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Substrate, Lighting questions

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After the aquascape competition I have decided to try my hand at one but have a few queries.

I intend to jump straight into the deep end here and go all out on a 4x2x2ft or a 3x2x2ft full co2, the works (all except coughing up some big $$$$ for an ADA tank)

Can anyone point me in the right direction on substrates what would be the best for my needs and your experiences on using the product I was looking at using the ADA soils Amazonia , Seachem Flourite Black or black sand I am thinking of going down the road of having a carpet of HC or similar and am not wanting to rescape very often maybe once a year for a change every now and then. Or can I use just a basic gravel you buy at the LFS and fert more reguarly for a cheaper alternative as the co2 setup will blow a nice hole in the budget????

I am also looking at getting about 3wpg in the lighting department so I would need 200w for the 3ft or 280w for the 4ft I have 2 options a t5 compact or a metal halide which one out of the two would run cooler as keeping the tanks under 30 degrees can be hard to do here in the summer months and my house is sort of like an oven.

So if anyone can give any input through their own experiences or tell me where i could get some of the stuff please feel free to point me the way

Cheers Nick

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You will want to go the metal halides, as a general rule, any planted tank more then 60cm deep will require halides.

to combat the heat place them higher above the water 20cm + ? and maybe instal a fan if you have a hood.

Dont have much experience with ada substrates but apparently they constantly change the water parameters (ph) when new, so maybe eco-complete, Im sure someone will expand on this further.

Or if you have the time, go for a diy substrate? they usually incorporate regular gravel so turn out cheaper, just take a little more time.

Apart from that, just do lots and lots of research. plenty of info out there.


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I DIY most stuff, the tank is very low-tech. substrate is coarse river sand + small gravel, with dino dung added for the substrate feeders. DIY CO2. No filter. Lights are from bunnings! It pearls its nut off during 2 x 4 hour light periods a day. It gets warm under the lid - hot even - but the plants and fish seem not to care at all. The lights are about 20cm above the water.

But if you're wanting to grow HC this may not work, just sharing my own experience.

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You will definitely need halides with a tank so deep,if you want to grow Hc!!

I like Lillis' approach with DIY and it will certainly keep costs down.

If you want a tank that doesn't need constant attention then you can use plants like these:

Cryptocorynes,Java Fern,Mosses and Anubias.None of these require CO2 or very high light to do well.

When you get into Glosso and Hc you have to remember that they are plants that grow along the edge of creek banks and usually are not found growing in deeper water.This is why they need very high light and CO2.

Good results can be achieved with Eco-Complete,ADA and Up-Aqua Aquasoil.

If you want to use Vallisneria or Swordplants,they prefer a slightly alkaline condition around the roots in order to make use of the nutrients.

In fact,most of the plants that come from acidic habitats will benefit from a slightly alkaline substrate.

Light is definitely the most important requirement for growing plants.No amount of feeding will compensate for low light.

A good DIY substrate can be based on a thin layer of red clay [1cm] covered with 5cm of river sand.Try Bunnings' propagating sand from the garden section.

If you spread a thin layer of marble chip over the clay,before adding the sand,you will be able to grow Swordplants,Aponogetons,Lotus and most other plants without problems.

The clay will supply Iron and the Marble Chip will supply Calcium and Magnesium 'on demand'.

Regarding fertilisers,I always avoid dosing single elements.One of the most common problems I see on the forums is caused by dosing Potassium!!

Lots of people do this,and it then causes a deficiency in Calcium followed closely by a deficiency in Magnesium.

The simple addition of Marble Chip will avoid these problems.

Try to get hold of Diana Walstads 'Ecology of the Planted Aquarium' and also Christel Kasselmanns' Aquarium Plants'.

Most of your questions will be answered in these excellent books.

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imo, aquasoil contains far too much nutrients, i.e., ammonia, does not retain its form over the medium to long term, i.e., it's terribly soft and turns into mush, and is expensive. a very viable alternative is sharp river sand, around 2-3 mm in size, or diatomite. they both retain their form over a long period of time and have a high cation exchange rate. if you have a bit more money you can go down the akadama route, aka. bonsai clay particles soil that's fired at 1200 degrees; you want the harder stuff, not the soft. because the aforementioned substrates are inert, you are required to fertilize regularly. however, this means you won't have the initial algae problems that aquasoil seems to encourage. when you look at a substrate, press it between your fingers. if it crumbles easily, it's crap. the substrate maintaining it's form is important as it encourages good air circulation around the roots. if it crumbles easily, the very fine particles will inhibit good circulation, eventually suffocating the roots.

an alternative to an expensive CO2 system is using soda water, which is carbonated water. as to not blowing a hole in your budget, the amount of HC that you need to cover such a large area will probably see you spending more than you want to.

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Since Ty and Lili gave there two cents, i'll give mine as well ;)

I don't like expensive ADA, Aquasoil stuff. It's not required to spend all that extra money when you can see it in nature.

If you go to as many field trips and get your hands dirty mother nature does not use ADA or Aquasoil stuff.

So what do I do? I have experimented with this and found it to be worthwhile.

1. Take a styrofoam/glass aquarium container..that you get transporting fish.

2. Lay a few brown leaves of banana leaves or even ketapang leaves (this acts a fertilizer) --don't over do it as you don't want your water to turn dark brown.

3. Get good 'ol $4.00 bag of peat moss from bunnings or flower power and generously cover the container floor

4. Get some aquarium gravel and spread a thin layer over the peat moss. This will hold the peat down.

5. Add your plants

6. Add water gently using a plate so there is less splash.

7. Wait for the water to settle and if you want clear out some of the peat that has found it's way to the surface...although if you leave it it should drift back down

8. If you want use the soda bottle method for your CO2 harvesting.

So...if you use a styrofoam box:

Styrofoam Box = free

Banana Leaves = free (if you have a banana tree)

Peat Moss = $4.00 for a bag of 1-3 kg

Aquarium Sand = $8 for 15kg in flower power

Plants = $various

Water and Fish = $various and small if u catch ur own.

Looking at your creation and resting on the seventh day :drool: = priceless

Total Cost around $12

..there you go nice and easy. If anyone is interested, maybe we can do a work shop at the next SBG Meeting... hint hint Lili :lol:

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Thanks everyone for your input it has all been helpful. I have decided (but will probally change my mind) on going for a mixed blend of Eco-complete , regular gravel and river sand for my substrate with a few dino dung pellets strategically placed. I am unsure with the lighting I have found some halide/t5 combos here They have a top function in that you can use just the halide or the t5 or both . I understand that my tanks might be to deep for HC or glosso but i did intend to have one side banked/raised high a the back slowly sloping down to the front of the tank with that side having the ground cover other plants I am keen on Java fern "windelov" , downii , Rotala red, Pogo stellata a moss of some sort (all so similar) and assorted swords and crypts would the combo lights suit???/

Got abit of a laugh on ebay searched "dino dung" and up come all these fossilized dino doo's for sale.

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For 20yrs I grew all the indoor plants and shrubs for the Australian Jockey Club.

I was given a list of race dates and the club wanted everything in flower on those dates....no excuses!!

When ADA first came into Oz,the importer asked me to do a comparison with other substrates.

I agree with Holycow...too many problems!

Having tried Eco-complete,I think that mixing it with other gravels is quite a good choice.

Up-Aqua Aquasoil is a new product on the market and I was asked by the importer to do a comparison with this as well.

Must say I am impressed with Up-Aqua...it is clean to use,holds its shape really well,and I have yet to find a plant that

doesn't like it!!

Certainly have not had any problems at all.

I think for a beginner it is a very reliable substrate and for difficult plants like Proserpinaca,Hc,Ug,and some of the red stem plants

it is hard to beat.

Having said that,for aquarists who know what they are doing,DIY is a very good way to go.

If you just use peat under your sand,you will find that some plants will not grow very well,particularly in the long term.

You will start to have problems because the soil is just too acidic.

That is why I add Marble Chip.

Within a few months,with an acid substrate,you will find Swordplants,Vallisneria and other plants will suffer deficiencies.

This is because they rely on their roots for nutrient uptake.Unless Magnesium and Calcium are available in the root zone

you will have problems in the long term.

Try to grow the various Lotus and Aponogetons in an acidic substrate ....initially they will grow very nicely,but with time

they will slow down and possibly die.

It is commonly believed in aquarium circles that most plants prefer an acidic substrate.

This is a myth!

Holycow mentioned aeration of the substrate,by the way,and I think this is one of the most important points to address.

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hey jungle,

i'm aware that for bonsai it's best to have a soil that has fast drainage (read: sharp sand) and has a good cation exchange rate (read: fired clay particles or diatomite). thus watering the plant removes waste products but also draws in oxygen for the roots. furthermore, the sharp sand assists in root differentiation, thus encouraging thorough root colonisation of the soil/substrate. however, because such a soil/substrate is inert, it requires frequent fertilizing, which is okay as you control the fertilizing regime. oh, you have to provide frequent waterings as the substrate tends to dry out very quickly.

as to how this works in the aquatic environs i'm not particularly sure, as a permanently wet substrate usually results in root rot and/or suffocation of the roots. i'm speculating that the gap between the sharp/course sand particles enables better oxygen retention, after the breaking down of water molecules. the clay/diatomite still has a good cation exchange rate, and the substrate is still inert, and the sharp sand enables better root colonisation. but what i'm uncertain about ia how root systems are constantly aerated ( i'm speculating that this is the evolutionary distinction between land-based and water-based plants, the ability to thrive in a constantly flooded environs).

ps. for the uninitiated, one of the reason why aeration of the soil is so important is due to the bacteria, mycorrhyza, that colonize the root system.

Edited by holycow
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Is it the same in an aquarium as it is in dry land I know that ph levels affect what nutrients are available and if they become deficient or toxic???

I also believe aeration is pretty important factor no aeration=anerobic conditions not much will grow in that .

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ph not only effects the types of plants that the aquarium can support but it also determines the species of fish that can live in the water, or if extreme enough, kill fishies. a low ph can 'neutralize' the deletorious effect of ammonia on fish.

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I will soon be writing about all this for the newly formed Australian Cryptocoryne Society.

It can't be answered in a simple way but I will try to raise some of the factors involved

in a tank.Here are some points to be considered and I will try to answer your questions


1] Roots require Oxygen,water and food to survive.

2] Most waterways have some sort of movement thru the soil...this carries oxygen to the roots.

3] Some aquatic plants have evolved methods of surviving in oxygen depleted soils.

4] Cryptocorynes [as an example] can actually inject oxygen into the root zone!!

5] The top 1-3cm of substrate will usually have enough oxygen for the roots.

6] Deeper substrates are more likely to be oxygen depleted.

7] Coarse gravel allows for better circulation,particularly when the grain size is uniform.[resists compaction]

8] Old style undergravel filters [despite info to the contrary] provide excellent aerobic conditions for roots.

9] Sub-gravel heating is another excellent method and has other benefits as well.

10] With very few exceptions,most fish and plants will grow in a neutral to slightly alkaline environment.

More to follow guys.I realise I have stuck my neck out here.

Truth is that many different methods can work....it depends a lot on sticking to one system or another.

If your method works for you...that's great!

I am not trying to make out that my ways are better than yours....just food for thought aye?

And please everyone tell us about your successes....I'm very willing to try and see if your methods work for me!!

EDIT...Holycow made some very important points in reference to Bonsai techniques.I just want to add that heavy planting

where the entire substrate is full of roots,is helpful in avoiding areas where the soil becomes stagnant.

Edited by JUNGLE
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Thank you Jungle! I hope you will continue to share your insight on this, it makes sense to me.

I had thought I was a bit nuts, but was thinking of using an ugf with a geotex mat over it in a planted tank to allow a finer substrate without clogging.

Ive been looking for Dianne Walstad's book, but no one here stocks it, and none of the libraries carry it. Does anyone know where it could be ordered from?

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