Chanse here, new member. So I have a rescue minnow that has sent me down the rabbit hole of the aquatic hobby. I've learned so much doing my own research and watching PLENTY of youtube videos. However, there is still a lot of conflicting info out there. As the info provided is not only back by science at times, but experience it's hard to really figure out what materials I really want to use. I have decided I want to try using the Walstad method for my tanks, as I like the lo-maintenance and lo-tech aspect as well as the aesthetics in the home.
I have a 20 gal tank and a 1.5 gal cylinder tank. I plan on using the 20 gal as a shrimp breeder with a few snails, floating plants, the minnow maybe 2. And for the 1.5 maybe house a betta and a few snails? As for plants, of course some moss, I was thinking java fern and other lo maintenance easy starter plants. Mind you I live in the central valley, CA. I might have to add a heater to the shrimp tank as temps are going to start cooling off. I was also considering using small filter sponges w/ air stones in both. Other than that, no CO2, no adding ferts. I want low maintenance as possible as I am a stay at home mom of a curious 1 year old and already handle a small farm. I really love how the Walstad creates its own self sustaining ecosystem when conditions are right, and how aesthetically pleasing it is to have in the home. It's also inspired me to create a bioactive tank for our Suriname Red Tail Boa... but that's another topic for another day.
What brought me here is what organic soil to choose. Because of my location, obtaining the recommended Miracle Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix is nearly impossible to find in stores. I'm eager to get a tank going so I purchased a couple different organic soils -
1. Kellogg 3cu ft Organic Garden Soil from Lowe's. *Ingredients: "Aged recycled forest products, aged arbor fines, composted chicken manure, oyster shell & dolomite limes (as pH adjuster), bat guano, worm castings, and kelp meal."
Now it being so rich, and what little I know about cycling tanks and the nitrogen system, I figured it wouldn't be a problem if I was just wanted to have plants, but I've got little Sharkbait needing something better than a pitcher and some pothos for cover. So the sooner I can ass livestock the better.
2. EcoScraps Organic Potting Soil 1cu ft from Target. *Ingredients: "In CA, this product contains processed forest products, coir, perlite, and compost (compost made from plant materials and food waste)."
These seemed less as intense on nutrients, but the perlite I read somewhere could be a problem for shrimp.
3. Eco-Complete in black from Petco. I'm sure many of you are familiar with this substrate. It's one of the more common ones I've seen when researching planted tanks. I watched one person's advice to use this as a cap over the organic soil. So I thought, "hey, that sounds cool. 2 birds one stone really." But I bought this as a back up or to try in just the 1.5 gal tank alone and use a finer gravel over the organic soil in the 20 gal. I'm not opposed to either method.
So my questions are -
1. Which organic soil would work best for the outcome I'm wanting? Or neither, and what soil in particular would work best?
2. Would it be ok to use Eco-Complete as a cap or should I use a different fine gravel?
3. I see people mention to test the water, I'm not familiar with testing kits at all, what do you recommended I use that would best suit my situation and give me the most bang for my buck?
4. Do I need to plant right away or can I let tank sit for a couple days?
5. How long after I plant may I add livestock? Just the minnow for now.
Like I said, I'm new to this and just a bit overwhelmed with info, and sometimes the lack of info to clarify some things. Your experiences and expertise is welcome to help me make an informed decision. I understand there may be failure along the way, as this is new and I'm not so experienced, but if I can avoid any mishaps and unnecessary deaths of animals and plants along the way, it's much appreciated. Thanks for taking the time to read!
1) the ingredients list you cite for Kellogg's is the organic+ version I believe. You should try to find the regular organic garden soil (no +). It does not have as many additives. I haven't done it yet but I plan to use the regular one when I set up my own tank. Unfortunately the original potting soil mix has been discontinued in most stores.
2) Diana Walstad is a member of this forum and recently updated her recommendations to using safe t sorb as a gravel top. This product may be hard for you to find in California. If it is, Lowe's sells a product called oil dri which is very similar.
3) the API master test kit plus the additional gh kh kit.
4) if you are doing soil it is important to plant sooner rather than later.
5) in her book Ms. Walstad mentions she will add livestock almost immediately. However that was not taking into account using a sts as a cap. It's unclear if this is still something she does. Since you are new to the hobby I suggest waiting the full month to cycle the tank properly.
6) the question you didn't ask but definitely should know about.. how often to do water changes when setting up your tank? A new soil substrate tank requires frequent water changes when new. Each water change remove 50% of the water. Typical advise for an active substrate tank is first week every day a water change. Second week every other day. Third week 3 times a week. Fourth week do it twice. After that for a walstad you will want to monitor conditions to see how often it really needs to happen. Once a month may not be out of the question depending on how well your tank is running.
Edit: you mentioned you already have a fish in a tank. Sorry if you already knew this, but to setup a walstad you need to start with a tank empty of water. Do not dump soil directly into a filled aquarium.