So I have a friend who inherited a tank. It's a hex/tall so I have no clue what size ... 15-20G? The lighting is terrible (stock fluorescent bulb, doesn't penetrate far down). She let the fish store advise her and did the thing where you buy 3 fish to cycle the tank.
I live 2 hours away & took her some super-low-light, low-maintenance plants (java fern, java moss, anubias) and some fast-growing, water-cleaning plants (anacharis, water sprite, some other stems, a little duckweed).
Now she's ready to (1) stock her tank and (2) take my advice over the fish store's. So I'm going up there again this weekend to go fish and plant shopping with her.
Here's the thing: she wants low, low maintenance and super-minimal water changes.
I know some things that can help, but I couldn't find anywhere that lists, in an easy format, what steps to take to set up a tank that allows you to minimize water changes and maintenance in general. I can think of the following:
--low light, no CO2
--low fish load (how does this translate into actual practice? half of the suggested maximum on something like AqAdvisor, which I understand to be conservative and not aimed at people with planted tanks?)
--plants that consume fish waste especially efficiently (anacharis, floaters?) I'm trying to balance that with the other side of low-maintenance, which is that fast-growing plants require more trimming, removal, etc., so other plant suggestions would be great. (Plus the floaters block what light there is to the other plants!)
--ensuring good circulation throughout the tank
Anything I'm not thinking of?
The book "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium
" by Diana Walstad is about setting up a low maintenance soil-based tank. The last chapter in that book listed the steps involved.
Since your hex tank is tall, you may want to use CF bulb - it reaches much deeper than a regular T8 or T6.
As to fish load, stock it as you would for a regular tank.
On plants that consume fish waste efficiently, basically any fast growing plants will do. If you do not want that much time doing trimming, use the slower growing plants and cut down on the fish load.
If you want to experiment with plants, instead of having a soil substrate covering the tank bottom, have plants in containers (filled with soil and capped with gravel). That way you can easily switch plants by taking out a container and re-plant it.
For good circulation, just have a little pump.
Because of the soil and plants, the tank does NOT need any filter (mechanical or biological) for on-going operation.
As explained in Diana's book, due to the aerial advantage, floating plants (e.g. duckweed, red root floater, and salvinia) are great helpers on maintaining a healthy tank.
During the initial setup period, while the submerged plants are adjusting to a new environment, floating plants get to work immediately. Thus, preventing algae from the very beginning.
Floating plants do block some light. But as long as the submerged plants do not require a lot of light, they should be okay.
I have applied the Walstad method to tanks as small as 2.5 gallons requiring very very low maintenance. Basically just feeding, trimming, and topping up water. No need to even do a single water change.
BTW, there is no need to cycle a Walstad tank. Add fish within 24 hours of setting up the tank.