Putting dirt in a established tank

Discussion in 'Freshwater Beginners' started by Andrew Sackett, Aug 8, 2014.

  1. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    I started to have the urge to put dirt in my fish tank but I don't know how to go about doing it, in the fish tank (55gal) I have 3 angels they are still pretty small I think, 5 corys, a BN pleco, and 2 loaches can I just put them in a bucket? I only have two buckets. I'm also not sure how much dirt I need I was planning on using miracle gro. I think instructions would help me a lot. I use sand for my substrate.

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    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  2. meanddoxieValued MemberMember

    hey i definitely recommend checking out DustinsFishTanks.com as he not only sells plants but he specializes in dirt aquariums. I actually just heard from him about this for my tank and he said to use either the dirt he sells or organic miracle grow potting mix (orange bag) and to make sure that there are no white pieces in it, white pieces are nitrogen which we don't want to add. I believe he recommends between two and three inches from what I recall on his youtube channel. As far as steps go he said it took him three hours start to finish in a 45gallon earlier.

    Step one, in large bucket remove fish, snails etc and keep them in tank water. If you are shutting off your filter while doing this be sure to place the media in a bucket of tank water so you dont need to cycle again.

    Step two, remove decor, plants and then your present substrate, use existing tank water to keep bacteria alive on these things

    Step three, put in your dirt on the bare bottom of the tank, you can still have some water remaining, if any dirt floats net it out

    Step four, "cap" the soil with your old substrate, an inch or more

    Step five, replant your tank and add your decor back

    Step 6 , (he didnt recommend this but i plan to do it) check the water parameters

    Step seven, add your fish

    As far as cleaning and water changes go from this point Dustin said that you basically just do a gentle surface vacuum and dont press into the substrate or you will have dirt float up, you can use whatever substrate you were using to avoid a new nitrogen cycle from starting. Your plants will need to be pushed in well and given time to take root. You can see the roots on the bottom of the tank like veins which is pretty cool and your plants, whatever they are will likely get huge. He also doesn't use CO2 in his tanks, or in most of his tanks, and finds that the dirty is the difference for having slow growing plants or lush big and healthy plants. When doing your routine water changes be careful to slowly place the water in so as to not mess up your substrate. I have heard of people just sticking a glass plate on the bottom and pouring onto that to prevent displacement of the gravel.

    He said that if you keep all your media in the water and refill with your tank water that you shouldnt have to go through a cycle and if you do it should be a mini cycle or bloom.

    I am excited to try it out because his plants are AMAZING and even the ones you buy from him are HUGE!!

    Hope this helps. He seems to respond to emails within a day if you have questions for him. I love his youtube videos because they really show how well dirty works. he has over 800 uploaded so you should be able to find one on anything! Goodluck!

  3. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    Thank you so much, at first I was very shaky on adding dirt because I read about it re cycling your tank and a bunch of other terrible things. Will my fish be ok in a bucket for 3-5 hours?

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  4. PhishphinWell Known MemberMember

    When I decided to mix ADA soil in with inert sand, I setup a bucket like it were a holding tank. I placed my filter and even some pieces of driftwood in it, then the fish went in. This way, the media stayed wet and the fish were somewhat less stressed... ergo, I was less stressed.

    Make sure the dirt is Miracle Grow ORGANIC potting mix. :)

    On the flip side.... you can also get creative with dirt and ice. Freeze a thin layer of water in an ice cube tray, take a ball of dirt and put it overtop the thin layer of ice, fill it with water, freeze the whole things and VOILA, dirt popcicle. Take your new creation and simply work it under the existing sand.
  5. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    I think I'm gunna take the sand out and put the dirt in then recap it but after I dirt it and cap it do I just hard scape then put the fish back in, won't they get ammonia poisoning or do i just do daily water changes and that will keep it under control?

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  6. Sarcasm IncludedWell Known MemberMember

    You will have to fully mineralize the soil prior to starting this or you will kill your fish from the ammonia release. The mineralizing process is going to take a couple days or a week, depending on weather conditions. If you don't the soil will release toxic levels of ammonia for about 2-4 weeks, before setting down,
  7. PhishphinWell Known MemberMember

    The type of ammonia release you are talking about really has to do with the type of dirt you put in the tank. If it's got cow manure and other junk, yes, it's a bigger risk. If you use the organic mix (potting soil), you are mostly getting already decayed plant matter that should have released a significant amound of ammonia to begin with.

    Also, if it is a heavily planted tank, your plants will absorb a significant amount of ammonia. It's actually one of the reasons why a heavily planted tank with dirting (the right dirt, that is), will significantly slow the development of beneficial bacteria in the filter. Mainly, because the plants are absorbing the ammonia (and it's form ammonium). This doesn't make the tank less safe, on the contrary, your BB will slowly develop, but you will still have significant safety in case of spikes.

    Now if you only have one or two java ferns planted in cow manure, that might not be the case, but considering we're talking about a dirted tank, I'd imagine it would be at least moderately planted. Many many folks are able to introduce fish immediately upon planting (in the correct substrate).

    My freshly dirted tank, over the past week or two, hasn't even registered ammonia. It currently contains a dwarf gourami and 20 glowlights, that feasted twice on blood worms. :)


    Edit: I've also had the CO2 cranking 24/7 as a safety precaution. CO2 helps convert ammonia into the less deadly form ammonium, which is also aborbed by the plants.
  8. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    I don't have a lot plants I only have 2 amazon swords some
    Java moss, one Anubis and some
    crypts, I was planning on using miracle gro organic. Do you
    Think this will work out?

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  9. Sarcasm IncludedWell Known MemberMember

    First off, some "organic" soils contain cow manure, but either way ammonia is released in both cases. I use Organic choice personally, but you can avoid this by putting in inert dirt which defeats the purpose. The breakdown of the material and release of ammonia, CO2, and minerals is used to feed the plants in a dirted tank.

    Ammonium is produced when CO2 concentrations are high enough to lower your PH below 6.0, so you had to have had low PH to begin with to pull this off.

    Beneficial bacteria development is not slowed with the use of plants, the amount of bacteria needed in a planted tank is less than an equally stocked aquarium without plants. Plants absorb ammonia and the bacteria converts any ammonia left over. This means that balance of production and consumption in a planted tank is reached sooner for start in a planted tank. The nitrogen cycle is not a point of completion but a balance of the production of the ammonia and it's consumption by plants and bacteria, which is in constant flux.

    Counting on plants in the initial stage to consume all ammonia produced is foolish, as newly planted plants stall in growth to establish and many melt and regrow their leaves. During this time, they are producing decaying material when melting and not absorbing much ammonia.

    I am glad your new tank is working out for you, but if you had more experience with dirted tanks you would know that they are not completely stable for a couple months and can easily release toxic levels of ammonia. All 4 of my dirted tanks were set up a month prior with plants before risking any fish.

    @ Andrew
    The soil is fine and given it is summer, mineralizing is easy to do. Sift the soil to get out large chunks, wet it down and pour it on a waterproof tarp where it will get lots of mid-day sun to dry. Rinse and repeat a few times and you should have little trouble with ammonia. You should monitor it daily though for the first few weeks, so that you can do emergency water change if needed.
  10. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    Mineralizing only takes a few days? This is my first time using dirt so I appreciate all the info I will defiantly take your advice a mineralize the dirt. Will my already established media be able to keep up with the rest of ammonia after I put the dirt in? I was planning to do daily water changes after I put the dirt in.

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  11. Sarcasm IncludedWell Known MemberMember

    Sand is a perfect cap for a dirted tank, just don't stir it up like you did in the past with vacuuming.
  12. PhishphinWell Known MemberMember

    I think there is less disagreement between you and me than you may think... :)

    By slowed bacteria growth, I was suggesting what you stated, only differently; that the bacteria colonies in the filter will not be as great, nor need to be as great as in an unfiltered aquarium. There growth is not as explosive because it is not required to be, as you clarified.

    Yes, some organic soils contain cow manure, but not Miracle Grow Organic Potting mix, which is what I indicated in a post further up as the safest option for a dirted tank. All I was saying was that plant matter releases less ammonia than large scale animal waste, which has largely been the culprit in ammonia spikes for dirted tanks in the past.

    Also, I did not say plants would absorb all ammonia produced. What I said was "plants will absorb a significant ammount of ammonia" and this is why the bacteria colony required in a filter will be less than in a lightly planted or non planted tank. I capped with ecocomplete so as to foster an even greater barrier between the dirt and water column, as the BB actively grow in the dirt cap. TSS (double the size of the required amount) was also used to help the initial stages of BB growth. I do appreciate your insights and clarifications, however, please hesitate before calling something or someone foolish as there are many safe ways to go about the same thing.
  13. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    Both of you're guy's advice is much appreciated, thank you so much I going to get the soil today.

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  14. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    ImageUploadedByFish Lore Aquarium Fish Forum1407618246.775088.jpg didnt get miracle gro but the soil I got had this on the back

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  15. PhishphinWell Known MemberMember

    Difficult to say, I'm not familiar with the brand or contents. Sarcasm Included may be of more help with that.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2014
  16. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    Hopefully he will chime in soon but thanks for your help.

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  17. Sarcasm IncludedWell Known MemberMember

    I haven't used it but have seen others that have, so should be just fine.
  18. Andrew SackettValued MemberMember

    All done went pretty smooth, about .10 ammonia but water changes should fix that

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