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El Natural Diana Walstad's low-maintenance, soil-based 'El Natural' method for keeping plants and fish.

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Old 12-12-2019, 05:48 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default New Build Dec 2019

Hello All!

Starting my first dirt tank. Looking to go all Walstad.

Tank is a 55, and currently empty, so nothing lost yet.

Let's start with my water. Mine comes from a 450' well. Tasty stuff! Straight from the tap, parameters are:

From the county health department:
pH 6.0
Alkalinity, Total 47
Hardness, Calcium 160
Hardness, Total 190
Nitrate + Nitrite as N 6.83
TDS 444
Copper 0.13
Iron <0.10
Lead <0.005

From my LFS:
KH 7 dKH
GH 16 dGH


Soil substrate will be dirt from my yard. Have some kitty litter to mix with the dirt. Cap will be PFS.

Any magic I should add to the soil given my water?
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Old 12-12-2019, 06:36 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Copper is a little high, but otherwise water looks good. I have well water myself and this is almost always a plus. Lots of hard water nutrients...

Dirt from the yard will be a mineral soil with clay already in it--unless it's a desert soil. You don't need kitty litter. Rather, I would mix in a cup or two of compost or potting soil. This non-acidic, added organic matter will produce CO2 for plants and help them get started.

Success will depend on many factors: lighting, soil depth, sand depth, having enough adapted plants to start out with, how much cleaning you do, etc.

Generally, I recommend that people start out with a smaller tank. My article 'Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp' is on the aquarium page of my website. It explains how to ease into keeping an NPT (Natural Planted Tank).

However, if you have read my book, have the plants and some experience with planted tanks, far be it from me to "rain on your parade." And it will be fun to follow your progress.
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Old 12-13-2019, 06:03 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Hello Diana!

Of course I have your book. I have had it perhaps 10 years. Marvelous stuff.

Soil is going to have to wait a few days, as we are suffering freezing rain at the moment. Dirt is on the way soon.

So, while I wait for dirt, time to think about plants. I live in Northern Virginia where there are tons of hobbyists. But, I am not socialized yet, and with the holidays, I doubt I can get local help with "enough adapted" plants anytime soon.

Local retail offerings are not very appealing and absurdly expensive. I have been looking at aquariumplants.com. They sell some plants in bunches for what seems a good deal, but I don't know what plants to get or how many. I have a Fluval Plant 3.0 if that makes any difference. Hopefully lighting will not be a problem.

Thoughts anyone?
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Old 12-13-2019, 11:01 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

@ethermion, I ordered my plants from https://shop.plantedaquariumscentral.com/. The plants were all in great shape, and most of them have flourished in my tank (the ones that died were not due to bad stock, but because they didn't fit with my aquarium). I risked USPS Priority shipping as the other options were pretty expensive, and it worked out fine for me. I understand there is some chance that it becomes delayed using that option though. They have more info about shipping here: https://shop.plantedaquariumscentral...ion_ep_51.html

As for specific types, there are probably a lot of suggestions on here already. My favorites so far are val and swords. I have no idea how much to get for a 55 tank - mine was only 5 so it was much easier to fill
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Old 12-13-2019, 03:48 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Always encouraged when someone has my book.

You'll need a lot of plants to fill up a 55 gal, which is why I recommended starting out with a smaller tank. Most plants sold are in the emergent form, so they will have to convert to submerged form, plus adapt to your particular water, soil, and lighting conditions. Dicey at best! Expensive at the worst! If plants don't get off to fast start, algae can take over.

Instead of ordering from a commercial source, I would consider going to an aquarium club meeting. No need to socialize, just investigate, learn and buy your plants and fish from experienced hobbyists. Ask your questions there. The large and esteemed Potomac Valley Aquarium Society has meetings with auctions afterwards of plants and fish. Most hobbyists sell their plants in the submerged form. Another smaller group meets in Richmond, VA, the James River Aquarium Society. I've given two talks there and the hospitality is excellent and they auction off plants and fish after the meetings. I would consider attending a meeting of one of these two clubs. Wish I lived closer to them!

My association, beginning in 1987, with the Raleigh Aquarium Society helped catapult me from a beginner into a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic aquarist.
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Last edited by dwalstad; 12-13-2019 at 04:04 PM.. Reason: forgot the JRAS
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Old 12-20-2019, 04:53 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Just an update. I am not giving up!

I knew about pvas from back in the day when I was ferociously breeding cichlids. They have monthly meetings with sales & auctions. Next one is 1/4, and they are going to put a note in monthly meeting reminder that the Big 'E' needs lots of plants. We'll see. Fortunately, only 10 miles from my house.

There is also http://gwapa.org, the Greater Washington Aquatic Plant Association. Name sounds promising, but they seem to be hibernating for the winter. Forum is all but dead, and no events planned yet for 2020.

So, a bit behind schedule, but undeterred. More later.
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Old 12-22-2019, 05:49 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Ten miles from your house! You're so lucky.

I'm bringing plants, guppies, books, and RCS to sell at the Charlotte NC aquarium club's trade show on Feb. 22. Then, there's the RAS workshop and auction in March. Since the LFS have been beaten down by the chain stores (e.g., PetCo), I think the clubs are the best places to get good fish/plants and to mingle with knowledgeable people.

Thank you for the information on aquarium clubs in your area.
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Old 12-25-2019, 08:07 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Quote:
Originally Posted by dwalstad View Post
Always encouraged when someone has my book. .
I have three copies in case the first two get damaged. It is a revolutionary piece of work.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:58 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

Time for an update.

Rooted plants are Bacopa, and Vals in a small collection in a corner. Will get more rooted plants this weekend. Doing great. Need lots more rooted plants

Hornwort doing great, which I planted for whatever reason.

Water lettuce growing out of control. Massive trim weekly.

2 dozen neons, 1 dozen glow lights, 1 dozen red miner tetras (nasty nippy things which must go), two green corys.

PH 7.0
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate ~5
TDS 257
Temp rock solid 78

No pics because my tank is really ugly at the moment.

Getting these volcanic bubble eruptions from the soils several times a day. No sulfur smell. Seriously lots of gas eruptions. Seems like it started a week or so ago.

Had the tetras a few weeks. Added 3 green corys a few days ago. One died hours after I got it home. The other two doing fine. Various snails from big to tiny.

Appetite seems fine, though perhaps a bit less enthusiasm the last few days.


Today, I lost 3 neons. Very puzzled.

Why the sudden neon deaths?
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Old 01-28-2020, 05:04 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: New Build Dec 2019

It's hard to answer your question if we don't see a picture of the tank. Many fish from stores are severely stressed when purchased and become diseased.

But still, we owe our fish the best that we can reasonably provide in their new home--your 55 gal. I'm a little concerned by your comment that you started with not too many rooted plants and are now getting volcanic eruptions from the soil. This is the stage--2 weeks after submergence-- where the soil bacteria have multiplied and are going to town on the soil's organic matter.

It could be excessive CO2 in those gas bubbles that is killing/stressing the fish. Or a lack of oxygen for delicate fish. I would start poking the soil to release gas and introduce oxygenated water into the substrate. Make sure that you've got water movement (filter or pump) to keep the water properly aerated. Once the soil settles down in about 6-8 weeks, you can dial back.

Folks, if the substrate is releasing copious gas bubbles, that means the water and substrate could be oxygen-deficient and contain excessive CO2. This is a normal development after an organic soil is freshly submerged. Where it becomes a problem is when you have a deep soil layer or gravel cover, a lack of strong rooted plants, a lack of water circulation, etc.

The onus is on the hobbyist to understand this and take appropriate counter-measures for this temporary, but all-too-common problem. See 'Chaos in Freshly Submerged Terrestrial Soils' section in my book (pp. 130-134).
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