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What do you mean by self sustaining?

I'd suggest brushing up on cycling aquariums for one. But aside from that, I'm not exactly sure what you're looking for, so can't really give suggestions.
I am new to this and still learning, so I may have misunderstood something along the way. Let me explain.

From what I understand so far, there are routines that need to be done to keep my tank clean and healthy: scrubbing algae, water changes, cleaning gravel (using a siphon vacuum was suggested) and that with a 5-gallon tank, I heard it's actually harder to maintain and clean (Sadly, my apartment does not allow tanks larger than a 5-gallon) To combat this, I was trying to find out if a low-maintenance (or even a self-sustaining) tank set up is possible. What I mean by self-sustaining is that my tank and its inhabitants can survive without constant care from me besides basic set up requirements (filters, heaters, lights, etc)

I've read articles online about self-sustaining tanks (you can easily find some with a quick google search) It deals with setting up a tank's food chain with a harmony that will allow it to thrive on its own, meaning the tank will require less attention from me in the end. From what I've gathered, my smaller size tank would thrive with a chain of algae and micro-organisms, plants, micro-critters (micro-planarians, daphnia, small pond snails), and herbivorous species (freshwater shrimp)

Besides that, I've also read about denitrators/nitrate filters, which claim to minimize tank cleaning routines and water changes. I've heard some people claim their set up requires absolutely no water changes for months, but as I'm new to the hobby, I was a bit skeptical about this option.

I haven't gotten as far as to start cycling my tank yet... I'm still figuring out what exactly I'd like to do, how best to do it, etc. I don't want to finish setting up a tank to find out my schedule is going to prevent me from taking proper care of it. I'd rather figure that out beforehand and know exactly what I'm getting myself into. I'd love to set up a tank that wouldn't need much if any attention from me, and I'm fairly confident that it is possible, I'm just trying to find the best, simplest and cheapest way to do it.

First you will need to upgrade that crap on top (the light). LOL

Finnex 24/7 is the first that comes to mind when it comes to regular planted tanks not to low not to high (lighting wise).
Yeah, I had been looking around at some different light options since I knew (from looking at reviews) that this light won't do anything for my tank besides, well... light up the tank. I'll check out the Finnex 24/7, thanks for the suggestion.

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Ok. Here's the thing. Self-sustaining tanks are only self-sustaining if they have a MASSIVE water volume, much larger than what you have now. Why? Because in order for it to self sustain, you have to have enough nutrients to fuel the phytoplankton and primary producers (algae, microalgae) growth. Then, you need to have enough of those to fuel micro-plankton like daphnia and copepods. Only after that is done, can you add the secondary predators like fish or micropredators (think small nano fish like chili rasboras, etc.), and if they breed, you need a few predators to take care of those. Again, larger than what you have now.

That being said, if you only plan to have shrimp, then your current plan is a good one. Make sure that you look into freshwater DSB's, your tank has the height for it, it seems synergistic with the Walstadt method but may need modification, and coincides with your plan to add planarians and other snails: Deep Sand Beds

Unfortunately, you WILL need to do maintenance on the tank. At some point, you'll need to get rid of non-measured organic wastes, and add in vital minerals, best done through a water change. You'll also need to feed your organisms (I prefer gel vacation blocks for my shrimp, of which you might want to consider leaves (think oak, beech, indian almond, etc.) which you can read about here: All the leaves are brown? ? Seriously Fish

Not many creatures eat hair algae nor blue-green algae/cyanobacteria, and if you get that, then have fun :(. Nerite snails are good at removing "hard" algaes like green spot, and shrimp (Neocaridina and Caridina species) will also eat softer algaes (diatoms, green film algae, etc.). Daphnia will take care of most bacterial blooms and micro algae (green water) blooms too. Copepods can get in hard to reach places and eat most algaes too. Just know that you will eventually have to do some sort of cleaning in order to keep your tank aesthetically pleasing.

Oh, a few things for the future: for fish, that type of tank (portrait style, etc.) is not good. You really want a tank with a larger surface area (i.e. the configuration where length x width is the greatest). It also helps light penetrate through for plants (less depth for light to escape from the sides of the tank. Don't bother with some of the older versions of denitrification filters: they essentially move water really, really slowly through a canister, to the point where water just gets deoxygenated, forcing bacteria to use NO3-, and release N2 gas (which, you shouldn't need due to having plants that'll take care of the nitrates anyways...).

Aside from organisms, what plants were you considering adding into your tank? Note that carpet plants might not do too well in your tank, but more stem-y plants will like it.
Yeah, I realized I limited myself with this tank after ordering, but figured I could work with it since I'm planning a shrimp based tank, like you mentioned. I'm just looking for it to be pretty hardy so I won't have to constantly be checking on it. The vacation cubes for feeding the shrimp sounds perfect. If it can become fairly self-sufficient and only need limited maintanence from me (water changes/scrubbing algae every now and then) that'd be perfect. I'm just hesistant when I hear that I'll need to do water changes every week (some websites even suggest every day for a 5-gallon??) I understand I'll need to put aside more time for it at the start, but after 2-3 months it should require less attention?

I'm out of the house most of the day, and am concerned with the lights, in your experience does it get hot at all? Is it safe to leave them on for prolonged periods of time unsupervised? Will it kill my plants to leave the lights on for too long? What's the best way to set up lights?

- - - - -

I really love how this tank came out. I'm considering basing my tank off some of the plants used in this video, since I really love the color and coziness of it. So peaceful.

I might place one of those small store-bought rock caves in the back left of the tank, build a little slope around it with sand/sediment/soil/???, and cover with a hairgrass carpet. Add some stem plants in the back right. Maybe if I can find a nice small piece of driftwood, place that in a good spot, plant around it. I absolutely love the ceiling plants on the surface of the water in the video mentioned above, but I'm not sure what they are?

I've considered dwarf hairgrass, dwarf baby tears, java moss, marsilea minuta, pogostemon helferi, water milfoil, driftwood, etc. Again, I really loved the look of the tank from the video mentioned above, I'll probably base my tank's plantlife off that and work from there. Seeing what I find in local owned stores, just adding and editing as it progresses.

I have a similar goal as you to minimize maintenance. I'm going to setup a 5 Gal shrimp tank.
I decided to go with walstad method or Natural Planted Tank (NPT).

I'm not going to make mineralized soil for a small tank. I'm thinking about using aquasolum black humate. It's kinda expensive but I only need one bag. That'll save me lots of trouble mineralize soil. Some people don't mineralize soil before putting in tank but it takes long for ammonia to subside.

I'm new to freshwater aquarium too. So, take it as a grain of salt. However, the following links may help you.

Guide to setup a Natural Planted Tank
Guide to setting up a Soil substrate planted tank - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

Diana walstad article on shrimp tank. Sorta give yo the concept.

The kind of soil can be used.
Suitable soils for the Walstad method - El Natural - Aquatic Plant Central

How to mineralize soil substrate
How-To: Mineralized Soil Substrate, by Aaron Talbot - Library - Aquatic Plant Central
I'll check these out, thanks for all the links. Let me know how your tank goes. Good luck!

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Uhhhh, yeah, you definitely need to be doing water changes on at least a weekly basis (no experience with Walstadt method, but from most other POV's). You NEED to do water changes. Most of those recommendations come from people with fish in their tanks, but shrimp also need new water otherwise they go ka-put. And while yes you may need to put in more effort in the beginning, you still have to put effort in on a constant basis.

Most lights shouldn't get too hot unless they're metal halides, but fixtures like those come with built in fans usually. It's safe to leave them on for a couple of hours yes. It won't kill your plants to leave the lights on, but too much light will just encourage algal growth. BAD algal growth. Literally just grab a timer from walmart or another store, set it for 4-6 hours (at first), and plug it in with the light.


The floating plants are duckweed, and can become a pest if you let it. It grows well with carpet plants, since it absorbs the nutrients they can't.

A lot of those plants are known as carpet plants. They often require carbon dioxide injection in most tanks.

Question: what exactly are you looking for? A room decoration? A distractor?
The visual of these tiny shrimps exploring a scaled down landscape is so nice and comforting - whenever I see videos like the one mentioned in the previous post, there's a nice feeling with it that'd I'd like to have in my own space. I also really love seeing the process of building these intricate aquascapes. You could call it a room decoration, a distraction, etc - to keep a beautiful planted tank on my desk with creatures that I can take care of, draw inspiration from, watch explore, etc. is what I'm looking for.

It's not that I think the weekly water changes will pose too much of a problem. As I'm reading more about these siphon vacuums, it seems to be a pretty straightforward process. I'm just considering that methods of keeping tanks clean and healthy with less attention appear to exist, and that it'd be worth looking into if it means that my shrimp, snails, and plants can live happy and healthy all on their own.

Don't worry, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on them, researching the best way to assist the tank so the balance is right, making sure they are fed and happy and healthy. If it turns out the method isn't working out, I'll make arrangements to keep the fish happy and healthy.

If there are any suggestions to other methods, I'd be happy to consider them as well. So far I'm planning for this to be a planted tank with shrimp mostly, possibly snails.

It seems like the other option would involve weekly water changes, using the siphon, scraping algae off the glass, topping off the tank with dechlorinated water, etc. Please correct me if I'm wrong, I'd prefer to know now. Any additional info about this type of tank maintenance is appreciated.

The timer from Walmart will work great for the lights. Thanks for the suggestion.
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