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Setting Up A Low Tech, High Cec Substrate, Low Light, Planted Tank

Discussion in 'Freshwater Aquarium Builds' started by SeattleRoy, May 19, 2019.

  1. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi All,

    Just before I became ‘buried’ with the AGA convention (Aquatic Gardeners Association / aquatic-gardeners.org ) one the our forum members sent me a PM asked me how I set up my planted tanks. Rather than just provide the information to one person I decided (now that the dust has settled) to do a post so all have the opportunity to see how I am currently doing my planted tanks.

    My 10 gallon tank had been set up for over a year, the previous inhabitants had moved on, and all that was in the tank were a Corydoras and an Otocinclus. I picked up some Melanotaenia lacustris (Turquoise / Lake Kutubu Ranbowfish) fry at the AGA convention and they needed a home so on Sunday I moved the fish out of the 10 gallon and did a complete teardown and reset. Here is how I did it.

    After I cleaned the tank, the filter, the glass top, and the heater I was ready to start.

     

    First I added a handful of 1/4 inch red lava stone which contain a lot of iron. If I were using Osmocote tabs or mineralized soil I would add that now as well.

     

    Next I opened a new bag of Safe-t-sorb (calcined clay / Tractor Supply - 40# @ $6.49) which I am using for the substrate and put about 3” into my fish bucket.

     

    I took it to the kitchen sink, filled the bucked half way, and rinsed the substrate stirring it with my hands. After two rinses the water coming out of the bucket still looks like chocolate milk. BTW, clay substrates will never rinse clean like gravel. Then I took the substrate to the clean, empty 10 gallon tank and started adding the Safe-t-sorb substrate. I like about 1-1/2 inches of substrate in my tanks so it is easy to plant without stems or plants floating to the surface. It took about 3 buckets of substrate to fill the tank. I sloped the substrate slightly higher in back than the front so detritus would move to the front where I could see it and siphon it out more easily.

     

    Next I installed the hardscape, in this case it is Seiryu Stone (aka Ying Stone) that I treated with muriatic acid to darken the stones and make them look more weathered. I also installed the heater (unplugged) at this time so I would not have to deal with it later.

     

    Now it was time to fill the tank. Remember how the rinse water from the substrate looked like chocolate milk? Do you want your tank to look like that after filling? If not here is how to avoid that problem. Take a piece of wax paper and lay it on the substrate of the empty tank. On top of the wax paper, in the middle, place a saucer. Add the water slowly being careful to hit the saucer. As it fills it should look like this.

     

    After filling this is how it looks; cloudy but certainly not ‘milky’.

     

    Next I installed the Aquaclear 20 HOB filter. In the filter I have ceramic rings and one (1) sponge - nothing else; no charcoal (which removes fertilizers) and no additives. I use Seachem Prime to remove chlorine and chloramines that are added to local water supplies. It was time to call it an evening, this is what the tank looked like after the filter had been running for about 2 hours.

     

    Part Two will be posted later.
     




  2. Fishcat Well Known Member Member





  3. Bama Valued Member Member

    I appreciate how detailed your directions are. Can't wait for more! I also love the look of the substrate.
     




  4. SLeroux Well Known Member Member

    Thanks for such a detailed post @SeattleRoy. Can't wait for part 2!
     
  5. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi All,

    @Fishcat - This substrate will remove / reduce carbonates from the water for several months after filling. Removing carbonates lowers the dKH (aka pH) and to some degree the dGH of the water. How long? It depends upon the amount of carbonates in the water.

    Thank you @Bama and @SLeroux , I the substrate because it looks natural, has a good grain size for planted tanks, is relatively inexpensive (0.17 per pound), it contains many of the micro-nutrients that plan Best of all it has a high cation exchange capacity (CEC) which allows it to absorb nutrients from the water and make them available to the plants in the root zone. It many ways it is similar to ADA Amazonia however it does not contain nitrogen or phosphorus.
     
  6. SLeroux Well Known Member Member

    @SeattleRoy I already found the substrate here in Canada! Going to order some for my new 40G long. Have some larger lava rock, could I smash it into smaller pieces to use at the bottom?
     
  7. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi @SLeroux

    Is the lava rock you have red (indicating the presence of iron)? If so, hammer away (but wear safety glasses).
     
  8. SLeroux Well Known Member Member

    They are! And will do
     
  9. SLeroux Well Known Member Member

  10. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi @SLeroux

    Absolutely it will work fine for Corydoras species. I keep Corydoras aeneus and C. sterbai in my tanks with no issues at all.
     
  11. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi All,

    Continuing from Post #1 above, here is Part 2 of my 10 gallon low tech, low light, high CEC journal.

    Just before I went to bed, I took some water samples of the tank and did readings on pH, dKH, and dGH; these were the results:
    pH – 6.2
    dKH – 3.0
    dGH – 3.0 (53.7 ppm)

    The next morning I came downstairs, turned on the light, and this is what the tank looked like. Not bad if I say so myself. The water is still a little ‘brown’ but the tank had cleared substantially.

     

    I again took some readings and these are the results:
    pH – 6.2
    dKH – 1.0
    dGH – 3.0 (53.7 ppm)

    Since I know that planting the tank will disturb the substrate and stir up ‘dust’ I decided that I would go ahead and start planting the tank then rather than wait until it cleared. I didn’t order, or purchase, any plants for this tank. I am just using plants that were in the tank before I cleaned it and some plants from my other tanks. After planting this is what I looked like.

     

    I added a few small Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Bronze’ on the left in front of the stone and some Nymphaea micrantha ‘Gefleckt’ plantlets behind the rock. In the center are 4 stems of Pogostemon erectus that were not doing well in my 45 gallon. Just to the right of the Pogostemon erectus are 3 stems of Rotala ‘Vietnam’ (aka ‘H’ra) that also were not doing well in my 45 gallon. Tucked in with the Pogostemon and Rotala is some short, red stems of Ludwigia arcuata. Next is a small Nymphoides hydrophylla (aka sp. ‘Taiwan’) and lastly on the right in the back is Ceratopteris cornuta (aka Broadleaf Watersprite). In front of the rock on the right is some tissue culture Ranunculus inundatus that I foolishly allowed to almost dry completely before planting. Also, barely visible in the pictures are six plants of the red variant of Helanthium tenellum (previously Echinodorus tenellus red / Pygmy Chain Sword).

    I added a few small Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Bronze’ on the left in front of the stone and some Nymphaea micrantha ‘Gefleckt’ plantlets behind the rock.
     

    In the center are 4 stems of Pogostemon erectus that were not doing well in my 45 gallon. Just to the right of the Pogostemon erectus are 3 stems of Rotala ‘Vietnam’ (aka ‘H’ra) that also were not doing well in my 45 gallon.
     

    Next is a small Nymphoides hydrophylla (aka sp. ‘Taiwan’) and lastly on the right in the back is Ceratopteris cornuta (aka Broadleaf Watersprite). In front of the rock on the right is some tissue culture Ranunculus inundatus that I foolishly allowed to almost dry completely before planting.
     

    Tucked in with the Pogostemon and Rotala is some short, red stems of Ludwigia arcuata.
     

    I installed the glass top and put the light back in place and called it a day.
     
  12. bryangar Well Known Member Member

    I love it! How does the ranunculus do in low tech? Just ordered a TC earlier.
     
  13. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi @bryangar,

    As I stated in the thread I foolishly left the opened tissue culture out for several hours and it almost completely dried out the leaves, so many of the TC leaves have "melted". However, I do see new leaves emerging from the crowns of the plants so I am hopeful that it will take hold. There will be updates......

    -Roy
     
  14. 86 ssinit Well Known Member Member

    Very nice!! Thanks for this thread. Would you recommend this substrate for a bigger tank
    ? A 125. How soon can you add the fish?
     
  15. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi @86 ssinit

    I have used this substrate in a 75 gallon high tech (CO2, PAR@80+) with very good success since February, 2014. I tried to re-use it after four years and that was a mistake, it does eventually start to break down. In the future I will replace about every three (3) years but at 40 pounds for $6.49 that isn't an issue.

    75 gallon, high tech, Safe-t-sorb
     
     
  16. Pescado_Verde Well Known Member Member

    Looking forward to updates, thanks Roy!
     
  17. 86 ssinit Well Known Member Member

    Having a hard time finding safe t sorb. Haven’t been there yet but it seems Walmart May have it. But for $40 a bag. Speedy dry is what everybody has
     
  18. SeattleRoy Well Known Member Member

    Hi @86 ssinit

      in for you and you can pick it up or the next least expensive place I have found is WW Grainger - there is one in Bohemia, NY on Orville Dr. They carry   and they may have it in stock for pick-up on Tuesday. Hope this helps! -Roy
     
  19. Fishcat Well Known Member Member

    The Safe-T-Sorb does give a lovely effect. I am slightly concerned about the idea of replacing it after three years. Do you think that would be necessary even if you weren’t substantially rescaping the tank?
     
  20. Jack B Nimble Valued Member Member

    It's basically same as kitty litter mainly montmorilite clay.
     
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