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6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi Everyone!

I bought the first fish tank I have had in a long time. I purchased the 2.5 g mini betta aquarium, and the tank is ok. Works alright, and my betta seems to be doing well (purchased whole set up two weeks ago).

I made the mistake of buying the fish and tank without actually researching anything, and of course, the sales person in the petsmart encouraged me to do exactly the opposite of what I should have done. Throw the fish in 5 min after I started the filter! no mention of cycling, and the my favorite, I should only change the water about once in 4 months!

Anyway, I have been doing some research and I am very interested in setting a low tech, non co2 planted tank - probably in a 5 or 10 gallon aquarium. I have been reading so much information, including that fellow sudeep and his excellent step by step instructions. I love the way they look, but have a few questions.

Can I do a DSM with non co2?

I have read so much about subtrate... What should i be using exactly?

Can i purchase used equipment and if so, how should I make sure they are clean and ready to support the plants and fish (Sherman, my betta will surely love this set up!)

Any advice? I am excited to have such a cool project to work on, and would love to have a little advice from someone. I have read quite a few articles, and researched Tom Barr and his commentary on this, but I am still a little confused.

Thank all!

849 Posts
the sales person in the petsmart encouraged me to do exactly the opposite of what I should have done...

"Throw the fish in 5 min after starting the filter. No cycling, change the water about once in 4 months..."
...and come back for medicine when your fish gets sick... and come back for another fish when yours dies.

Sheesh. Well, you'll get mostly very good advice here. If you get any bad advice it is likely that another member will spot it and correct it. I can't help you with DSM myself. As for substrates, I am not sure if you mean ones to work with DSM specifically. If you mean generally, there are many good approaches. I would not suggest one over another without knowing what you want to get out of it. They all have their pros and cons. Some are low maintainance, some are high production, others are self sustaining, and some are as expensive as hell. If you did mineralized soil capped with sand I could help a little. I run a bare bottom now because I keep goldfish in it and their waste is unbelieveable. Ease of cleaning is what I want/need most for this tank. The plants are tied to big chunks of driftwood, so I can arrange them in different layouts every day if I feel like it. If I wanted a beautiful high light aquascape complete with a rolling green grasslike "lawn" I would have a very different substrate. Anyway, it is nice to have you in the forum.

324 Posts
Decide what look you like - black sand? white sand? brownish gravel? there are a lot of choices (and prices!) out there.

I have flourite in both tanks. It's what I started with a few years ago and my plants are fine.

I don't run CO2 'cause I didn't want to go that route. I dose liquid ferts 'cause my tank is only a 20L it's not too expensive.

Used equipment is fine although one of the small kits might be easier.

I'm glad you're looking after your betta:)

6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks all! I was thinking the best subtrate for dsm. If I do dsm should I only use carpeting plants? Is it possible to the dsm and still run the setup without co2?

I'm getting excited to take on this project, but this time I'm going to do my research first! I think Sherman my betta will really love this setup.

Thanks all for your replies!

11,721 Posts
You can do a DSM then run the set up with no CO2.

If you are buying a used set up with the goal of moving the Betta in right away, make sure you see the set up running. Make sure the tank does not leak, and the filter is running.

Take it down, (bring your own buckets) move to your house and set it up right away.
Add ammonia to test anywhere from 1 ppm to 3 ppm.
Let it run overnight.
How well the ammonia is gone the next day is an indication of how good the biological filtration is.
Bacteria and plants both remove ammonia. If all the ammonia is gone, this is great!
Test also the nitrite.
The bacteria that remove ammonia produce nitrite. If there is nitrite showing then the tank is not fully cycled, or maybe just needs to run a few days to get over being moved.
Plants can remove nitrite, too.
Test nitrate. The bacteria that remove nitrite produce nitrate. If there is a lot of ammonia to start with, then it ends up getting turned into a lot of nitrate.
Plants can remove nitrate, too.

Here are the three possibilities, the day after you have added ammonia:
1) No ammonia, no nitrite. GREAT! Add the Betta!
2) Ammonia still there, no nitrite: Not so great. Plants and bacteria are not up to dealing with the amount of ammonia that would be produced by the fish. Do the fishless cycle.
3) Ammonia partially gone, and some nitrite showing: Not so good. The bacteria are enough alive to turn some ammonia into nitrite, but the nitrite removing bacteria are not up to removing the nitrite. Do the fishless cycle.

Here is the fishless cycle.
Note that with plants, they may not like very much ammonia. Maybe just add ammonia to 1 ppm, but do this twice a day until the tank is cycled.

Fishless Cycle
You too can boast that "No fish were harmed in the cycling of your new tank"
Cycling a tank means to grow the beneficial bacteria that will help to decompose the fish waste (especially ammonia). These bacteria need ammonia to grow. There are 3 sources of ammonia that work to do this. One is fish. Unfortunately, the process exposes the fish to ammonia, which burns their gills, and nitrite, which makes their blood unable to carry oxygen. This often kills the fish.

Another source is decomposing protein. You could cycle your tank by adding fish food or a dead fish or shellfish. You do not know how much beneficial bacteria you are growing, though.

The best source of ammonia is... Ammonia. In a bottle.

Using fish is a delicate balance of water changes to keep the toxins low (try not to hurt the fish) but keep feeding the bacteria. It can take 4 to 8 weeks to cycle a tank this way, and can cost the lives of several fish. When you are done you have grown a small bacteria population that still needs to be nurtured to increase its population. You cannot, at the end of a fish-in cycle, fully stock your tank.

The fishless/ammonia cycle takes as little as 3 weeks, and can be even faster, grows a BIG bacteria population, and does not harm fish in any way.

Both methods give you plenty of practice using your test kit.

How to cycle a tank the fishless way:

1) Make sure all equipment is working, fill with water that has all the stuff you will need for the fish you intend to keep. Dechlorinator, minerals for GH or KH adjustments, the proper salt mix, if you are creating a brackish or marine tank. These bacteria require a few minerals, so make sure the GH and KH is at least 3 German degrees of hardness. Aquarium plant fertilizer containing phosphate should be added if the water has no phosphate. They grow best when the pH is in the 7s. Good water movement, fairly warm (mid to upper 70sF), no antibiotics or other toxins.

2) (Optional)Add some source of the bacteria. Used filter media from a cycled tank is best, gravel or some decorations or a few plants... even some water, though this is the poorest source of the beneficial bacteria.
Bacteria in a bottle can be a source of these bacteria, but make sure you are getting Nitrospira spp of bacteria. All other ‘bacteria in a bottle’ products have the wrong bacteria. This step is optional. The proper bacteria will find the tank even if you make no effort to add them. Live plants may bring in these bacteria on their leaves and stems.

3) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This is the non-sudsing, no surfactants, no-fragrance-added ammonia that is often found in a hardware store, discount stores, and sometimes in a grocery store. The concentration of ammonia may not be the same in all bottles. Try adding 5 drops per 10 gallons, then allowing the filter to circulate for about an hour, then test. If the reading isn't up to 5 ppm, add a few more drops and test again. (Example, if your test reads only 2 ppm, then add another 5 drops) Some ammonia is such a weak dilution you may need to add several ounces to get a reading.

4) Test for ammonia daily, and add enough to keep the reading at 5 ppm. You probably will not have to add much, if any, in the first few days, unless you added a good amount of bacteria to jump start the cycle.

5) Several days after you start, begin testing for nitrites. When the nitrites show up, reduce the amount of ammonia you add so the test shows 3ppm. (Add only half as much ammonia as you were adding in part 4) Add this reduced amount daily from now until the tank is cycled.
If the nitrites get too high (over 5 ppm), do a water change. The bacteria growth is slowed because of the high nitrites. Reducing the level of ammonia to 3 ppm should prevent the nitrite from getting over 5 ppm.

6) Continue testing, and adding ammonia daily. The nitrates will likely show up about 2 weeks after you started. Keep monitoring, and watch for 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrite and rising nitrates.

7) Once the 0 ppm ammonia and nitrites shows up it may bounce around a little bit for a day or two. Be patient. Keep adding the ammonia; keep testing ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
When it seems done you can challenge the system by adding more than a regular dose of ammonia, and the bacteria should be able to remove the ammonia and nitrite by the next day.
If you will not be adding fish right away continue to add the ammonia to keep the bacteria fed.

8) When you are ready to add the fish, do at least one water change, and it may take a couple of them, to reduce the nitrate to safe levels (as low as possible, certainly below 10 ppm) I have seen nitrate approaching 200 ppm by the end of this fishless cycle in a non-planted tank.

9) You can plant a tank that is being cycled this way at any point during the process. If you plant early, the plants will be well rooted, and better able to handle the disruption of the water change.
Yes, the plants will use some of the ammonia and the nitrates. They are part of the nitrogen handling system, part of the biofilter, they are working for you. Some plants do not like high ammonia, though. If a certain plant dies, remove it, and only replace it after the cycle is done.

10) The fishless cycle can also be used when you are still working out the details of lighting, plants and other things. If you change the filter, make sure you keep the old media for several weeks or a month. Most of the bacteria have been growing in this media (sponges, floss etc).

6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks Diana!

I am looking at purchasing a 5g chi off of Kijiji, and the lady has emptied to prepare for sale. I have asked to add some water so that I can make sure there are no leaks or cracks, and am most likely going to change the filter and the lighting system. I love the shape of the tank but I have not heard great things about the standard equipment that comes along with this.

Sherman the betta is liking his little tank, so he will stay there until the new tank is up and running which I think will probably be some time from now. I would like to plant this tank and run it non co2 low light so will probably start to look for the appropriate equipment. If anyone can recommend a filter and light that goes along with this, that would be very much appreciated.

I have some what of an idea of plants I should be using, or at leas have access to where I can find that list in this forum.

I just have to figure out the subtrate and where to get the plants I would like to grow and I am ready to start setting this up.

I am guessing it will be 6 weeks or so until I add water and fish? Again, any recommendation to an appropriate filter and lighting system for a 5g chi for low tech non co2 would be appreciated! I can't wait to play show and tell!
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