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The ultimate clay-based substrate thread

115117 Views 345 Replies 64 Participants Last post by  Ed
With the recent discussions on a few posts concerning Brent's redart clay substrate I was wondering if anybody is thinking of switching to this substrate and how you were planning on doing it.

Merged Red-Art Clay thread and part of Husbandry improvements thread from Science and Conservation - Oz
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Well ME coming from the planted aquariums side of hobbies similar to this has been wondering since I got into that hobby about this hobby's substrate mixes since all it really is is a drainage layer with plants and leaf litter on it.

Could anyone post links to the other posts that are being talked about? Would be interesting to read them...

Kyle: flora base is a great substrate in my opinion in my experience with planted fish tanks, and is a good size to maximize micro fauna growth. It slowly breaks down but also keeps it's size particles varied well so it should work the same way in the viviaria in my opinion, but I haven't tried that. Another substrate to look at is one that is pretty much swamping the Planted aquarium hobby, ADA AS stands for aquarium design amano's aqua soil. They aren't a vendor here that I know of but I don't think drs. foster and smith is either... either way if the link shouldn't be in my post edit it out. Here it is: You may know Chris or Jeff from similar boards great guys from what I've seen/heard.

skylsdale said:
Dealing with clay-based soil is a complete shift in mindset from working with organic substrates. I don't see that the two can be cohesively integrated.
I agree, but I've always been surprised that there isn't another school of thought similar to this. The only drawback I can think of is possible smell, but I doubt that would be much different than the decomposing substrate mixes used presently by the majority.

gary1218 said:
Dancing frogs said:
I belive you use the redart as an unfired clay, it will basicly turn to glop in the bottom of the tank.
Laterite is fired, and will not turn to glop, and will provide drainage for ever.
If I remember Brent's post correctly he mixes up the redart clay powder with water as if you were going to use it to throw a clay pot. Then he lays it out as a 1/4" slab to completely dry out. Then he smashes it into smaller pieces to mix into his substrate. I don't think he has a problem with it then turning into glop in the bottom of the tank.

Hopefully Brent will pick up on this post and give us his input.
If this is what is being done, there isn't any point in not buying a pre-made mix that is used in the aquatic planted tank hobby, its the exact same stuff which is going to hold form much better.

Corpus Callosum said:
I was told fluorite is the one that's fired and even though laterite is sold in a granular form for aquarists it isn't fired and will not hold it's form once wet. Not to doubt the above info, just trying to get to the bottom of what I was told and where the misinformation lies.
Flourite is mined. The other ones above are fired. (I may be incorrect though, flourite is most likely fired as well to make sure it holds its mined form and doesn't break down)

kyle1745 said:
So Aragonite acts as a supply for calcium? Where is a good place to buy it?
I would actually reccomend oyster shells as a calcium supp. much cheaper than purchasing large ammounts of REEF sand.

Just some rushed thoughts,
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kyle1745 said:
I have a tank with the flora base but I think it is a bit too light for the frog tanks. It is also based on volcanic clay which I had thought someone mentioned broke down faster and had less nutrients than others. It is also rather expensive.

The soil I made, while a pain to make, seems to be working great. Its hard to say how either this or the above will hold up over time but so far I am liking the home made a bit better.

In my case price is a big deal as I have a number of tank that need refreshed. Interesting idea on the crushed shells for the calcium.

Are there cheaper options than the flora base? That may hold a little more weight so they do not stick to the frogs.
There probably are somewhere, I would have to ask... Edit that now I think of it. Soilmaster Select I believe is pretty much the same stuff but MUCH cheaper. You want soilmaster "Select" since it's been fired longer than the other stuff. Its also made for landscaping and things like that (golf courses etc,) so it should hold up better than florabase may. Its sold by Lesco. A write up about how someone used it in their fish tank can be seen here, ... strate/26/

I'm not sure about the weight I think they're all pretty light, but even if you used this as a base, and mixed it with some laterite or "redart" it should be an easier way to keep the soil more 'porus' and not get all hard and like a brick after a week.

As for the shells, its a pretty basic idea. Oyster shells are cheap, smash them or grind them up and its a much cheaper way than buying the sand, which is the exact same stuff just crushed up already by fish/ocean.

My question is this, Will the calcium in the substrate be too much and throw off an inbalance? Edd always talks about ratios to make sure its not too much ratio of like 15:10:5 or something like that.

And since adding calcium could you mix in a thing of herpative and repcal while you're at it? Just add it to your substrate mix and hopefully it can help some? It would "save" a lot of the vitamins that get thrown out all the time...

The other problem essentially I see is what are you putting in the soil? The way I think of it you would need substrate bugs, then leaf litter bugs eating the substrate bugs, if this could work it would be a very effective food chain if there was enough of each and not too many frogs..

I have an empty 45g that I'm planning on turning into a viv so maybe I'll try this out in that.

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Ed said:
The ratios I keep throwing out that apply here to some extent are calcium to phosphorus and you want those to be between 1 and 2 to 1 however if a variety of invertebrates are provided in conjuction with sufficient UVB exposure then the frogs will adjust thier own ratios.

Thanks for clearing that up, I believe I was mixing up NKP opposed to Calcium and Phosphorus now that I think about it. With UVB they can adjust their own ratios, that would mean getting a UVB bulb like reptile keepers use?

My other question is how apt a frog to go eating soil bugs? Wouldn't they need to dig for them? I know some frogs dig a lot, but most don't dig much I was under the assumption.

Thanks Ed,

One more silly question. Would doing one thing or another only work? I would assume it's fine to have calcium rich substrate then also dust flies and feed them?

UVB bulbs get hot, but not much difference from lights commonly used. (not T5s though...)

Found this in the beginner section...

slaytonp said:
Most of us don't use UV bulbs with darts due to the fact that the glass enclosed tops filter it out and they are difficult to use safely inside a humid vivarium. There are some acrylics that do allow UV to pass through, but I've never tried them.
Has anyone using a UVB bulb modified their glass top because of it?

Also... Another thing I've thought of, if somehow you could make a small pool in one spot of the viv with this substrate, it could be like a high calcium bath that you wouldn't have to give them just in case.. so theoretically they would like go into it if they needed more calcium... How smart these frogs are I'm not sure. But with what Ed has said about some behaviors they may be smarter than I think.

Ed said:
Yes people have modified thier enclosures to allow for the use of UVB lighting. Do a search for solacryl.

The problem is having small patches of calcium rich substrate just isn't going to cut it as this is not going to supply sufficient inverts that are modifeid by the substrate.

It doesn't have to have anything to do with being smart, for example in people you can have a craving for a certain food item which will meet some micronutrient deficiency and not have the wanting part of the craving be under conscious control.....

Thanks I'll do a search.

I may have written it wrong, same substrate high in calcium, but have say a small "pool" of water in part of it which should be high in calcium since the substrate is in general.

I used the wrong choice of words, that is exactly what I was thinking. So I assume its generally the same in animals?

That makes more sense...

Did that search and came up with lots of good information thanks!


Long time no typing :roll: I've been over on the planted tank forums and busy with school and whatnot sooo...

I've recently taken out the substrate that was in my 55g planted which was a mix of Flora base and then some regular gravel. I've got two 5gallon home depot buckets full of it. Does anyone want it?

Since its two years old in tank its not all perfect granules anymore and I think it won't be as nutrient rich as it was when new but it may be better with all the mulm.

I'm hoping to catch up on this thread soon...

sports_doc said:

I recent purchased some of this to try. Seems "similar" to the Schultz Aquatic plant soil I've been using...

To start I was planning on adding it to the ABG mix I'm currently using as a base substrate.


[sorry if this product has already come up in this thread someplace]

I mentioned it in one of the first pages (then I dissapeared back over at TPT so I'm very behind on this thread :( I think I'll have caught up by the end of the week...) I think it may be the best commercial product for people who want this clay based substrate type and don't want to really have to do much.

If I disappear again over on I'm A Hill and aim I'm oooppp098 just give me a shout and I'll be back hopefully I also think I found another similar product to use for the compost wall type tank. (pyrex open cell foam anyone? Its similar to epiweb)

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Well one person sent me a pm asking for info on the foam, so others must be wondering as well.

Its not pyrex (dunno why I was thinking that last night) its Poret. The only person I know who sells it in the USA at the moment is Brian's friend over at SwissTropicals. I've talked to Stephan and he is a very nice guy.

Poret is an open cell foam which gives much more surface area for bacteria to colonize as biological media for fish tank filters. I'm thinking the same surface area could be beneficial for the purpose of the divider because it could also be a good place for all those bugs to live as well and the more in the divider the more going out of the divider hypothetically speaking. I think I may try using this when I set up my viv.

Here is the link and all the good information:

Matt Mirabello said:
Looks great! I think the black version might be a good alternative to treefern (or epiweb depending on the cost).
I talked to him, and he said in the future he may get the black. He said right not he only got a shipment of blue which is basically the standard color. Supposedly it does darken up quick in the aquarium and I figure once its covered with moss you'd never be able to tell otherwise.

I can't remember exactly what the epiweb ended up costing because I was looking at that as well, but I think they're about the same cost.

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