A few set-up questions! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-24-2020, 09:11 PM Thread Starter
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A few set-up questions!

With everything as it has been these past few months, I've had more time to start going on local nature walks and in the process become fascinated with our native fish species. I'm in the planning stages of a native biotope tank, and the thought of constructing it as a paludarium is very tempting, to reflect the shallow shoreline habitat of the species I've seen in the wild. The intended design is primarily about the habitat for the fish and aquatic inverts, the emersed area will just be for marginal and bog plants. I plan to set it up in a 29g I have lying around, with the idea that if all goes well, I'll upgrade to a 30 or 40 breeder to have much nicer dimensions for a shallow pond shoreline!

There's a few things I've had a hard time uncovering in my research though, so I was hoping I could get some clarification and advice from others who have set up these types of tank before!


Firstly, I'm not a fan of the setup where the land is suspended over the water, which wouldn't be representative of the shoreline anyway. I'd also really prefer not to have to silicone in any barriers. I've seen a few tanks which I like, which seem to use rocks or driftwood to build up a sort of wall to retain the slope, and I think this would suit well. My questions here are - if I use crushed lava rock or some of those fired clay balls like in hydroponics to be a "drainage" layer and keep the soil substrate above the water table, do I need to worry about that area going stagnant or trapping lots of mulm? I've seen some setups line the rocky wall area with filter floss to keep the soil trapped, and I'm not sure if again that would lead to issues of trapped decaying matter? (Or even shrimp getting stuck back there!)


My second question is about filtration. I am hoping to keep and breed ghost shrimp in the setup, as well as various freshwater copepods. Is there any kind of filter that would be alright with the free floating larval stage of the ghost shrimp, other than a sponge filter? Alternatively I am considering a small canister filter with an intake guard, but I am not sure if that would be enough to protect the shrimp larvae.

I'm even wondering if I could get away with no filter, as the species I'm interested in keeping come from very slow moving or even stagnant water. Of course this would require more water changes and lower stocking, but I wonder if a Walstad-esque setup would work there. I plan to use hornwort primarily, as that is the species found where these fish live, and I'm not sure if that would be sufficiently planted to allow me to go filterless. My preference is to have water circulation, I'm just not sure if it's feasible with the inverts I want to keep.



Thanks very much in advance!
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 11:37 AM
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With everything as it has been these past few months, I've had more time to start going on local nature walks and in the process become fascinated with our native fish species. I'm in the planning stages of a native biotope tank, and the thought of constructing it as a paludarium is very tempting, to reflect the shallow shoreline habitat of the species I've seen in the wild. The intended design is primarily about the habitat for the fish and aquatic inverts, the emersed area will just be for marginal and bog plants. I plan to set it up in a 29g I have lying around, with the idea that if all goes well, I'll upgrade to a 30 or 40 breeder to have much nicer dimensions for a shallow pond shoreline!

There's a few things I've had a hard time uncovering in my research though, so I was hoping I could get some clarification and advice from others who have set up these types of tank before!


Firstly, I'm not a fan of the setup where the land is suspended over the water, which wouldn't be representative of the shoreline anyway. I'd also really prefer not to have to silicone in any barriers. I've seen a few tanks which I like, which seem to use rocks or driftwood to build up a sort of wall to retain the slope, and I think this would suit well. My questions here are - if I use crushed lava rock or some of those fired clay balls like in hydroponics to be a "drainage" layer and keep the soil substrate above the water table, do I need to worry about that area going stagnant or trapping lots of mulm? I've seen some setups line the rocky wall area with filter floss to keep the soil trapped, and I'm not sure if again that would lead to issues of trapped decaying matter? (Or even shrimp getting stuck back there!)


My second question is about filtration. I am hoping to keep and breed ghost shrimp in the setup, as well as various freshwater copepods. Is there any kind of filter that would be alright with the free floating larval stage of the ghost shrimp, other than a sponge filter? Alternatively I am considering a small canister filter with an intake guard, but I am not sure if that would be enough to protect the shrimp larvae.

I'm even wondering if I could get away with no filter, as the species I'm interested in keeping come from very slow moving or even stagnant water. Of course this would require more water changes and lower stocking, but I wonder if a Walstad-esque setup would work there. I plan to use hornwort primarily, as that is the species found where these fish live, and I'm not sure if that would be sufficiently planted to allow me to go filterless. My preference is to have water circulation, I'm just not sure if it's feasible with the inverts I want to keep.



Thanks very much in advance!
I have a tank with a shallow style right now. Its definitely a fun look and likewise, I was inspired by my local fish population when hiking. Also while out on those hikes I picked up rocks over the course of months so I had a good supply to work from. I used those rocks to build up a retaining wall and dumped aquasoil and sand behind the wall to create my raised section. In my tank the substrate is all fully submerged and only some wood pokes up above the water.

You mention 'soil' in your tank but I am not sure what you mean by that. Under no circumstances would I use actual dirt in quantity in your raised 'land' section. If you decide to go a walstad tank I would only use a very thin layer of dirt, about 1/4" depth at most. I've done 3-4 dirt tanks now (depending on how you count redos) and all the big problems I've run into come from putting in too much dirt.

That said I would urge you not to do a walstad tank. If you are planning on using hornwort for your only submerged plant a walstad is not ideal. Hornwort does not root in the substrate. You can poke it into the substrate or pin it under rocks but it will not form roots. Thus it will not access the nutrients in the dirt except what gets out into the water column. At that point you might as well go with a regular low tech tank.

Lots of folks use filter guards and raise ghost shrimp. You just need one dense enough to keep your ghost shrimp babies from being sucked up. This is pretty easily found or modified.

Anyway instead of dirt I suggest you use aquasoil capped by sand. This won't foul your water like dirt and plants both submerged and emersed will grow fine in it.
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 03:10 PM Thread Starter
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I have a tank with a shallow style right now. Its definitely a fun look and likewise, I was inspired by my local fish population when hiking. Also while out on those hikes I picked up rocks over the course of months so I had a good supply to work from. I used those rocks to build up a retaining wall and dumped aquasoil and sand behind the wall to create my raised section. In my tank the substrate is all fully submerged and only some wood pokes up above the water.

You mention 'soil' in your tank but I am not sure what you mean by that. Under no circumstances would I use actual dirt in quantity in your raised 'land' section. If you decide to go a walstad tank I would only use a very thin layer of dirt, about 1/4" depth at most. I've done 3-4 dirt tanks now (depending on how you count redos) and all the big problems I've run into come from putting in too much dirt.

That said I would urge you not to do a walstad tank. If you are planning on using hornwort for your only submerged plant a walstad is not ideal. Hornwort does not root in the substrate. You can poke it into the substrate or pin it under rocks but it will not form roots. Thus it will not access the nutrients in the dirt except what gets out into the water column. At that point you might as well go with a regular low tech tank.

Lots of folks use filter guards and raise ghost shrimp. You just need one dense enough to keep your ghost shrimp babies from being sucked up. This is pretty easily found or modified.

Anyway instead of dirt I suggest you use aquasoil capped by sand. This won't foul your water like dirt and plants both submerged and emersed will grow fine in it.

Thanks so much, this is really helpful!

I hadn't intended to use any kind of soil in the actual underwater substrate, since as you said hornwort doesn't root, and I am not sure if the fishes will want to dig - only plain sand there!

I was considering using an aquasoil for the land portion, so I'm glad to hear that worked well for you. If I was to use real soil, it would be only above the water table in a truly land portion, but that may prove to be too complicated.

Good to know also the ghosts would be fine with a regular filter! Since posting the original question I found out that ghosts will eat the eggs and fry of my desired fish, and that other keepers who successfully breed them recommended using cherries instead, so I needn't have worried in the first place! ... Now I just need to find a source for clear, wild looking shrimp so I can pretend they still belong in the biotope...
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 03:59 PM
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Thanks so much, this is really helpful!

I hadn't intended to use any kind of soil in the actual underwater substrate, since as you said hornwort doesn't root, and I am not sure if the fishes will want to dig - only plain sand there!

I was considering using an aquasoil for the land portion, so I'm glad to hear that worked well for you. If I was to use real soil, it would be only above the water table in a truly land portion, but that may prove to be too complicated.

Good to know also the ghosts would be fine with a regular filter! Since posting the original question I found out that ghosts will eat the eggs and fry of my desired fish, and that other keepers who successfully breed them recommended using cherries instead, so I needn't have worried in the first place! ... Now I just need to find a source for clear, wild looking shrimp so I can pretend they still belong in the biotope...
Check out aquabid.com for some low quality red or blue Neocaridina shrimp. Sometimes folks will list 'wild' type shrimp but those are essentially the same thing.

What fish are you trying to raise?
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 04:46 PM Thread Starter
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The plan is banded pygmy sunfish! I'm not holding out any great dreams of a breeding empire, but it would be fun to raise a few batches of fry. According to a study, seems they primarily eat small crustaceans and snail eggs, so I plan to let the tank run with daphnia, other copepods, some pond snails, and the shrimp for a good while before the fish are added Lots of hornwort and leaf litter, and some floaters.

I know they like soft, acidic water, so I am wondering if caridina would be better suited? Will have to look into it!
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 07:22 PM
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The plan is banded pygmy sunfish! I'm not holding out any great dreams of a breeding empire, but it would be fun to raise a few batches of fry. According to a study, seems they primarily eat small crustaceans and snail eggs, so I plan to let the tank run with daphnia, other copepods, some pond snails, and the shrimp for a good while before the fish are added Lots of hornwort and leaf litter, and some floaters.

I know they like soft, acidic water, so I am wondering if caridina would be better suited? Will have to look into it!
Neocardina will work as well which is what I would go for if the goal is to use them as a feeder. That said I would consider having another tank just for snails you can farm. You will likely also need frozen food as well. I haven't been able to keep fish fed just from raising the food inside the tank. The balance is too difficult to maintain. Either you are overrun with your feeder or there isn't enough. I've looked into banded sunfish before but I don't like having to constantly buy frozen foods so I've shied away.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 08-25-2020, 09:13 PM Thread Starter
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Neocardina will work as well which is what I would go for if the goal is to use them as a feeder. That said I would consider having another tank just for snails you can farm. You will likely also need frozen food as well. I haven't been able to keep fish fed just from raising the food inside the tank. The balance is too difficult to maintain. Either you are overrun with your feeder or there isn't enough. I've looked into banded sunfish before but I don't like having to constantly buy frozen foods so I've shied away.

Yeah, from the NANFA forums it doesn't sound like there's much success without supplementing feeding. Figured the tiny things would give them some enrichment (and I like to see a variety of life!). Snails in a separate tank I already have taken care of - I guess now they are a bonus rather than a pest! I'm in the habit of buying frozen foods anyway, and have bug bites pellets as well which I hope they can be persuaded to try. I will be buying them online and I am hoping they're captive bred, although I need to contact the supplier to confirm, which might make feeding easier.



I know neos didn't do so well in my unbuffered tap water before - it's very very soft here and on the acidic side (GH 30ppm, KH 40ppm, pH 6.5). I'd prefer to use them though since they're cheaper and I know I can breed them well!


Thanks so much for all of your input, it's really helpful! I think I'll try to mock up the shoreline/emersed section in a 2.5 first, see how much space it'll need and if there's any stagnancy issues before I go fullsize
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