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Old 06-23-2013, 10:21 AM   #1 
Fin Fancier
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Anaerobic soil

Sadly, I just tore down my first attempt at a dirted tank. I had set up my 5 gallon mini bow. I did about a two-inch layer of miracle grow organic potting soil, topped with an inch of black sand. I tossed in some stem plants (vague I know, but I'm not sure the plants are the reason the soil went "bad" so to speak, if it is I can expand) and used a 6500k plant bulb left on for roughly 10 hours a day. By the end of its second week of running I noticed some bubbles popping up from the substrate. Having read that they were toxic to my fish I immediately removed him.
Now that the tank is torn down I have two choices. I can go back to gravel or I can do a bit more research and take another shot at it, I still have plenty of dirt. What can I do to increase my chances of success on the next go?
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Old 06-23-2013, 10:52 AM   #2 
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Well, I'm in the same boat. I'm going to Tractor Supply today to get some Safe-T-sorb. I like to rearrange so I messed my dirt all up. I'm going to use peat moss either under the substrate or in bags.
I think I'll go back to dirt once I get the hang of planted tanks. I saw a real nice tank done with Miracle grow organic potting mix under flourite.

In your situation, I would have gone with 1" of Miracle grow and 2" of sand. I'm toying with the idea of laying craft mesh over my dirt just to make life easier. The roots can get in there once I stop rearranging plants but the soil layer won't get disturbed as easily.
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Old 06-23-2013, 10:57 AM   #3 
Deanna01
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You can poke the soil occasionally with some chopsticks or something similar in order to aerate it. Bubbles will rise when you do this, but that is normal.
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:25 AM   #4 
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Well then I guess the question is how much bubbling is too much? It was to the point that if someone walked by the tank bubbles would come out. I've been searching through the planted tank section and I didn't see anyone saying it happened in their new set up so I pretty much assumed something was wrong.
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:38 AM   #5 
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Did the bubbles coming up smell like rotting eggs/sulfur?
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:39 AM   #6 
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The moderator's reply a bit down in the thread here notes that all soils have some pockets of anaerobic bacteria and also notes that wetting the soil layer before you add the gravel or sand can help prevent that.
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Old 06-23-2013, 11:53 AM   #7 
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The tank did smell kind of off. I have three of them and it had a distinctly different smell. Of the other two, though, one of them is sand and one has gravel so I wasn't sure if it was just the soil or not.
So next time I set it up (I'm moving in a week & planning tanks keeps me from freaking out) I'll let the soil sit wet for a couple days with some constant poking and focus on getting more stem plants. Then try not to freak out about bubbles.
For those who have these kind of set ups do you prefer gravel or sand? I have plenty of gravel, I was just sort of afraid it would mess up the 'natural' look of things. Also, what are some stem plants with good roots. I currently have some telanthera cardinalis, water wisteria, water sprite, some green hygro, and one other stem I forgot the name of.
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Old 06-23-2013, 12:39 PM   #8 
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Trumpet Snails will solve your problem they keep the soil aerated and consume excess plant matter etc. I could mail you a few if you want to pay postage. If you want to get a big picture of this go to the library and check out the Ecology of the Planted Aquarium which details the Walstad method NPT is based on. They also sell it on Amazon.com for $25. I have decided after borrowing it from the library to go ahead and buy it as I think I will be referring back to it often.
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Old 06-23-2013, 12:42 PM   #9 
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Thanks for the info Jada. I actually work at a petsmart so I have access to the little buggers if I need them, but I want to save some bioload so I can eventually try rabbit or nerite snails. Not that they're wonderful for the substrate, but they are wonderful to look at. I'll have to look up that book.
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Old 06-23-2013, 01:11 PM   #10 
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I have a planted and soiled 1.5 gallon, its been running for a month. Never had any bubbles, algae or anything.

The most important thing is don't use too much soil and avoid heavy layers of sand/tiny gravel on top of it as it just smothers the soil.

For a 5 gallon, you don't need 2 inches. That is more then necessary. Really 1/2 inch is plenty. Remember that your 5 gallon is confined, all the nutrients/stuff inside your soil is not going to be leaving, too much soil just leads to algae blooms. More soil doesn't mean your plants grow faster, your plants have limits to how much it will use up. Instead of black sand, I think you should try for a thin layer of gravel or small river rocks, just enough to keep the soil in place but allow oxygen to get in easily. If some of the dirt lifts and drifts in the water, its okay, it settles down within 24 hrs and use mesh to remove any floaters.

You can also mix your soil with some craft clay to help stabilize it, I never did since my tank is so puny.

When you first setting it up, after you add your soil, add some water that is just barely submerging the soil. Let it stay that way for about a day or two, after that add your plants + gravel/river rocks on top. Than fill the tank, remove debris.

I recommend you get some fast growing plants like dwarf hydro, guppy grass or hornwort, they will help prevent algae blooms and use up any seeping ammonia in the soil. I have all 3 in my 1.5 gal.
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