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Hey everyone! I'm rather new to the hobby (and to the forum) but eager to learn a lot and get to it. I am hoping to start a low-tech (no Co2, no ferts, no heater) planted neocardinia nanotank for my 5.5 gallon tank (dimensions: 16"x8"x10"). I plan to have a sponge filter with air pump and a pretty solid nicrew light on board.

I'm wondering, for a tank of my dimensions, what depth of substrate is required? Additionally, what is a preferred substrate? I've been reading about different types of aquasoil, etc... but have also heard from other hobbyists that have offered advice that gravel or sand will do just fine and that other things are overkill for the tank I have in mind. As I'm on a bit of a budget at the moment, I'd love to know what is really necessary.

I appreciate any and all thoughts and suggestions
 

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Dirted tanks capped with sand is the cheapest you can do, however, probably the most problematic due to the soil potentially leeching through. I think a 5.5g is fine, I have housed shrimps in 2 and 2.5g before, they're in a 5g now but I'm hoping to upgrade them to a bigger tank because the problem in which I have found, which would probably not pertain to you is, my water parameters out of tap is pretty bad, very high pH, and with me wanting a planted tank, what ends up happening is that my plants don't like it, some do, some don't. Substrates such as Tropica soil, or Statrum will lower the pH, and I find shrimps do better in those substrates. HOWEVER, in the spring-summer months, I have kept shrimps outside, in a 55g, and they do remarkably well. What's my substrate? Eco-Complete, which is inert, dirt at the bottom, and sand. I haven't fed them for months and they've thrived and I had hundreds of babies in a few months. Heavily planted is better, creates a soft filter for the tank.
 

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If you aren't planning on fertilizing, just using gravel and sand will not work. You can use them to cap soil, but you need the soil to feed the plants. With such a small tank getting aquasoil wouldn't be that expensive to do, but be you should be aware that its ability to buffer the water is time limited.

I have a 5 gallon tank with neos and fish that is about 1" soil and 1" gravel cap. I think Diana Walstad recommends gravel that is 1 mm to 2 mm and I have to agree that it makes a really nice texture to plant in. I don't really like the look of exposed aquasoil though, so honestly this was largely a cosmetic decision for me, but YMMV.

I would urge you to reconsider your no fert plan though. First, you need to have enough calcium and magnesium to keep your shrimp happy (GH) - if your tap water is not good to go in this respect you need to do something about that. I know mine is too soft, but tap water varies so much from place to place. Second, you need to be sure that your plants are getting enough nutrients to live. They probably can do ok on just soil or aquasoil for a while, but a shrimp only tank is a very light bioload and I'd be concerned you aren't adding enough to your system to sustain the plants long term. They won't need a lot, especially if you choose the easiest plants (which I encourage you to do anyway at first), but they can't just survive on water and light.
 
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