Sparsely planted Walstad tank feasibility - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-02-2019, 12:23 AM Thread Starter
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Sparsely planted Walstad tank feasibility

Hey all.
I am looking to set up a 20 gallon Neolamprologus Multifasciatus (small shell dwelling cichlid) tank, and I was wondering if a walstad method tank would be possible with less plants than the typical jungle you see. I have heard from somewhere (maybe an old thread?) that Walstad tanks are primarily jungles because of the owner's preference, but how true is that?

The plan is to have a small breeding colony of multies in a shell bed in one area of the tank, with a region of vallesinarius, java fern, java moss, and maybe hairgrass and some others off to one side or in the margins of the tank. Some shrimp, snails, and maybe Thai Microcrabs (if water conditions are compatible) will also be added. Most of the walstad tanks I have seen have been much more heavily stocked than I plan on stocking, in addition to being more heavily planted.

So, how much in the way of plants would I need for this colony of small cichlids in order to be filterless and preferably do few-no water changes?
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-02-2019, 04:48 PM
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Multies, like other African cichlids, need hard water and high ph, which seems a stretch for a Walstad tank as I believe (I'm not an expert) the soil in the tank likely lowers ph some. For my multies I use crushed coral substrate and plants like Anubias that get attached to hardscape and don't need a dirted tank.

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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-02-2019, 05:17 PM
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Isnt the point of the Walstad method that a densely planted aquarium eliminates the need for a filter?
If your tank is sparsely planted it seems to me that the set-up is something other than a Walstad aquarium and would require supplemental bio-filtration.

Knowing what I know of cichlids, I would think that they( especially bottom dwelling cichlids like those you are considering) would not be a good choice for this method due to digging. Even though Neolamprologus Multifasciatus are quite small, they will move alot of sand with their constant sifting of the sand substrate ( which they require). It is -- from what I have heard--- important that the substrate not be disturbed in a Walstad set-up.


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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-03-2019, 12:05 AM Thread Starter
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That was what I was wondering about. Most of the Walstad tanks I have seen have been both more heavily planted and more heavily stocked. My thinking was that if the bio-load is lower, then the amount of biological filtration needed would be lower, and therefore I wouldn't need as many plants.

On the "aquascaping fish" note, I have a few ideas to increase plant survival, be it by plant choice or creative aquascaping.

The tank would have about 30-40% of the floor area planted, with a fair amount of time only stocked with the clean up crew to give the plants time to get established.

I guess my main question was just how many plants are needed if you aren't stocking very heavily.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-03-2019, 07:31 AM
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Those fish to me would be better in a inert substrate tank of appropriate size sand with rock and wood mounted plants like fern, anubias and moss, lower light levels they prefer provided by a healthy colony of floating plants which would give you your high waste uptake/high metabolism/water cleaning plants.

Most of those plants are completely tolerant to higher GH/PH that those fish prefer. The acidifying nature of soil substrate is opposite of ecosystem you need for them. Soil layer even if you make it small would be uncontrollable for many months where as just adding small bag of peat/leaves and crushed coral and running it in filter will you complete control over hardness, PH and humic/fulvic content of water. Youd be able to zero in on optimal environment for both fish and plants very easily.

Even with plain sand substrate you would still be able to manage some crypt or maybe shoreweed (Littorella uniflora) colony around tank.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-03-2019, 11:55 AM
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When you say "Walstad tank", what do you mean exactly? Diana Walstad advocated using dirt capped by an inert substrate such as fine gravel or course sand. She does not necessarily advocate eliminating all filtration though some of her smaller tanks do have no filtration. She also advocates extremely light stocking level.

The term Walstad tank has come to typically mean a no filter tank first and foremost with a capped dirt substrate as a secondary consideration.

If you really want a no filter tank its pretty easily done, and easier done with a capped aquasoil substrate then a dirt one. Since you only want plants on the edges then only put your aquasoil around the edges. Leave the rest as sand. Better yet put some rocks up as dividers to try and contain the aquasoil as much as possible. Getting your water parameters right for the fish is your biggest issue so things like reactive rocks like seiryu stone will be helpful as would crushed coral as already mentioned. Since you want as few plants as possible you will want to plant mostly fast growing stems. Rotala, pearl weed, guppy grass, hornwort, etc. Any and all would be helpful. If you decide to plant hairgrass do it in clumps to give it the best chance of not being dug up and don't count it as one of your plants doing the filtering.

I would not recommend dirt for this approach just because your fish are likely to dig up at least some of your plants and when they do you don't want the mess. Still possible to do it as a no filter with a light enough bioload.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-05-2019, 02:41 AM
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I've seen online hybrid shell dweller setups like @minorhero describes: an open area of pure sand substrate with plenty of shells, with a terraced planting area edged with rocks. You could try doing a soil substrate in the terraced area, and cap it with a heavy gravel and maybe lots of rocks around the plants to discourage digging. And/or use plants like java fern, buces, or anubias attached to rocks for your plants

Sounds like a fascinating project. Living in a hard water area, shellies are on my try-them-someday list. Keep us posted on what you end up doing--and how it works out for you.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-07-2019, 01:12 AM
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The 'walsted method' tanks tend to use dirt and a lot of plants.
Soil will leech tannins (lower pH) and also ammonia-so you need enough plants to absorb that ammoina otherwise you're going to have an algae tank.
I don't personally keep shell dwellers but non substrate based plants like rhizome plants (anubias, buce, ferns), mosses, and floaters/floating stems seem best-non of which really need a soil based tank.
I'd suggest just getting some root tabs to put under planted areas (its not the above mentioned plants), and go with the earlier post's advise about larger gravel and rocks to discourage the fish re-scaping for you.

Due to photobuckets new bs cost for use of images on forums I have deleted all photobucket accounts. I apologize if you enjoyed or found my photos helpful.
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