FW Clean up crew and Beneficial Bacteria? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 01:22 PM Thread Starter
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FW Clean up crew and Beneficial Bacteria?

Hello all. I am wondering if anyone could help me with some clean up issues i'm having.

Most of my more recent fish keeping experience comes from saltwater reefs, and i'm used to building clean up crews to take care of the mess. This normally works well, leaving only the glass for me to clean. Well, i am trying to adapt that same idea to my fresh water turtle swamp, and i'm at a loss.
My problem is the main inhabitants of the tank, 3 turtles. 1 being a snapper that likes to eat, so i can't do any kind of small crab or shrimp.

Right now my only issue is detritus building up in the substrate and low flow areas. The only large detritus eating cleaner i could think of is a crayfish, but he's not able to take care of the entire tank as much as i'd hoped. He does help, but it's not enough. He's also been pulling up my plants, so he's leaving soon enough. Outside of the crayfish, my clean up crew consist of two large ramshorn snails, and a rabbit snail. They do perfect for algae cleanup, but little to nothing for my detritus. I also have 4 little flagfish that seem to do a great job at keeping the rest of the algae at bay.

What i'm thinking is a decent scud culture, and maybe some type of worms? I need something that'll be able to hide well and reproduce as fast or faster then they're consumed. My tank has plenty of hiding spots for anything to grow, just can't be slow to move or reproduce. Due to my adding of pond plants, i've added daphnia, some hair worms, other tiny water insects,and a few weeks later saw a tiny white leach like worm pop up from my substrate. I didn't however see anything that looks like an amphipod.

I could be going about this all wrong, but it seems like a decent idea in my head if i relate this to reefing. Any ideas or places that'll help me with building a fresh water clean up crew would be much appreciated, and i'd love to know how others have done this in the past.

Picture is to show the amount of hiding space that's available.



I'd also like to ask on how much of the "live rock" "Live sand" information transfers over to fresh water? If i have a 5" layer of substrate, will whatever's living within the substrate help the tank? Same going with the rocks and wood in my tank. Is there beneficial bacteria that lives within, similar to saltwater? I am upgrading the tank to a larger setup within the next few months so i'd like to get a better understanding for the plans.

Thank you.


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post #2 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 02:35 PM
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Since you're keeping turtles, I'm not sure standard planted tanking rules of thumb will help you a ton.

The filtration doesn't look adequate. So definitely start there. What are you using? What kind of media?

You could add a ton more plants - but I'm sure your turtles will make quick work of them/make a mess of them - unless you're using hardy, strong varieties. They'd use up detritus as it breaks down into the substrate.

You can use airline tubing or other clear tube/hose to siphon out what's on the surface of your substrate if you want. Without disturbing much of the substrate, of course.

If you had sand, I'd recommend Malaysian Trumpet Snails, as they work the substrate.

Pond and Bladder Snails will help clean things up.

Beneficial bacteria live on every surface of your tank and in your substrate. So they do 'help' your system.

Algae is typically the result of an imbalance in lighting and nutrients.

What kind of lighting are you using and how many hours per day?

Water temperature?

What are your other parameters? kH, gH (if you have those kits), ammonia, nitrite, nitrate.


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post #3 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-11-2019, 03:49 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by somewhatshocked View Post
Since you're keeping turtles, I'm not sure standard planted tanking rules of thumb will help you a ton.

The filtration doesn't look adequate. So definitely start there. What are you using? What kind of media?
This is just a turtle tank filter, i have other filters, but nothing that'll deal with the distance from the rim, to the surface. Upgrade will have a canister with lily tubes.

You could add a ton more plants - but I'm sure your turtles will make quick work of them/make a mess of them - unless you're using hardy, strong varieties. They'd use up detritus as it breaks down into the substrate.
Not sure on how hardy the plants i have are now, but they only seem to be eating my java fern, and duckweed. And tbh, i think it's the crayfish that's eating my java fern. And having the plants break down the detritus is the goal, i just need something to break it down a little more so it can reach the roots.

You can use airline tubing or other clear tube/hose to siphon out what's on the surface of your substrate if you want. Without disturbing much of the substrate, of course.
I did consider that. I was using normal 1/4" tubing for this, and it works. Just super time consuming. Although i do spend many hours just staring, could do work instead =)


If you had sand, I'd recommend Malaysian Trumpet Snails, as they work the substrate.
Im debating heavily on sand. I havent done much research on aquatic ferts, so i'd have to see how they work with a sand substrate over the normal aquatic soil i tend to see them used with. I personally would prefer sand as it just looks nicer, and it goes with the style i'm planning for this tanks future.

Pond and Bladder Snails will help clean things up.

Beneficial bacteria live on every surface of your tank and in your substrate. So they do 'help' your system.
Ok, so it's there and i'm assuming items such as wood and some porous rock will have more area to live on then glass and stones? Wood most likely being the most beneficial? I have read that the natural tannin from the wood also helps, but that's more for immune system and not cleanliness. Does this mean that a tank similar to a black water with more decaying matter such as leaves will have more beneficial bacteria?

Algae is typically the result of an imbalance in lighting and nutrients.
I have a no algae growth problems. My plants do fine, and i've only had to take a razor to the glass once since setup. Wasnt bad, just hard for close-ups.

What kind of lighting are you using and how many hours per day?
I run my lights for approx 14hrs a day. They're turned on before i leave for work around 7am, and turned off before bed around midnight. I am using (2) 4ft fluorescent bulbs for now. I don't plan on going any higher output on the lights (with the turtle setup) as i'm going with more of a lagoon/swamp feel (which i recently learned is very similar to a black water setup).

Water temperature?
70F. Sometimes fluctuates from the A/C, but not much at all.

What are your other parameters? kH, gH (if you have those kits), ammonia, nitrite, nitrate.
I have not checked these personally other then my LFS saying everything is fine. And i havent really looked at my kits, but i assume they're for SW from my reefing days, and not FW. I'll go up this weekend for a test.
I don't really have a problem with algae growth, its actually very very minimal. My plants are all thriving, and i havent had any sickness in my setup. My problem is purely with the amount of fish and turtle poop. I believe my tank is over stocked, and i have no plans on reducing other then removing my two painted turtles once they're no longer babies. I have zero issues with food mess from the turtles due to the fish eating every single little scrap that's made. I also feed very small pieces directly so it's almost always swallowed whole. Also, this setup is just a learning tank for my future blackwater setup. I plan on having the same hollistic approach on my upgrade, which will eventually not include a turtle, but perhaps some other kind of predator.

I know i can easily clean the tank myself, but with being an ecosystem guy, i would much rather find an organic or natural approach to this situation. I would love to try scuds as they'd not only help break down the large waste, but would be another food source to anything that can catch one. That's what i want. It's the reason i built this tank the way i did. lights, water, waste feed plants. Plants, turtle waste, and scrap feed fish. Plants and Fish reproduce and feed turtles. And the cycle just continues.

I am no fan of being a janitor for a fish tank, would much rather be god to an aquatic world.
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post #4 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 01:00 PM
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Definitely pick up a test kit. It'll come in handy.

With turtles, there's not a lot you can do with small environments that you can keep in your home. No real way to set it and forget it like you could a Dendrobates vivarium or even some aquariums that are heavily planted. Turtles produce so much waste that it's way more difficult. Manual cleaning is pretty much going to be a must.
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post #5 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 02:07 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by somewhatshocked View Post
Definitely pick up a test kit. It'll come in handy.

With turtles, there's not a lot you can do with small environments that you can keep in your home. No real way to set it and forget it like you could a Dendrobates vivarium or even some aquariums that are heavily planted. Turtles produce so much waste that it's way more difficult. Manual cleaning is pretty much going to be a must.
The turts will eventually be taken out. I guess the ultimate question is can a bioactive FW planted tank be achieved? Will i eventually be able to do the cycle i want? lights, water, waste feed plants. Plants, predator waste, and scrap feed fish. Plants and Fish reproduce and feed predators. And the cycle continues?


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post #6 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 02:32 PM
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Probably not like you're thinking. Still gonna require regular maintenance. Even with an outdoor pond.

Granted, many of my tanks are super-low maintenance and take about 15 minutes per month of my time. But I still regularly monitor water parameters, make sure plants are fine, remove anything that could foul the system, give equipment a good look-over.

If you plan well and keep things simple, you'll be able to achieve something that's relatively easy to maintain.

The best place to start is reading through journals here on the forum. Check out what others have done with their low-tech setups. Tons upon tons of inspiration.


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post #7 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 04:36 PM
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I have never heard of anyone keeping worms or insects in a freshwater tank for cleanup. Usually if something like that shows up people flip into action mode and get it out quick since its usually very bad for fish.

When it comes to fish waste the cleanup process is a combination of filtration and letting it break down naturally into ammonia, then nitrite, then nitrate which is plant food.

So a couple of thoughts. 1) Talking about your tank right now with turtles is so completely different then your tank without turtles it would be almost like talking about this tank as a saltwater tank vs a freshwater tank. The considerations of what must be done are VERY different. 2) Your filter is wholly inadequate for either your current setup or a future setup without turtles.

I am going to base the rest of this discussion on there being turtles in this tank because thats the way it is now. If/when you move them out you will need to revisit the issue of aquascape, stocking, filtration, plants, etc

In the freshwater world we rely on beneficial bacteria a lot to improve water quality. While they grow on any surface in your tank we typically are concerned with filter media as the primary location for bacteria growth. I am not familiar with turtle filters but judging from the size of what I can see in the middle of your tank I am guessing that you have about 1/10th the filter media in that thing that I would think is needed for a 75 gallon tank with just fish. I have no idea what that means for a tank with turtles other then inadequate.

In your case because you don't have enough media for bacteria growth likely most of your bacteria is actually on your substrate. So if you decide to replace your existing substrate all at once you would be removing most of your bacteria which would likely result in a ammonia/nitrite spike that could kill your purely aquatic inhabitants.

So here is what I would do if I were you. I would immediately buy a canister filter or make a diy sump. The former likely being more expensive because you will need to be buying a canister filter rated at more then a 75 gallon tank since canister filter companies are all liars heh. Basic rule of thumb is to double or triple the volume being filtered for buying a canister filter. So buying a filter rated at around 150 or 220 gallon would be a good move for this tank. The flow into and out of this filter is going to be what does your nitrate cycle and also what mechanically removes your turtle poop hopefully. Alternatively you can make a sump that contains your pump, filter media, any heaters needed, etc.
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post #8 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 05:35 PM
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I totally get what you're trying to do, as I've been doing something similar with my new 55g tank--partially by design, and partially in response to an algae bloom after it finished cycling. Here's what I've done:

Snails: MTS added at the outset to eat detritus & aerate the substrate. Ramshorn & bladder snails hitchhiked in on the plants--eat algae & detritus. Added a couple assassin snails to deal with a massive bladder snail outbreak. They stay in the substrate and I haven't seen them since. Hoping the puffers didn't get them, but suspect they're eating the baby bladder & ramshorn snails, not the larger assassins. Between the assassins and the pea puffers, the snail population seems to have stabilized nicely.

Otocinclus--added 4 to deal with the initial outbreak of green hair algae. They cleaned that up quickly, and take care of the green dust algae on the walls & plants, and more recently on the brown algae that has appeared. Haven't had to feed them once in the 6 wks I've had them. Tried giving them a green wafer, some cucumber, kale, etc, but they prefer the algae so far.

Pea puffers--added two when I had a massive explosion of bladder & ramshorn snails. They seem to feed on these exclusively, and are fat & happy.

Ghost shrimp: put in a dozen, and nearly all seem to have survived. They eat just about anything--detritus, dead plant material, algae, and excess food (if I had any.) They've gotten huge, and some of the larger females look to have eggs. They'll breed in the tank, unlike amanos. Need to read up on their breeding, but it seems to be pretty easy, and the babies will provide food for the guppy fry & adults. And for the shrimp--who apparently will eat their own young as well.

Guppies--have a couple of pregnant females which keep dropping fry. The fry seem to have fed themselves, and are getting bigger. The guppys are the only thing I feed, but I've been away a week at a time without feeding them, and they appear fat & happy when I return. They're likely eating algae, and possibly some of their fry and/or shrimp larvae.

The eventual plan is to get a group of angels to grow up and get a breeding pair. I had success as a kid doing this using guppy fry as their main live food source to condition them for spawning. Pea puffers, even though they're tiny, can be aggressive fin-nippers--so they're the one thing that may need to be removed if they can't play nice with the angels

Substrate: a small amount of mineralized peat potting soil, capped with 2-3" of SafeTsorb. In theory a rich substrate is a low maintenance way to grow healthy plants. Eventually the substrate will get depleted, and you can use Osmocote+ or root tabs when this happens. Those may not provide complete nutrition for healthy plants, and most people on here will recommend supplemental dosing of the water column--especially for stem & floating plants. I did come across these pellets for trace elements, iron & phosphate that could allow you to do this in the substrate: https://aquariumplants.com/collectio...eid=c951743d8a . Haven't tried it yet, so can't say myself.

I'm only about 6 wks into this, so can't claim any success yet. Like you, I've got a theory I'm testing out. And I'm still cycling through nearly every kind of algae there is. Trying to be patient and change one variable at a time until I get a handle on it. Hoping to reach a balance where the plants outcompete the algae. While not attractive, algae isn't unhealthy, and my livestock revel in it (and feed on it) I'd like to get to a point where I'm down to just a little green dust algae for the shrimp, snails & otos to feed on, so all I might need to do is wipe down the front glass occasionally.

It remains to see how well this will all work out. I travel a lot, so the goal is to have an attractively planted low maintenance tank that I can leave for a week or two without it crashing, or my livestock starving.

Look forward to seeing how your experiment works out. Keep us posted, and good luck!
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post #9 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 07:49 PM
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What you are trying to do is similar to what Iíve heard referred to as Ďel naturalí. Iím not too sure if this is still being talked about as that was a number of years ago, but the idea was essentially a mini ecosystem using substrate and fish waste to fuel the plants and relying on plants to reduce nitrates in theory requiring little to no water changes. In reality the problem is that the fish to water ratio is so ridiculously high in an aquarium (as opposed to natural ecosystems) that itís very difficult to pull off for any length of time without requiring manual removal of wastes and injection of nutrients at some regular type of interval.

I have also thought about how to implement reefkeeping type practices in freshwater since I was into that for a while. The idea of using live rock to reduce nitrates to near 0 could be reproduced through use of plants. I think it gets more complex though with plants because they are also a living organism that needs other nutrients in order to grow, and you have the light and co2 variables. An algae cleanup crew is important for plant health too. So rather than having focus on simply breaking down all detritus to nitrogen that the live rock can use, the focus becomes maintaining the health of the plants so they are able to use up the nitrates being generated. And since skimmers donít work on freshwater, you need filtration for removal of wastes instead, which is then generating even more nitrates unless you clean it constantly. But since most freshwater fish are not overly sensitive to nitrates like corals etc. there hasnít been as much focus on eliminating nitrates in freshwater other than through periodic water changes. Anyway my .02 at the moment.





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post #10 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-12-2019, 09:54 PM
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Big problem I see with yours is I would have been sure to use a finer substrate or cap it with 1-3m sand etc. the finer pore structure will keep detritus from settling into deep substrate bed.

There, at top layer of substrate you can actually manage detritus, even add extra leaf liter in the highly aerobic environment there without problems. Itís when detritus and in your case turtle poop settles into deep layers, cuts off circulation down there that highly anaerobic pockets will happen. Basically bottom layers of your substrate will become a sewer.

In natural ecosystems there are clearly defined layering of oxic and anoxic activity, all the raw fresh organic matter should be at surface. There in your tank you can lightly vac, use a turkey baster to blow up excess detritus and let filter pads pick it up so you can remove excess. Once it settles into deep layer substrate your pretty much screwed.

This would be more like what I would want to see at bottom of a natural turtle habitat.

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post #11 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 05:29 AM
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Beautiful tank Dave! Those look like some happy little corys!

Bump: Loop, you tank is overstocked. You should get those turtles out of there ASAP and add way more filtration.
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post #12 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 06:15 AM
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Lots of good advice! You are managing a complex ecosystem. Amano shrimp probably have at least four-times the appetite of neocaradina, and could probably go after all of that stuff. However, they might also out-compete neocaradina.

I remember that Corey from ACO recommended Ziss filters for turtle tanks. I have no personal experience with them, but they might be worth a look.

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post #13 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 01:49 PM Thread Starter
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Wow, you guys have given me a LOT of great advice.
The tank is going to be swapped with a 70g and new filters next month, i just dont have anything that would handle the 5" drop currently.

@somewhatshocked
I know i'll always have to do regular maintenance, but i want to reduce that as much as possible. Yes, the tank is very overstocked right now, but water changes have kept them happy and clean.

@minorhero
The use of insects as my CuC would/should benefit the entire community as not only would the insects help break down waste matter, but they'd provide a reoccurring "natural" food. I guess i am scrapping the CuC idea until i remove the turtles, which i am OK with considering i dont want to have my crew eaten. I will also continue to research the idea, but won't put this in to effect until i swap tanks and get the turts out. I'm an insect collector as well as a breeder. I've never tried water insects, but i believe this can be done. I've created a CuC with dry insect ecosystems that worked out well. The cycle i was aiming for was achieved, and i was growing fat predators in multi-species communities with very minimal input. Also, the filter is just a bio-bag filter. Like a mini HOB filter with suction cups to attach on the inside of a tank.

@Desert Pupfish
I havent done much research on snails, just know that they have to be larger then my snappers mouth. I've introduced nearly 100 ramshorn and other pestiferous snails to the tank only to NEVER see them survive longer then a few days. My snapper breaks their shells open and eats what he can, and then the white lobster comes over to pick them clean. He's more then strong enough to rip shells open (have video if you wanna see), and he's very bold when it comes to getting his meals. I've seen him sitting on vertical glass, golding on to my striped ramshorn snails trying to peel them off. He's also unable to eat my rabbit snail.
The Otocinclus is actually a very good idea. I've always know they were much better then plecos, just wasnt quite sure on how much better.
I'd LOVE to do puffers, but they'll have to wait until the turts come out. Otherwise i'm sure they'll be eaten and then i'll have dead puffer and dead turts.
And thank you for the dosing and pellet advice. I always wondered how substrate in heavily planted tanks get re-fertilized.

@CarissaT
Back when i was big in to reefing, I had a buddy who used nearly the same practice as saltwater, and built a very beautiful freshwater lagoon. The setup had only a bubbler, and clean up crew. I don't remember how many fish he had, but it was a lot less then me. He also didn't have turtles or any other kind of predators. Due to my love for the Godzilla effect, i can't not have some kind of predator in my communities. And you are absolutely correct on the fish to water ratio. In SW, i remember the rule to thumb was 1 fish per 10g of water. I'd drop well under that ratio, but i also balanced the tank with an over sized refuge, and enough live rock to balance. I wasnt able to skimp on water changes, but that's about it.

@DaveKS
I really like the idea of capping my substrate with sand, and may do that this weekend. I really wasn't thinking of grain size when i let my son choose the substrate as this was only meant to be a turtle tank at first. It makes perfect sense though, and it's the reason we don't use it in SW. I don't like using a vac to pull the crap up from within the substrate as it bothers my root system. Also, that picture is gorgeous. Is that yours?

@aquanerd13
The turtles have to stay for now. I don't have space for another setup, and i am planning on moving by the end of august. I do understand that the tank is overstocked, and my filtration is crappy.... for now =D

@Streetwise
I agree! This has answered a lot of great questions, and shows that my idea may not be a bad one, just one that's not done often.



Once i move, i plan on doing about a month with no fish or turtles in the tank. This maybe longer depending on the cycle i'll be putting the tank through. It'll start off with the normal planted setup routine. Dry aquascaping, so many days dry, fill water column, cycle. But i plan on doing my cycle a little more like a saltwater tank. Once my tank is filled, i will kick start the cycle with piece of shrimp or silverside fish (dead ofc), and introduce my insect CuC at that moment. This should allow die-off, and then blooms in my insect population. They'll have plenty of time to become abundant before i add my fish selection back, and from there i will choose my champion. Could be a giant water bug that'll grapple and eat fish, could just be a newt. idk.
Tonight i will start preparing my water insect list, and i'll post it here for you guys to help me with. I know there's going to be some flaws in my planning that i hope you guys will point out, and i appreciate that. I am new to the FW eco scene, but i believe my SW knowledge can transfer over to something beautiful with your guys help.

Thank you.


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post #14 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 03:18 PM Thread Starter
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I know i have this same question in my journal, but i feel that it would also be appropriate to ask here. I've been looking around and planning the upgrade, and i want more land.

I'm thinking of adding a land shelf at the surface of my water. It'll be created by placing driftwood, sticks, and slate on top of my pre-existing corner rock structures. I'll then add a layer of mesh, small rocks or hydrogarden pellets, a peat mix, and then plants that'll take root.

What i'm thinking is that this is going to create a large filter that i could possible utilize? I'll place a small pump underneath which will drain onto of the shelf, just to filter through the moss, rock, and mesh. I'd imagine i could use crabs or other cleaners to eat the buildup the land drain creates, and I'd assume the worms/insects i'd be using for my CuC would also live in the shelf, and help the root system. This would also give me a better selection of both tank inhabitants, as well as the CuC not having to be fully aquatic.

I would like to completely eliminate the need for a traditional filter. I know this can be done, but i want it on my terms with my styling. I'd like tyo go with something similar to this, just without the land built up on the front sides or the taller plants.


Thoughts?


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post #15 of 19 (permalink) Old 07-16-2019, 06:57 PM
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No not my tank, just a random image search for leaf liter aquarium brought that beautiful tank up.

But with cap I will warn you avoid super fine sands, you still want substrate to breath, 1-3mm size, no smaller.

If you want to stay black the black diamond blast sand would work but I would run it through a sieve/mesh that lets 1mm or smaller get strained out. Basically add that 1-2mm or larger to top layer little bit each week, scatter it about, tap it in so it settles in cracks of larger gravel. Little bit at time, gradual slow build up of cap and especially, clean substrate under it really well to get as much detritus out of lower levels before you start capping it off, you want to avoid starting a hard anaerobic time bomb in there. Add absolutely no more than is actually needed to tighten up top layer with a +- .25” cap. Your top grade of existing substrate should not rise very much, it’s already at max depth I’d want to see.
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