Substrateless tank? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 10:46 PM Thread Starter
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Substrateless tank?

Anyone try a tank without a substrate? Sure, a little sand to cover the bottom, but only attached plants?

I can't reach the bottom of my tank and my fish dig anyway (they are pets and their needs come first--my kid didn't notice when the cat who had slept with her for all her two and a half years "vanished" but she asks when she can't spot a particular fish) so I am considering removing everything but the fish, adding a big chunk of wood, and trying to stick Java fern and other tough plants to it. With my OEM lighting, the plants ought to stay where I can reach them for pruning. I'm willing to splurge on new lights and even plug in a heater or add some fertilizers if that would help.

Can I get away with something this simple? Would it grow? Would it look OK or would it look like I stuck an algae-coated stick in my tank?

Tank specs currently:
  • tank: 48"x24"x30"h, ~140g. I can't reach within a foot of the bottom.
  • lighting: 80w OEM 48" fixture.
  • temp: 68-71F (unheated)
  • filtration: Eheim 2217, 2080
  • inhabitants: 5 goldfish, 1 common pleco
I've tried to find a better shaped tank and haven't been able to find anything that is enough of an improvement to justify the effort. Pots don't work because even if fishproofed, I can't reach them to tidy them. So, hoping a simple approach is doable.

Any advice? (If not on this plan, is there anything I can do with this tank and these animals?) Thanks!
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 10:49 PM
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yup it can be done. Ive seen tons and tons of planted discus tanks like this with little to no substrate because its easier for cleaning. my only worry is of course the goldfish munching on the plants. Some plants are a lot tougher but it still worries me.

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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 10:50 PM
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no way you can get much of any growth in there...goldies dont do well in higher temps either
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 10:54 PM
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its true because of the colder temps plants will grow slower but in my 65F tank I have brazilian pennywort, a bananna plant, sunset hygro, rotala indica, rotala rondifolia, taiwan moss, stargrass, ricca, m- umbrosium, and baby tears. This is just an example but yes i agree that the temperature will need to be warm-ish for most plants. Goldies dont like warm temps but I have heard and read that java ferns do very well in cold aquariums.

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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 11:50 PM Thread Starter
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thanks y'all.

Goldfish do really well around 75 (and some of the really deformed ones reputedly thrive even higher)--I unplugged the heater because the tank is next to the house's thermostat and it really did mess things up...but I'll go as high as 75. I'll use more energy in the tank but save even more by screwing with the furnace's thermostat and making us wear sweaters. More feeding and pooping at 75, but biofiltration is more effective.

Is 75F good enough?

I've had some long plants do alright in a pot, an onion plant and a...uh I forgot the name but after about 6 months they were dug up and I couldn't repot them so they were moved. I have some Java fern that isn't quite growing but isn't dying. I think if it gets closer to the light, it might get going again.

My fish haven't been too munchy on the plants I've given them so far, Skab, but I suspect they'd demolish your delicious-sounding 65F tank. They barely even nibble at the nasty mass of anacharis in the tank. There are enough plants out there that are too leathery for them to eat, but they can uproot anything so I'm back to the tiedown plan.

Should I invest in better lighting? I don't want to do CO2 because I'd probably mess it up and kill my fish, but this fixture is pretty bad.
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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 11:52 PM
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The tank in my sig is pretty much substrateless for ease of maintenance.

I am going to take the same approach to my 75. I was reading about a "modular" approach to plants from Tropica and a couple of other places where they suggest growing epiphytes on wood/rock. This makes them easy to remove for trimming and easy to move around for aquascaping. The "structure" in my tank pulls out in one piece for maintenance. Imagine a bunch of those of varying sizes in a big 4' tank and youc an clearly see the advantages of having such a setup. The only negative is that the transition between the flat sand and the plants themselves might be abrupt but ad a couple rocks and/or moss covered bits and I think you can get something fairly spectacular with real easy maintenance.

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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-25-2008, 11:58 PM
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I don't think there should be a problem with substrateless tanks.

- easier cleaning, espeically with goldfish and their large amounts of waste

Some disadvantages:
- less biofiltration, substrate usually contains a lot of the nitro-bacteria part of the nitrogen cycle, not too bad as more powerful filter(s) will counter this
- less aesthetic? substrate usually make tanks look more natural, but just personal preference

I am not sure if plant growth slows with cooler temperatures. But I know that plants are highly adaptable and actually do just as well in cooler temps. I have 1 goldfish in my 10g, it's substrateless, no heater needed.

Also, you just need to select plants that don't need to be planted, like java fern, moss, floating plants, etc.

I just dump my neverending supply of duckweed, cardamine, hygrophila polysperma in there for him/her to nibble on all day. I don't plant the hygro since it's meant to be eaten lol.

Finally, I think ikuzo had a great goldfish planted tank that has substrate. I think his key was to find hard to eat plants and surrounding all his rooted plants with rocks so the goldfish can't uproot them.
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-26-2008, 12:04 AM Thread Starter
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That's very cool, Charlie! I just need to scale it up a notch. And to think I though I just wanted A log, and if I was lucky maybe one with a Y...

But I don't really want to be dealing with a waterlogged chunk of wood taller than I am, do I?

Ug. I do so hate this tank! One little lapse in judgment and now I'm stuck with a piece o'junk that's 300lbs empty.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-26-2008, 12:23 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks Deks. I can't do the rock thing because I can't reach the bottom of the tank. I wouldn't go completely bare-bottomed (at least on the tank) because that looks wrong. I was thinking of sand or something for looks--currently I just have some slate tiles on the with a lot of aquatic potting soil grrrrrr.

I've never really found that my goldfish produce large amounts of waste--it's about the same in proportion to their body size as any other fish I've had. I think they have a reputation for being magical poop machines because they get compared to more petite tropical fish but I suspect ounce for ounce a goldfish isn't anything special unless they're being fed badly.

Anyhoo, I don't anticipate issues with cleaning or poop buildup as I won't be changing much in regards to that. It's easy if you scale the equipment to the fish.
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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 01-26-2008, 02:00 AM
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Did you ever think of planting plants like Anubia and Ferns in vases and then seting them in the tank., even on top of sand it may look cool. Different heights have different layers of interest and I think that it will be really neat. Moss may be able to be done, thats a hit or miss right there.
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