Setting up a new 29gal NPT - 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 07-25-2020, 05:00 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Setting up a new 29gal NPT

Hello all, I'm new to this forum as I endeavor to set up a 29 gallon el natural style tank. I have a 10 gallon low-tech planted tank that has been set up for about 3 years with eco-complete substrate and a dense forest of Cryptocoryne undulata that I keep having to trim back - I think there is a lot of mulm built up which has allowed this plant to thrive. Also water sprite is doing well, some other plants not so much, but that's a story for a different thread. Just neocaridina shrimp and a nerite in there right now, used to have ember tetras but they are all gone now.

But on to the new set-up! I wanted to document my journey here and see if it seems like I'm on the right track. I did a lot of reading and started setting up this 29 gallon tank about a week ago with a 1-1.5" layer of Miracle-gro Organic Care garden soil which I did not pre-treat (hope this doesn't come back to bite me), but I did let it sit in the tank saturated for a few days - very strong ammonia smell when I came back to add the substrate cap. Oh and I added about 1.5 quarts of clay cat litter. I capped it with about 0.75-1 inch of black diamond blasting sand, which I did rinse beforehand. I did a few fills and rinses until the water was pretty much clear, then drained to ~2inches add plants on 7/19. Plants were ordered online, including: Water wisteria, Dwarf saggitaria, Jungle val, a couple of Hygrophila stem plants, Bacopa, and another unidentified stem. I also snipped a small piece of water sprite from the other tank which is floating and may add more later.

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The water clouded up by the next day, which I attributed to an expected bacterial bloom. Then I got nervous maybe it was related to not rinsing the sand well enough, so I did a ~9 gallon water change. Things started to look more clear after that, but not crystal.

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I got some spider wood driftwood, was careful to embed rocks in the substrate all the way to the glass for the wood to rest on, so it is not sitting directly on the substrate.

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The next day, the water is very cloudy again - I'm assuming another bacteria bloom from the driftwood, though it's also possible it's related to stirring up the substrate (maybe both!). I have an AquaClear filter running with the sponge, carbon (in case there were any weird toxins? I'll take it out later), and a minimal amount of bio-media.

A question - Ammonia is at 4ppm since yesterday - this is mostly from the substrate I guess. No nitrites or nitrate yet. Should I do a water change? Is that high enough to damage the plants?? I do plan to add more plants - including java moss, Hornwort, and Echinodorus spp. - hopefully by the end of the week. The current plants have had some melt but for the most part seem to be doing okay. Now this is about

I am using RO water remineralized with SaltyShrimp shrimp mineral GH/KH+ as this is what I use in my other tank and the shrimp are thriving (after some trial and error with Seachem Equilibrium). My tap water is terrible, super soft but high in carbonates so very high pH. The remineralized water that i use in the tanks is pH ~7.6, TDS ~250. My GH kit is expired, but it should be around 6. The light is a Finnex Stingray2.

Okay so, should I do a water change or just wait? I hate to throw away the nutrients that plants could use, but also don't want to burn them. Any other thoughts? Thanks in advance!

Last edited by chodovet; 07-25-2020 at 05:04 PM.. Reason: to add cat litter, explain image
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Old 07-26-2020, 03:58 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

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Hello all, I'm new to this forum as I endeavor to set up a 29 gallon el natural style tank. Ammonia is at 4ppm since yesterday - this is mostly from the substrate I guess.
Okay so, should I do a water change or just wait? I hate to throw away the nutrients that plants could use, but also don't want to burn them.
Welcome to APC!

I would do water changes every few days until water clears and ammonia gets down to traces. With 4 ppm ammonia, you can be sure that the soil is pumping out an incredible amount of plant nutrients.
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Old 07-27-2020, 06:40 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

Thank you Diana! I did a ~30% water change last night (hard to do more with the RO system), but just ran out of drops in my ammonia test bottle #2 so not sure of the current reading until I can get another. I'll keep checking and changing and anxiously awaiting more plants! I may throw some duckweed in from a nearby pond if I can figure out a good way to corral it.

The water is definitely clearer but there is a white haze on all the glass. The pest snails eat it, but just make tiny little tracks, not really helpful. I rubbed some of it off during the water change. I think this is okay and normal? Or does it suggest too much light? I remember in my last tank once I got a Nerite I had no more issues with stuff on the glass!
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Old 07-27-2020, 05:08 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

You might want to tell us why you are using RO water instead of tapwater.

And I couldn't find the ingredient list for "Salty Shrimp."
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Old 07-27-2020, 06:36 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

Forgive me for a completely frivolous post, but "salty shrimp" is an entree at one or favorite Vietnamese restaurants.
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Old 07-28-2020, 12:08 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

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You might want to tell us why you are using RO water instead of tapwater.

And I couldn't find the ingredient list for "Salty Shrimp."
Indeed, and unfortunately, there is no published ingredient list for SaltyShrimp products. The one I am using is Shrimp Mineral GH/KH+
It is recommended in several places online by people who keep shrimp in remineralized RO water. I like it because it dissolves almost instantly in water (they must use the dihydrate form of the salts), unlike Seachem equilibrium which I had issues with. It also has a relatively low TDS as compared to Equilibrium. It's easy for me to add it to a bucket of RO water and double-check the concentration with a TDS meter. For a GH of 6 it has a TDS of ~200ppm. It is more expensive than other options, but for my 10 gallon the smallest bottle has lasted almost 3 years and it is what I settled on as the easiest thing to do.

EDIT: From a reddit post I found this about another of their products. I guess the shrimp mineral gh/kh+ product would be similar but with more KH ingredients, though I'm not sure:
Bee Shrimp Mineral GH +
Soft Water Mineral GH +
17.88% Calcium
6.76% Magnesium
2, 11% Potassium
0.69% Hydrogen Carbonate
41.50% Chloride
16.91% Sulfate
0.35492% Trace Elements

I would love it if I could use tap water instead. Especially now with this larger tank, that would make things much easier! However, my city tap water is weird and terrible (notoriously so). Let me give details. It is very soft (Hardness 3.96 - 11.9 mg/L = <1dGH), and yet has very high bicarbonate (382 mg/L) so a very high pH (8.5-8.7). Sodium levels are also high (181 - 207 mg/L). Calcium is so low (3.23 mg/L). Anecdotally, everyone will tell you it will kill your (terrestrial) plants, and I know the greenhouses on campus use a lot of RO water. I don't think freshwater aquatic plants would enjoy that much sodium either? The TDS is 400ppm out of the tap. And I would still have to add in more minerals.

Water report from 2019:
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Your thoughts welcome!

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Old 07-28-2020, 04:54 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

Your tapwater sounds weird and terrible! Can see why you use R.O. water, especially with that amount of sodium, high pH, etc.

Salty Shrimp sounds good. Tank has a nice assortment of good plants. Maybe, this (4 ppm ammonia) will work itself out as the soil settles down at 6-8 weeks post-setup?

I would do water changes every week or so--whenever you think ammonia and cloudiness are getting out of control.
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Old 07-29-2020, 07:55 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

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Your tapwater sounds weird and terrible! Can see why you use R.O. water, especially with that amount of sodium, high pH, etc.

Salty Shrimp sounds good. Tank has a nice assortment of good plants. Maybe, this (4 ppm ammonia) will work itself out as the soil settles down at 6-8 weeks post-setup?

I would do water changes every week or so--whenever you think ammonia and cloudiness are getting out of control.
Thanks! The ammonia got up to almost 8ppm the night before last, but I didn't have time to to a water change until yesterday evening. I filled 3 5-gallon jugs with RO water at a water vending station down the street, so was able to do a BIG water change (almost 20 gallons) last night, which brought the ammonia back down to ~1ppm. It looks to be holding there this morning. We also grabbed a bunch of duckweed from the neighborhood pond, which hopefully will help with the ammonia and maybe bring some beneficial bacteria along with it.

I haven't seen any nitrites yet. I could add filter media from my other tank, but no reason to rush the process of ammonia to nitrate at this stage right? I don't plan to add fish until the soil settles down (probably too hot to ship them now anyway and no good local options). I just received my Ecology of the Planted Aquarium book yesterday so will be busy reading more details

The additional plants I was expecting this week look to be delayed (not shipped yet), but hopefully the duckweed will help!
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Old 07-29-2020, 03:52 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

Do you have a UV filter? I had some really weird stuff show up in my tank after adding daphnia from a culture I bought that was obviously just collected from a nearby water source. Of course, you can always get weird stuff from purchased plants, anyway, but I won't ever add anything from a pond type source in my tank again. I ended up with some small fast worms on the glass that I'm pretty sure were planaria. Since I added cory cats, I haven't seen any on the glass, as the corys clean the glass up and down. I also ended up with mosquitos hatching in my apartment. I thought - How did that mosquito get in here? Haven't seen any outside. Then another one and another one - and I realized they were hatching in the daphnia tank lol. If I'd already had fish, they would have enjoyed eating the larvae. There were also some bloodworms, which are just a midge larvae. But, you can get some weird stuff show up - you don't know what's in that water.

A UV filter won't kill critters like planaria, but it will kill any bad bacteria pond plants or creatures bring into the tank, and won't hurt the good bacteria attached to the surfaces in the tank.

Sorry if I just freaked you out for no reason, if you've already put the duckweed in your tank I'd just turn on that UV filter for awhile, in that case. It will take care of algae blooms, too. And just keep your eye out for anything bad like hydra or planaria, etc. I haven't seen the planaria bother anything in my tank yet, including the shrimp, so they may not be a parasitic type anyway. But, just keep your eye on your tank for weird stuff, is my point and I advise you to turn on a UV filter for awhile.

Ms. Walstad has suggested UV filters are great for killing bad stuff in the aquarium. I think they're really good preventive medicine. For what it's worth
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Old 07-29-2020, 04:32 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Setting up a new 29gal NPT

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The additional plants I was expecting this week look to be delayed (not shipped yet), but hopefully the duckweed will help!
Duckweed will always help! See page 25 in my book for removal of ammonia by duckweed.
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