Dirt 20 gallon long, my first planted tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 02:16 AM Thread Starter
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Dirt 20 gallon long, my first planted tank

Goal: Easy, low maintenance, not frequent trimming needed. Jungle-ish with open space in the middle. Low tech, no ferts, no CO2.

This first post will be specifics and pictures from Day 11 of the tank (dwarf lily will fill in soon!); next post will be my questions. Ideas, comments, experience welcomed.

Challenge: Viewable from both sides, so can’t have typical ‘foreground/background’, and the filter needs to be internal and silent (yes, I’m confident the stand is safe).

Equip:20 gallon long with glass lid; Finnex stingray light (4h on, 4 h off, 3h on); Hydro III sponge filter (rated <40 gallons) run by Aquaclear powerhead 20 at low setting (hoping to have betta eventually); Aqueon Pro 100W heater

Substrate: MGOPM soil w sticks/clumps removed ~ 1" (I aimed for 1" depth; it is more/less in some places as _everything_ went wrong with the soil/cap/tank filling process), Black Diamond medium grade 20/40 sand aimed for 1/2" depth (again, that was my goal, but it's definitely more/less in some places)

Water: Hard, High pH 8+

Livestock: Added nine Malaysian trumpet snails on day 2. *No other fish or inverts yet*; I am waiting until cycled and stable.

Eventually want: school of cories (?6 sterbai), school of small, colorful, peaceful fish (?10 chili Rasbora), single male betta (with backup plan if he gets aggressive towards others), and maybe a mystery snail.

Plants: All newly purchased. My plan is “try a variety of different stuff and see what lives, most probably won’t." I realize, for example, the Starogyne repens is a long shot. Nothing is looking good, at this point.

So far these are hanging on:
Ludwigia repens; Nymphaes stellata (red lily); Jungle val; Echinodorus tenellus (small chain sword) x 3; Monoselenium tenerum (occ called pellia); Lysimachia nummularia aka Golden lloydiella (Gold Creeping Jenny); Staurogyne repens

Thanks for reading!

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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 02:28 AM Thread Starter
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Waiting. Patience. Giving it a month to see what lives, then hoping to trim/replant the stems to build them up, and adding more plants J Deciding what plant to fill in the red areas in the picture, thinking a couple of small swords (?E parviflous? Want large-ish rosette type of plant, but don’t want it higher than, say, 8” at maturity).

Questions:

* Where are the nutrients??!!? So this is a dirt tank. And plenty of dirt came above the sand in process of me screwing up everything about filling it. And the plants are doing lots of decaying, so there is that organic matter. But testing (day 2, 6, 8 and 11) has been 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, 0 nitrates (API liquid kit). Zilch. Nada. Should I add some more poop producing creatures?

My plan was to start with more frequent water changes to avoid algae while the plants took hold (I don't have a lot of fast growers), tapering off to about 50% wc once a month after a couple of months when nutrients stabilized and the tank was cycled. But… 0/0/0 at 5d since the last 25% wc. I’ve stopped water changes. Plan to start water changes again if ammonia >= 1ppm.

* Jungle val containment? How do I keep jungle val contained to a ‘wall’ around the equipment? When I see a new one coming up in the wrong place, how do I cut it away and get it without knowing where its runner is coming from…?

Last edited by TankPlanter; 07-21-2015 at 12:55 PM. Reason: typeo
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 05:59 PM
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Looking good, I have 3 almost and identical setups of water params/soil/20L etc going. They're nice tanks, good size, easy maintenance.

You do have to start the cycle with something, even if it's just fish food to avoid subjecting a fish to the cycling stress. Some use straight ammonia, but no personal experience with that. Snails won't likely be enough.

Only thing I'll warn you off is the apple/mystery snail. They really need about 3 months a year hibernation in mud at cool temps to survive, so lots (myself included) don't see them last beyond a year. I've also had bettas bite off their antennae...which seems harsh.
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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 09:27 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info! Definitely no mystery snail.

How much fish food do I add to cycle?

I really thought that poking the dirt and the natural ammonia the Mgopm released would involve lots of ammonia and spikes - got nothin'.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 09:38 PM
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Nice aquascape!
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-21-2015, 11:06 PM
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Not sure, to be honest. I cycled my first tank with a betta before I knew any different, then I've just used media from established tanks or run filters ahead of time since then.

Diana Walstad talks of a pinch for the fish and a pinch for the plants when it comes to feeding, so I'd suspect a good amount. Not so much that things rot, is all.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-22-2015, 12:47 AM
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Looking good. Give you tank some time. Like a month. Yes Diana Walstad throw food in the tank according to it's size, not necessarily the number of fishe. Make the crumbs small to avoid mold and speed decomposition.

Does the substrate release any bubbles when poked? It should definitely release H2S.

I think my next tank will be a 20g long.


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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-22-2015, 07:11 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the info-

Nope, no bubbles released. I poke it every couple of days with a bamboo skewer. I do have trumpet snails, maybe that's why?

I am seeing a bit of plant growth.

I did saturate the soil with water before capping it with sand. Maybe that's part of the problem?

I'm adding in small amounts of crushed fish flakes. Will see what happens.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-26-2015, 08:21 PM Thread Starter
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Update: 2 1/2 weeks in, have been adding fish food to start the cycle, and levels are still 0/0/0.

In the last week I only did one 10% water change, which was mostly to try to swish and clean the substrate. It's got lots of small chunks of dirt and mulm...

So much for MGOPM releasing nutrients and leading to algal blooms !!

Poking the substrate (after four days of not doing anything with tank) released some dirt as always, and did yield a few bubbles. So I'll go back to poking more regularly.

Plants still look unhappy, except for the jungle val which is beginning its march toward taking over the tank. Pennywort dying off with whitening leaves.

I'll add more fish food. So far I'm not at all sure that this tank is going to be up, running, and habitable by fish in a month or so. Here's hoping...

Q's
* Just keep feeding fish food? The whole idea of a dirt tank was that I wouldn't need to fertilize. So I'm thinking don't fertilize, because the idea is to see what plants live and can be happy with what I've got (soil, light, and CO2-wise) and buy more of those.

* Lots of condensation on the glass lid (which I need, for snails and eventually jumping fish). Just wipe it daily? Or is the water on the lid just fine, light-penetration wise?
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-26-2015, 09:06 PM Thread Starter
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Latest addition: little white worms swimming and on glass. Is this bad?
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-26-2015, 09:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TankPlanter View Post
Latest addition: little white worms swimming and on glass. Is this bad?
Without a picture, it's a shoot in the dark. Regularely seen is rhabdocoela and very normal. Could be nematodes, there are too, many different kinds, good and not so good. If it has triangular head and you can see eyes, what would be planaria and not good.

So odd, I answered you previous post and it's not there. I am sure I clicked submit.


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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 07-26-2015, 09:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TankPlanter View Post
Update: 2 1/2 weeks in, have been adding fish food to start the cycle, and levels are still 0/0/0.

In the last week I only did one 10% water change, which was mostly to try to swish and clean the substrate. It's got lots of small chunks of dirt and mulm...

So much for MGOPM releasing nutrients and leading to algal blooms !!

Poking the substrate (after four days of not doing anything with tank) released some dirt as always, and did yield a few bubbles. So I'll go back to poking more regularly.

Plants still look unhappy, except for the jungle val which is beginning its march toward taking over the tank. Pennywort dying off with whitening leaves.

I'll add more fish food. So far I'm not at all sure that this tank is going to be up, running, and habitable by fish in a month or so. Here's hoping...

Q's
* Just keep feeding fish food? The whole idea of a dirt tank was that I wouldn't need to fertilize. So I'm thinking don't fertilize, because the idea is to see what plants live and can be happy with what I've got (soil, light, and CO2-wise) and buy more of those.

* Lots of condensation on the glass lid (which I need, for snails and eventually jumping fish). Just wipe it daily? Or is the water on the lid just fine, light-penetration wise?
The idea of the food is to take over the nutrients in the dirt as they get depleted. But of course this is like months down the road.

I would not worry too much about the condensation unless it dries out and creates a film that blocks the light.

Walstad mention she adds fishes almost immediately after setting up the tank. In theory, it would be possible not seeing any NH4 or NO2 as the NH4 would be readily consumed by the plants. Many plants favor NH4 and some will switch between NO3 and NH4 during the night. There are references on this aspect in her book.

The idea behind using soil is that nutrients are in the soil available to the plants as opposed to be directly in the water where the algea could use them. No nutrient in the water column, no algea. Yet the plants get ther nutrient from the soild. Now with floating plants, different approach. But normally, plants will out compete algea.


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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-03-2015, 01:49 AM Thread Starter
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Update ~ 3 weeks:
Many of the plants seemed to just rot away. For example, the leaves of the pennywort whitened, and when I went to pull the plant out, the stem kind of dissolved in my hand. Even the floating pennywort died.

I did not expect this from a dirted tank with hardy, low light plants...live and learn.

The new growth (not the initial leaves) would or brown blacken from the tips and melt away. When I pulled plants up that looked worst, e.g. the Ludwigia repens, there was no sign of roots.

*Died beyond resurrection-> Monoselenium tenerum (occ called pellia); Ludwigia repens, Hydrocotyle leucocephala (pennywort)

*Many died, some hanging on-> Echinodorus tenellus (small chain sword), Lysimachia nummularia aka Golden lloydiella (Gold Creeping Jenny), Nymphaes stellata (red lily)

*Doing OK-> Staurogyne repens

*Doing well-> Jungle val

New plants I just added (which will be my last add'l plants)-> Echinodorus parviflorus tropica, another E. tenellus which I tried planting in a different way, Echinodorus Indian Red Sword, and Hygrophila corymbosa stricta, compact

If all of those go kaput, I'll buy some java moss and enjoy a jungle val and java moss tank, get the plants established enough to add some fish, and call it good Actually, I've grown to really like jungle val, and it's hard to keep it in check, anyway.

I started adding a bit of Seachem Flourish, in case the problem is that they need nutrients before they are rooted in order to get established.

Nitrogen (ammonia/nitrate/nitrate) values stayed 0, so I started adding pure ammonia in order to (a) cycle the tank for future fish, if the *&)Q&#!! plants ever get established, (b) give the plants some N in the water column while they try to root.

The tank was able to quickly process ammonia to nitrite, and after a few days that to nitrate. I am poking the soil daily, which still releases non-smelling bubbles (likely CO2 vs going anaerobic).

Did a big water change when planting my new plants, squeezed out the filter in old tank water, tried to get out some of the organics vacuumed off of the substrate surface, scrubbed the driftwood from the white fungus-stuff. The ammonia added went to nitrates quickly. Think I'm just about cycled.

I'm including a picture just after planting, two days ago. As of today, the tips of several sword leaves are already turning black. I'm not optimistic any of the swords will make it. The hygro have lost most of the big leaves, but that's expected, so we'll see if they make it.

The eventual goal was to get the chain swords to put out lots of runners and eventually form a carpet that I can trim, so that the middle and fore-ground will be more open space.

You can see in the second picture a wave of little white detritus worms that were released toward the upper middle right. Hoping the my cleaning job might bring down the population. I've learned my lesson and won't add any more fish food until needed for fish; I'll just use ammonia and Flourish if water column nutrients needed.

Thanks for reading all of this! It's been such a learning process. In retrospect, perhaps I should've just started with jungle val and java moss, and had an easy beginner tank for my first one.
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 09-07-2015, 07:16 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks again to those who responded with ideas and comments.

Update- please see thread here for updated pics. Things are finally staying alive! Now I get to do the fun part of figuring out the aquascape for the long term so the plants won't need to be moved around as they grow in:

https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/sh...09#post8293409

Last edited by TankPlanter; 09-07-2015 at 07:16 PM. Reason: type-o
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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 01-12-2016, 01:22 AM Thread Starter
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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 ~ ”, 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:
https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/10...pet-snail.html

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.

But-
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.
…and…
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:
https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/156-wtb-raok/

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!
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