Planted Tank Recommendation - El Natural - Aquatic Plant Central

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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 01-24-2020, 12:20 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Planted Tank Recommendation

Good afternoon everyone!

I'm looking for a recommendation for how to go about setting up my 75G to accommodate a maximum number of plants while minimizing maintenance down the road.

A little bit of background: I'm not new to the benefits of plants in tanks. I've had a 10G for years now that has a lot of Java moss and a strong line of Endlers. I also have a 125G with an Oscar and a couple of juvenile Electric Blue Jack Dempseys that has some large Amazon swords and a variety of Anubis. I did attempt a dirted tank about a year ago with a 20G, but I got sent away for training for a month shortly after setting it up, and it got overtaken with algae while I was gone.

Since then, my fiancee has moved in and has expressed interest in me setting up a community tank with "pretty fish", which I will happily oblige with the 75G that was going unused. However, I know she won't be too big on tank maintenance, and I want to set it up in a way that maximizes the benefits of plants without risking it getting overrun with algae if she's not staying on top of the maintenance. Also, I have a high likelihood of deploying in the next few months, so I anticipate not being around to stay on top of the maintenance in the manner I would prefer. I've got hopefully two to three months before I have to leave, in which I'd have the time to set it up and get it going, but the anticipation is it will be on its own after that. Neither of us would mind if it overgrows with deliberately placed plants, as long as they're stealing resources from potential algae. The 10G Endler tank does that with the moss sometimes, and it's not the end of the world.

The only goal I have for the tank, as far as contents go, is to keep a beautiful piece of driftwood as a centerpiece with Java moss attached to resemble a bonsai tree. The tank also has some leftover duckweed and frogbit floating around from when I had the Oscar in there. After that, there's no goal or limit on what plants we want in there.

Final piece of info, the tank backs up to a North East facing window. Here in North Carolina, I think that means there's only a couple weeks where it gets direct sunlight, but I could be mistaken. There's an East facing window on the other wall, but the angle of the room means the 75G doesn't catch any light from there.

TL;DR - looking for recommendations on a planted community 75G. Number one goal is to minimize maintenance while avoiding algae, everything else is negotiable. Dirted/ not dirted, type of substrate, types of plants, etc. I've got a couple of sponge/ bubbler filters I could place in there, but I'll take recommendations for anything better, if needed. And I'll also take recommendations on a lighting system, since the one I had with it before has moved onto the 125.
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Old 01-24-2020, 12:29 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Follow up info - This is the running list I've kept of fish she's expressed interest in whenever we go to our LFS. Any or all of these being able to be accommodated in the tank would be great, but aside from guppies, I have zero experience with any of them and know Jack all about their lifestyles.

Red Eye Tetra
Emerald Cory Cat
Kuhli Loach
Powder Blue Gourami
Bala Shark
German Blue Ram
Blue Discus
Colorful guppies

(Looking at it now, I'm not sure I'd keep Bala sharks in there, but who knows what y'all will recommend haha)


She's also mentioned she likes Water Hyacinth, and knowing that it's an emergent plant and the benefits that provides, (thanks Diana and "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium"!) I'm apt to add it.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:22 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Planted Tank Recommendation

Welcome to APC! You have a big adventure ahead of you!

If I was going to set up a tank that big, I would first read Diana Walstad's "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium", https://www.amazon.com/Ecology-Plant...d%2C441&sr=8-1 And, I would, as I have done, re-read much of it, trying to learn all I could about that method, to give myself the best chance of succeeding with that big a tank. There is no doubt that this method requires less maintenance time than any other method. And, it is well proven to work. Incidentally, I have the Kindle version of that book, and have had no problem using it as a reference book. It is much more a reference book than one you read front to back for entertainment.
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Old 01-24-2020, 02:26 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Planted Tank Recommendation

I strongly advise that you slow down here. Setting up a 75 gal and expecting a casual caretaker to maintain it is asking for problems--and arguments. We want your relationship with fiancee during deployment to stay peaceful!

Purchased fish are often stressed and carry fish diseases. Discus are gorgeous but mixing these delicate, expensive fish with any of the others you've listed is incredibly risky. The mix of beautiful fish at the LFS is deceptive. Keeping fish and plants healthy requires an understanding of their basic needs. For example, I have had quite a challenge dealing with disease in purchased guppies. Mixing a bunch of assorted fish "willy-nilly" is a recipe for disaster. If you go this route, please use a UV sterilizing filter.

Why not start out with a small tank with one fish species. Shrimp are even better. You and your fiancee can learn how to grow plants, control algae, determine which soil is best, which fish you truly like, etc. You can use this knowledge to progress to larger tanks and more demanding fish.

My website has an article 'Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp.' If you want to seriously get into plants, I would start with a small tank or jar. Then, move onto a larger planted tank housing one or two fish species. Better to have success with guppies than a disaster with Discus!
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:26 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Planted Tank Recommendation

When I got back into aquariums, about 25 years ago, I bought a 125 gallon tank, used, on Craig's List. Then I made a really nice stand for it, and got my neighbor to help me move the tank to the stand. Only then did I start researching how to do a planted tank. I was moderately successful, but I would never suggest that anyone do what I did. I really never did have any idea what was happening in the tank during the 5 years or so that I had that tank. Before I set up my next tank, a much smaller one, I spent months on the internet learning how to do it "right". And, I was embarrassed about what I had done before!
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Old 01-24-2020, 05:48 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hoppycalif View Post
Welcome to APC! You have a big adventure ahead of you!

If I was going to set up a tank that big, I would first read Diana Walstad's "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium", https://www.amazon.com/Ecology-Plant...d%2C441&sr=8-1 And, I would, as I have done, re-read much of it, trying to learn all I could about that method, to give myself the best chance of succeeding with that big a tank. There is no doubt that this method requires less maintenance time than any other method. And, it is well proven to work. Incidentally, I have the Kindle version of that book, and have had no problem using it as a reference book. It is much more a reference book than one you read front to back for entertainment.
Hoppycalif, thank you for the advice. I actually happen to already own a copy of it, and just started to re-read it with the intent of not just learning from it, but also being able to teach from it. I recently learned about how teaching a topic instills a much stronger understanding of and better ability to recall the information in the subject, so I'm trying to apply that here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dwalstad View Post
I strongly advise that you slow down here. Setting up a 75 gal and expecting a casual caretaker to maintain it is asking for problems--and arguments. We want your relationship with fiancee during deployment to stay peaceful!

Purchased fish are often stressed and carry fish diseases. Discus are gorgeous but mixing these delicate, expensive fish with any of the others you've listed is incredibly risky. The mix of beautiful fish at the LFS is deceptive. Keeping fish and plants healthy requires an understanding of their basic needs. For example, I have had quite a challenge dealing with disease in purchased guppies. Mixing a bunch of assorted fish "willy-nilly" is a recipe for disaster. If you go this route, please use a UV sterilizing filter.

Why not start out with a small tank with one fish species. Shrimp are even better. You and your fiancee can learn how to grow plants, control algae, determine which soil is best, which fish you truly like, etc. You can use this knowledge to progress to larger tanks and more demanding fish.

My website has an article 'Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp.' If you want to seriously get into plants, I would start with a small tank or jar. Then, move onto a larger planted tank housing one or two fish species. Better to have success with guppies than a disaster with Discus!
Diana, thank you for the response! I think I got a little overzealous with the 75 being right off the bat. It just happened to already be in the "fish room" and when the fiancee said she'd "be okay with another tank as long as it had colorful fish I picked out," I got excited and tried to do a full send.

The jars and small tanks are exactly the approach I needed to hear. I've read your "Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp" article a few times since I first started to learn about planted tanks, and I've always wanted to try it. In fact, my first attempt at a dirted tank based off your method, the failed 20G I mentioned, was intended to be a neocaridina tank. I just wasn't around to tend to it in its early stages, and all she saw was the aftermath. Since then, it's been the limit of "only what is already successful," and I had hoped there was a way to replicate the low maintenance 10G Java moss and Endler tank into the larger scale.

Having a reply from you, the woman who literally wrote the book on this, suggest that we try again on a small scale in order to help build that understanding is exactly what I had hoped would happen. Thank you again so much!

//////

While I have you here, do you mind if I also ask you for a recommendation on something? I noticed in your published works, you've mentioned some sort of below tank or substrate based heater. I can't remember the specifics of it or when it was mentioned, all that's stood out to me is that the temperature difference serves to flush the substrate so it does not stagnate with whatever accumulates. It reminded me of the old below gravel filters I've read about, but never actually seen. Do you have any recommendations on products for these "bottom heaters"?

I've also attempted to do a DSM tank with some Miracle Gro Performance Organics potting soil (I've been unable to find the organics choice potting mix you've written about), 2-4mm gravel, and a collection of Dwarf Hairgrass, HC Cuba, and Lobelia cardinalis. All were sold in their emergent forms. The DH has browned slightly or done nothing over the last 6 weeks, the HC has been a wide range from melting completely to sporadic growth, and the LC seems to be doing well in its corner. Part of me wanted to just chalk it up to "see what works and what doesn't", but I can't figure out why the HC would have such a wide range of difference in the same tank. The best I could figure is that since that room doesn't have the best heating in the winter, the HC in that corner was getting colder and that a heater might help going forward, but I'd still like to hear your thoughts on it, be it heater related or otherwise.

Thank you again!
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Old 01-24-2020, 06:14 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by hoppycalif View Post
When I got back into aquariums, about 25 years ago, I bought a 125 gallon tank, used, on Craig's List. Then I made a really nice stand for it, and got my neighbor to help me move the tank to the stand. Only then did I start researching how to do a planted tank. I was moderately successful, but I would never suggest that anyone do what I did. I really never did have any idea what was happening in the tank during the 5 years or so that I had that tank. Before I set up my next tank, a much smaller one, I spent months on the internet learning how to do it "right". And, I was embarrassed about what I had done before!
That's how I feel with the 125 gallon I have my Oscar and EBJDs in. We happened to walk past the tank and stand on sale in PetSmart, my fiancee said she liked the aesthetic of it more than the homemade stand I had for my 75, and she said I could buy the tank and stand if I moved the fish over into it. I wasn't quite ready to set up a new tank in the manner I wanted to, ie dirted and properly planted, but figured the opportunity was too good to pass up and jumped on it. It's not every day she says I can buy a new tank, especially one of that size!

I've done my best to incorporate plants into the aquascape, but is by no means a true planted tank, and honestly falls into a more high tech type of tank with the filtering and water changes I do on it.

Also, since you may be wondering "but Joe, what do you intend to do with that tank when you deploy?" That is something I've also been considering. Depending on how ready the fiancee feels when I'm getting ready to leave, I may end up asking one of my friends at the LFS to do house calls every now and then. It's a service I had talked to them about before I got engaged. They're not super knowledgeable with planted tanks, but I'd trust them with my Oscar and his setup.
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Old 01-25-2020, 05:09 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Planted Tank Recommendation

I don't have any information on undergravel heaters and cables other than what I wrote in my book. Nice theory and possibly beneficial, but these "gadgets" are not readily available, nor necessary for keeping planted tanks.

What you can do is insulate the tank bottom and keep the top covered (saran wrap) to conserve heat.

Also, some plant species tolerate cold temperatures more than others. (That may be one reason why your HC Cuba, native to warm Cuba, didn't make it.) Be aware that some of the plant species popular with aquascapers are not that hardy.

Without a heater, make sure that you include some plants that are native to temperate climates [e.g., Bacopa caroliniana and Hemianthus micranthemoides (HM)]. These plants and RCS can get through the winter in a small, unheated bowl or tank.

Also, almost any cheap potting soil designed for growing house plants will work.
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Old 01-30-2020, 11:30 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Planted Tank Recommendation

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brosephstacey View Post
The only goal I have for the tank, as far as contents go, is to keep a beautiful piece of driftwood as a centerpiece with Java moss attached to resemble a bonsai tree. The tank also has some leftover duckweed and frogbit floating around from when I had the Oscar in there. After that, there's no goal or limit on what plants we want in there.
So, you can already meet that goal then as that's about as low maintenance as you can get. The livestock should provide enough nutrients to keep the Java moss and floaters alive, but there will be no avoiding good filtration or regular water changes in that scenario. The substrate would also need to be maintained. You could fill out the rest of the tank with plastic or silk plants temporarily until you find out whether or not you'll be deployed, and then transition to a fully planted tank if you find out you'll be sticking around. My guess is that your fiancee would be cursing your good name the first time she had to remove and then replace 19 gallons of water. Then, you'd be lucky to still be engaged after the first substrate vacuum and filter cleaning.
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