Soil as a substrate in the planted aquarium

by Owen James

Heavy feeders like these Nymphea will enjoy a rich substrate (Photo: ClayMask)

Heavy feeders like these Nymphea will enjoy a rich substrate (Photo: Clay Mask)

Want a beautiful planted aquarium but don’t know where to start? You could do a lot worse than follow the excellent guide to planted aquariums that Guitarfish, one of my favourite fishkeeping blogs, is running over on his site.

The latest entry concerns aquarium substrates, which is pretty annoying for me as I was preparing a post on that subject that will now have to go back to the drawing board!

I was particularly interested in his comments about natural soil substrates, as this is something I’d love to explore in a new aquarium.

Guitarfish writes:

While traditionally, many people have recommended against using soil in the aquarium due to huge algae outbreaks, recent formulas for success have been developed to make this a viable option. [...]

The key benefit to setting up one of these tanks is that very little dosing is required on a day-to-day basis, as all of the nutrients should be present within the soil itself.

Soil substrates are not for everyone. They cannot grow plants that draw nutrients from the water column, instead of via their root systems. In addition, there is a 4-8 week preparation process of breaking down the organic material in your soil, prior to setting up your tank. Finally, even after running this process, you may or may not experience a period of severe algae while the ecosystem of the tank is established.

That said, once established, the substrate has been proven to last at least a decade.

I’ve tried a few natural solutions over the years, including using rabbit droppings as a fertiliser! But I’ve never been brave enough to go all soil. Perhaps I’ll give it a go in 2009.

It’s easy to have a lot of faith in Guitarfish’s guide, as he illustrates all his articles with photos of his own beautiful aquaria. I suggest you check out his complete guide as it unfolds.

Check out Katy's Tropical Fish Guide for more aquarium info.

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