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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've been keeping fish for a couple years now and have been constantly frustrated by poor plant growth. I'd done all sorts of research and was almost resigned to setting up a fermentation DIY CO2 injector before I came across Ms. Walstad's book. After reading most of it (still in progress), I have converted my 29 gallon guppy aquarium to a NPT.

Before conversion, the tank was in bad shape. I basically never did water changes and had an airstone in the tank. Every plant that I put in grew very weakly, if at all. Aponogetons (hybrid bulbs from the blister packs) grew either very small lime green leaves or curled crispus-like leaves. Never more than two or three at a time, either. The gravel in the aquarium had become completely carpeted with black diatomeceous algae and brush algae. The fish seemed fine, though, oddly enough. It was also pretty overstocked as it housed about 30 guppies that bred like crazy. Since I've made a few changes, things are definitely looking up.

I removed about half of the gravel (formerly ~2") and the airstone. The water was really murky afterwards which should tell you how much mulm and such has accumulated in the substrate over the year it was like this. I did small water changes (5%) once a week for about a month and vacuumed the gravel when I did so. I replaced the meek little aponogetons and they started to grow. A red dwarf lily that I thought was for sure a goner had begun growing and in the six weeks since I started the conversion has grown magnificently. Still a small guy, but beautiful and growing quickly. I added some trumpet snails and java moss and removed the activated carbon from my filter (Aquatech 20-40). After another week or so, I removed the filter all together.

I've switched to a daylight flourescent over the tank and have added a 60W incandescent hanging over it to add light and create convection currents (no heater).

The gravel in this aquarium is crazy. I got the tank from a brother-in-law of a friend of mine for free, and it came with decorations and the most motley gravel I've ever seen. There must be twenty different kinds and colors of gravel in there, not to mention marbles, coral rocks, snail and mussel shells, and fish bones (big ones, too). At first I hated it but left it in anyway, however I've come to appreciate it in all its multicolored glory.

Here's the skinny:
29 gallons (110 liters)
30" x 12" x 18" (L x W x H)
1" of gravel
24" 20W GE Daylight, 60W incandescent GE "Plant light"
72-78 degrees Fahrenheit (22-26 degree Celsius)
No filter, no fertilizer doses, no carbon added, no heater (water in a glass box, basically)

12 aponogeton hybrids of varying color and size
1 red dwarf lily (nymphaea stellata)
2 fist-sized clumps of java moss (vesicularia dubyana)

Unkown number of trumpet snails (melanoides tuberculata)
8 guppies (poecilia reticulata), 2 male, 6 female
1 peppered cory (corydoras paleatus)

I'll try to get some pics up as soon as possible. The plants are all growing from bulbs, they weren't grown when I placed them in the tank aside from the java moss. The guppies and snails are both reproducing, and everyone seems happy. So, so far, so good.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)
Here are some pictures. The first pic is the aquarium as a whole. In the next you can see my cory cat and a trumpet snail to the left near some of the java moss. The third is the dwarf lily. In the fourth pic you can see the brown algae slowly losing to the trumpet snails. And in the last one you can see the stuff that used to carpet the entire aquarium covering a coral rock next to some more java moss. One of my guppies is picking at it.

So that's how things look right now. I'll post more pics as things develop and we'll see how it goes, I guess.
 

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Glad to hear you've been able to revitalize your tank. If your aponogetons grow anything like mine your tank is going to be a jungle in no time. I really like that dwarf lily, so compact and pretty. I usually have so many plants in my tanks that the lilies put out long stems to try and get enough light.

That gravel does take a bit to get used to, but if your fine with it that's all that matters. Have you had any issues with the shells and coral rocks hardening your water?
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Thanks for the comments! :)

The water in the tank doesn't seem to be much harder than the water coming out of the tap. My water is well water and is already pretty hard. I use Jungle Labs Quick Dip test strips and it seems that GH is already >150 ppm. KH is off the charts (>300 ppm). PH is also high, around 8.4 or 8.5. So the shells don't seem to make much of a difference in that respect. The strips aren't terribly precise, but I can't see a difference in anything but nitrates when I've tested the tap water against the tank water.

The city also uses polyphosphates as part of the treatment process which probably contributes to the brown algae growth (it grows very fast and will smother the plants without the snails fighting it), as most things I've seen mention phosphates in connection with this type of algae.

If I had the money I'd probably put in a better substrate, but as a broke college student I've had to stick with what I've got. Once you're used to that gravel you really do start to appreciate it, and it seems to make the tank brighter as it reflects a lot of light.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Well, things are continuing to look good. All the plants have been continuing to grow well and quickly (as quickly as to be expected in a NPT).

It's been a about a week since I removed the filter and I had expected to see a serious algae bloom, but the water is still clear as crystal. I've cleaned off the panes once this week when things started to get that 'dreamy' look when white algae starts to grow on the glass. Other than that, I haven't touched it. I've had to top it off much less than usual, also. There is some film on the surface these days, but I figure that's to be expected. All inhabitants (plants and fish/snails) seem quite well so far, and the aquarium looks just as clean as ever. Cleaner, even, because the snails have gained more ground in the continuing 'brown algae war'.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I thought I'd post an update. Things are still going okay, though there have been a couple issues. The water's been a bit cloudy lately, I recently did a 30% change and that seemed to help quite a bit. There's also been a bloom of hair algae. My fish will eat it, though, so I've cut back on feeding and they're taking care of it.

One of the aponogetons has started growing a new plant on a vertical runner, I guess you'd say. It sent up what I thought would be a floating leaf, but it grew a new plant instead. It's got little roots sticking out into the water and it's kinda neat. I tried to upload some pics, but it kept failing. So, no pics, I guess.

Lots of fry, lots of baby snails, and everyone's still alive (plants included).
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I thought I'd give uploading some pics another go. It seems that whatever the problem was is now fixed. The first pic is from a couple months ago, so you can see the growth during that time. You can also see that the water is still a bit cloudy, though I've since done another water change and the water is almost completely clear again. I'll probably do one more change this weekend to finish clearing it up.

I've also included a pic of the strange aponogeton plant. I've never heard of something like that happening before, so it seems pretty interesting to me. The other two pics are of the water lily, one of the pad on the surface and the other of the submerged growth from above.

Everyone is no longer still alive. I think the water changes overly stressed my oldest guppy and I discovered her dead yesterday morning. She was very old, though, I'd been expecting her to die for a month or so.
 

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My aponogeton ulvacius' have reproduced like that several times, they seem to do it every fall. You'll probobly have a ton of aponogetons pretty soon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Is there something in particular I should do with the new plant, like cut and plant it? Or should I just leave it alone?
 

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I have converted my 29 gallon guppy aquarium to a NPT.

1" of gravel
QUOTE]

Please don't call this an NPT. If it doesn't have soil in it, it is not an NPT. See pp. 175 to 176 in my book.

Your photo shows a few struggling plants in a thin layer of gravel. I doubt this tank will do much better than your earlier ones. Plants won't grow much, won't be able to compete with algae, and algae will take over.

Also, I suspect that after awhile the gravel will accumulate organic matter and become toxic to the fish. If you're going to keep this "old style" tank, you need to do frequent water changes and gravel vacuuming to protect your fish. Plants won't grow well enough to recycle nutrients and process potential toxins.

You imply that you can't afford soil. I set up my 50 gal (see earlier thread) using some generic "Top Soil" from Home Depot (cost $1.29 for a 40 lb bag).

The basics of an NPT are sufficient lighting, water that's not too soft, lots of plants, and a soil underlayer. You've got the first two ingredients.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Okay, I added some soil to the 29 gallon to appease the red-font-wielding dwalstad. I also added some more plants; some type of stem plant that I have as yet not identified (about a dozen). So now I will continue to call it an NPT, though it may still be a little low on plants. However, since "lots of plants" is hardly quantitatively definitive, I think I'm in the clear semantically.

To add the soil I drained as much of the water as possible and wrapped bricks of soil in newspaper (probably not the best choice for wrapping but quite frankly, I don't care; it did the trick and I doubt it will cause a huge problem in the long run). After filling about half of the tank I replaced the plants, most of which have subsequently began dying off. New growth is present, though, so I suspect they'll just lose their previous growth, which is fine with me.

I screwed up on the replacement of fish, almost all of them died. I'm not exactly sure what did it, I may have forgotten to treat the water I kept them in during the process or I may have put them back in the aquarium too soon. Whatever it was, it was highly lethal. Three guppy fry and my cory cat survived. I have since added three more cory cats.

I also added soil to my five gallon (and also lost my cichlid; this is okay, he really shouldn't have been in a five gallon anyway). It now houses a red crowntail betta, about half a dozen of the unidentified stem plants, a dwarf lily, and java moss.

So, the new substrate in the 29 gallon consists of 1.5" to 2" of organic soil topped with 1.5" to 2" of gravel. The soil unfortunately has peat moss in it, but it was the best I could do without leaving town to shop for soil. My water's pH is ridiculous anyway (8.2+) so I'm not too worried about it. In the 5 gallon I put about .75" of soil and .75" of gravel.

Pictures will be forthcoming (eventually).
 

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So, the new substrate in the 29 gallon consists of 1.5" to 2" of organic soil topped with 1.5" to 2" of gravel. The soil unfortunately has peat moss in it, but it was the best I could do without leaving town to shop for soil. My water's pH is ridiculous anyway (8.2+) so I'm not too worried about it. In the 5 gallon I put about .75" of soil and .75" of gravel.QUOTE]

I recommend only 1" of soil covered by 1" of gravel. When you use more soil than this, you have a much larger mass of organic matter than what is ideal. A large mass of organic matter, whether it is peat moss or kitchen compost, can go anaerobic and kill plants and fish. AND when you use 1.5" to 2" of gravel, you make it worse by inhibiting oxygen entry into the soil. So the soil becomes even more anaerobic. There's not enough oxygen in the water and the soil releases tons of carbon dioxide and fish die.

Your 29 gal setup is not ideal and not what I would recommend. But all is not lost. [COLOR="DarkRed"You can make it better [/COLOR]by keeping the water well-aerated amd doing major water changes for first 3 months. You may succeed with a lucky plant selection and good lighting that will override the anaerobic substrate.

Your 5 gal tank sounds much more reasonable. It will be interesting to see what develops in these two tanks.

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Thanks, dwalstad!

I have malaysian trumpet snails in the aquarium; I think they might help in keeping the substrate from becoming too anaerobic. I've also replaced the 60W blub with a 100W CFL; hopefully that will help the plants process any excess CO2. The cory cats and snails are supposed to be good indicators of oxygen levels, too, so hopefully I'll be able to keep those problems in check.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thought I'd post an update. I'm still without a digital camera, so no pics. I should be getting it this weekend, I think, and then I'll probably start a new thread to include both the 29G and 5G.

I have identified the stem plants as bacopa monnieri. They're doing pretty well. I hadn't realized how tall they get when I planted them and placed them mostly in midground. I'll keep them trimmed there, though, and replant cuttings in the back.

The aponogetons are slowly coming back as is the dwarf lily. One of the lily bulbs I added has sprouted but the other two haven't done anything yet. The java moss seems to be doing pretty well.

The 5G seems to be faring better than the 29G, not surprisingly. I think part of that might be temperature in addition to the things dwalstad pointed out. The 5G is near the furnace so it stays a nice temperature year round, but the 29G is in the other room and near a rather drafty window. I managed to get a heater for it and it seems to have spurred growth a bit; the temperature difference was significant after adding the heater. Previously the water stayed in the mid to high 60's (F) and is now staying a comfortable 75-ish degrees (F).

There has been a problem with BGA in both tanks. The 5G seems to have calmed down, though, and the BGA is rapidly disappearing. The 29G is looking better all the time, but there's still a bit of problem. Not enough to suffocate the plants, though. My main concern with the BGA has been the java moss because it tends to get covered with it. I've taken the java moss out a few times and rinsed it with tap water to remove as much as possible and replaced it; this seems to keep it from covering the moss. I've also been running an HOB filter on the 29G, an Aqua-Tech 5-15, and this also seems to keep the BGA at bay.

Anywho, I'll hopefully be able to post pics in a new thread this weekend or next week sometime.
 
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