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The substrate, and it's relationship to water quality and good plant growth

Jul 10, 2014
Some people use soil in their aquarium as a substrate, sometimes com- bined with peat moss, and they report excellent results. In our view for a number of reasons we do not find this practical. The soil can easily be- come dissolved in an aquarium with fish, and by their burrowing and for- aging actions cause haziness just above the substrate, which detracts from the overall beauty. Also some soils can be contaminated in a number of ways. We find the use of a suitable gravel substrate to give excellent results without having much of a downside. We do find however that the use of small amounts of natural Laterite earth,(as described below), to be highly beneficial. There are some gravel types that are natural in appearance and will enhance the aquarium. These will show off the plants to best advantage. Most of these are light brown, to dark red mixed with black in color. However it is vital that any such gravel must contain no limestone. Unless this is the case, all efforts to obtain the requisite water quality as indicated in the previous chapter, will be of no avail.This is because limestone is calcium carbonate. If present, the acidic excretions of the fish, or breakdown biological processes of decaying plants will interact with the limestone to create additional hardness. This process can take place quite quickly and usually within
a couple of weeks the hardness of the water will increase to a level that many sensitive plants cannot tolerate.A reliable dealer will inform you if the gravel is limestone free, but some dealers are not always aware of the characteristics the substrate they are vending contains. To be certain onthis all important point, ask the dealer for a few grams of the gravel, and take it home with you. Place same in a small drinking glass, add a little household vinegar, and observe. If you see "fizz- ing" or bubbling, then limestone is present, if there is none, then you can proceed to purchase the needed quantity. Most gravel sold is not as clean as we would like it to be, so it is
recommendable to take the gravel before introducing it to the aquarium, and wash it thoroughly by
rinsing it clean in a bucket with tap water. This is done by taking a quantity of the gravel,
placing same in a bucket, and swirling it around several times. Each time decant off the dirty water.
When the water becomes reasonably clear, usually after two or three rinses, you can then use it in
the aquarium. If your water is very hard, you should if possible try to make the final rinse with softer
water. If it is only slightly hard, then this will not affect your final water quality.
Whichever gravel is selected, the particle size should be around
3-4 mm in size, and it is preferable that the gravel grains be of an
irregular shape. This not only looks much more natural, but has
the important advantage of allowing the water to circulate more
freely. This ensures an oxidizing environment, and in suitable
gravel, with a high porosity will enable de-nitrification to take
place with the development of colonies of suitable bacteria.
This helps enormously to create the conditions that exist in nature, and stimulate the plant roots, as well as keeping the
aquatic biotope in first class condition.
Now in those parts of the world where a high proportion of our favorite aquatic plants originate from, the substrate is very often red in color. This is because Laterite, which is a red earth, with many minerals and a high iron content, comprises a large part of the environment. This iron is very beneficial for large numbers of our plants, and for some at least is critical.We have found in our own aquariums, that the addition of this important component to the substrate can make an enormous difference to the success in the growth of many of our most
beautiful species. We also notice a better vigor in the plants when
we use Laterite, as the plants are more intense in color, and
seem much more vital.
Iron is along with Potassium, one of the two most important elements that are essential to plant de- velopment. This is true of terrestrial plants, and especially so of aquatic flora. Furthermore iron can only be utilized in the ferrous form (Fe2), not ferric (Fe3). It appears that the roots of our plants are able by some form of enzymatic action, to absorb the iron in Laterite which is in the Ferric form. This appears to happen by the enzymes they release reducing the Fe3 to Fe2 and only in the amount the
plants require at any moment.
I am often asked how much gravel is required for a given tank size. If the tank is to be planted lightly, then typically one should use about 1 lb. of substrate for every running inch/ft of the aquarium. Thus if the aquarium is say 36 inches long by 12 wide, one would use 36 lbs. of gravel. However in a Landscaped Aquarium which is by definition to be very densely planted, it is better to use at least 70%-90% more than this amount. The relatively small extra cost involved will repay itself handsomely, as few plants will become dislodged. Many often do so, by having insufficient substrate in which to strongly anchor their roots. The total depth of substrate in a Landscaped Aquarium should therefore be about 4 inches ( 10 cm). This will ensure that it is relatively easy to anchor all types of plants without them
"floating" to the top, because the substrate is too shallow.
About the Author
This content is taken from the original eBook. If you would like to know more about aquarium gardening then please use the links bellow. The full eBook is available free.

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