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Old 05-30-2008, 04:20 PM   #1
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Gravel, laterite, bacteria and patience

I have come to somewhat of a conculsion when it comes to using standard gravel as a substrate. When I first set up a tank and get it cycled, my plants grow slowly, almost painfully slowly. They mope and grow a little here and there but never really take off. I even add root tabs all through the substrate to try and kick start but it never seems to work. That is until the tanks get to about 6 months old.

Then my plants take off like rockets and it seems like I can grow anything just as well as if I was using Eco or some other fancy plant substrate.

Why is this? Is it the laterite amount building up in the gravel from the root tabs? Could it be that the gravel has to mature and there is a bacteria that needs to colonize that feeds plant roots better? Maybe a nitrogen fixing bacteria? Are there other baceria or components that may simpy take time to extablish themselves that promotes fast plant growth?

I don't know the answers myself, all I know is it works and works well. If I could find granular laterite I would probably use that instead of using root tabs. I think maybe about 1/4 cup of the stuff per 10 gallons. I might have early problem with whatever algae because of the excess iron but if it cuts down the time it takes to get good plant growth it might be worth it.

So those out there that like to use gravel, don't lose hope that your plants will grow. Give them plenty of root tabs, feed them right, give them the right amount of light and you might be able to grow plants as well as some that use Eco sooner or later.

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Old 05-30-2008, 09:06 PM   #2
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First off Laterite is a specific product. You can't get Laterite in your substrate unless you purchase it and add it. Personally I wouldn't recommend Laterite, since it's very messy and if accidently exposed to the water column generally ends up causing an algae bloom.

When using gravel, it doesn't have a particularly good CEC nor does it come packed with nutrients. Over time the mulm from the fish waste builds up along with the nutrients from the root tabs, and together they provide nutrition to the plants. This is all a part of maturing a planted aquarium (including maturing the substrate).

To give your substrate a head start in a new aquarium a couple of easy options are to add a dusting of mulm from an existing aquarium or some peat beneath the substrate. These will cut the time it takes for the substrate to build up all those helpful nutrients for the plants, just like seeding your filter with some media from an existing aquarium cuts down your cycle time.
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Old 05-30-2008, 10:33 PM   #3
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when yall suggest using peat are yall refering to the peat moss like you buy at like lowes or home depot?
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Old 05-31-2008, 12:52 AM   #4
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I tried the peat moss thing a while back and couldn't leave it alone long enough to keep from being sucked up when I did a gravel vac. Was just a terrible mess. Layinering for me wound up the same way. Good layters to start with but then become a mess after 2 months of gravel vacs.

I know I have to add it but I want to find a form that is similar to what the root tabs look like when they fall apart. I don't know if it causes algae but might. I do have one tank that is green all the time and one that isn't but both have the same number of root tabs in them and about the same amount of them have been exposed by my overzealous gravel vacs.
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Old 05-31-2008, 07:27 AM   #5
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Yes, just regular peat moss - but you have to be careful to make sure you get just peat moss. Typically the cheapest stuff you can buy, making sure it doesn't have any extra additives.

As for mixing it all up when you gravel vac, I never gravel vac my planted tanks. Granted, I don't have gravel in any of them, but all of that waste and junk build up is what is feeding your plants.
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Old 05-31-2008, 03:13 PM   #6
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Hmm, I have never considered not doing gravel vacs in my tanks but I guess it could make a difference. I have always been worried about dead pockets and sufate gas building up from decaying matter. I may have to see whatkind of success I have with doing so in a plant only tank though. Maybe after i do it in there and don't see anything that would indicate trouble for fish I would be ready to try a layeed substrate in a tank with fish.
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Old 05-31-2008, 03:40 PM   #7
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Keeping MTS or using a chopstick to stir the substrate should release any gas before it builds up to dangerous levels. Generally it's only a problem with fine substrates like sand though.
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Old 05-31-2008, 04:59 PM   #8
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Makes sense to me. I have had bubbles release from the substrate many times using gravel but only once was it smelly. Most of the time I think it is air trapped and not sulfur gas. It would make a difference for sure with all the root tabs I use because of the root feeders I like for plants. I may just have to try it. Might limit the amount of times I get green water too.
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Old 06-01-2008, 12:05 AM   #9
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I don't gravel vac any of my planted tanks either. Fish only tanks yes, planted tanks no. As Purrbox mentioned, poke around once in a while with a chopstick if you want to release trapped gasses. I typically replant and move stuff around so often I stir the substrate quite a bit without needing to poke at it. So far so good
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Old 06-01-2008, 08:24 PM   #10
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Nice thread, I'm new to this hoby and my slightly planted tank. I also was curious about the gravel vac and if it was resommended or not. I think if I do any they will be few and far between. Thanks
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Old 06-01-2008, 08:47 PM   #11
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One thing to certainly remember though if you don't do gravel vacs regularly. Make sure that you do a very good one if you are gonna do any major landascaping and it has been a while. Every time I would remove my Wisteria to replant it after a couple months it released a cloud of gunk that took hours to settle out. lol
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:06 PM   #12
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If your tank is heavily planted and pretty uniformly planted throughout, then gravel vacs are completely unnecessary. When doing water changes just gently swipe the vac along the surface of your substrate to suck up any extraneous gunk sitting on the top.

However, if your tank is planted in some areas but has large sections where there are little or no plants, then doing the standard "disturb the substrate" vacuuming in those areas is recommended...while leaving the substrate undisturbed in the areas that are heavily planted.
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