First "dirt" tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-12-2017, 05:34 PM Thread Starter
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First "dirt" tank

Hi. This is my first time posting but I have read several threads when Google search reveals them to me I am getting some Ellasoma and was told a dirted tank was best so I layed about 1.5" of miracle grow organic potting soil then about .75" of pool filter sand followed by 1" of pea gravel in a 10g tank. Tho I am not required to use a filter I plan to put a small internal filter in to move the water because I'm averse to air pumps. I planted as many plants as I have available but I have a few more on order. I hadn't read about the walstad method and just found that I should have mixed clay in the soil. I also didn't wet and dry it several times. How disastrous is this mistake? Also how is cycling done? At this time I have only a nerite snail in tank. I have 2 clamp lamps over it, both 75 watts. 1 is a 6500k and 1 is a full spectrum daylight reptile bulb. Can anyone tell me if this lighting will be sufficient and what problems I may encounter? Also I would appreciate any advice in general or to correct my mistakes. I haven't ordered my fish yet if I must begin again but I'm surely hoping I won't need to. I would post a pic but I don't see the option :/ Thank you so much.
Also I can't figure out how to update my location. I'm in Phoenix Arizona and I will update as soon as I figure out how.
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-12-2017, 06:36 PM
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Hello and welcome to The Community.

I'll give my opinion for some of the questions you are asking but remember there is no one way to succeed with an aquarium.

The layout of your substrate sounds fine. Clay is an awesome way to get more iron to your plants roots which definitely helps, but plenty of people have success planting into straight pool filter sand just supplementing some root tabs. You can always buy some root tabs from seachem, API, or use osmocote, and add them whenever you want. Just take a pair of tongs and push them through into the dirt. You still might even be able to add some clay in this fashion.

Wet and drying it is also optional in my opinion. I rarely do this. To my understanding the main reason to do this is to help reduce initial water clouding. But you can just gently fill the tank and drain it several times to achieve the same effect. I recommend putting a plate underneath where you are filling from to help reduce agitating your gravel cap.

As for your cycling question... There are two main ways to cycle: Fishless cycling, and cycling with fish. Fishless cycling takes a bit more patience because you are essentailly waiting to add fish until you see the cycle is complete. What does this mean? It means you are waiting for the bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite to establish, and also the bacteria which convert nitrite to nitrate. The cycle is complete when ammonia and nitrite levels hit 0 (or very very very close) and your nitrate levels rise. Nitrate is removed by water changes and the plants consuming it. In a fishless cycle you must add some form of ammonia yourself, either in the form of fish flake or using regular industrial ammonia (people dose between 1-4ppm generally). When people cycle with fish they usually get some really hardy fish that can tolerate the less than ideal conditions for the first few weeks, but you need to be very careful and do lots of water changes if you choose to go this route or your fish will most likely perish if the ammonia gets too high. In either case I would argue the best ways to speed up the cycle is raising the temperature into the low 80's (if you have no fish) to speed up growth and establishment of the bacteria. Also seeding bacteria into the tank with a product like seachem stability may also help (and in my expierience has). Anyway you can look up more on cycling as there are 10,000 guides on it.

Lastly your lighting question. two 75W bulbs over a 10gallon seems like a lot to me. I'm not sure what kind of PAR this will yield to you but If I am not mistaken this will put you into the high light range. While there is nothing inherently wrong with very high light, it can lead to very bad algae problems and may necessitate CO2 injection and adding ferts if you want to keep your plants healthy. For plants, light is what controls how fast their metabolism is essentially. If you drive them hard and there is no CO2 present they will stunt as light and CO2 work hand in hand. If there is adequate CO2 and light, they will also consume nutrients from the water faster. If you don't supplement with fertilizers, you will most likely run into nutrient deficiencies in the long run... plant yellowing, dying, etc. So I guess what I am saying is more light isn't always better. Its all a balancing act between light, co2, and fertilizers. Lower light means less work and lower maintenance. If you do run really high light make sure you keep your photoperiod between 8-10 hours or you almost definitely will just grow algae which I am sure you don't want.


One last thing. If you aren't going to run an airstone make sure you have something causing some surface agitation. If the surface of the water isn't broken slightly (rippling) gas exchange is severely inhibited. This will starve your fish of oxygen and cause them to gasp if left unchecked. The rate at which this happens depends how heavily it is stocked.

I hope I answered all of your questions, sorry if I got into too much detail.
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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-12-2017, 07:41 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for the welcome and the reply. This forum is taking some getting used to lol. I'm learning how to even just reply!

Do you think I would need root tabs even tho I'm using potting soil? If I applied clay to the top layer do you think it would eventually sink to the layer of soil? Or sit on top of the sand? I'd rather not use tabs. I don't mind flourish and excell occasionally but was hoping this method would avoid that.

As far as cycling goes it sounds like you cycle these tanks the same way you do any other? I had read that with a lot of plants in a dirt tank sometimes you don't require cycling at all. The plants do the job of the bacteria but I'm not sure where I read it or if it's true.

I agree 2 is too many lights. Someone somewhere else got me worried lol. I had read that some people don't use any lights and just put them near a window. My tank is very near a window and like I said. I'm in Phoenix so we get our share of sun I don't want to battle algae tho I wouldn't mind a little. I am out of money for any new expensive equipment so I was trying for a diy method. I would happily take recommendations. I believe I found the mobile view and will be able to upload a picture. So hopefully that will help (fingers crossed) I'll add a picture of the location to give you an idea of the lighting.

I can redo the tank if it's advisable. Thoughts?

Thank you so much for your help. No such thing as too much information for me lol so go on as long as you like
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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-12-2017, 07:54 PM
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Planted tanks should still be cycled imo and yes they cycle the same way as any other tank. Also sometimes new soil leaches ammonia for a week or so, so be aware of that. I'd get the standard api test kit and just monitor it. The only way I could see a planted tank not needing to be cycled is if the plants were already very established and the bio-load was very very low compared to how many plants you have. Plants will consume ammonia and nitrates but usually not at the rate fish produce them.

Some people avoid windows because the sunlight plus their photoperiod from the light might be excessive and cause algae but it looks like you have a patio cover so I don't think you will have this problem as the sunlight probably wouldn't be direct. If you are wanting to go the lower maintenance route I would def remove one of those lights then.

I don't think the clay would sink if you simply placed it on the top. Root tabs are not necessary with dirt, it is at your discretion and you can always add them later if you feel the need.

Flourish Comprehensive will supply the micros and fish food ( and thus fish waste) supplies a decent amount of nitrates and phosphates. If your determined to keep it simple the only other fert I would strongly recommend is potassium as this is probably the most common macro nutrient deficiency in a low light tank because there is very little input of potassium from anything. The most likely has a decent amount in it so this may not be required right away.

Anyway, sounds like you are on the right track and if you see any problems developing its best to just react to whats happening and take care of the issue before it becomes out of hand.
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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-12-2017, 08:16 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Highseq View Post
Planted tanks should still be cycled imo and yes they cycle the same way as any other tank. Also sometimes new soil leaches ammonia for a week or so, so be aware of that. I'd get the standard api test kit and just monitor it. The only way I could see a planted tank not needing to be cycled is if the plants were already very established and the bio-load was very very low compared to how many plants you have. Plants will consume ammonia and nitrates but usually not at the rate fish produce them.

Some people avoid windows because the sunlight plus their photoperiod from the light might be excessive and cause algae but it looks like you have a patio cover so I don't think you will have this problem as the sunlight probably wouldn't be direct. If you are wanting to go the lower maintenance route I would def remove one of those lights then.

I don't think the clay would sink if you simply placed it on the top. Root tabs are not necessary with dirt, it is at your discretion and you can always add them later if you feel the need.

Flourish Comprehensive will supply the micros and fish food ( and thus fish waste) supplies a decent amount of nitrates and phosphates. If your determined to keep it simple the only other fert I would strongly recommend is potassium as this is probably the most common macro nutrient deficiency in a low light tank because there is very little input of potassium from anything. The most likely has a decent amount in it so this may not be required right away.

Anyway, sounds like you are on the right track and if you see any problems developing its best to just react to whats happening and take care of the issue before it becomes out of hand.
Hey I learned how to quote. Yay! Thank you! I'll keep you posted <3
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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-14-2017, 05:06 PM
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1) Get a test kit and start testing your water for Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates.
2) Your substrate sounds fine. I would not change it. I am also using just organic potting soil and it is working great! I do not use root tabs and did not mix in any clay. I do add some Flourish Iron about once a month as a precaution but have never seen any signs of Iron deficiency. I do not use CO2.
3) You need to cycle your tank. Plants or not tanks need to be cycled to build up the nitrifying bacteria.
4) I would recommend you start cycling your tank and recommend going the fishless route. Add household ammonia until your test kit reads 4ppm. Make sure to shake the bottles of test solution well!
5) Your plants should love the ammonia as food and start growing.
6) It has been my experience that when my tank cycled most all my plants started loosing their leaves and started growing new leaves. I believe the plants were adapting to consuming the nitrates instead of the ammonia. After the leave shedding the new growth was as full and lush as ever but it took a couple of weeks.
7) Filtration - I don't know how to clear the cloudiness out of the water without a filter. A filter also oxygenates the water.
8) I also do not care for air stones in my tank. I run a sump to oxygenate the water. You need something to break the surface tension of the water and let oxygen into the water for your fish when you add them.
9) I doubt you will need to add any fertilizers while your tank is cycling. The potting soil is rich in nutrients and should supply everything your plants need.
10) Welcome! You have a nice looking tank!
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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 07:25 PM
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I'll ad my 5 pence to the discussion as to what I do.
I use top soil.
I just dump it in. No wetting and drying ever. Just add it in. I wet it down. I plant it. I fill it. I don't cap it.
I wait two weeks. Sometimes four.
I add fish. My first tank I did that to is still running after 5 years.
I don't add any type of fertilizers.

Dilution is the solution for the pollution.
Quote me as saying I was misquoted.
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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 09-15-2017, 07:51 PM
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I agree with the above: absolutely no need to fertilize with dirt, especially starting out. Everything you've done so far is fine. 1.5" is a bit deep for a dirt layer, especially for such a small tank, but it's probably not the end of the world. I would have shot for .5", but see how it goes. Clay is not necessary, and I think trying to add clay now will cause a mess that cannot be justified by whatever marginal benefit it is meant to provide.

It's a good idea to wait a long time before adding livestock to a dirted tank. Depending on how carefully you capped, you might experience some rather serious bacteria blooms early on. Things can take awhile to stabilize. Because the life of a living creature is on the line, take the precaution of waiting a good 4-5 weeks.

Sunlit tanks are possible and are kept with great success by some experienced hobbyists. I would not recommend a sun tank for your first dirted-substrate experience. Sun exposure is harder to control than artificial lighting, and it's probably best to not try two new techniques at once.

Finally, your scape is nice but if I were you I would make sure that the stem plants in the back left are not shading the plants in the foreground.

Good luck and best wishes!
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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 01:41 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you to everyone for replying. Boy this stuff involves lots of learning. I feel like you have to get some college courses in to do very well! I expanded to two tanks so my fish could have more territory. I have had a lot of algae problems And I'm still battling algae but it's improving. Can't take too many days off of cleaning tho :/ the fishes in the tank are strictly carnivores so that's not a lot of help. They don't seem to eat snails either so they are taking over Lol. Snails and mulm are the most unsightly things right now I think. Mulm is a bugger but the fry depend on the critters that eat it So I suppose it's a necessary evil. I post some pics as soon as I clean the front of the glass ??
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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 07:01 PM
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From the pics and initial description, it looks like you did a good job setting up. I can only assume, then, that the algae is because of excess light. Is the tank still near the window?

Also, sunfish are super messy. I used to think my 30 gallon dirted tank had a cap breach problem until I redid it and learned that my dollar suns are basically swimming mulm factories. Keep on eye on ammonia and nitrates, do water changes when necessary.
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post #11 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 07:54 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bananableps View Post
From the pics and initial description, it looks like you did a good job setting up. I can only assume, then, that the algae is because of excess light. Is the tank still near the window?

Also, sunfish are super messy. I used to think my 30 gallon dirted tank had a cap breach problem until I redid it and learned that my dollar suns are basically swimming mulm factories. Keep on eye on ammonia and nitrates, do water changes when necessary.
Thanks. I think you're right about. The light. I did down grade to 60watts and they are in an opaque case. I also moved the tanks but now that the earth is moving lol They are getting some direct sunlight for a couple hours in the morning. Some of the plants in the tank I think need a lot of light though so unless I get rid of them . . . I'm still working on my balance. Right now the tank is getting 6 hours of my light and the sunlight hours are inside of my light hours. I did have them on in the afternoons so they were getting a lot of light! It really helped curb the algae when I switched to mornings. Here are some photos I also have a bowl that gets ZERO algae right next to these others. What's that about???

Also I do weekly water changes. If anyone could help identify a few plants that'd be cool. But I think I need to get on another device. I think this plant is wisteria but I'm not positive anyway there are a lot of little shoots underneath the big top of it. Is there something I should do about that? Trim the top perhaps? Thank you

The many very short ones are reddish underneath the leaves. The two very red ones are the same plant just the top was too tall for my tank so I put it in the bowl. Wow I just went back and looked at my original pictures and the tank has changed phenomenally. I changed my cap to just sand and I got rid of that wood. well actually I put it in my third tank which is not a dirted tank. So actually I have three tanks and a bowl for these fishes of which two are dirted one is capped with sand and one is capped with kitty litter.

Heres a little video progress report
?
https://youtu.be/IdU2MPTd1gE
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Last edited by Darkblade48; 11-30-2017 at 02:26 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #12 of 15 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 09:45 PM
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The many very short ones are reddish underneath the leaves. The two very red ones are the same plant just the top was too tall for my tank so I put it in the bowl. Wow I just went back and looked at my original pictures and the tank has changed phenomenally. I changed my cap to just sand and I got rid of that wood. well actually I put it in my third tank which is not a dirted tank. So actually I have three tanks and a bowl for these fishes of which two are dirted one is capped with sand and one is capped with kitty litter.

Hoping someone can come by and correct me, but here are my best guesses:

1) Some type of crypt. I'm not good at crypt identification. Wendtii green?

2) Ludwigia palustris.

3) Hygrophila something or other

4) No clue, but I see some liverwort in the back, either subwassertang or pellia - I think pellia?

5) Some ludwigia cultivar, with water sprite in the background.

As for the observed difference in algae between your main display and the bowl: bowl has more plants outcompeting the algae.
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post #13 of 15 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 07:16 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
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The many very short ones are reddish underneath the leaves. The two very red ones are the same plant just the top was too tall for my tank so I put it in the bowl. Wow I just went back and looked at my original pictures and the tank has changed phenomenally. I changed my cap to just sand and I got rid of that wood. well actually I put it in my third tank which is not a dirted tank. So actually I have three tanks and a bowl for these fishes of which two are dirted one is capped with sand and one is capped with kitty litter.

Hoping someone can come by and correct me, but here are my best guesses:

1) Some type of crypt. I'm not good at crypt identification. Wendtii green?

2) Ludwigia palustris.

3) Hygrophila something or other

4) No clue, but I see some liverwort in the back, either subwassertang or pellia - I think pellia?

5) Some ludwigia cultivar, with water sprite in the background.

As for the observed difference in algae between your main display and the bowl: bowl has more plants outcompeting the algae.
Wendi is right. I remember now that's what the seller said. There is suss back there. Those plants were much taller in front but I mostly killed them ish so they are so small lol. Probably harder to identify that way I had no idea the last was Ludwig. I thought it was wisteria :') thanks for your help!
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post #14 of 15 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 07:08 PM
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Oh, I meant the red one is a ludwigia cultivar. Water sprite = water wisteria
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post #15 of 15 (permalink) Old 12-03-2017, 04:57 AM Thread Starter
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Oh, I meant the red one is a ludwigia cultivar. Water sprite = water wisteria
good to know thanks lol. I've much to learn
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