Bottom Substrate
written by: Rob Charite
date: 19 May 2000
chapter 2

Well here is a topic which takes an amount of time on discussions in discus land. Basically there are 3 ways of keeping discus and of course 3 opinions about the same topic.

  1. Bare bottom: most breeders use this because it is very easy to maintain and very clean.
  2. Bare tanks: breeders/keepers who don't like a complete bare tank and therefore add some substrate (mostly sand) some bog wood and/or plants in pots to give it some view.
  3. Fully planted tanks complete with the necessary substrate and lighting but very demanding concerning maintenance.

Since I am building a fully planted tank we only dig deeper on the number 3 subject.
IMO you can do both but there are some rules of thumb:

  1. If you want both (plants and discus) do it the right way.
  2. Be prepared to do a lot maintenance and more but smaller water changes.
  3. Seek the proper balance between you, the fish and plants.
  4. Don't expect that all plants will grow under "discus" conditions.
  5. Keep a log book, that way it is easier to fall back on old values if something goes wrong.

These rules are not holy, but they make the hobby more pleasurable.

The Substrate:
If you want to grow plants successfully this is a very important item.
The substrates have multiple purposes but also some pro's and con's.

  1. Support plants and roots so the plants will not jumble so your tank will not have the look of a wild spinach garden.
  2. Contains important nutrients needed for plant growth.
  3. Substrate for the proper bacteria.

But !! harder to clean and easily polluted because of food leftovers.
Since you've read it so far I guess you won't have any problems with some more maintenance:_)
But what is a proper bottom media ?? That would probably be what you don't see beneath the gravel, which is only for optical purposes, a layer of fertilization substrate for the plants to thrive in. So this must be the right one !!

Here are some options !!

  1. Clay and sand clay contains a lot of good nutrients; especially iron which plants need for a good assimilation process, but sometimes hard to get. A long time for the plants to settle in and therefor a longer time needed to do their work, easily pollutes water when not properly taken care of and clogs easily so the bottom environment will be choked!!
  2. Peat plates the same as above, used best with gravel, has the advantage of softening water, bring in some nice tannins but makes CO2 equipment unreliable and is easily exhausted.
  3. Unwashed fine gravel and medium gravel (washed) on top. Easily exhausted, but better to refertilise and handle.

Again I will use only fine and medium gravel for the above reasons!!

How do we install such a bottom??
Well, we have the advantage of a big discus tank, so why not build some terraces with bog (drift) wood and make it look more like a biotope. First add the bottom nutritional layer !! only 3 cm(1 inch) thick from front to back !! Divide your tank in 3 (only on drawings or in your mind) place the bog (drift) wood in such a way that none of the pieces lies parallel with the glass (slightly non parallel).

Put some pieces with the end to the back wall so it will look like they are originated from a tree !!spread them like roots. Place some pieces vertical, reaching above the water surface to make the sight complete !! Now fill the places between the "roots" with the fine gravel in such way that the front has a minimum of 3 cm (1 inch) and the back 10 cm(3 inches) to create some optical depths.

To make things more exiting and therefore more interesting we can create some other optical effects such as:

  1. The farthest end from where you are sitting to enjoy the view must be the highest (more gravel)
  2. The middle( not exactly the middle) must be the lowest point but not lesser than a minimum of 10 cm(3 inches) in the back and bended a little to the left or right to create an "endless" street.
  3. The height of the gravel from the other back side the one that is most near to you must be filled some where in the middle.

Now is the time to fill the tank :_))
This is quite simple :_))
Place plastic sacs on the bottom in such way that the whole surface is covered, place a small dish on the bottom to break the strength of the water!! And fill it with water that is already on temperature. Fill it till just 3cm (1 inch) under the rim so you will have some space to move in your tank without splashing water.

Rob Charite

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