Just an update in case anyone is searching for dirt stories:
Honestly, my experience contrasts with everything I read, so take it as a "n" of 1. Pics are attached- it's a dual sided tank, so aquascaping was different than with most (i.e. no 'foreground', 'background'). And I’m still very much a newbie and only have this one planted tank.
See pics attached. The Indian Red sword is actually lovely and a nice focal point, although it doesn't quite show up in the pics. And the java moss needs a trim -as always
My setup: 20 gallon long with glass lid; Finnex stingray light (4h on, 4 h off, 4h on); Hydro III sponge filter (rated <40 gallons) run by Aquaclear powerhead 20 at low setting; MGOPM substrate ~ 1” , medium Black Diamond sand ~ ¾”, Aqueon Pro 100W heater. Livestock: fish lightly stocked, pond snails, Malaysian trumpet snails, red cherry shrimp, nerite snail.
OK, here goes:
Avoiding anaerobic soil + immediate flush of nutrient release. Most will tell you to densely plant fast-growing, low-light species that are rooted (a mix of stem and basal rosette plants) and can use the soil-based nutrients to start (> 80% of substrate when seen from top), and be sure to include a floating plant to uptake the initial nutrients. The usual recommendation for dirt cover is gravel ~ 1-2", or sand more like 1/2"-3/4" to ensure gas exchange can still happen (1" is probably just fine). To prevent anaerobic soil in the time that it takes for plant roots to establish, you can either poke the soil and let the gas exchange (CO2 bubbles will come up but beware any rotten egg smell as that indicates anaerobic) or use malaysian trumpet snails (MTS) or both.
Here a thread on started to ask whether I should add MTS:
I added MTS immediate to keep the dirt aerated. They aerate the substrate during the day and keep the glass clean at night. I also poked the substrate initially- and after a few weeks, it did start to release bubbles of CO2 when I poked. I never had a rotten egg smell, but I do suspect I might have had some aerobic soil issues.
Problem 1: 5 months in I still have noticeably yellow water + lots of small sticks and stuff from the dirt wind up on the substrate surface. I did remove as many sticks as I could before startup. Also, I mixed clay into the dirt initially for iron, and it comes up, too. It could be because of the MTS. Or something else, as many dirt tanks have MTS without this issue.
I do a 25% weekly water change (I did larger and more frequent initially) and the water in the bucket is really yellow. I squeeze out my sponge filter in the bucket every two weeks, and it turns the bucket water dark brown. This isn’t problematic for the fish & inverts, as I understand it- just tannins- and I could do something like purigen to clear it out, but why bother.
There was no flush of nutrients in my water column (until I started fishless cycling and added ammonia). At all. 0 ammonia/0 nitrite/0 nitrate with every test (which I verified by checking my other tank to make sure the test was working, and taking the 20g water into the store to see if they also got 0/0/0). My plan was to do frequent water changes initially to deal with the flush of nutrients. But they didn’t happen.,
Problem 2: Just about all the plants died. RIP: Java fern, Brazilian pennywort, multiple species of Hygrophila, Nymphaea stellata (red lily), Echinodorus tenellus (pygmy chain sword, it has a different name now I think), Monoselenium, tenerum, all the Anubias I tried (yes, I killed Anubias, they either yellowed away or died/are dying from algae), and then more. I don’t mean ‘died back’, as in melting, I mean died. Like $150 of plants from three different retail sources. No stem plants initially actually rooted- if I pulled them up it was just a black stem.
The bigger swords, jungle val, dwarf sag and java moss lived. Eventually I coaxed Ludwigia repens to survive by propagating from the one stem that did. Other plants only had leaves toward the very top due to the low light (water wisteria) and looked bad.
Suggestion: Try lots of different kinds of plants. If you get swords, get small swords that won’t take over your tank unless you are going for the ‘one plant takeover jungle’ look. Echinodorus parviflorus tropica, Echinodorus Indian Red Sword.
I also got low- or no-cost-just-shipping plants from this forum:
Problem 3: Learning how to fertilize. I had wanted to go ‘the dirt will be the fert’ method. Fail. Plants needed water column nutrients to establish roots initially, and then more fertilization to avoid holes, yellow edges, etc. This might be because I have an oversize sponge filter (shrimp love it, insurance if a fish dies and I don’t catch it immediately, etc.)? Dunno.
Problem 4: I used fishless cycling and it went easily and quickly. I tried using just fish food, gave up and went pure ammonia. Once the tank was established and cycle, I got mail order fish. I ordered them from a wonderful, reputable person who had bred them personally, and next-day aired them and they all died within a week. An expensive lesson. I bought the same species locally and haven’t lost one. My take home: Buy fish accustomed to my (hard) water and locally tank bred.
Problem 5: Surface plants take all the nutrients out of the water (that’s supposed to be good. But in my odd case it’s bad, as other plants needed them). Plus they block the light. I had to get rid of my Salvinia minima (water spangles) even though I liked the plant.
Problem 6: Algae. In my case, I think my worst offender is cladophora (here’s my post trying to get help on it: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/23...air-algae.html
). I also have to clean the glass weekly or it gets a whitish buildup (despite three different species of snails). Finally, I get another type of spots of green algae on the leaves of slow growing plants. I run a 4 on/ 4 off /4 on light cycle with low light plants, and have lots of nutrient—hogging plants (e.g. java moss) and low light with no sunlight at all getting to the thing. But there ya’ go. I still have no clue how to solve any of these. I keep up fertilization in very small amounts as it’s low tech (dry macros 1/8 tbsp nitrate and 1/32 tbsp phosphate weekly; for micros 2ml Flourish on a different day), my water flow is good…I dunno.
Thanks for reading!