Is there a way to replenish nutrients in dirt?

blackwater

Planning of a 5 gallon dirted tank with miracle gro potting mix organic choice. Capping off with a layer of sand. I have a lot some questions, however.
I don't want to spend more money on ferts so is there a way to replenish the soil with fish poop or fish food?
Is miracle gro ok for a dirted tank?
Would 1 inch of dirt and one inch of sand work?
thank you in advance
 

connorlindeman

Dont use dirt. Just sand.
 

blackwater

but I want it to be heavily planted with small vals, dwarf hairgrass, and crypts. Would they still grow in inert soil? Especially worried about the dwarf hairgrass
 

MelkorTheVile

Plenty of people have gorgeous high tech planted tanks with sand only. Proper fertilizer in the water column, and root tabs for heavy root feeders. But as for replenishing dirt or aqua soil, root tabs can help.
 

blackwater

How often do you replace root tabs? How much in a 18 by 7 tank? Thank you!
Is there actually any other way besides ferts and root tabs to replecish dirt like maybe even fish foood?
Would liquid ferts work in replenishing the soil? Would liquid ferts and dirted tank work? I want to use dirt because I want more nutrients for the plants and add more depth to the substrate (I only have enough for 5 pounds). Sorry for the stupid questions.
 

Cherryshrimp420

Never used ferts, I add chunks of banana or other vegetables to the tank once every few weeks
 

blackwater

So you mean that if I leave a piece of banana, it'll fertilize the plants?
 

dcutl002

I have dirted tanks. I add root tabs when the plants start looking malnourished (once or twice a year). I have swords which are heavy root feeders, so water column nutrients do not make it to their roots.
 

AP1

I use dirt too...my understanding is that water column nutrients will eventually make it to the roots, but that it takes a year or two for poop, food debris, etc. to work its way down through the cap to the roots (heard this on Father Fish I believe). So root tabs may be necessary depending on how things look. You could also look into adding nutrients into the dirt at setup, to help in boosting the soil.
 

RayClem

Plants have both roots and stems. Plants with heavy root structure prefer absorbing nutrients through the roots, but they can also absorb nutrients through the stems.

If you have heavy root feeders, use a combination of root tabs and liquid fertilizer. However, most plants will do just fine with liquid fertilizer.
 

blackwater

So if for example the dirt started to run out of nutrients, would the hairgrass die or just grow slower.
 

AP1

So if for example the dirt started to run out of nutrients, would the hairgrass die or just grow slower.
My dirted tank just hit the one year mark. I have not used root tabs at all, though I have experimented with dosing both micronutrients (stopped about 5 months ago) and Potassium (stopped about 3 months ago). In my limited experience, I think some plants have slower growth once nutrients are somewhat used up in a dirted substrate. It is difficult to say for sure, though--I haven't noticed a difference with my big sword, but water wisteria growth is definitely slower. This could be because the plants are no longer benefitting from the ammonia-spike you can have at the beginning of a dirted tank (can mean a long cycle, but good for plants). But I think it is also likely due at least in part to soil nutrients.

What I have definitely noticed from about the 2-month mark is problems with leaf development--pinholes in leaves. This is why I experimented with dosing nutrients in the water column. I have an ongoing internal debate about whether the pinholes have led to ragged leaves, especially on my micro-sword, or whether snails are utilizing the pinholes as a starting point to chow down on leaves. In either event, what I have is a very green, planted tank (though admittedly, some of that greenery comes from the Pogostemenon stellatus octopus, which is not a root feeder), but one with leaf issues. I like the way it looks plenty well but it is definitely not a show tank.

So to me, the question of dirted v. sand boils down to your feeling about ferts, esp. root tabs. My feeling (which is somewhat opposed to the opinions above, though albeit I have almost no experience with a sand substrate) is that sand and dirt are probably not the same. Those above who recommended sand are also recommending root tabs. A dirted tank seems to me to offer the ability to have plant growth over a relatively long time without root tabs. Just note that if you are looking for a 'show' tank as opposed to a functioning, imperfect ecosystem, you may need the root tabs even with dirt.

(and again, I would read up online on how to mix nutrient supplements in to dirt--if I were setting mine up again I would have added even more)
 

Cherryshrimp420

So you mean that if I leave a piece of banana, it'll fertilize the plants?

Well any food will fertilize the plants. Nature doesn't receive fert dosing and plants grow just fine. I picked banana because of the high potassium content but I don't know how well it is uptaken by plants. I use it in my tanks and it's worked well enough to give me continuous growth with no obvious deficiencies after 4+ years. Prior to that I had 10+ years of planted tanks with no ferts or vegetables, relying solely on water changes and fish food.

So if for example the dirt started to run out of nutrients, would the hairgrass die or just grow slower.

You will start to see nutrient deficiencies on the plants. Hairgrass generally grow very slow without co2 so you probably won't see much difference between dirted vs non-dirted

My dirted tank just hit the one year mark. I have not used root tabs at all, though I have experimented with dosing both micronutrients (stopped about 5 months ago) and Potassium (stopped about 3 months ago). In my limited experience, I think some plants have slower growth once nutrients are somewhat used up in a dirted substrate. It is difficult to say for sure, though--I haven't noticed a difference with my big sword, but water wisteria growth is definitely slower. This could be because the plants are no longer benefitting from the ammonia-spike you can have at the beginning of a dirted tank (can mean a long cycle, but good for plants). But I think it is also likely due at least in part to soil nutrients.

What I have definitely noticed from about the 2-month mark is problems with leaf development--pinholes in leaves. This is why I experimented with dosing nutrients in the water column. I have an ongoing internal debate about whether the pinholes have led to ragged leaves, especially on my micro-sword, or whether snails are utilizing the pinholes as a starting point to chow down on leaves. In either event, what I have is a very green, planted tank (though admittedly, some of that greenery comes from the Pogostemenon stellatus octopus, which is not a root feeder), but one with leaf issues. I like the way it looks plenty well but it is definitely not a show tank.

So to me, the question of dirted v. sand boils down to your feeling about ferts, esp. root tabs. My feeling (which is somewhat opposed to the opinions above, though albeit I have almost no experience with a sand substrate) is that sand and dirt are probably not the same. Those above who recommended sand are also recommending root tabs. A dirted tank seems to me to offer the ability to have plant growth over a relatively long time without root tabs. Just note that if you are looking for a 'show' tank as opposed to a functioning, imperfect ecosystem, you may need the root tabs even with dirt.

(and again, I would read up online on how to mix nutrient supplements in to dirt--if I were setting mine up again I would have added even more)

Pinholes are a typical sign of potassium deficiency which is very common in low-tech tanks. The other problem is liquid potassium ferts have a shelf life so you could have a useless bottle on your hands depending on storage conditions. The majority of aquarium ferts are not well designed for shelf life so if you open up the bottle you might actually find that bacteria have colonized the bottle and used up the nutrients.
 

blackwater

So add a banana! :p
Wait do you add the banana or the banana peel
 

Cherryshrimp420

So add a banana! :p
Wait do you add the banana or the banana peel

The banana, a small 0.5 inch chunk of it
 

AP1

The banana, a small 0.5 inch chunk of it
This is interesting! How big is your tank? I may try this, adjusted for tank size.
Well any food will fertilize the plants. Nature doesn't receive fert dosing and plants grow just fine. I picked banana because of the high potassium content but I don't know how well it is uptaken by plants. I use it in my tanks and it's worked well enough to give me continuous growth with no obvious deficiencies after 4+ years. Prior to that I had 10+ years of planted tanks with no ferts or vegetables, relying solely on water changes and fish food.



You will start to see nutrient deficiencies on the plants. Hairgrass generally grow very slow without co2 so you probably won't see much difference between dirted vs non-dirted



Pinholes are a typical sign of potassium deficiency which is very common in low-tech tanks. The other problem is liquid potassium ferts have a shelf life so you could have a useless bottle on your hands depending on storage conditions. The majority of aquarium ferts are not well designed for shelf life so if you open up the bottle you might actually find that bacteria have colonized the bottle and used up the nutrients.
Yep, I am sure there is a deficiency, and potassium seems the most likely culprit. I first stopped dosing when I added meds for a week; after that week I slowly realized that I don't really care about the plant issues (which seem to have stopped getting worse--just pinholes and ragged leaves, but not really a stop in growth) and haven't dosed since...
***
Btw, and to the OP, have you priced aqua soil? I think a lot of us do dirted tanks to get most of the benefits of aqua soil at a fraction of the price. This makes a lot of sense for larger tanks. But for a 5 gallon, and given the problems mentioned above with dirt, I would seriously consider aqua soil if I was doing a 5 gallon. (but understand it is still relatively pricey)
 

blackwater

Nah too expensive it would go way over my budget of 50 bucks in materials
Spent 20 on driftwood, 7 on api nitrate test kit, 3 on super glue gel (for later epiphytes), and 10 dollars on sand
 

Cherryshrimp420

This is interesting! How big is your tank? I may try this, adjusted for tank size.

It's for a 75 gallon. Tank don't really need a lot of nutrient input in my experience. Light plays the bigger role
 

AP1

It's for a 75 gallon. Tank don't really need a lot of nutrient input in my experience. Light plays the bigger role
Thanks! (so that is a .2 inch chunk of it for my 29-ha!)
 

Cherryshrimp420

Thanks! (so that is a .2 inch chunk of it for my 29-ha!)
I also vary the foods I add to the tank. Sometimes ill add a big piece of kale leaf. Or some spinach or mushrooms. I think those all contribute a bit to the potassium

(I dont actually feed banana that much as it is high in sugar)
 

smee82

Never used ferts, I add chunks of banana or other vegetables to the tank once every few weeks
This has to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have seen in ages DO NOT USE BANANAS OF VEGGIES as fertilizer
 

JustAFishServant

This has to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have seen in ages DO NOT USE BANANAS OF VEGGIES as fertilizer
I was wondering about this. Can you expand on it further? Why is it bad advice to use banana & veg for plant nutrients, especially after 4+ years of a successful planted tank as cherryshrimp420 says?
 

RayClem

I do not know that I would ever add a slice of banana to my tank, but fish keepers have added vegetables like cucumber and kale to feed snails. Banana has a lot of sugar, which might not be ideal.
 

Cherryshrimp420

This has to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have seen in ages DO NOT USE BANANAS OF VEGGIES as fertilizer

It's food for shrimp and snails, which then gets processed into nutrients uptaken by plants eventually.

What is the problem here? Where do you think food comes from? All nutrients are recycled in the ecosystem. Most minerals and micronutrients are accumulated in an environment over geological times (apart from human activity) so all organisms need to be able to reuse nutrients.

I do not know that I would ever add a slice of banana to my tank, but fish keepers have added vegetables like cucumber and kale to feed snails. Banana has a lot of sugar, which might not be ideal.

Which is why I feed a small chunk of it. A tiny chunk for a 75g. Whatever food we put in, feed accordingly and water change often.

Here is sweet potato:


sweet potato.jpg

Here is kale:


kale.jpg

Here is green peas:


peas.jpg
 

smee82

It's food for shrimp and snails, which then gets processed into nutrients uptaken by plants eventually.

What is the problem here? Where do you think food comes from? All nutrients are recycled in the ecosystem. Most minerals and micronutrients are accumulated in an environment over geological times (apart from human activity) so all organisms need to be able to reuse nutrients.



Which is why I feed a small chunk of it. A tiny chunk for a 75g. Whatever food we put in, feed accordingly and water change often.

Here is sweet potato:


sweet potato.jpg

Here is kale:


kale.jpg

Here is green peas:


peas.jpg
Adding food for feeding is fine, in you original post it looks like your saying to add veggies instead of fertilizer.
 

AP1

Adding food for feeding is fine, in you original post it looks like your saying to add veggies instead of fertilizer.
Perhaps getting a bit away from the OP's post, but I believe the net takeaway is actually the same? Anything put in a tank that adds nutrients (from fish food to bananas to off-the-shelf fertilizer) is indeed fertilizing plants (though obviously some such substances can also do harm to plants and/or other inhabitants as well). If a tank only had a potassium deficiency, I could certainly see bananas as a potential supplement in lieu of fertilizer, though as others have pointed out, there are associated risks as well.
 

blackwater

Alright thank you all for the helpful info! I loved the part about bananas.
 

smee82

Perhaps getting a bit away from the OP's post, but I believe the net takeaway is actually the same? Anything put in a tank that adds nutrients (from fish food to bananas to off-the-shelf fertilizer) is indeed fertilizing plants (though obviously some such substances can also do harm to plants and/or other inhabitants as well). If a tank only had a potassium deficiency, I could certainly see bananas as a potential supplement in lieu of fertilizer, though as others have pointed out, there are associated risks as well.

Yes bananas have potassium in them but your not just adding the potassium your also adding everything else in the banana. Your also going to increase the dissolved organics in tank another no no.

If you have a planted tank everything needs to be balanced lights, co2 and fertilizer or the whole thing will become a headache. One of the main reason in doing 50% water changes in a planted tank is to ensure you don't get a build up of any nutrients in your tank.

Adding bananas in lieu of fertilizer is just going to cause way to many problems in your tank.
 

AP1

Yes bananas have potassium in them but your not just adding the potassium your also adding everything else in the banana. Your also going to increase the dissolved organics in tank another no no.

If you have a planted tank everything needs to be balanced lights, co2 and fertilizer or the whole thing will become a headache. One of the main reason in doing 50% water changes in a planted tank is to ensure you don't get a build up of any nutrients in your tank.

Adding bananas in lieu of fertilizer is just going to cause way to many problems in your tank.
But actually, adding fertilizers can likewise cause problems in planted tanks (algae growth when light/nutrient levels are not dialed in, especially in the case of those who apply high-tech fertilizer amounts to low-tech tanks). And many with planted tanks (including myself) do not do 50% water changes.

I do not think there is a single 'right' method for planted tanks. And I think that in the right situation, it is perfectly fine to use food (both fish and 'human') as plant fertilizer so long as one is cautious/circumspect about what is being added to the tank. Cherryshrimp reports good results with what is a very small amount of banana, and I am inclined to trust that at the least these results show that banana in a very small amount is not harmful to their 75 gallon tank or the plants (and that it may be beneficial). I would not advise that a noobie add banana, but I do not agree with either the idea that we need to dismiss it out of hand or that fertilizer is the only way to go.

(I also think that we need to recognize that 'planted tank' does not equal 'planted show tank'. Take a look at my 29 gallon journal, which is quite planted but is certainly not a showpiece tank. I used dirt and have not used fertilizer for months. I occasionally put in spinach and the only other nutrient input besides water changes is fish food. I have clear nutrient deficiencies (pinholes/ragged leaves) but the tank is very green and I enjoy the way it looks. I tend to agree that if one wants a show tank fertilizer/water changes, etc. are likely to be the best way more often than not, but many of us simply want a green albeit imperfect ecosystem...btw, I do not intend any of this in a disrespectful manner and I do appreciate the back-and-forth! I suspect that you have significantly more experience than I do with planted tanks, but I also feel fairly strongly about the above, thus the continued posts)
 

SparkyJones

like CherryShrimp420 said, there's a whole school of thought and various methods that center around composting, I'm just going to say, this is a disaster if someone doesn't know what they are doing, and tries composting in the tank, or simply feeding the tank animals, which doesn't produce a sustainable amount in a heavy planted tank. there needs to be a balance, and low consumption/slow growing plants.

Plants need macronutrients. there's Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Calcium, Sulfur. Pretty much those are there in sufficient quantities, with air and water. then theres:
Nitrogen
Phosphorus
Potassium
Magnesium

and Micronutrients, that just take a little:
Chlorine
Copper
maganese
zinc
Boron
iron
molybdenum


What you are most likely to deplete on are those 4 macronutrients. N2, P, K, Mg.
I'd suggest if using soil.
1. use organic and chemical free products. Do not use a compost. A top soil or garden soil is enough as long as it's low on organic content (10-20%) too much clay can compact, too loose it can float away. this is why people top with sand.

If you insist on a free source...
collect it from an area near by you know for sure is chemical free then
Sift it through screens remove any of the big stuff, sticks roots stones larger bugs.
Cook it at 200 degrees for at least 20 minutes, to kill whatever is living in it and seeds. regular dirt is good really, you don't need miracle grow or compost, or any of that jazz, at some point depending on your balance and time, it will deplete.

the Walstad method was based on a dirt or topsoil capped with sand, not some fancy or expensive enriched product or compost.

Better yet, if you can get organic aquatic pond soil thats also fantastic. the fish should replenish the soil in the long run, and the plants use it in the long run, and as long as you don't get into the high demand plants/ fast growers and try to maintain a balace between fish and waste and plants and consumption rates, I don't think you'd need supplementation for a decade or so really.
 

AP1

like CherryShrimp420 said, there's a whole school of thought and various methods that center around composting, I'm just going to say, this is a disaster if someone doesn't know what they are doing, and tries composting in the tank, or simply feeding the tank animals, which doesn't produce a sustainable amount in a heavy planted tank. there needs to be a balance, and low consumption/slow growing plants.

Plants need macronutrients. there's Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Calcium, Sulfur. Pretty much those are there in sufficient quantities, with air and water. then theres:
Nitrogen
Phosphorus
Potassium
Magnesium

and Micronutrients, that just take a little:
Chlorine
Copper
maganese
zinc
Boron
iron
molybdenum


What you are most likely to deplete on are those 4 macronutrients. N2, P, K, Mg.
I'd suggest if using soil.
1. use organic and chemical free products. Do not use a compost. A top soil or garden soil is enough as long as it's low on organic content (10-20%) too much clay can compact, too loose it can float away. this is why people top with sand.

If you insist on a free source...
collect it from an area near by you know for sure is chemical free then
Sift it through screens remove any of the big stuff, sticks roots stones larger bugs.
Cook it at 200 degrees for at least 20 minutes, to kill whatever is living in it and seeds. regular dirt is good really, you don't need miracle grow or compost, or any of that jazz, at some point depending on your balance and time, it will deplete.

the Walstad method was based on a dirt or topsoil capped with sand, not some fancy or expensive enriched product or compost.

Better yet, if you can get organic aquatic pond soil thats also fantastic. the fish should replenish the soil in the long run, and the plants use it in the long run, and as long as you don't get into the high demand plants/ fast growers and try to maintain a balace between fish and waste and plants and consumption rates, I don't think you'd need supplementation for a decade or so really.
This is what I have read as well. I used about5/6 store-bought top-soil and 1/6 local soil for mine (think I did bake it if I recall correctly). Then capped with pool filter sand. A grand total of $2 for all of this, though spent another 10-12 on additives to try to correct nutrient deficiencies (didn't work that well in hindsight).
 

Cherryshrimp420

I don't want to get into a topic that people have had little or a few bad experiences in. Fruits and vegetables are the main food I feed to my tanks.

I'll just mention that:

Fish food is much more calorie dense than fruits and vegetables as it has the water content removed. DOM (dissolved organic matter) is more of an issue with this than a piece of vegetable.

Seems like the pet industry has used so much marketing jargon that people have forgot what these terminology means. Fertilizer is by design, a concentrated form of nutrients. If you are worried of overloading the tank, then you should be worried about fertilizer not food.

The main ingredients of commercial fertilizer in Canada is human sewage. That is human poop. I feel a lot of people are forgetting what they are buying when they buy fertilizer. You are dealing with poop through various stages of decomposition with synthetic elements added, in a concentrated form.

like CherryShrimp420 said, there's a whole school of thought and various methods that center around composting, I'm just going to say, this is a disaster if someone doesn't know what they are doing, and tries composting in the tank, or simply feeding the tank animals, which doesn't produce a sustainable amount in a heavy planted tank. there needs to be a balance, and low consumption/slow growing plants.

Plants need macronutrients. there's Hydrogen, Carbon, Oxygen, Calcium, Sulfur. Pretty much those are there in sufficient quantities, with air and water. then theres:
Nitrogen
Phosphorus
Potassium
Magnesium

and Micronutrients, that just take a little:
Chlorine
Copper
maganese
zinc
Boron
iron
molybdenum


What you are most likely to deplete on are those 4 macronutrients. N2, P, K, Mg.
I'd suggest if using soil.
1. use organic and chemical free products. Do not use a compost. A top soil or garden soil is enough as long as it's low on organic content (10-20%) too much clay can compact, too loose it can float away. this is why people top with sand.

If you insist on a free source...
collect it from an area near by you know for sure is chemical free then
Sift it through screens remove any of the big stuff, sticks roots stones larger bugs.
Cook it at 200 degrees for at least 20 minutes, to kill whatever is living in it and seeds. regular dirt is good really, you don't need miracle grow or compost, or any of that jazz, at some point depending on your balance and time, it will deplete.

the Walstad method was based on a dirt or topsoil capped with sand, not some fancy or expensive enriched product or compost.

Better yet, if you can get organic aquatic pond soil thats also fantastic. the fish should replenish the soil in the long run, and the plants use it in the long run, and as long as you don't get into the high demand plants/ fast growers and try to maintain a balace between fish and waste and plants and consumption rates, I don't think you'd need supplementation for a decade or so really.

Feeding is more than enough for a heavy planted tank, and no, you want fast growers instead of slow growers (this is another topic).

Composting happens in an aquarium whether you intend it or not. If you have substrate and feed your fish, you will inevitably start a decomposition process as the poop works it's way through the substrate.

I don't want to derail this topic with planted aquascapes but to mention briefly: most fast growing weeds can achieve bushy looks without high-tech. It is mostly a result of lighting and trimming (identifying the "nodes" on a stem and trimming accordingly will give a dense planted look, assuming there is enough light to support the lower leaves).

No co2 nor ferts (frequent trimming):


pre-trim.jpg

No trimming (note the lack of bushy-ness as plants become top heavy as they grow):


a.jpg
 

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