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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi everyone! I'm thinking about getting into aquariums, but here is my paludarium that I've been running for a year and a half. About 7 gallons of water in the bottom, with cherry shrimp and a nerite snail. Over 100 species of plants, mostly mini orchids, on top.

Plant Plant community Flowerpot Leaf Houseplant


Vertebrate Water Leaf Organism Plant

Flower Purple Plant Petal Terrestrial plant
 

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Hello and welcome! Your paludarium is awesome looking! I keep one tank of dart frogs for the last year or so. Never had much interest in terrestrial plants before that. Been keeping aquariums off and on for most of my life though I didn't get 'serious' into it till a few years ago.

Aquariums are a LOT of fun but I will say they require dozens of times more maintenance then terrestrial plants. When I set up my dart frog tank, I was absolutely delighted to do pretty much nothing with it other then feed the frogs and fill up the water reservoir for the mister.

With aquariums, and especially those with aquatic plants, you can expect weekly maintenance with the tank. How long that takes you is directly related to how big it is. But even my smaller tanks typically take 20 minutes to an hour per tank depending on what I need to do that session. If I am cutting the tops off plants and replanting, scrubbing rocks, and finding and removing dead leaves, then it's probably going to be an hour. If all I'm doing is a water change, cleaning the glass, and some gravel vac'ing then it will be a 20 minute process etc.

There is a goodly amount of info you need to consider if you have never dived deep into aquariums before so I suggest checking out beginner videos on youtube from Aquarium Co-op, Aquapros, and George Farmer. Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
I wonder why it would take so long? I'm looking into low-tech, low bioload, and single-species, with slow growing plants. Currently researching Walstad Method. My current 7 gallons with plants and shrimp takes almost no maintenance, and the shrimp maintain their population. I can count around 20 babies right now, and something like 20 adults, but I'm sure the population is a lot higher than that.

Or perhaps your plant maintenance regime is very different from mine, with your "dozens of times more maintenance" for aquariums - I keep a few hundred species of plants in a variety of setups including the paludarium, various terrariums and a grow tent, and while I can occasionally take off for a week or two and let things run themselves, I would say it's usually 5-20 minutes - watering, fertilizing, propagating, moving unhappy plants around, checking for and treating pests, and creating RO water - per day.
 

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I wonder why it would take so long? I'm looking into low-tech, low bioload, and single-species, with slow growing plants. Currently researching Walstad Method. My current 7 gallons with plants and shrimp takes almost no maintenance, and the shrimp maintain their population. I can count around 20 babies right now, and something like 20 adults, but I'm sure the population is a lot higher than that.

Or perhaps your plant maintenance regime is very different from mine, with your "dozens of times more maintenance" for aquariums - I keep a few hundred species of plants in a variety of setups including the paludarium, various terrariums and a grow tent, and while I can occasionally take off for a week or two and let things run themselves, I would say it's usually 5-20 minutes - watering, fertilizing, propagating, moving unhappy plants around, checking for and treating pests, and creating RO water - per day.
I pretty much do nothing for my single dart frog tank. I mean literally nothing for months at a time beyond feeding the frog and refilling the water reservoir. I think the last time I did anything in there it was adding more leaf litter around 5 months ago. That was about 2 minutes at most to get it in there the way I wanted. On the other hand my 8 gallon kitchen tank requires a 70% water change, glass scrubbing, removal of dead leaves, scrubbing rocks, gravel vac every week. Typically around 20 to 40 minutes, but more if I need to thin plants or replant things. So yeah its definitely a lot more then the dart frog tank.

I did the whole walstad tank thing a little while back. It's a nice idea but it doesn't always lend itself to what I will term, complicated / high level scapes. By this I mean tanks that would be on par with the pretty awesome terrestrial scape you have going for you in the paludarium. Diana Walstad in her book was pretty clear that her ideas of creating a tank were not there to compete with the aesthetics of high tech tanks, but rather a way to grow plants very cheaply. She even went on to advocate for the idea that aquarists should get used to the idea of "messy" tanks since growing a tank with dirt doesn't lend itself the same clean look as a tank using injected co2 and liquid ferts. She also wrote her book more then 20 years ago when access to liquid ferts was frankly more expensive and complicated then it is today.

Her book actually never lays out what most people would today call the "walstad method" but is rather a compilation of the research into growing aquatic plants with a few of her own thoughts thrown in. These days people have taken it pretty far and created an idea that you can have a tank with some dirt in it and never do a water change ever, no filtration, and everything will be fine. My own experience plus what I have seen over the years is that everything will be fine... for a while. And then it will definitely get out of hand unless regular maintenance is done just like any other tank. OR it just won't look super amazing. I mean you can keep plants growing, fish alive, but it won't look pretty.

Anyway my point in all of this is not to discourage you. It's just to give you a realistic idea of what a switch from terrestrial to aquatic tanks is going to be like. I normally wouldn't even bother pointing this out because its sorta goes with the territory, but you mention this is your first foray into aquariums. There are ways you can simplify things. If you do shrimp only tanks with little or no plants, you can definitely go months with only scrubbing the glass and adding some more RO water to the tank. BUT if you want to keep fish and lots of plants then you are going to need to fertilize a tank and you are going to need to do large weekly water changes to keep fish and plants happy and healthy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Good info about the Walstad method, thanks!

If you take a really close look at the paludarium you’ll see that it has a tank incorporated, with a bunch of species of aquatic plants, including some “difficult” ones like HC Cuba and Ranunculus inundatus. Hard to get good pics though due to the light differential between terrestrial and aquatic. I started out with cycling, the expected algae bloom, filtration, ferts etc. but at this point it pretty much runs itself. So I’d say I’m new to fish (which have a higher bioload than shrimp, as I understand) but not entirely new to planted tanks.
 

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Welcome to the forum.

Most of us don't have to spend an hour on our tank each week. I have dozens of tanks (and they're not all ugly - can check my journals for a look at some) and spend probably 2 hours total per week on all of them. That's if I'm really taking my time.

I've never had to clean a rock or hardscape. Never have to mess with substrate. And I keep the most sensitive critters you can keep in boxes of water. Things eventually balance out if you put in some effort to find that balance.

Once you get the hang of low-tech (You already have it - at the bottom of your existing glass box. You'll just need to realize it.), you'll feel like it takes no time at all. You'll be more like me and any time spent on the tank is spread out because you want to spend time looking through it and examining growth and the like.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks for another perspective! Seems like some aquariums are like sparkly jewelry collections, with many species of colorful fish and brightly colored plants enhanced by CO2. My paludarium is a little bit of a showcase like that, with as many species stuffed into it as I could manage.

What I’m interested in now, with terrariums or aquariums, is more like a window into a specific biome - and I love swamps. Maybe because I grew up next to one, I’m not sure. Swamps, bogs, tidal flood plains, stream banks, anything at the water’s edge. So I’m going for a blackwater swamp for my first aquarium, and I’ll just see if I can stop at one. I’m already running out of space in the house for glass tanks, to be honest.
 

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I’m already running out of space in the house for glass tanks, to be honest.
Pbbbt. No such thing. Just get more racks to hold them all!

Sounds like you're going to really enjoy shallow, long tanks. You could do a heck of a lot with a 12gal long - with a couple different zones. Even a 6gal long would be terrific. UNS makes some other shallow tanks that are both long and wide that are worth checking out. Especially the small ones from 2 to 10 gallons. Since you're familiar with terrestrial and semi-aquatic plants, you'll probably enjoy things like Utricularia graminifolia at the water's edge. It's one of those spreading plants that thrives when just semiaquatic instead of being fully submerged.

Blackwater tanks are very enjoyable. Especially if you put in effort to develop a striking hardscape - something you've already got experience with. There are tons of great, low-effort plants like Crypts - and even some mosses - that you'll love as an orchid head. Also a few ferns, Anubias varieties, even a few Buces if you start with tissue-cultured varieties that you can easily adapt. Tons of options and they're all really affordable and easy to obtain in the hobby these days.

With substrates on the market like ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia (my favorite) to buffer water parameters like peat, black water tanks can be easier to maintain than some think. Amazonia, Malaysian Driftwood, extra peat for your filter, leaf litter. All awesome.

What kind of critters are you considering in the blackwater setup?

Hope you'll consider starting a tank journal here in the Tank Journals section when you begin your build. We don't see a ton of blackwater setups these days and it would be fun to follow along.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I actually have UG in my paludarium, it grows at the water’s edge but was not happy submerged without CO2. At the moment it seems to have given up on growing leaves and is just creating a mat of stems/bladders covering my whole aquatic section - I’m not thrilled but it (and the shrimp) seem happy.

I have a number of Buces, but haven’t quite gotten the hang of them yet. I have some emersed, in a nearly 100% humidity filmy fern setup (single cell thick ferns that live at the water’s edge), and I have some submerged. My next dream plant is a Skeleton King.

The Amazonia soil came up in my research, I think when I was looking for soils that wouldn’t raise pH too much - currently I have UNS Controsoil in the paludarium and Fluval Stratum elsewhere. How do you feel about the Amazonia vs Fluval Stratum or just sand for a sparsely planted blackwater tank floor?

I started a thread about a potential blackwater riparium here. Trying to figure out whether my preferred species will jump out of the open top. Once I have settled on tank and fish I’ll certainly start a build journal. Something like one of these tanks as inspiration.
 

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I actually have UG in my paludarium, it grows at the water’s edge but was not happy submerged without CO2.
For truly good submerged growth, it takes decent flow and regular thinning. Every other day thinning, in my experience. At least in setups with the right amount of lighting and CO2. Just happens to be my personal preference to see it at water's edge or half in, half out of water. Have also found that it goes through phases of growth where it'll produce a metric ton of bladders and then a month later? Jumps back to explosive growth. Gets kinda tiring but it looks really cool when it flows - almost like Green Star Polyp or Frogspawn.

How do you feel about the Amazonia vs Fluval Stratum or just sand for a sparsely planted blackwater tank floor?
For bang for my buck, I always go with Amazonia. More nutrient-rich, stronger/longer buffering capacity, less variation from the factory, less likely to break down, available in smaller granules. It's usually just a few bucks off in terms of price when comparing to cheaper products like the one from Fluval. I'll only use Fluval if it's super-discounted and in a setup I don't intend to keep longterm. For a blackwater setup, especially when combined with remineralized RO/DI water, it'll do more for pH long term.

You can use sand with soil-based substrates. I'd never say one or the other. Sand looks especially great in those setups. Just use it cosmetically - in the front of the tank and in areas you think should be sandy. Use the other substrate in the back 2/3 of the tank, behind rocks, in built-up areas, et al. Best of both worlds.

I started a thread about a potential blackwater riparium here. Trying to figure out whether my preferred species will jump out of the open top.
Pretty much anything is going to be a jump risk unless you have high glass walls or use mesh. Mesh tops are more popular on the salt side of the hobby but don't count them out. They can look great - almost disappear - if done well. I think they're worth consideration so you don't have to limit your critter options.

Really just takes making sure your fish are comfortable in their tank to prevent jumpers. Nothing is foolproof, obviously, but tons of people have success - even with shallow tanks. Some people get mesh tops and only use them until they're sure how their fish will behave. With floating plants, marginal plants for cover, good hardscape? You're already reducing jump risk.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
For truly good submerged growth, it takes decent flow and regular thinning. Every other day thinning, in my experience. At least in setups with the right amount of lighting and CO2. Just happens to be my personal preference to see it at water's edge or half in, half out of water. Have also found that it goes through phases of growth where it'll produce a metric ton of bladders and then a month later? Jumps back to explosive growth. Gets kinda tiring but it looks really cool when it flows - almost like Green Star Polyp or Frogspawn.



For bang for my buck, I always go with Amazonia. More nutrient-rich, stronger/longer buffering capacity, less variation from the factory, less likely to break down, available in smaller granules. It's usually just a few bucks off in terms of price when comparing to cheaper products like the one from Fluval. I'll only use Fluval if it's super-discounted and in a setup I don't intend to keep longterm. For a blackwater setup, especially when combined with remineralized RO/DI water, it'll do more for pH long term.

You can use sand with soil-based substrates. I'd never say one or the other. Sand looks especially great in those setups. Just use it cosmetically - in the front of the tank and in areas you think should be sandy. Use the other substrate in the back 2/3 of the tank, behind rocks, in built-up areas, et al. Best of both worlds.



Pretty much anything is going to be a jump risk unless you have high glass walls or use mesh. Mesh tops are more popular on the salt side of the hobby but don't count them out. They can look great - almost disappear - if done well. I think they're worth consideration so you don't have to limit your critter options.

Really just takes making sure your fish are comfortable in their tank to prevent jumpers. Nothing is foolproof, obviously, but tons of people have success - even with shallow tanks. Some people get mesh tops and only use them until they're sure how their fish will behave. With floating plants, marginal plants for cover, good hardscape? You're already reducing jump risk.
This is all very helpful, thanks! I was just looking into clear mesh and contemplating adding it at the beginning while observing fish behavior to see if jumping is likely. Leaning toward a UNS 90L, a long and shallow rimless 21 gallon (I’ll have to save up), and 6-10 sparkling gouramis.

Are there any benefits or negatives to doing 80% RO/20% dechlorinated tap water, vs 100% RO with a remineralizer?
 

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Are there any benefits or negatives to doing 80% RO/20% dechlorinated tap water, vs 100% RO with a remineralizer?
With tap, unless you do lab testing, you may not ever know precisely what makes up the minerals in your water. Even if you're familiar with your local water quality report. So if you have the means - especially for a blackwater tank - RO/DI is my pick. If you have the means? Go that route. With a quality remineralizer that you either mix yourself or buy from a company like Salty Shrimp. That way you'll always know what's in your water, you'll be able to very easily control parameters and you won't have to wonder about your source water. Can be a real mess using tap in some municipalities.

I assume you've already got access to RO based on your current setup with a misting system? If so, that's great.

But about mesh: It really will come in handy if you can swing it. They're pretty easy to DIY for anyone who has experience doing something like, say, crafting spray foam and making random cork and branches look natural. The handy part: You never know when you'll switch up your livestock or when you'll end up with a rowdy critter when they're trying to breed. Always great to be able to plop a net on top on an as-needed basis. I use really ugly ones every once in a while (like when my Boraras brigittae start getting feisty when I first turn on the AC each year) with fiberglass window screen because that's just what I have handy. Buying mesh from a reef-focused retailer will be waaaaay better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
With tap, unless you do lab testing, you may not ever know precisely what makes up the minerals in your water. Even if you're familiar with your local water quality report. So if you have the means - especially for a blackwater tank - RO/DI is my pick. If you have the means? Go that route. With a quality remineralizer that you either mix yourself or buy from a company like Salty Shrimp. That way you'll always know what's in your water, you'll be able to very easily control parameters and you won't have to wonder about your source water. Can be a real mess using tap in some municipalities.

I assume you've already got access to RO based on your current setup with a misting system? If so, that's great.
I have an under-sink RO system and Salty Shrimp remineralizer, so that sounds very doable. Misting system plus a bunch of very sensitive orchids, ferns, and carnivorous plants that prefer pure water, so I just use RO for everything.
 
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