New Tank: I know what I want, don't know how to get there. - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-04-2016, 11:03 PM Thread Starter
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New Tank: I know what I want, don't know how to get there.

Hi all. I just finished college, and I finally have some free time on my hands beyond a mere vacation, so I hope I can finally set up that tank I said I would 2 years (or so) ago. I have some pretty solid criteria in mind, but when it comes to putting it all together, it all keeps changing (due to practical concerns), and I don't know how to settle on a design. I've searched a lot on these matters, but still have yet to reach a conclusion. Any advice would be appreciated.

To start, here's 3 paragraphs worth of reference info.:

I have a 50 gallon All Glass Aquarium with its own original lights. My filter is a Fluval U4 Underwater Filter, with extra ceramic media to take the place of the carbon. I want to turn it into a low-tech, low-input Planted Tank. No extra lights, no CO2, and hopefully very little fertilization in the long run. I'd prefer to minimize water changes once parameters stabilize, and I plan to eventually phase out water changes entirely (unless absolutely necessary to keep the tank inhabitants alive) - I'm hoping a low stocking rate with good plant cover should do the trick.

I gave up on non-living décor when I failed to find rocks and driftwood that fit my criteria. Aesthetics aren't the only issue here; volcanic rocks are suitably inert, but too abrasive for benthic fish, and the only driftwood readily available to me is Mopane (which I tried) and Malay; I don't care to keep trying with the obscenely long leaching times these require, and I prefer the clear water aesthetic. Plus, cash... So... just plants here. For a background, just that black paper you put on the outside glass.

My intended livestock are several species of shrimp, crayfish, snails, and vertebrates. For vertebrates, I'd like to get 3 Dwarf Frogs, but I'm not sure I'll be able to. Fish: Guppies, Kuhli Loaches, Dwarf Otocinclus, and some Hillstream Loaches. I've given my list of chosen livestock for reference; I'm not questioning whether or not they're compatible. The worst possible clashes here are between the shrimp and the guppies, loaches and frogs, and I've already read enough anecdotes and opinions to decide that I wanna risk it.

Now, on to the actual queries:

Substrate. As I said, low tech, low input, and the plants I'll get will hopefully reflect that. I've found Aquasoil and Eco Complete to be too expensive for me, I'm not sure about laterite (or other "dedicated" PT substrates), and I definitely don't want to go the Soil/Walstadt route. I like the look Pool Filter sand, but I'm not sure plants will like it, given how inert it is (but maybe it would be enough, with my low-to-no water changes helping the accumulation of nutrients). With my substrate-stirring fauna, I don't want to use two different substrates (like with a cap). I'll be honest: I want to go cheap (another reason sand appeals to me), but it won't help squat if the plants can't grow.

So...

*-*-* What is my best choice for substrate, given what I've described? Where can I find it, at what approximate cost, and how much of it would I need for a 50 gallon tank?

Plants. I like a relatively bushy or well-planted growth; nothing sparse, but I do like an elegant (yet informal) look, so nothing too "wild" or disorganized (I'd include pics from off the net for reference as to the kind of look, but I'm not sure that'd be a good idea; and if I'm honest, I've no idea how to aquascape). I'd like a good variety, and some red for accents. Bryophytes, Quillworts, Ferns and Flowering Plants are all desired, as are algal "Moss Balls". I suppose I've already seen plant lists out there for low tech tanks, but I'd like some second opinions here, to take all my extra circumstances into account.

So...

*-*-* Given all I've described (low tech, low input, etc.), what species of plants are suitable for my system, and what kinda combo could I choose for best looks?

Finally...

*-*-* Is there any additional advice or concern y'all might wanna tell me? The tank isn't up yet, but I would like to get started on it soon, maybe in late December.
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 01:20 AM
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You can't go the no water change route as you will get old tank syndrome and it will fail. Only when you accept this can we actually offer you solid advice. Everything else is pointless as your tank will fail long term without fresh water.


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And since you will get these suggestions I may as well save you some time.

Pool filter sand and black diamond blasting sand are you choices. Do your own research and find them and price them based on where you live.

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Last edited by Darkblade48; 12-05-2016 at 09:17 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 01:48 AM Thread Starter
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Hadn't read about Old Tank Syndrome. You'd think the plant/filter combo would help moderate that, but apparently the water stagnates just the same. Well, I've no intention of setting myself up for failure (nor do I care to overly risk the lives of my tank inhabitants), so I'll cave. Would a monthly change suffice, or is a more frequent schedule necessary to stave of OTS?

I've heard of old tanks that seem healthy enough despite being neglected for years, so I think the topic is definitely worth exploring (maybe experimenting with, in a calculated manner). But from what I've been looking into recently, the reports of OTS are consistent, so I won't be risking my only tank on this. Maybe another tank, another year.

*Edit: So the inertness of the sand doesn't hinder the plants? What kind of fertilizer regimen are we looking at?
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 01:54 AM
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I like your idea, but like Canada man said you need to do water changes. Theres a product called a python siphon(i dont remember the actual name, but it has python in it). you connect it directly to your faucet so you dont have to deal with buckets or anything and its super awesome.

Pool filter sand is pretty cheap ~$15 bucks for 50 lbs. You could probably get away with two bags if you aren't trying to build up a lot of height. I used one bag for my 20 and 10 together and its a decent amount of coverage.

I'm not familiar with a lot of plants but java fern/moss both do well in low tech setups. This pic of my low tech 20g shows some stem plants, grasses, and java ferns growing wild. I would just go to your LFS and take a look at what plants you like and look them up on your phone to see what they require
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 01:59 AM
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We use BDBS with root tabs. It's $8/50lbs at Tractor Supply. 1 bag was enough for our 40breeder, barely. We'll probably add a bit more at some point.


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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 02:12 AM
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I also have a tank with BDBS with root tabs. You can make your own root tabs for a relatively low, one-time cost, then have plenty of supplies to make more for ages to come. If that's still too much effort, people make their own and sell them here on the forum for cheap.

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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 08:47 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by NaturevsNurture View Post
I like your idea, but like Canada man said you need to do water changes. Theres a product called a python siphon(i dont remember the actual name, but it has python in it). you connect it directly to your faucet so you dont have to deal with buckets or anything and its super awesome.

Pool filter sand is pretty cheap ~$15 bucks for 50 lbs. You could probably get away with two bags if you aren't trying to build up a lot of height. I used one bag for my 20 and 10 together and its a decent amount of coverage.

I'm not familiar with a lot of plants but java fern/moss both do well in low tech setups. This pic of my low tech 20g shows some stem plants, grasses, and java ferns growing wild. I would just go to your LFS and take a look at what plants you like and look them up on your phone to see what they require
Your's is a pretty good looking tank, and one that approximates what I'm going for.

So I guess my initial preference for sand ended up being the right choice. As long as I can keep the plants healthy with it, I'm good. I actually had a bag of PFS, but I accidentally doused it with poison while chasing a big spider. D'oh! Next two bags I bring are going straight in the tank, no storage.


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Originally Posted by MUTigers View Post
We use BDBS with root tabs. It's $8/50lbs at Tractor Supply. 1 bag was enough for our 40breeder, barely. We'll probably add a bit more at some point.
I've always thought that I preferred the pale substrate aesthetic vs the dark one, but I don't have much direct experience. What are the pros and cons of either choice?


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Originally Posted by Altheora View Post
I also have a tank with BDBS with root tabs. You can make your own root tabs for a relatively low, one-time cost, then have plenty of supplies to make more for ages to come. If that's still too much effort, people make their own and sell them here on the forum for cheap.
How do you make root tabs? And how frequently are they applied? Are they scattered throughout the sand, or only under specific plants?
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-05-2016, 10:09 PM
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What is your aversion to dirt? A dirted tank would meet all of your parameters: cheap, low maintenance, lush compact growth. Root tabs + sand will leave you with a low carbon tank. Low CO2 = low growth = less nutrient export = need to do more water changes. Go dirted, low stock jungle and you can easily go two months without a water change no problem. There are also a lot of lovely plants you can grow in dirt that won't work in inert sand (without a CO2 canister).
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-06-2016, 10:16 PM
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I think you could make this work with monthly water changes. Put root tabs in the sand and you won't need dirt. The only issue may be the lights. The stock lights probably won't grow much. Even if you packed the tank full of plants, if the light is too low, they won't grow fast enough to absorb much in the way of nitrates.

Here are the plants I suggest trying. Not all of these might grow in your tank, but with really low light tanks you just have to throw a bunch in and see what survives. Don't get attached to anything until it shows new, healthy growth.
Java fern
Anubias
Mosses - java, Christmas, flame, willow, marimo, etc. (Keep in mind that mosses grow best when attached to something)
Water sprite
Crypts - almost any will work. They're heavy root feeders, though, so make sure you give them enough tabs.
Dwarf sagitteria
Rotala sp. 'Green' (this one is supposed to need medium light, but I have some growing in an unlit tank, so I think it's worth a shot)
Egeria densa
Corkscrew vallisneria (make sure you get the small version, not the giant one)
Egeria najas
Bacopa caroliniana or monnieri
Pennywort
Lobelia cardinalis "Dwarf"
Banana plant
Pygmy chain sword
Ludwigia repens or sp. 'Red'
Hygrophyla corymbosa, difformis
Myrio. Green
Lysimachia nummularia "aurea"

The low maintenance mantra is: few fish, many plants. Guppies might get out of control unless you only get males. With only an internal filter, you won't have much flow. Hillstream loaches like fast moving water, so they wouldn't be a good choice for this kind of tank. Having lots of shrimp and otos will keep algae in check, but in a tank like this, I would avoid snails other than mysteries or nerites. Snails produce a lot of waste, so only get them if you really like them and only get the ones that don't breed like crazy.

Definitely get a python water changer. It will save your back, your floors, and your tank.

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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-06-2016, 11:03 PM
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My current setup and many before ran on inert sand substrates. No root tabs and no ferts. I have always had heavy bioload because of my live stock. I have grown many types of plants including those that are said to be heavy root feeders. At one point I have only crypts in my 75g growing lush.

I have gone in a different direction lately with my live stock and scape but similar approach. The biggest difference is now i only have one fish in my 75 as opposed to 50+.

Still using same light as always and no ferts.

The only time I really dosed ferts and root tabs was when I went with high levels of co2 and increase light intensity.

Here is a current photo for reference.

I do 60% or more water change per week.

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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-07-2016, 10:59 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bananableps View Post
What is your aversion to dirt? A dirted tank would meet all of your parameters: cheap, low maintenance, lush compact growth. Root tabs + sand will leave you with a low carbon tank. Low CO2 = low growth = less nutrient export = need to do more water changes. Go dirted, low stock jungle and you can easily go two months without a water change no problem. There are also a lot of lovely plants you can grow in dirt that won't work in inert sand (without a CO2 canister).
My aversion was inconsistency: no two soils are alike. Even if you could recommend a particular brand, I'm not sure I could find it here in PR. Plus, I like the look of sand, even when exposed (I'm not sure whether or not I could say the same for dirt). That said, you've peaked my interest. I could try to search it out to see what I find; are there any particular (cheap enough) brands of soil that you'd recommend for the purpose? How many bags would I need? And how does one prepare soil for the aquarium? How to add it in? (My tank is unbuilt, for now). And are there any carpeting plants for a low tech tank?


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Originally Posted by Fishly View Post
I think you could make this work with monthly water changes. Put root tabs in the sand and you won't need dirt. The only issue may be the lights. The stock lights probably won't grow much. Even if you packed the tank full of plants, if the light is too low, they won't grow fast enough to absorb much in the way of nitrates.

Here are the plants I suggest trying. Not all of these might grow in your tank, but with really low light tanks you just have to throw a bunch in and see what survives. Don't get attached to anything until it shows new, healthy growth.
Java fern
Anubias
Mosses - java, Christmas, flame, willow, marimo, etc. (Keep in mind that mosses grow best when attached to something)
Water sprite
Crypts - almost any will work. They're heavy root feeders, though, so make sure you give them enough tabs.
Dwarf sagitteria
Rotala sp. 'Green' (this one is supposed to need medium light, but I have some growing in an unlit tank, so I think it's worth a shot)
Egeria densa
Corkscrew vallisneria (make sure you get the small version, not the giant one)
Egeria najas
Bacopa caroliniana or monnieri
Pennywort
Lobelia cardinalis "Dwarf"
Banana plant
Pygmy chain sword
Ludwigia repens or sp. 'Red'
Hygrophyla corymbosa, difformis
Myrio. Green
Lysimachia nummularia "aurea"

The low maintenance mantra is: few fish, many plants. Guppies might get out of control unless you only get males. With only an internal filter, you won't have much flow. Hillstream loaches like fast moving water, so they wouldn't be a good choice for this kind of tank. Having lots of shrimp and otos will keep algae in check, but in a tank like this, I would avoid snails other than mysteries or nerites. Snails produce a lot of waste, so only get them if you really like them and only get the ones that don't breed like crazy.

Definitely get a python water changer. It will save your back, your floors, and your tank.
I could budge and go for a mid-tech tank, provided the lights are readily available, and not too expensive. Would I have to change the entire fixture? (there's two), or just the bulbs? Which ones are recommended for a 50 gallon?

That's a nice, diverse list of plants. I'll be trying those out, first.

I like that Guppies breed easily, but if they're that prolific, I'll reconsider (or go for the males). Are Peacock Gudgeons a suitable option to Guppies? I've eliminated the Hillstream Loaches from the plans, but not the Kuhlis (¿unless there's something else to say about that?). What's a good proportion of fish? I was thinking 10 guppies (or 4 to 6 Peacock Gudgeons), 5 Kuhli Loaches and 5 to 10 Otocinclus, plus 3 Dwarf Frogs. I was hoping to have a few different breeding colonies of Shrimp (Cherries, Sulawesi - the Malawa-like species -, and Tigers), plus a few Cajun Dwarf Crayfish. In writing all this out, I can't help but feel it's too much, even for a 50 gallon. I could just go with one species of Shrimp; I want them to breed.

I didn't know Snails were so messy. Bummer; as with the Shrimp, I was hoping for several breeding colonies. I could just go with a few Nerites or Sulawesi Snails and leave it at that.

I'll look into the Python, but what I'm really worried about is back-filling the tank after I've removed the water. An expensive filtration system seems out of the question, so I'd have to de-chlorinate my water in advance, and add it in by hand; it could get messy. As for a schedule, I was thinking 5 gallons per change, once monthly.


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Originally Posted by philipraposo1982 View Post
My current setup and many before ran on inert sand substrates. No root tabs and no ferts. I have always had heavy bioload because of my live stock. I have grown many types of plants including those that are said to be heavy root feeders. At one point I have only crypts in my 75g growing lush.

I have gone in a different direction lately with my live stock and scape but similar approach. The biggest difference is now i only have one fish in my 75 as opposed to 50+.

Still using same light as always and no ferts.

The only time I really dosed ferts and root tabs was when I went with high levels of co2 and increase light intensity.

Here is a current photo for reference.

I do 60% or more water change per week.

Sent from my SM-N900W8 using Tapatalk
That's what I was going for: having the plants feed off the bioload. But apparently, water changes are still needed to pick up some slack for the plants.

Your tank looks elegant, but that water change schedule seems intense. Though perhaps my "5 gallons a month" would be too little, by comparison. A pretty, no-fail, low-maintenance planted tank... Now there's a riddle I'd like to solve.
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-07-2016, 11:59 PM
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Plus, I like the look of sand, even when exposed (I'm not sure whether or not I could say the same for dirt).
Ahah, well I have good news for you: dirt has to be capped, and sand is a great substrate to cap with! A dirted tank without a cap would basically be a very well lit bilge.

Quote:
That said, you've peaked my interest. I could try to search it out to see what I find; are there any particular (cheap enough) brands of soil that you'd recommend for the purpose? How many bags would I need?
Dirt is super cheap. Any organic topsoil will do. Avoid at all cost anything that is enriched with herbicide, pesticide, vermiculite, or fertilizer. Try your best to avoid peat. Throw down an inch of dirt, then cap it with an inch of sand. Setup done. Your tank will be a hellish algae/bacteria blooming swamp for about 2-4 weeks but then it will settle down into one of the most stable tanks you've ever kept. I have not had a spot of algae in my dirted 30 gallon since it first got established - even the hardscape is clean. Water is crystal clear. I rarely do water changes.


Quote:
And how does one prepare soil for the aquarium?
According to some dirt folk, you can reduce the acclimation process by mineralizing the soil first. I've never tried it myself, but it seems like a good idea. If you're worried about tannins, you can boil the soil first, but not all soils leach tannin and it's a problem that will solve itself over time anyway. If you are willing to accept a little acclimation time after filling the tank up, you can dump the soil in directly from the bag, no treatment.

Quote:
And are there any carpeting plants for a low tech tank?
The one carpeting plant I would not suggest trying out for your first try is HC. Some people have made it work, but it's a bit of a crap shoot. Dirt is miles better than any other low tech setup, but it still isn't pressurized CO2.
DHG will absolutely explode in dirt.
Glosso carpets surprisingly well, staying low and sending out runners.
I tried s. repens for the first time recently and I'm having good results so far.
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-09-2016, 08:53 AM
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Don't worry about the dirt being perfect. It won't be. It never is. But plants will grow in it just the same. The great thing about dirt is that it's not fully decomposed, so it slowly releases lots of nutrients to the plants. It has a very small grain size, so it encourages the growth of fine hair-like roots that can absorb a lot more nutrients at once. And best of all, it's very cheap. One or two $2-3 bags should be enough to cover your 50g. Cap it with some pool filter sand and you'll be good to go. Just be careful when you uproot your plants since they tend to pull dirt up with them.

You don't have to mix dechlorinator into the water before you add it. Just pour enough dechlor to treat the whole tank, then fill it straight from the tap. That's what makes the python so great - changing 50 gallons of water is no harder than 5 gallons.

Why do you want everything to breed? Do you just want a cheap way to populate the tank or are you hoping to sell the offspring? If you're hoping to populate the tank, keep in mind that it takes 4-9 months before fry really color up. Until then they're usually pretty dull. The adults will keep breeding as the fry mature, so if you're breeding guppies, by the time the first drop of fry starts to look pretty, you'll have over 100 younger fry swarming the tank.

Fish will eat any baby shrimp they find, so the shrimp population won't grow as quickly, but if you want to sell the shrimp, you'll have to do regular culling to maintain the quality of the line. It's very hard to cull shrimp in a large planted tank and very frustrating when your brightest colored shrimplets are the first to be eaten by the fish.

I don't know enough about peacock gudgeons to say how they'd do in your tank, but I get the impression that they like to hang out around the bottom. If they're the main fish, the tank might end up looking empty even when fully stocked. Same with the dwarf frogs. If you want to try the gudgeons or frogs, I suggest starting with one or two and seeing how much you like them before committing to more.

The otos and kuhlis should do fine, especially if they're in a school.

If you want your plants to do the bulk of the nitrate absorption, then you'll probably have to beef up your lights. The intensity of the light is what determines how fast the plants grow, and the growth rate determines how much nitrogen they can absorb. However, higher light also increases their need for CO2. There's a fine line between medium-low light and medium-high light.

It sounds like you're trying to get everything planned out before doing anything with the tank (which is good). But unfortunately, every tank is unique and you just won't know how it will work until you crank it up and see how it runs. This is the case with your lighting. The best thing to do is figure out your substrate and any hardware you're still deciding on (filters, powerheads, python, etc.), then put some cheap plants in and see how they grow for two or three months. If they wither away or barely grow at all, that means your light is too low. If they grow slowly but steadily, that's when you can start trying out fish.

If you don't want to commit to a particular substrate yet and are willing to stare at an ugly tank for a few weeks, put the plants in pots. Have some pots with dirt and others with just sand and root caps and see which works best. When you've made up your mind, remove the pots, drain the tank, add the new substrate, move the plants from the pots to the new substrate, and you're golden.

Either way, I suggest you focus on the plants first before you get any fish. Plants are a lot more forgiving than fish and they'll need to be well established before you can expect them to have any significant impact on nitrate.

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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-10-2016, 02:23 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bananableps View Post
Ahah, well I have good news for you: dirt has to be capped, and sand is a great substrate to cap with! A dirted tank without a cap would basically be a very well lit bilge.

Dirt is super cheap. Any organic topsoil will do. Avoid at all cost anything that is enriched with herbicide, pesticide, vermiculite, or fertilizer. Try your best to avoid peat. Throw down an inch of dirt, then cap it with an inch of sand. Setup done. Your tank will be a hellish algae/bacteria blooming swamp for about 2-4 weeks but then it will settle down into one of the most stable tanks you've ever kept. I have not had a spot of algae in my dirted 30 gallon since it first got established - even the hardscape is clean. Water is crystal clear. I rarely do water changes.

According to some dirt folk, you can reduce the acclimation process by mineralizing the soil first. I've never tried it myself, but it seems like a good idea. If you're worried about tannins, you can boil the soil first, but not all soils leach tannin and it's a problem that will solve itself over time anyway. If you are willing to accept a little acclimation time after filling the tank up, you can dump the soil in directly from the bag, no treatment.

The one carpeting plant I would not suggest trying out for your first try is HC. Some people have made it work, but it's a bit of a crap shoot. Dirt is miles better than any other low tech setup, but it still isn't pressurized CO2.
DHG will absolutely explode in dirt.
Glosso carpets surprisingly well, staying low and sending out runners.
I tried s. repens for the first time recently and I'm having good results so far.
Well, I'm sold. If I can find a good source for topsoil, I'd love to give a dirt tank a shot. It shouldn't be too hard, I imagine; if I can find PFS here, topsoil should be a cinch.

That link is an info goldmine! Thanks. I'm patient with this stuff; I'm in a slight hurry to fill it up (before I let it go another year in storage, empty), but I don't mind taking it slow with acclimation times.

Thanks for the suggestions, they all look good. I think I may go with DHG or Glosso.

One more thing; would a sand-stirring critter cause issues for a capped dirt tank, or not?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fishly View Post
Don't worry about the dirt being perfect. It won't be. It never is. But plants will grow in it just the same. The great thing about dirt is that it's not fully decomposed, so it slowly releases lots of nutrients to the plants. It has a very small grain size, so it encourages the growth of fine hair-like roots that can absorb a lot more nutrients at once. And best of all, it's very cheap. One or two $2-3 bags should be enough to cover your 50g. Cap it with some pool filter sand and you'll be good to go. Just be careful when you uproot your plants since they tend to pull dirt up with them.

You don't have to mix dechlorinator into the water before you add it. Just pour enough dechlor to treat the whole tank, then fill it straight from the tap. That's what makes the python so great - changing 50 gallons of water is no harder than 5 gallons.

Why do you want everything to breed? Do you just want a cheap way to populate the tank or are you hoping to sell the offspring? If you're hoping to populate the tank, keep in mind that it takes 4-9 months before fry really color up. Until then they're usually pretty dull. The adults will keep breeding as the fry mature, so if you're breeding guppies, by the time the first drop of fry starts to look pretty, you'll have over 100 younger fry swarming the tank.

Fish will eat any baby shrimp they find, so the shrimp population won't grow as quickly, but if you want to sell the shrimp, you'll have to do regular culling to maintain the quality of the line. It's very hard to cull shrimp in a large planted tank and very frustrating when your brightest colored shrimplets are the first to be eaten by the fish.

I don't know enough about peacock gudgeons to say how they'd do in your tank, but I get the impression that they like to hang out around the bottom. If they're the main fish, the tank might end up looking empty even when fully stocked. Same with the dwarf frogs. If you want to try the gudgeons or frogs, I suggest starting with one or two and seeing how much you like them before committing to more.

The otos and kuhlis should do fine, especially if they're in a school.

If you want your plants to do the bulk of the nitrate absorption, then you'll probably have to beef up your lights. The intensity of the light is what determines how fast the plants grow, and the growth rate determines how much nitrogen they can absorb. However, higher light also increases their need for CO2. There's a fine line between medium-low light and medium-high light.

It sounds like you're trying to get everything planned out before doing anything with the tank (which is good). But unfortunately, every tank is unique and you just won't know how it will work until you crank it up and see how it runs. This is the case with your lighting. The best thing to do is figure out your substrate and any hardware you're still deciding on (filters, powerheads, python, etc.), then put some cheap plants in and see how they grow for two or three months. If they wither away or barely grow at all, that means your light is too low. If they grow slowly but steadily, that's when you can start trying out fish.

If you don't want to commit to a particular substrate yet and are willing to stare at an ugly tank for a few weeks, put the plants in pots. Have some pots with dirt and others with just sand and root caps and see which works best. When you've made up your mind, remove the pots, drain the tank, add the new substrate, move the plants from the pots to the new substrate, and you're golden.

Either way, I suggest you focus on the plants first before you get any fish. Plants are a lot more forgiving than fish and they'll need to be well established before you can expect them to have any significant impact on nitrate.
So if I put dechlor straight into the tank, it'll treat it just the same? No issues with the sensitive inverts or anything like that? Good to know, if so.

As for breeding, I just like the idea of not having to re-stock my tank (although I am concerned with inbreeding); but that's mainly with short-lived species.

I'll likely go with male Guppies, then, instead of the Gudgeons. My main concern when choosing fish was that they wouldn't completely obliterate the inverts. That, and bright (yet natural-seeming) color patterns. I had to let go of quite a few favorites because of that first part (Gouramis, Barbs, some Catfish, and Elephant-noses - the last of which are probably too sensitive for me anyway -, etc.)

The filter is already in my possession: a Fluval U4 Underwater Filter. I'll be getting the Python for water changes. There's only two substrates of choice left for me right now, and I'm leaning towards dirt with a sand cap (the other option being mere sand if I can't find the dirt, which is doubtful). I just checked my lights (which I'm willing to replace; they came with the tank); they're a pair of Aqueon Full Spectrum 15W T8, 18". I wanna strike that right balance between optimal Nitrogen absorption and minimal CO2 requirement. Are my lights good? If not, what do you recommend to replace them?

I think I'm ready to commit to soil, though nothing is set in stone until the tank is up. I was thinking that once the tank was up and running (and planted), I'd have it running empty for at least two months (maybe longer) before beginning to stock it. I'm being as patient as possible, to avoid impulse decisions. I'm no stranger to failure (in this hobby, nor with other plants and animals), and most were due to impulses and poor planning. I've had more success when taking it slow.
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 12-10-2016, 04:38 PM
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I agree with everything Fishly has said, particularly about non-fully decomposed soil. I sent you that link about mineralized soil because it seems to be the newest trend in dirt, but in my own tanks I put a layer of flat dead leaves in between the sand and dirt. I believe this also helps prevent cap breaching. Diana Walstad also agrees with Fishly on this issue. You should read her book if you want to know more about dirted tanks: The Ecology of The Planted Aquarium is the definitive dirt tank bible.

As for sand-russling, it really depends on the size of the fish. Cory cats are fine. I do not have personal knowledge or experience of keeping larger bottom dwellers in dirted tanks.

You should be able to find top soil at any garden supply store. Garden supplies are much more common than aquarium supplies, so you should be able to find something. Just remember: 1) No additives. No pesticide, fungicide, herbicide, vermiculite, fertilizer, nada, zip, zilch, nothing. Avoid peat if possible. 2) Fill the tank up SLOWLY. Breaching the cap isn't the end of the world, but it's not a good way to start. 3) Your tank may experience apocalyptic blooms of algae and bacteria in the first few weeks. This is normal. When it settles, you should be left with one of the most algae-resistant tanks you've ever owned.

Also, if you're looking for guppies with "natural color", you can't get much more natural than endlers! Very lovely fish.
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