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Old 10-09-2011, 09:58 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Lightbulb A new recipe and procedure for mineralized topsoil!

Sometime ago, I started a thread on APC about a new way to engineer mineralized topsoil and make it faster and more nutritious than ever. The discussion has died down so I thought I would bring it back home in a more refined form. If you want to see the original thread for background, here it is, Soliciting input on a new way to make mineralized topsoil, please - Substrates - Aquatic Plant Central.

I'll break it down further here and get to the meat of what I learned. Please remember, I have yet to do this myself, I can't until next year with my next large tank which will be erected sometime in the first 6 months of 2012, sooner if I can help it.

The idea is to engineer the substrate for maximum nutrition and greatly increased service life. Using my own experiments, research and experience as a terrestrial gardener, I think I have something real here. One of my goals is to end all water column dosing and substrate fertilization which will, I think, help improve stability and better control algae. The idea is to not keep the tank teetering between starvation and apocalyptic pollution, our current most popular methods, but to introduce more of the natural cycles found in the world, namely, a full carbon cycle, an iron cycle and a sulfur cycle while engineering zones of anoxic and anaerobic activity that are vital in nature but small and controlled so that these processes cannot go on a runaway reaction by taking advantage of the natural processes and dynamics between plants and animals.

Some of the materials you may not have considered or heard of but they are available and cheap.

Here is the list and the suggested proportions.

1. Laterite 10%
2. Sul-Po-Mag 5%
3. Aragonite 5%
4. Peat granules 5%
5. Horticultural Carbon 10%
6. Azomite 10%
7. Humus 55%

Humus
Some of you recall how to make MTS, if some of you are new to it or need a refresher, check out the standard recipe here, How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot - Library - Aquatic Plant Central by Aaron Talbot. Notice, it is a little time consuming and messy. There is another way. Start out with humus. No rinsing and drying. Humus is as reduced and mineralized as anything organic can get on this planet. This is the end result of all that effort already in a bag for less than $3/40 lbs. This is a big part of the problem solved. You can use this, Denali Gold or this, Organic Peat Humus, 40 Pound Bag. Remember, don't use anything with manure in it or extra chemicals. In short, the end product that people have been putting in their tanks is just another name for mature compost.

Azomite
This is the magic bullet. Reputable studies have been done on this incredible mineral on how it greatly enhances plants and shrimp. It contains a salt or oxide of nearly every element. Have a look at the guaranteed analysis below. I know what you're thinking, you're seeing some heavy metals on there, namely Copper and Arsenic and you have to be wondering what Dysprosium and Praseodymium could possibly do for you. Some of the more worrisome elements, again, are depleted (like the Uranium) or oxidized (everything else that looks troubling) and will thus be passed through an organism harmlessly or bioremediated by your plants' natural abilities. In fact, studies on shrimp show it to greatly improve them, Shrimp Studies. Horticultural questions and other concerns are addressed in this FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions.



Horticultural Carbon
This will serve as another sink for nutrients, below the substrate. It actually releases what it has adsorbed over time once saturated and has an affinity for large organic molecules, like the ones that sometimes make a dirt tank smell boggy, not bad, just boggy. Personally, I like that smell; It's the smell of productive life but capturing some of those molecules for later use by microorganisms and plants would be even better. Given enough time it eventually turns to dust just adding to the soil profile. Another benefit is the fact that it is so chunky. It would create beneficial voids for improved circulation and oxygenation which is very important for plant roots. I would actually propose putting the charcoal between the MTS and the cap for precisely this reason. This is a great way to even get away with a thicker layer of MTS and still have a mature, though smaller, and easier to manage anoxic layer which will form and should in healthy tanks. The anoxic layer is important and I feel poorly publicized and discussed. This is the nexus for the carbon cycle and the universe of the sulfur cycle which plays a very important part of the iron cycle. This ought to be given its own thread but it has been mentioned by other luminaries like Tom Barr and wetman (aka The Skeptical Aquarist) and is an important foundation piece of ecology in general.

Peat Granules
In terrestrial gardening peat is a great way to create pockets of acidity that serve as little sites of ion exchange facilitating the oxidation/reduction process beyond what soil organisms can do. I cannot find an example of this in the hobby only the use of peat to add tannins in the water for blackwater biotopes and spawning the fish from such places as well as the tannin's health tonic like properties. I can see how in our aquariums perhaps having smaller distributed sites of acidity would help get more out of our MTS. It would almost be the same thing as adding the traditional soil sweetener (dolomitic lime) in an MTS tank, a site of base chemistry that slowly liberates calcium and magnesium over time and like the peat pellets it's actually a very localized effect. The very mild reactions between the two would have, I predict, a very limited but stable buffering deeper and more consistently throughout the dirt layer as well as promote a more diverse ecosystems of microbes. The calcium and magnesium precipitants formed would be more bioavailable and there would be a more mobile economy of iron; The condensed tannin would not only not interfere with iron absorption but keep it nice and mobile for the roots.

Aragonite & Sul-Po-Mag
Notice this new MTS has no muriate of potash nor dolomitic lime. I have never been comfortable with the sizable amount of Chlorine in the potash but we need Potassium and the dolomite is mostly Magnesium. If Calcium is so important to plants, why is it conspicuous by its absence in traditional MTS? Also, there is something that not a lot of people are aware of when it comes to the relationship between Mg and Ca. Why not langbeinite, K2Mg2(SO4)3, instead? Less salty, way more K and it has extra Sulfur and Mg in one go. It is sometimes sold as sul-po-mag. It breaks down to 22% K, 11% S and 22% Mg, the remaining 55% is just Oxygen. The sul-po-mag isn't dolomitic but the Aragonite is. The reason for this decision is to get more Ca in the soil while still having the ability to buffer. Notice also the relationship between magnesium and calcium if you look at them chemically. The idea is to get as close to the ideal 4:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium because too much Mg will inhibit the uptake of Ca in plants and likewise too much Ca will inhibit the uptake of Mg. A dolomitic substance of some kind is required and aragonite fits that bill while giving us more Ca and buffering the soil from too large of pH swings with a touch more Mg than we are used to thanks to the sul-po-mag and its plethora of K. Ca is a major macronutrient required for a number of life processes in plants, most importantly their cell walls and it has been my observation that it is quickly ripped out of the water column by your better quality, high CEC substrates as well as the plants themselves. Having it available to the roots can only make consumption and translocation more efficient for the plants and seeing as it is part of the soil, it won't throw off your water chemistry and still makes for a much needed buffer in the form of aragonite while still being Mg lean, which is important.

Laterite
Sadly, I don't have a lot to say about Laterite that hasn't already been said. It's an enormous, stable store of Iron, the most consumed of the micronutrients. There isn't a whole lot to discuss on this one ingredient except that I propose using it in much higher concentrations than it is normally used to facilitate the natural Fe and S cycles found in nature and for its catalytic abilities in all living systems which I am trying to recreate, more or less.

A Major Non-Issue
Of all these controversial things, which were all received very well by the science minded folks at APC, one person did bring up a concern about the possibility of hydrogen sulfide forming as a result of all the extra S being added to this recipe. I say there is no problem; Hydrogen sulfide comes from bacteria in anaerobic conditions not necessarily the presence of just sulfur which is hard to get away from considering how much sulfur is in every living (and dead) thing so it is not a concern. Some anoxic conditions will be created but these are important for completing the ecology this engineered substrate system is supposed to offer. The worst it can do is create thiosulfates. To create H2S requires some truly bad practices or unfortunate mistakes.

Personal Statement and Bravado
There you have it in a nutshell. Cap up to 2 inches of this stuff with 3 inches of a really good, high quality 70/30 mix of high calcined montmorillonite clay and zeolite like this stuff,PondCareŽ Aquatic Planting Media - PondCare and you are good to go, I think. Say goodbye to water column dosing and substrate fertilization, algae and constantly having your ecosystem teeter totter on the brink of too much and too little and say hello to a simple future of beautiful, thriving planted tanks . Please discuss, ask questions, criticize or debate. I welcome it because it will get me, you, all of us, closer to perfecting our art & craft.
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-Micheal S. Montalbano

Last edited by ukamikazu; 10-22-2011 at 08:32 PM.
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Old 10-09-2011, 10:28 PM   #2 (permalink)
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**reading** might take some time, really good article!
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Old 10-09-2011, 10:41 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Please, read away! I want this to spread as soon as possible. The more eyes, the more debate, the more perfect it will be. I really do want a nutritious, rich substrate that can last me 10 years or more with no more effort from me than planting, pruning, topping off and the occasional water change. I'm trying to build the foundation of our Shangri-La.
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Old 10-09-2011, 10:57 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Post on TPT and you'll have lots of readers for sure.

I'm not gonna bother reading it since I probably won't understand any of it and I'll just wait for the finished product to come out. It's what I do best. Haha
But to write something this long is very impressive. Nice article Chris!
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Old 10-09-2011, 11:02 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Post on TPT and you'll have lots of readers for sure.

I'm not gonna bother reading it since I probably won't understand any of it and I'll just wait for the finished product to come out. It's what I do best. Haha
But to write something this long is very impressive. Nice article Chris!
No, read it. It's good for you and it challenges you. It will give you theory that you can apply and open a whole new vista for you: The basics of limnology and more insight into horticulture! Feed your head!

I'm not ready to post this on TPT. APC where I started it was another matter entirely. No, I'm not ready to suffer malingerers and drive by's and the easily led looking for a messiah with quick & easy answers. The signal to noise ratio is too high. There is a lot of religious zealotry that I want to avoid for the moment until I and this engineered substrate are sufficiently hardened.
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-Micheal S. Montalbano
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Old 10-09-2011, 11:34 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by ukamikazu View Post
No, read it. It's good for you and it challenges you. It will give you theory that you can apply and open a whole new vista for you: The basics of limnology and more insight into horticulture! Feed your head!

I'm not ready to post this on TPT. APC where I started it was another matter entirely. No, I'm not ready to suffer malingerers and drive by's and the easily led looking for a messiah with quick & easy answers. The signal to noise ratio is too high. There is a lot of religious zealotry that I want to avoid for the moment until I and this engineered substrate are sufficiently hardened.
Then I will most certainly read it once I have time
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Old 10-10-2011, 12:23 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Great article uka! I think this should be stickied for sure. I think that this is the type of system that I personally have been searching for. While I feel that water column dosing has it's place, it will never be able to fully replicate the nutrient rich substrates that these plants naturally grow in. This is like an advanced Walstad type environment, only way more comprehensive.

One word on anoxic environments. Not only are the necessary for completing the ecology, I think that they are essential. De-nitrification, often overlooked when talking about the biofilter, mostly takes place in an anoxic environment. The little buggies like to strip off the oxygen molecules from the excess nitrate and *poof* harmless nitrogen gas. In an environment that will surely be rich in nitrate, anoxic de-nitrification will keep the levels in balance with the plants, converting what the plants don't use, as de-nitrification is a much slower process than plant uptake.
I also don't think hydrogen sulfide will never be released in a large enough quantity to do any damage.
Overall, this looks like a good leap forward
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Old 10-10-2011, 12:31 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by onefang View Post
Great article uka! I think this should be stickied for sure. I think that this is the type of system that I personally have been searching for. While I feel that water column dosing has it's place, it will never be able to fully replicate the nutrient rich substrates that these plants naturally grow in. This is like an advanced Walstad type environment, only way more comprehensive.

One word on anoxic environments. Not only are the necessary for completing the ecology, I think that they are essential. De-nitrification, often overlooked when talking about the biofilter, mostly takes place in an anoxic environment. The little buggies like to strip off the oxygen molecules from the excess nitrate and *poof* harmless nitrogen gas. In an environment that will surely be rich in nitrate, anoxic de-nitrification will keep the levels in balance with the plants, converting what the plants don't use, as de-nitrification is a much slower process than plant uptake.
I also don't think hydrogen sulfide will never be released in a large enough quantity to do any damage.
Overall, this looks like a good leap forward
Believe it or not, you are my inspiration for this. I had toyed with the idea before but not seriously until I saw your post on the changing nature of a stream by your house, how it was barren in Winter, then exploding into fine greenery in Spring and Summer, then overrun with decomposition and algae in Fall and back to sterility in Winter again and the cycle repeats itself.

You reminded me about and made me reflect once more on chemical oxygen demand and the myriad of elemental and biological cycles that make that little microcosm by your house work correctly every day, every year, century after century. I knew these things but it was your post that catalyzed them in my mind. I don't even remember when you posted that. Has it been a year already? Time flies when you're thinking long and hard.
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Old 10-10-2011, 12:46 PM   #9 (permalink)
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I am glad that you are endangering the status quo. Someone needed to say wait.. aren't these nature aquariums? Aren't we trying to replicate natural ecosystems?
I am also flattered that a post that was primarily a sanity check for myself in understanding this environment, would contribute to your musing over such things

That little wetland by my house still fascinates me. It seems every time I walk down there something has changed. The algae is still absent, however the stems are thinning badly. And the area is beginning to be flooded by an adjacent river(the Willamette), which is causing a rapid rise in turbidity. I think I've learned more from watching that pond, than all the time I've spent sifting through forum posts - that is, until I found this particular forum.

Again.. Nice work! I look forward to giving it a go.
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Old 10-10-2011, 01:31 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Between us and the Internet, I really like upsetting apple carts, tipping sacred cows and openly ogling naked emperors. I've always felt the more disruptive an innovation is, the better it inherently must be.
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