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Author Topic: Substrate questions- sand and/or Eco Complete?  (Read 2625 times)
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« on: July 09, 2016, 08:37:00 PM »

First of all, I would like to say hello. I joined the forum a while ago, but took a hiatus from here as well as fish keeping. I am looking to get back into things and trying to brush up on my outdated knowledge.

Currently, I have a completely bare 40 gal breeder. My stocking plan is some small schooling fish, maybe a centerpiece fish, and ideally some bottom feeders. I've been toying with the idea of either some small cats, kuhlis, or shrimp. I am also undecided as to whether or not to give it a go with a planted tank. Of course, this all depends on what sort of substrate I should use.

I've seen some planted tanks with sand, but from what I've read that is not the best option for plants. I've seen some suggestions to using a layer of Eco Complete underneath, or maybe using all Eco Complete in lieu of gravel. I am also aware that the barbel types would prefer sand over gravel, so substrate would also sway my stocking choices.

I do like the looks of the Tahitian Moon sand, but I would also like the option of attempting a planted (low light) tank without the full commitment if I turn out to be a miserable failure lol. Would I be able to put a bottom layer of Eco Complete, or would that affect my water chemistry/ be ineffective for plants with the sand? Would I have better luck with low light plants with just Eco Complete, and would that still be ok for sensitive bottom feeders?

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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2016, 07:31:37 AM »

I know from experience that amazon swords, Vallisneria, and cabomba do well in sand, provided adequate iron. (read: add red clay or root tabs to the substrate), and java moss & ferns are unaffected by the substrate (they need bogwood tho. ) I've also found that mixing gravel and aquarium plant soil stuff does not work out very well, as the gravel tends to pulverise it into a fine mist that clouds the tank whenever anything touches it.  I would maybe try getting some tiny plant pots (i'd add a link, but Im new here and don't have permissions) from a garden supply store and filling those with your aquatic soil of choice, and burying those in the sand
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« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2016, 11:18:58 AM »

Just a couple of personal opinions. Plants tend to do pest in substrate with a smaller grain size. There is a limit to this since the wrong fin grained sand or some mixtures of substrates will tend to compact a lot and that will impede root growth and oxygenation. That said most sands should be fine as will most small sized gravels. A proper depth is important here as well. At least 2 -3 inches is needed. Closer to 3 if one dose larger rooted plants like most swords.

Next, over time all substrates will build up mulm. This is very beneficial stuff. For plants it becomes a source of food. If one has the patience to allow mulm to build up, there is really  little reason to use and expense substrate designed for plants, imo. I have used SeaChem Fluorite and another similar product and was not not impressed by either the look or the benefits to pants. I did fine with plain oild gravel, a few gravel ferts and the build up of mulm, I will admit I like to use a bit of Laterite mixed into the bottom inch of substrate in planted tanks, but this is a far cry from using plant specific substrates.

Unless your goal is to make tanks like Tashiki Amano did, you can do fine with a much simpler and much cheaper substrate. this also opens up a greater choice of types to be used.

For most bottom feeders the determination of the potential harm any substrate might cause, this is more a function of the particle size than anything else. Many bottom feeders use their barbels to locate food. When the substrate consists of larger gravel or very sharp edged smaller gravel, the fish will easily injure their barbels feeling about for food. With bigger rougher this means scraping the barbels and with sharp it usually cutting. Once injured they are much more susceptible to infection. The bigger the particle size, the easier it is for food to slip deeper down and small barbels hunting for that food will be injured.

Having kept 10-12 planted tanks for over a decade, including one high ligth with pressurized co2, I am now down to 6 and they are all lower light using easy plants. My personal opinion here is you should use almost any safe sand you like the looks of or any smaller size gravel you like. This is not an endorsement for Carob Sea products, but you can get an idea of what I am talking about re grain size from the All Natural line (This stuff is expensive for being non-plant enhancing substrates):

Crystal River
Average Small Grain Size: 0.2 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 0.5 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: Yes

Moonlight Sand/Marine Sand
Average Small Grain Size: 0.1 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 0.3 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: No

Peace River
Average Small Grain Size: 1.0 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 2.0 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: Yes

Rio Grande
Average Small Grain Size: 3.0 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 5.0 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: Yes

Sunset Gold
Average Small Grain Size: 0.1 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 0.4 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: Yes

Torpedo Beach
Average Small Grain Size: 0.2 mm
Average Large Grain Size: 1.2 mm
Suitable for Planted Aquariums: Yes

You can see enlarged pictures of the above substrates here
(Note- I do use the Torpedo Beach sand in a number but have yet to plant in it.)

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Daniel Patrick Moynihan
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« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2016, 10:42:57 PM »

Very good advice about mulm (or detritus). Through my 55+ years of water, fish and plant keeping, I found the best substrate IMHO is plain neutral colored sand (or gravel) that is 2-3mm in grain size. Not to small to allow compacting and not too large for issues mentioned above. Many forms of blasting sand can fit this bill and is even available in 50lbs bags at a very reasonable price (like 1/4th the price or more of branded aquarium gravel). Another thing to consider about plant roots is that they do not grow 'in' the sand or gravel, they grow between the grains   happy

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