dri and related materials (including Safe-T-Sorb). Check the color of these. Most are white or off white. Safe-T-Sorb is a nice blend of soft greys and tans. Looks really natural in the tank.

Most substrates will not hold a slope. If you want serious hills and valleys build them out of rocks or wood, and part of the maintenance may be to place the substrate back up at the top of the hill until the plants grow in and roots hold it in place.

Depth:
At the front, enough to be a bit higher than the trim, or 1-2" is good. If you are growing a ground cover, these are usually small plants, and need a fine substrate. You could do a light dusting (so you can still see the bottom of the tank) of richer material, then add an inch or so of the main substrate.
At the back, a somewhat heavier dusting of the richer materials- depth would depend on how rich they are- don't over do it. Then 2-3" of the main substrate.

I set up most tanks with a light dusting of fertilizer on the bottom, then 100% Safe-T-Sorb or other material. Using different materials is difficult for several reasons- If they are different densities, the heavier material will tend to end up on the bottom, and the lighter on the top. When you dig up a plant the materials get mixed.
Instead of using several different soils, which are generally low in most fertilizers (or only a little bit richer in something) I prefer to place the fertilizer on the very bottom, then use just one substrate.

I have used pool filter sand, and other graded sands. Play sand often has too much fines, and will cloud the water. If you rinse it enough to get rid of these fines, you might wash away half the bag. Sand that has been graded to about 30 mesh is good in an aquarium. You could use coarser materials, too, if that look is more what you want.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2015 8:57 am
by Crazygar
This might help not only yourself but a few others. This is my "Set Me Straight with Substrate" chart. It only deals with Commercial available substrates.

Shows you the compound differences in easy to read charts.

Gary

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sun Oct 04, 2015 11:07 pm
by C. Andrew Nelson
That's awesome, Gary! Thanks for posting that.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Mon Oct 05, 2015 11:40 pm
by essabee
Crazygar wrote:This might help not only yourself but a few others. This is my "Set Me Straight with Substrate" chart. It only deals with Commercial available substrates.

Shows you the compound differences in easy to read charts.

Gary


Good helpful chart if you understand what you are seeing - only disappointment is it does not list sulphur contents, I think that is because the importance of this element to plants is not commonly known or felt especially in the aquarium and because of commonly used Epsom salt for magnesium fertilising and for hardness. If it not too much trouble could you rectify that.

May I beg your permission to share your chart with others.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Wed Oct 07, 2015 2:32 pm
by JCrush
Great chart Gary .... which raises another question for me.

I failed to mention that my visual preference for my top substrate is sand but not black sand. I can't find a plant friendly enriched substrate that looks like freshwater sand on the market yet. Seems like it would be cool to use a mineral rich substrate for perhaps the bottom 1 inch and about 2 inches of sand on top. Obviously I would prefer to use one mineral rich substrate that was a natural looking sand other than black fluorite sand. All I can find that my be close to that is one of the Caribsea instant aquarium products. What are the thoughts on the instant aquarium line of aquarium sands?

I'm currently leaning for a 1 inch bottom of fluorite black sand and Caribsea instant aquarium sunset gold sand for the top two inches. Unfortunately that isn't going be very frugal .... $20 something a bag for the instant aquarium stuff.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Thu Oct 08, 2015 9:18 pm
by Diana
Be careful reading a chart like that, or the boasting of the manufacturer.

A lot of the minerals listed in the chart are not available to the plants. It is the basic structure of the material, which does not break down, does not become available to the plants.

About like boasting you are getting your daily minerals because the plate you eat off of is made of the right material.

JC- pick the look you want.
Use that for all the substrate, if it is the right material, and just a dusting of fertilizer on the bottom. Maintenance can be daily dosing such as the Estimative Index, or slow release tablets.

Or, if you will be layering materials, do this:
Put the plant substrate in the middle, and spread it toward the front and sides, but do not touch the front or sides (if they will be seen). Hold it back 1-2" from the glass. You can use a temporary substrate divider, perhaps a strip of cardboard, plastic, or other material to keep them separate while you are setting it up. Then GENTLY remove the divider. You could use a permanent divider (acrylic or other water proof thing) and leave it in place. Hide it under the cap.
Build hills and valleys, add hardscape materials- rock, wood.
You could plant at this point (mist the plants often) or cap it.
Put your cosmetic substrate in the tank starting with this 1-2" wide band along the front and sides, and then continue to cap the whole tank.
If you plant after capping it, be very careful not to mix substrates.

No, the lighter colored materials do not offer much in the way of plant nutrients. However, montmorillonite clays do have high cationic exchange capacity, so any excess fertilizer you add is likely to be held in reserve, available to the plants as they need it. Oil Dri, and many kitty litters are white or off white.
These are still pretty light, so if you put a sand cap over it, the sand will sink through the substrate.

Re: Substrate Question for New Setup

PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 8:51 am
by Crazygar
Agreed, as stated, it's my Non-Scientific approach to the Commercially available substrates on the market. I have taken the compound information off of each bag/box as stated per the manufacturer. It's more of guideline than anything else.

Though I was surprised about Eco Complete and unfortunately ADA and Fluval Stratum are "not available" for dissection at this time.

Gary