5 gallon low tech aquarium plans - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-04-2019, 08:39 PM Thread Starter
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5 gallon low tech aquarium plans

Hi everyone! I am planning on setting up a 5 gallon low tech tank and wanted input on how it sounds. Here are the specs;

Tank: Standard 5 gallon tank, 16 by 8 by 10 inches
Light: 17 watt, 1600 lumen, 5000k LED daylight bulb, on from 8am-1pm and from 5pm-10pm.
Heater: None?
Filter: 80 GPH internal filter with a spray bar and activated carbon
Substrate: 1-1.5 inches of 50-50 clay cat litter and top soil
CO2: None per say, but I was going to dose up to .75 ml flourish excel daily (split between two doses at the start of each photoperiod) and was going to experiment (before any fish are added, of course) with a lot of decaying vegetation (sticks, leaves, etc...hence the activated carbon) to see if that will generate a useful amount of CO2.
Fertilizers: I could use any combination of water lily fertilizer tabs, seachem flourish, flourish iron, flourish potassium, and/or flourish phosphorous.
Plants: Ludwigia repens, Hygrophila difformis, Dwarf Sagittaria, Anubias nana
Fish: TBD (not going to add any before November at the earliest to make sure this tank is stable)

Any thoughts on how I can improve this setup? Thanks
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 01:16 AM
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I am not certain you will need to add any ferts to a tank with soil, at least not right away. You will need to do a LOT of water changes early on. Soil is an active substrate after all and must be treated just like any other commercially available active substrate.

Your filter is crazy over powered for this tank at 16 times an hour turn over. Shooting for 4-8 times turn over is considered pretty standard and most fish are you would put in a 5 gallon are going to need to be at the 4 times an hour range.

You should expect your water to have a LOT of tanins in it. I would switch to purigen over carbon if you do not like the tanin look. Carbon will grab a lot of the nutrients out of the water that your plants would be using. I have not heard the same for purigen but it might do that as well for all I know. /shrug

Also to be clear, you are going to put the soil down first and then cap it with the kitty litter correct? You can't just mix them together and then fill the tank, the soil needs to be capped with the kitty litter so its not directly into the water column.
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 01:25 AM
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Are you talking about mixing cat litter and soil together or doing layers?
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 11:38 AM Thread Starter
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I was going to mix the soil and cat litter...is that an issue? It was going to be top soil, which is relatively heavy
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 11:57 AM
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CO2 outgassing

I would tone down the water circulation. It will outgas CO2. I use gentle bubbling (30-60 big bubbles/minute) from a glass tube and air-line tubing hooked up to a cheap air pump.

Unless you have used kitty litter successfully beforehand, I would use a THIN (0.5") layer of sand layer over the soil. Sand won't react with soil. (I'm suspicious that kitty litter clay will release aluminum into the substrate and inhibit plant roots.) Then, if you use this clay (not calcined--heated to high temp-- like turface or STS) as a soil cover, it will break down into a gummy mass and smother the soil layer, thereby inhibiting plant roots. Sand is readily available ('play sand', 'pool sand' from Home Depot). Sand is really nice to work with for small tanks with a soil underlayer.

If you use soil, please don't add fertilizers. You don't need them in a new tank and they will definitely cause all kinds of problems: H2S killing plant roots, nitrites in the water, etc.

Your choice of plants for a 5 gal tank is "spot-on"!

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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 07:03 PM Thread Starter
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Will water circulation drive out CO2 even if the pump does not disturb the water surface?

Anyhow, I was thinking of using turface and fertilizers instead of a dirt portion, for simplicity of keeping the tank clean as needed. How does that sound?
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 08:18 PM
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You might not even need a filter - in a smaller tank with a low bioload it's easier to do without.

I would consider adding a floating plant. I have duckweed in my no-tech bowl and have grown quite fond of it because it looks nice, soaks up nutrients, and reduces light levels. I have practically no algae and leave my lights on 12 hrs a day.

I recommend some kind of aquasoil for a simple substrate. Tropica, Amazonia, doesn't really matter which. You get a lot of the benefits of soil without the mess. And it isn't too expensive in a 5 gallon.

Tanks relying on soil or aquasoi tend to be low in potassium. I would fertilize with at least that, maybe micros too.

Everything flows.
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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 09:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grah the great View Post
Will water circulation drive out CO2 even if the pump does not disturb the water surface?

Anyhow, I was thinking of using turface and fertilizers instead of a dirt portion, for simplicity of keeping the tank clean as needed. How does that sound?
Not disturbing the water surface lesens outgassing. If you have a small internal, submerged pump to circulate water at 5 gph, that would be ideal. However, these are very hard to find and expensive, so your options are limited. That's why I use the gentle bubbling--or nothing. 80 gph will blow your plants and CO2 away!

Fertilizers are not a substitute for soil. Amazonia brand soil covered with turface would work, but a much cheaper ordinary potting soil would probably work just as well. Both contain organic matter, the decomposition of which will add CO2 naturally and greatly stimulate the plant growth. Important to have fast-growing plants and decent lighting. The soil layer and the turface layers have to be thin enough not to go anaerobic. In a 5 gal tank, you can only have small plants, so I would not not make the soil layer more than 1/2 inch thick and the turface layer no more than 1/2 inch thick. [In a large tank with big rooted plants (Swordplants, Vallinerisa, etc), you can use more soil and turface, but not a 5 gal.) Rooted plants have to be growing well enough to keep their roots safely oxygenated. I would forget about all fertilizers until you see that your plants show nutrient deficiencies. Aquatic plants are slow-growers and don't require that many nutrients. You only need fertilizers if you are doing CO2 injection, and since this is a Low-tech forum, I assume that you are not planning to. The soil and fish food input will take care of plant nutrients.

Photos show a 5 gal tank I set up for breeding Bettas using a thin sand covering over potting soil. Second photo shows tank 5 weeks later with fantastic plant growth. It looks like I shifted the soil around a bit. Bettas spawned and I raised up about 25 babies in the tank.

I have learned to enjoy the "mess" of working with soil.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 10:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Diana Walstad View Post
Not disturbing the water surface lesens outgassing. If you have a small internal, submerged pump to circulate water at 5 gph, that would be ideal. However, these are very hard to find and expensive, so your options are limited. That's why I use the gentle bubbling--or nothing. 80 gph will blow your plants and CO2 away!

Fertilizers are not a substitute for soil. Amazonia brand soil covered with turface would work, but a much cheaper ordinary potting soil would probably work just as well. Both contain organic matter, the decomposition of which will add CO2 naturally and greatly stimulate the plant growth. Important to have fast-growing plants and decent lighting. The soil layer and the turface layers have to be thin enough not to go anaerobic. In a 5 gal tank, you can only have small plants, so I would not not make the soil layer more than 1/2 inch thick and the turface layer no more than 1/2 inch thick. [In a large tank with big rooted plants (Swordplants, Vallinerisa, etc), you can use more soil and turface, but not a 5 gal.) Rooted plants have to be growing well enough to keep their roots safely oxygenated. I would forget about all fertilizers until you see that your plants show nutrient deficiencies. Aquatic plants are slow-growers and don't require that many nutrients. You only need fertilizers if you are doing CO2 injection, and since this is a Low-tech forum, I assume that you are not planning to. The soil and fish food input will take care of plant nutrients.

Photos show a 5 gal tank I set up for breeding Bettas using a thin sand covering over potting soil. Second photo shows tank 5 weeks later with fantastic plant growth. It looks like I shifted the soil around a bit. Bettas spawned and I raised up about 25 babies in the tank.

I have learned to enjoy the "mess" of working with soil.
OP please excuse me for a second while I fanboy out for like a minute or two.

Diana!!!

Welcome to the forum!!! I'm so excited to just to be able to say "Hi" to you and thank you for all your work, writing, and the fact that you still share with the hobby.



Welcome to the forum

Your work and knowledge passed accross forums is where and how I first learned the concept of balancing a tank. Again, I'm truly ecstatic to have you here with us.



Welcome.
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-05-2019, 11:13 PM
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You have made my day!!
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-06-2019, 12:16 AM
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All hail to our high priestess....

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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 09:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Diana Walstad View Post
Not disturbing the water surface lesens outgassing. If you have a small internal, submerged pump to circulate water at 5 gph, that would be ideal. However, these are very hard to find and expensive, so your options are limited. That's why I use the gentle bubbling--or nothing. 80 gph will blow your plants and CO2 away!

Fertilizers are not a substitute for soil. Amazonia brand soil covered with turface would work, but a much cheaper ordinary potting soil would probably work just as well. Both contain organic matter, the decomposition of which will add CO2 naturally and greatly stimulate the plant growth. Important to have fast-growing plants and decent lighting. The soil layer and the turface layers have to be thin enough not to go anaerobic. In a 5 gal tank, you can only have small plants, so I would not not make the soil layer more than 1/2 inch thick and the turface layer no more than 1/2 inch thick. [In a large tank with big rooted plants (Swordplants, Vallinerisa, etc), you can use more soil and turface, but not a 5 gal.) Rooted plants have to be growing well enough to keep their roots safely oxygenated. I would forget about all fertilizers until you see that your plants show nutrient deficiencies. Aquatic plants are slow-growers and don't require that many nutrients. You only need fertilizers if you are doing CO2 injection, and since this is a Low-tech forum, I assume that you are not planning to. The soil and fish food input will take care of plant nutrients.

Photos show a 5 gal tank I set up for breeding Bettas using a thin sand covering over potting soil. Second photo shows tank 5 weeks later with fantastic plant growth. It looks like I shifted the soil around a bit. Bettas spawned and I raised up about 25 babies in the tank.

I have learned to enjoy the "mess" of working with soil.
Disclaimer: I am yet to read your book, but I will.
Question: How do you prevent the potting soil layer and the thin sand covering from mixing up?
Naturally the sand having smaller grains will fall though to the bottom, yes?
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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 11:46 AM Thread Starter
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Good question! In my experience...they don't stay perfectly separated. They tend to slowly mix together as you do tank maintenance and moving plants around...if I understand correctly the sand is primarily intended to keep the soil from floating to the surface and making a mess until it is bound together by bacteria.
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-12-2019, 12:32 PM Thread Starter
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Hi everyone! I set up the tank yesterday I will post a picture later today, but for now I will tell you guys a little about it. The tank had 6 cups top soil and 4 cups pool filter sand put into it...the resulting layer was supposed to be just over an inch thick, but it's significantly less than that now, likely (A) because the sand partially mixed with the soil, and (B) and soil compacted a bit when it became wet. I planted most of the plants before adding water to the tank...the plants include Cryptocoryne wendtii, Hygrophila difformis, Ceratophyllum demersum, Golden creeping jenny, and an unlabeled pink plant that is likely Alternanthera reineckii. I had no issues with anything floating, not even the orchid bark (the topsoil I used seems to be quite heavy...even when it was exposed while filling the tank, virtually none of it floated).

As or water parameters...PH is only 6 and KH is no higher than 1, even though I added a half teaspoon of baking soda and 5/4ths tsp marine salt to this five gallon. I believe something in my tap water reacts with baking soda; even when I add 3/4ths tsp baking soda to 5 gallons of water here, the KH only rises to 5 degrees. I tried my planned CO2 method yesterday and it did not seem to affect the tank...I put several inches of sand over the baking soda and citric acid and when I emptied the container today there was a foam at the bottom of the container today, so I believe the CO2 generated was unable to rise through that much sand. I will try a few other configurations today, and if this keeps happening I will be back to the drawing board with generating CO2.

I did think of a possible second option for generating CO2 in this tank; calcium carbonate also reacts with citric acid to form CO2, so if my first idea continues to be ineffective I am thinking of adding a small bag of oyster shell or similar to the filter and directly channeling citric acid through the filter.

EDIT: Just discovered a problem...my ratio of reactants was wrong! The ideal ratio is about 1 part by volume each baking soda to citric acid; 1/4th tsp each is sufficient to produce 1.435 grams of CO2, or almost 76 mg/l for my 5 gallon.

EDIT no. 2: I reduced the thickness of sand in the reactor, and it's producing CO2 now! The co2 test I got (which I calibrated to react at about 10 ppm CO2) has turned from deep blue to a more greenish blue color, suggesting that the CO2 level is higher than the equilibrium CO2 level of aquariums but not quite at 10 ppm yet (my second CO2 test, calibrated to the normal 30 ppm, has not changed). Some of the CO2 is bubbling out of the reactor, so I think I am going to add some polyfil to the top of the container to slow down its escape and give it more time to dissolve.

Last edited by Grah the great; 09-12-2019 at 03:17 PM. Reason: Discovered something...
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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-15-2019, 12:53 PM Thread Starter
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Hi everyone! Just another update. I was feeling very frustrated Friday and directly dosed 1/4th tsp each baking soda and citric acid to the tank...did not go well. It produced CO2 all right, but the citric acid that wasn't immediately consumed caused a severe bacterial bloom that ruined the tank's aesthetics. Suffice to say I will be doing lots of WC's over the next few days...

Anyhow, my mom gave me permission for a small CO2 system, so my plan is to have an 8 ounce bottle outside the tank almost entirely filled with water. I would add 1/4th tsp each baking soda and citric acid, and at the end of the tubing leading to the tank would be a bamboo chopstick right below the pump intake. How does this sound?
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