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Since 1996 ADA Aqua Soil series is definitely the best substrates for growing water plants money can buy. It is impossible to overestimate it’s role in the whole success of ADA's approach in keeping planted tanks. Aqua Soil is actually the very heart of ADA’s method giving users unprecedented convenience and 100% sure positive results setting up a planted tank. It is also hard to express how much this nutrient rich and hustle-free substrate makes keeping planted tanks easier virtually preventing numerous mistakes which inexperienced hobbyists and even pro’s can do. Among good CO2 system this is the second most important component to invest for your planted aquarium. But this product is quite costly in certain regions of the world and is not everywhere available in local fish shops. This has lead many lovers of a planted tank hobby to look for a closer/cheaper alternatives.

This is a review of all alternatives to ADA Aqua Soil you can find in Asia which I made after short trip by Japanese web in March 2009. Among western aquarists today there are only few persons who had ever used this alternatives to ADA Aqua Soil, and their experience constrained to GEX Shrimp & Plants Soil (red package) only. Nevertheless, there are whole range of substrates quite similar to ADA Aqua Soil produced in Japan (all of them?).

To start with lets define what is a term “aquasoils”. Aquasoils is a general term I use for a non gravel substrates for growing water plants and/or keeping shrimps. We can also use term “plant soil” to distinguish them from “shrimp soils”. As “plant soil” can be used for a garden soil mixtures for terrestrial plants I would prefer to use term “aquasoils”. This also reminds why we ever look for them - to find out an alternative for ADA Aqua Soil.

"Aqua Soil Amazonia is produced from black soil with rich organic substances, helping the plant growth, and most aquatic plant species can grow in healthy condition with Amazonia." (ADA)
Alternative aquasoils listed below indicated as "natural volcanic ash soil" (GEX Planted and Shrimp, GEX Plant Soil, Mr.Aqua Water Plants Activated Soil), others as "natural baked soil" (Ebi-Ten Premium), as “Multifunctional soil is made from natural soil” (Marfied CONTRO Soil I and III), as "main ingredient is selected natural soil" (Project Soil Premium - Excel, 5.2, 7.2), as “natural mineral” (Ebikuma Shrimp Soil), or just as “artificial, made by mixing bentonite and monthmorillonite” (Ebi-Ten Soil 2 and 3, NISSO Custom Soils).

Regardless of producers claims it does not reflects exact formulation, and to make aquasoils you need:
- a binding agent, evident wise choice is clays with high CEC as bentonite, akadama like or volcanis ash soils
- to be able to lower pH for a long time soil needs humic acids found in tropical soils and peat
- to make it nutrient rich for a long time it needs to have high organic content, organics must be of low labilitу to prevent rotting and ammonia release, so the best candidates are tropical soils or earthworm castings
This three main ingredients will make substrate just perfect for plants. Producers can use wide range of clays, diatomite, variuos binding agents, humates, lignite,fertilizers etc to improve formulation. Volcanic ash soils actually contains some pozzolana - volcanic ash mineral which reacting with calcium hydroxide Ca(OH)2 forms compounds possessing cementitious properties. pH depends on himic acids contetnt in original soil.

So all aquasoils are not gravels. They are made by mixing nutrient rich tropical soils with colloidal clays (totally “dissolving” in water) as bentonite/montmorillonite/fuller’s earth/palygorskite or akadama like clay, or volcanic ash soil, than dried at moderate temperatures, i.e. they are NOT “fire kilned”. Clay surves as a binding agent, but the main thing such clay gives to substrate is a high CEC - ability to hold nutrients and releasing them only when plants needs them. Tropical soils is a source of nutrients stored in organic form. They also have very high humic substances content which enables aquasoils to lower pH and GH for a big time frame creating mild acidic environments for keeping water plants and shrimps. Organics and humics also creates perfect environment for bacteria and protozoa greatly facilitating cycling all natural processes of a tank. Tropical soils and humates have very high CEC also.
Slow decomposition of organics by bacteria gives quite long nutrients supply for plants (up to three years), both organic and non organic, but this leads to slow disintegration of granules eventually turning them into “mud”. This is a payback for integrating organics into every other granule and is a totally normal process for any aquasoil brand. All other known substrates are "gravels" - they are made of hard minerals and will not disintegrate, but they can not contain organics and humates, and can hold inorganic nutrients only, thus can not ever compete with aquasoils functionally, and far less - aesthetically.

This same nutrient rich “tropical soils” has been always used for keeping planted tanks since 19-th century. Usually garden soil were used, but earthworm castings (EC) is actually WHAT makes plain sand to be “nutrient rich tropical soil” and thus much better than any garden or tropical soil. It is a pure humus with no high labile organics causing rotting and anaerobic conditions, NH4 spikes and algae blooms and is perfect for a planted tank.

This same high CEC clays used for production of “calcined clay” or “arcillite” – fire kilned bentonite at very hight temperatures (800-1500°С) converted into very hard crystallized form. The result is very porous and lightwaight clay balls with very high CEC which does not disintegrates over time. Calcined clays used mostly for agriculture as CEC base for soil improvement additives, keeping sports fields, lawns, and sometimes sold as a substrate for water plants. The most widely known brands are Turface/Prifile/Soilmaster produced by a patent holder Aimcor (USA), made of bentonite clays mined in US by Oil-Dri Corporation.
Calcined clays combined with some earthworm castings at the bottom is the best DIY alternative to any “aquasoils”. Combined with good water column fertilization and addition of nutrients into substrate as earthworm castings they give exactly the same growth rates as ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia – the most nutrient rich variation of ADA’s line. The main drawback of this substrates – they are very light thus bad for planting. It is also hard to find dark variation (as Turface® Black). High CEC is also can be found in Akadama, zeolite, diatomite which is all suitable and used for decades for growing water plants mixed with earthworm castings or ''mineralized'' garden soil. A-Z on calcined clays can be found in my article about substitution for Aqua Soil (in Russian).

So aquasoils ingeniously combines both bentonite clay and fertile tropical soil in one granule. Thus aquasoils have very high CEC plus big nutrients storage both in organic and inorganic form. The result is nutrient rich, much more convenient and a very beautiful substrates for a planted tanks.

Here is a list of aquasoils I have found without any knowledge of Japanese language. Please help providing information if you know Japanese or had any experience with this or other aquasoils not listed here.

a q u a s o i l s ' 2009

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia IADA Aqua Soil AmazoniaMarfied CONTRO Soil (Old, new Marfied CONTRO Soil III is in silver bag) NatureSoil = Marfied CONTRO Soil disributed by Oliver KnottNISSO Custom Soil GEX Plant SoilGEX Shrimp & Plant SoilMr.Aqua Water Plants Activated Soil EBITA BREED Premium Soil

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia /
ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia II
The best substrate for growing water plants money can buy, product of ADA and Takashi Amano – creator of Nature Aquarium style. In this article it is a “reference substrate”.
ELOS TerraNormal or Powder, this was the very first introduction to Europe of aqausoils similar to ADA. Very easy to crumble and not durable. Good plants growth, but not as with ADA's soil.
Marfied CONTRO Soil IIIKONTOROSOIRU is: “Multifunctional soil is made from natural soil”. Black or brown, Normal 5mm or Powder 3mm, suitable for toninas as it lowers GH and maintaines pH~6.5 for a long time.
Tests – see NatureSoil. New ver.III is in silver bag.
NISSO Custom Soil Black For water plants, almost black (NISSO).
GEX Plant Soil (green bag) "Natural volcanic ash soil". Almost black shrimp soil modified specifically for growing water plants.
GEX Shrimp & Plant Soil (red bag)"Natural volcanic ash soil". Brown colour, for keeping shrimps and plants. Much less nutrient content than in ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia / Amazonia II.
GEX Plant Sand GX (blue bag)Brown color, for keeping shrimps and some plants.
Master Soil (dark/light blue bag) For water plants, almost black colour.
Mr.Aqua Water Plants Activated SoilFor water plants, dark Brown colour, distributed in Philippins by “Mr.Aqua” company of anknown brand planted tank soil (see here).
Aqua System Project Soil / Premium

Premium versions - Excel, 7.2 (blue bag), 5.2 (orange bag).
"The main ingredient is selected natural soil". (>)
For water plants, dark brown colour (photo).

EBIKUMA* Shrimp SoilNormal or Powder 2mm – “…specialize soil for plants and shrimp keeping developed by a famous Bee Shrimp Breeder, abundant with natural mineral, it supports the growth of organism and water plant. Ammonia presence is insignificant. There might be tinkle of nitrous acid during the 1st week of set up.” (
* ebi means “shrimp” in Japanese
EBITA BREED Premium SoilDark brown shrimp and plants soil (photo).
Manufacturer's web site EBITA BREED.

EBITABREED Super Powder Soil SP

Brown colouration (photo, close up photo)
EBI-TEN Premium Soil

For shrimps and plants (Ebi-Ten Substrate System).
"EBI-TEN Premium Soil is formulated in the Niigata perfecture* using natural soil, sterilized by long burning process in low temperature. The soil is able to maintain a PH at 5.6 ~ 6.2, and is ideal for shrimp, fish and water plants keeping". (aqua
* Niigata perfecture - Takashi Amano's/Nature Aquarium/ADA company's homeland

EBI-TEN Soil 3For water plants: "The Ebi-ten Soil 3 is formulated using minerals such as bentonite and monthmorillonite as the main components. The grain does not crumbles easily and is able to lower pH and KH… The soil is able to release nutrients slowly and it is not necessary to add too much extra fertilizers for a low demand planted tank.” (
EBI-TEN Soil 2 (New) "EBI-TEN SOIL 2 is a professional aquarium soil newly developed to best suit the growth requirements of bee shrimps, fishes and aquatic flora that prefer mild acidity. This is a modification from SOIL 3, which uses a new technique to bind nutrients to the soil that makes it even more closer to the natural soil. The soil granules do not crumble easily and maintains pH at 5.6-6.2.” (
NatureSoilThis is the latest addition of aquasoils and has nothing to do with Oliver Knott (link). It is sumply put Marfied® CONTRO Soil III made in Japan repacked and redistributed for Europe: the same look, labels as on the Marfied bags and sign “Japanese product” reveals this. Tests (see here) shows that NatureSoil in non CO2 tanks lowers pH, and even after multiple 30% water changes every 3-5th day maintains KH and TH at stable ~5-6 regardless of water source (hard tap water/lake water/reverse osmosis water). Contrary to ADA Aqua Soil it does not release ammonium NH4 and absorbs PO4 when stirred only (see How to use Aqua Soil at Aqua Journal On-line).
Colombo FloraBaseAs above, redistribution of Marfied® CONTRO Soil III made in Japan for Dutch company. Black and brown. Colombo FloraBase.
Dazs Water Plant Soil Dazs is yet another brand of Marfied® CONTRO Soil, Brawn or Coffee colour.
AZOO Plant Grower Bed AZOO Plant Grower Bed feed plants up to 18 months, lowers GH and stabilize pH at 6.5-6.8 range, purify water from tannings etc., prolong water exchange periods of up to 6 months. Will not release ammonia in ferst weeks after setup which is a unique feature for this kind of substrates. Black colr AZ11041, Grower Bed Black or Brown AZ11026 Grower Bed Natural. Made in Japan.
Exclusive distributor of AZOO in USA is SevenPorts Inc., Distributionm. You can find it at GreenLeafAquarium. Photo in a tank - The official EDGE thread.
Aqua Substrate® II+ Another rebranded(?) product (AZOO?) for aqua art® in Poland. Black or Brown (link).
Products for further check:
Aqua Plant Master Sand, black-white bag (photo)
Leaf Corporation's Keeping Soil KEEP (product page)
©Ruslan Ivanjushin (a.k.a. naman) March-2009 for Amania.

Thus we have at least twenty one aquasoils suitable for a planted tanks to use as a substitute for an ADA Aqua Soils, fourteen of which is formulated specifically for growing water plants, and two more unknown can be perspective ones.It seems like Marfied® CONTRO Soil III choosen by Oliver Knott is the closest alternative to ADA Aqua Soils among other products.

As we can see most of this kind of substrates initially has been intended for keeping shrimps AND some plants. Those more new variations followed ADA’s approach changing their formulation for improving plants growth. In US and Europe there are some persons only who ever used GEX Shrimp & Plant Soil (red bag). The rest of aquasoils made in Japan virtually unknown for us (as for March 2009).

I suppose (please fix me if I am wrong!) that ADA company did not pioneered this kind of substrates in 1996, which originally produced throughout Japan and was initially intended for keeping shrimps because there are so many producers in Japan and you will virtually never see any shrimp tank without this “shrimp soils” nowadays. They are made for creating mild acidic environment, cristal clear water, and giving ability for keeping some hardy water plants and mosses in shrimp tanks with low light, no CO2 eddition and no water column fertilization. It seems like ADA company greatly improved formulation of such aquasoil fine tuning it specifically for growing water plants in so called high-tech aquarium with a high/moderate light, CO2 addition and regular water column fertilization. Substantial growth of a planted tank hobby popularity and ADA’s success has led other companies to make similar modifications of their “shrimp soils” improving fertility as ADA did to get into this fast growing market.

The main difference among all aquasoils is a clay/soil ratio. The more clay – the harder substrate to crumble, less NH4 release, less turbidity when starting tank and rescaping, less disintegration over time... but less organic nutrients storage and less growth rates for plants. Among this and the grain size (“Normal” 5-6mm or “Powder” 2-3mm) the next variable to choose from is the colour of aquasoils – “black” (almost black, very dark brown) or “red” (brown).

Cost of aquasoils is usually close to cost of ADA Aqua Soil, so the benefits of this less crumbly soils virtually comes mainly to four things:
1) better planting
2) less ammonium NH4 & nitrate NO3 release means less algae and much less water changes after setup
2) less turbidity during setup, rescaping and replanting
3) better durability.

All four comes at cost of a notably less growth rates and nutrients storage, which can be easily compensated with substrate additives, preferably earthworm custings + Fritted Trace Elements (FTE¬) as JBL Florapol. All aquasoils definitely better than any traditional "gravel" substrates, both functionally and aesthetically. Any of this substrates are good alternatives to ADA Aqua Soil, but personally I am inclined to say ONLY when you have no ADA Aqua Soil, have limited budget, or you are not as demanding as best aquascapers are…

According to early reports (see links below) comparing GEX Shrimp & Plants Soil and it’s counterpart ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia/Amazonia II last ones gives faster growth rates, roots formation, and a better overall healthier, “crisper” look of plants. But ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia sometimes has problems with high turbidity after setup/rescaping/replanting: it takes days to clear out water, while GEX Shrimp & Plants Soil gives crystal clear water in a matter of hours and much less prone to crumble while rescaping. New for 2007 Aqua Soil Amazonia II aimed to improve this situation and has less ammonium NH4 release, but has much lower fertility and much easier to crumble.

Common rules using aquasoils.

It is a general belief that you can not expect more than three years of life even of the most nutrient rich aquasoils or earthworm castings, and you have to start dosing liquid fertilizers 3-6 months after setup.
When a tank is kept for a long time aquasoil will lower down a little bit as granules giving up organics and slowly disintegrating over time - just add some fresh powder type aquasoil on top perodically.
It is a good idea to use nutrient rich easier to crumble ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia/Amazonia II at the bottom, and easier to plant in and less messy aquasoils with harder granules on top as GEX Shrimp & Plants Soil or others, especially "Powder" type. But this trick will work only once - in need of total rescaping/replaning without removing substrate they will mix up and you can replanish fertility adding on top ADA Aqua Soil only. For a multiple (yearly?) rescapings without removing and washing all substrate from a tank you will find that for a long run ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia is a better choice than less fertile aquasoils, both economically and functionally. Adding fresh Aqua Soil on top after siphoning old one method is the key for this pro's secret. Power Sand will stay at its place.
Next good idea is to add at the very bottom 1cm of earthworm castings (which is actually the main source of organics in any aquasoils) to add nutrients for less fertile aquasoils. Among this you can help for a very fast root formation adding a little bit of rooting biostimulants¬. You can also regularly replenish nutrients loss with special substrate sticks, capsules or tablets.

In case of heavy turbidity of water in a newly planted tank you can help adding mineral flocculating agents as ADA Clear Dash 103-032, Easy-Life FFM or JBL Clynol (not JBL Clearol !) or placing into filter very fine fiber floss as JBL SymecMicro. Latter is a fiber floss able to remove all >1/1000mm particulate and will quickly eliminate even turbidity caused by bacteria blooms or Euglena viridis (green water) without any medications or UV-lapms. Check out water flow from filter output daily, wash out fine filter floss when flow drops too much. Turbidity caused by free floating bacteria coming from the filter fixed with flocculanting agents too plus dosing bacteria cultures as ADA Green Bacter.

With ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia first weeks ufter setup you can register up to 3ppms of ammonium NH4, up to 100ppm of nitrate NO3 released from substrate and up to 2ppms of NO2 formation. Pre-cycled canister filter will lower this values to 3/50/1ppm respectively withing two weeks (see Nature Aquarium Filtration). Use daily 70% water changes (tap water only, but not too hard!) for the first two-three weeks, or use super effective MWC (Multiple Water Change) method. My schedule 30/60%¬ is more realistic. ADA shows that activated (precycled) ADA Bio Rio (lava stone) as filter media will make eliminating NO2 much faster, but ADA Bio Cube (PORET®) + Antracite (absorbent) is better for eleminating NH4 (see Nature Aquarium Filtration). For a long run Bio Rio is better as it cloggs much less than Bio Cube, while the latter one faster colonized by bacteria.
Use lots of activated carbon. Never start a tank without pre-cycled canister filter, do it by "fishless cycling" method attaching filter to 10-15L pail instead of a tank.

You can use any aquasoil more than once. If you need to do a larger rescape and replanting it is possible to do it without removing aquasoil from a tank – just carefully siphon out disintegrated part of aqiasoil (mud) with all roots and detritus using hose with substrate siphon on one end, and a fish net 2mm or stailess wire sieve over pail on the other. You may need several tank's volumes of water to do that, so add water to 2/3 of a tanks level to make it easier. Substrate will get down substantially as you just removed disintegrated part of Aqua Soil. You can use "top off" method adding fresh ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia/II on top of the old one simultaneously redoing hardscape, than start planting. This is the most economicall and convenient way to use ADA Aqua Soil for yearly rescapings.

If you want to remove all substrate first suck out powder aquasoil in one pail. Than suck out normal aquasoil in another pail. Finally get out all Power Sand into third pail. Wash out all mud. Now dry clean aquasoil on the sun, in worm and well ventilated place, or on the oven at <200°C until you get uniform light colouration of all granules. DO NOT OVERDRY! Overdried aquasoil will become brittle and easily crumbled into “dust”. Store it lightly wet in a tightly closed containers, this goes without any rotting or mold. DO NOT OVERWET - you will get rotting, BGA, H2S etc!

If you are using ADA Power Sand under aquasoils buy "L" size and use 8mm stainless wire sieve to separate lava stone from Aqua Soil - this way you can use once bought Power Sand (or any other lava stone) for life, just add every time some baсteria, earthworm castings, sphagnum peat, biostimulants, Osmocote® Pro, FTE¬ etc.

To prolong as much as possible life of aquasoils use soft water; do not move substrate frequently; if so, do it gently with hard paintbrush; do not pull over plants - cut roots instead; if you need to remove some aquasoil from a tank do it by siphoning; replenish substrate regularly with sticks and tablets, Osmocoat® Pro, FTE¬.

If you experience difficalties choosing decorative sands make plastic barriers and put stones to keep aquasoil at place, make your composition (option: plant your plants), and pour in some water. Than put wet decorative Sarawak/Nile/Orinoco/Xingu/Branco sand in a transparent plastic bags and place some of them in an aquarium. This way you will easily choose the best veriation without mess, mixing aquasoil with decorative sands, and will not scratch glass of your precious low-iron glass tank.

How to make less fertile aquasoils to be 'ada-like'.

As I have already mentioned, all listed above aquasoils is much less fertile comparing to ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia. We easily can make aquasoils much more fertile adding two main things:
1) long term nutrients resource in organic form as earthworm castings + inorganic slow release macronutrients as Osmocoat®;
2) Fritted Trace Elements as a source of microelements.
Furthermore, we can boost bacteria cultures with proper aquarium biostarter, and initial growth by adding biostimulator promoting root development and by inoculating substrate with mychorrhizal fungi, or even a Deep sea water minerals.

Long term organic nutrients source.
Earthworm castings is absolutely the same organics as in any ADA Aquasoils except much less humic substances content buffering GH/KH/pH at stable and low levels. Fortunately all listed here aquasoils already have humic substances in abundance. DO NOT use garden soil as source of organics and do not mineralize it; earthworm castings (EC) is the best product you can ever find as it is already “mineralized” by earthworms, x5 more concentrated than any garden soil, has no high labile rotting organics and thus no ammonium NH4 release, brings no useless sand and clays in your tank. To get the same amount of nutrients you need 5 times less of earthworm castings than garden soil, thus much less mess and clogging from the very start, longer aquascape life, and easier maintenance. Plants use both non organic nutrients derived from bacterial decomposition of organics, and dissolved organic nitrogen DON (amino acids) etc directly by roots and leaves. Prior to use put earthworm castings into pail, add some water just to be able to mix it with a stick, and boil for 10-15min to minimize ammonia NH4 release and prevent bacteria blooms (haze water). Spread over and let it dry until lightly wet. Do not remove all water prior to this to keep more nutrients. Do not overdry as it will make it hard like stone and dusty, thus inconvenient for application. There is no need to mix it with sand or gravel - just put 1-2cm on the bottom and cover with any aquasoil, substrate with high CEC as calcined clays, or just plain gravel.

Inorganic slow release macronutrients.
You can also add some slow release macronutrients as long term non organic nutrient source. Valagro Actiwin® 20-5-10 Green Grade (3-4 months) is the best among others, specifically much better than Osmocote® Pro (up to 12-14 months). Use it as addition to earthworm castings, not as only one source of nutrients. Actiwin® contains no Na, Cl, SO4. Further use DIY frozen earthworm castings sticks similar to ADA Multi Bottom and/or Valagro Actiwin® granules to recover substrate fertility. Use SO4-free fertilizers only as in anoxic conditions and low pH it will turn into H2S.

It is quite hard to introduce PO4 source in substrate as inorganic phosphate easily washed out and not very well bonded by CEC. Hard rock phosphate (Espoma® Rock Phosphate) is a natural mineral apatite (P2O5=12-30%, Ca 22-33%) and is very good long term slow release supply of PO4 for plants. It is totally non soluble in water and available for plants only when they use special organic acids to sequester P from it. If we mention chemical bonding rock phosphate is not less available source of PO4 than it's soluble forms (see section Phosphorus, Balancing Soil Nutrition, Joel Simmons). It also contains B, S, Zn, Mn, Fe, Cu. Rock phosphates also very rich with K in easily assimilated form, and combo Ca+P is great for mineralization by bacterial mineralization, thus plants nutrition from soil and organics cycling improves. Soft rock phosphate is a clay found between layers of apatite. It has the same composition and value for plants nutrition. Rock phosphate сombined with humic acids as C source for bacteria forms biologically active product releasing PO4 (Replanish Min-Phos).
Be careful as PO4 availability from rock phosphate greatly depends on the contact surface, so milled rock phosphate as Lonfosco Micro Phos will be muchmore reactive than gravel, and lots of Ca can cause pH to raise.Use sparingly!
In soils the lower pH - the higher reactive rock phosphate is with maximum P release at pH=5.5 (Ellis), thus aquarium substrate should not be too acidic to prevent leaching P into the water. In soils at pH=4.0-5.5 most P is chemically bonded with Al/Fe/Ca/Mg from clay and precipitate, and insoluble compounds are generally not available for plant nutrition. The same is with pH=7.3+ (Ca-phosphates). But in soils this process is veryslow, and with organic content in soil >5% "fresh" bond compounds will be solubilized by bacteria, fungi, organic acids from plant's roots and will be readily available for plants or adsorbed by CEC (actually by AEC, part of a CEC) and organic particulates until used by plants. With organic matter and proper pH bacteria ativity is enough to brake the bond and make P available for plants. Optimum pH for P uptake in soils 5.5-7.0 which is good for all the rest nutrients also. As below 6.0 Ca, Mg and Mo become increasingly unavailable, perfect range is pH=6.0-6.5. Aqua Soil Amazonia/II hase proper pH and actively adsorbing PO4 (ADA), high CEC=30-40meq/100g (»), so when used sparingly rock phosphate is safe enough. Africana and Malaya is a little bit too acidic for rock phosphate. Roсk phosphate in soils depletes after 4-6 years.
Rock phosphate is also used in controlled release fertilizers and very good to mix with zeolite (ZeoPro™ excellent for ponds) at 1:7 ratio. As for agriculture growth rates with rock phoshate + NH4 saturated zeolite mixture comparable to those with dosing superphosphate. You can also use steamed(!) bone meal P2O5=10-13% (VitaSoil®) - it is even better available form of P for plants. One table spoon is ~1200mg of P.

Any aquasoil can be precharged with macronutrients utilizing its high CEC by soaking (do not wash it!)into strong N-P-K solution for several hours. This will give a strong plants growth for the first weeks after setup.
Never use potassium chlorade KCl in substrate as it kills bacteria. Overdosing of K in substrate (>3-5%) will harm Ca and Mg availability. Potassium is a mobile element so it is mainly used in liquid fertilizers.

Now add source of microelements (esp. Fe) - Fritted Trace Elements (FTE)¬ as JBL Florapol, Micromax Fritted Trace Elements 503 or even micronized iron from gardening centers. In substrate anoxic conditions humic substances and special root enzymes will make metal oxides available for plants. Use sparingly!

Promoting fast root development with a biostimulator will give a strong initial growth boost approaching to ADA Aqia Soil. Valagro Radifarm® 1-0-3 (PDF 58Kb) is the best one you can find out there. It is NOT plant hormones but biostimulant or “transplant micro nutrient designed to promote vigorous rooting”. Radifarm® contains vegetal extract complex containing polysaccharides, steroid glucosides (saponin), free amino acids (tryptophane, arginine, asparagine), hormone precursors, betaines, enriched with specific supplementary vitamins complex (B1, B6, D, H, PP) and microelements. N 1%, K2O 3% (KOH), Fe-EDDHA 0.2%, Zn-EDTA 0.2%. Contains NO PO4, Na, Cl, SO4, MgCO3, CaCO3, CaSO4. Non toxic for water plants and animals. The results are amazing. Dilute 20-50ml in 0.2L of water and sprinkle over 90cm tanks bottom before placing any substrate on top to do not let it washed out in water column. Alternatives could be DIEHARD™ BioRush®, Liquid Karma™, Earth Juice Catalyst, Sweet™ etc. Among stimulating roots development and bacteria they are vital for arbuscular mychorrhizal fungi.

Arbuscular mychorrhizal fungi.
Among fertility and rooting biostimulants arbuscular mychorrhizal fungi (AMF) could be one of that "secret weapons" which makes wonders in ADA Aqua Soil. Mychorrhizal fungi literally means "fungus-roots" and found in terrestrial (80%, Smith and Read, 1997), wetland, and water plants (70%). This endomycorrhizal fungi forms symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the root systems virtually expanding roots and by exchanging nutrients with plants greatly increasing nutrients availability, mainly PO4 and less N, gives significantly (x1.5+) higher growth rates with much less fertilization. This depends on species and soil media though. We never make maximum growth rates limiting it with light to reasonable levels as it makes much more managable and stable tank, but AMF still advantageous as with easier access to nutrients in substrate and less dependence on water column fertilizers plants will have less occurrence of nutrition limitations, thus less algae proliferation. Adding AMF cultures you have to know exactly what fungi species you need for water plants, otherwise it will be completely useless. For water plants it is Glomus mosseae, G. etunicatum, G. claroideum, G. intraradices, for rice it is a Acaulospora sp., G. fasciculatum and G. mosseae (ref.). All in one product DIEHARD™ BED PREP™ with 8 species of Glomus fungi, biostimulats and soil bacteria is the best one, and Myco Madness or MycoGrow™ Soluble are good mychorrhizal inoculant brands.

Deep Sea Water.
So we broken all ADA's sectrets? Not yet! The best AMF stimulator Sea-Crop™ (C-Gro) is a desalinated concentrate from deep sea Pacific Ocean water containing 80+ natural elements of standard seawater. Major minerals are Cl, Mg, Na, Ca,S, Br, K, I, B, Sr, Si (from MSDS PDF 51Kb). When used together with fertilizers it doubles(!) mychorrhizal fungi biomass. Surprisingly ADA luquid fertilizers line with the exсeption of Brighty K are formulated with... the same "Deep sea water". Isn't it a reason why ADA use it among just micronutrient for plants and the circle of ADA's approach is closed now? We definitely need a microscopic analyses of plant's roots grown in Aqua Soil with and without ADA's luquid ferts. While ORMUS is a rather doubtful thing, a kind of a penergetic (BTW it is scientifically proofed that they work and is widely used for now) Deep sea water minerals is for sure very benefitial for fungi, bacteria and plants. Just forget that ormus-talk and use C-Gro or Sea-Crop™ as a trace minerals resource and enjoy your underwater garden.

So we have a general formulation how to make aquasoils much more fertile and closer to ADA Aqua Soils:
Any aquasoil + earthworm castings + FTE JBL Florapol + bacteria cultures + biostimulant as Valagro Radifarm®.
Optional: AMF culture + Sea-Crop™, slow release macronutrients as Valagro Actiwin® or Osmocote® Pro.

As I mentioned earlier, if you have no aquasoils at all, you still can do amazingly good substrate for a planted tank with the same growth rates as ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia – just use this recipe with earthworm castings, and top off it with Akadama, any calcined clay or even diatomite. In case of a long term setup (1+ years) add 8-12mm lava stone at the bottom or use original product ADA Power Sand. Growth rates is not a problem, convenience and aesthetics is.

©Ruslan Ivanjushin (a.k.a. naman), March-18-2009 for »amania. Last update April-7-2010.

Dazs Water Plant Soil in an aquarium: Stealthy tank - A journey of discovery, 2-24-2006
ADA Aqua Soil analysis by Tobias Coring (still under checking!)
BarrReportAnalysisofSediments.pdf 442.1 KB ($)
Il fondo nella vasca dedicata alle piante di Fabrizio Lattuca - CEC data for ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia
Balancing Soil Nutrition, Joel Simmons, EarthWorks - confusion with phosphate, rock phosphate in soil
The Nature of Phosphorus in Soils; L. Busman, J. Lamb, G. Randall, G. Rehm, M. Schmitt; 2008
Phosphorus in soils, ©2007-2009 University of Hawai‘i - College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources
Rock Phosphate Availability as Influenced by Soil pH; Roscoe Ellis, Jr., M. A. Quader and Emil Truog
Controlled Release Fertilizers Using Zeolites (USGS)
Zeolite/rock phosphate—a novel slow release phosphorus fertiliser for potted plant production - 2002
Exchange Fetilizer (Phosphate Rock plus Ammonium-Zeolite) Effects on Sorghum-Sungrass; K.A. Barbarick, T.M. Lai, D.D. Eberl PDF 8.3Mb
Agronomic effectiveness of partially acidulated rock phosphate and fused calcium-magnesium phosphate compared with superphosphateж; M. D. A. Bolland, R. N. Glencross, R. J. Gilkes and Vijay Kumar
Factors determining rock phosphate solubilization by microorganisms isolated from soil; E. Nahas - PDF 450Kb
Preparation, forms and properties of controlled-release phosphate fertilizers; N. S. Bolan and others
How to use Aqua Soil at Aqua Journal On-line
Aqua Soil Amazonia II
Nature Aquarium Filtration
Aquarium Bed FAQ’s - PDF 4.9Mb
Fertilizer and Supplement FAQs (PDF 4.5Mb) - Deep sea water in ADA's fertilizers
List of six aquasoils avalable in Philippines - Japanese Substrate July 28, 2008
How does GEX substrate compare against ADA Aquasoil?
Distributor of aqiasoils from Singapore - Aqua Culture
Three photos of Marfied Contro Soil
Marfied CONTRO Soil III tested with ADA ECA and Aqua Masters FERRO Cell
TEST - Two aquasoils (A&F Soil is not) Project Soil and Project Soil Premium - 2-2009
Using Mr.Aqua Water Plants Activated Soil
Новый стимулятор развития корневой системы - Агросовет
Setup Bottom Celsio and Terra soil - ELOS Celsio
NatureSoil Tests by Oliver Knott
Heavy metals in all Valagro products - PDF 80Kb
Valagro Radifarm®
Valagro Radifarm® Label - PDF 58Kb
Arbuscular mycorrhiza in the aquatic plant Littorella uniflora (L.) Ascherson; K.B. Nielsen, F. Andersen, D.R. Thomsen. Institute of Biology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
The vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, African Journal of Biotechnology
Study the mycorrhizal status of the species of Commelinidae that occur in the State of Pernambuco
Arbuscular Mycorrhizae in association with aquatic and marshy plant species in Goa, India PDF 84Kb
Facilitation of phosphate assimilation by aquatic mycorrhizae of Vallisneria americana - Journal Hydrobiologia
Selection of efficient vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi for wetland rice - a preliminary screen; Journal Mycorrhiza (PDF)
Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizas in submerged aquatic plants of New Zealand
; Clayton, JS; Bagyaraj, DJ Aquatic Botany. Vol. 19, no. 3-4, pp. 251-262. 1984.
Effect of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi inoculation of rice seedlings at the nursery stage upon performance in the paddy field and greenhouse; M.Z. Solaiman1 and H. Hirata1
Phosphorus, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and performance of the wetland plant Lythrum salicaria L. under inundated conditions - Journal Mycorrhiza, K. Stevens, S. Spender, R. Peterson
Colonisation and molecular diversity of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the aquatic plants Littorella uniflora and Lobelia dortmanna in southern Sweden
Vesicular-arbuscular endomycorrhizal colonization of wetland plants Rickerl, DH; Sancho, FO; Ananth, S Journal of Environmental Quality [J. ENVIRON. QUAL.]. Vol. 23, no. 5, pp. 913-916. 1994.
The vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis by Orlando António Quilambo
Mycorrhizal Inoculant - MycoApply
MYCORRHIZAE & TURFGRASS, Dr. Mike Amaranthus, ROOTS®. Inc.
Mycorrhizae And Turfgrass - Mycorrhizal Applications Inc.
Types of Mycorrhizal Plants
Improved aeroponic culture of inocula of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi, Journal Mycorrhiza (PDF)
Mycorrhizal symbiosis

Mycorrhizal Management - A look beneath the surface at plant establishment and growth

Mycorrhiza Crash Course
International Culture Collection of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi (INVAM)
Rooter's Mycorrhizae
Sea-Crop™ mycorrhizal stimulant from deep sea Pacific Ocean water or
Sea-Crop™ - deep sea water minerals
MSDS Sea-Crop™ ingredients (PDF 51Kb)
C-Gro - deep sea water minerals
An ORMUS Garden by Barry Carter
M-state Walnuts by Barry Carter
Trace Elements in Nature’s Balance by Dr. Maynard Murray - dried seawater as micro fertilizer PDF 252Kb
Books: "Sea Energy Agriculture" by Maynard Murray and "Fertility From the Deep" by Charles Walters
GEX substrates in engilsh
Japanese aquasoils auction
Master Soil bag photo
Project Soil Premium bag photo
Project Soil Premium 5.2 orange bag photo
Project Soil Premium 7.2 blue bag photo
Nisso photo, front close up and drawings at the back
Ebi-Ten Soil photo bag + grains



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