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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hey everyone! As many others did, I got here thanks to Foo the Flowerhorn's videos. Since I was a kid I've always wanted to set up a tank and the simplicity and natural look of this method pushed me to finally try. Right now I'm in the process of Soak-And-Draining the soil, waiting to start mineralizing it by laying it down (it's raining in this period, so I cannot do that right now). I still have to buy most of the stuff, but before doing that I want to know your opinion on some things I'd like to do. Here's my setup:


Tank: Curved Corner Glass Aquarium, 40cm*23cm*25cm - 23 Liters (16*9*10* inches - 6 Gallons).

Substrate: 2.5 centimeters mineralized soil and Clay + 3.5 centimeters of 1.5-2.5 mm diameter River Polychrome gravel. (1 inch soil + 1.3 inch gravel). I was also thinking of maybe sprinkling a little bit of Dolomite. I'm not sure If I'll take care of that later.
Produced with the use of Hochmoortorf peat (h2-h4, slightly decomposed), vegetable substances from gardening and landscaping (compost from organic waste), vegetable substances from forestry (bark humus, wood fiber) and complex mineral fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium).

Organic matter: 28% (FM)
pH: 6.4 (CaCl_2)
Saline content: 1.8g KCl / l
Electrical conductivity: 0.03 dS / m
Dry apperent density: 420 g / l
Total porosity: 87% (v / v)

Bioavailable (soluble) nutrients:
Nitrogen (N) 250 mg / l
Phosphate (P_2O_5) 300 mg / l
Potassium oxide (K_2O) 900mg / l
Magnesium (Mg) 150 mg / l
Sulfur (S) 450 mg / l

Plants: Hornwort, Ludwigia Repens, Rotala Rotundifolia, Java Moss, Micranthemum umbrosum (Montecarlo 3), Mosquito Fern (if I can find it, Duckweed if not).
I'm buying these from an online store. The listings state that for each stem plant they send 5 stems (around 12 centimeters each), so I should end up with around 15 Stems.
Do I need more to start? Are they too many? What do you think of these choices? Please let me know

Water: Dechlorinated tapwater. It's pretty hard, what should I do?

Light: CFL Fluorescent light (coolwhite or 6500k) 12-14 watt. 13 hours the first months, then maybe lower them to 12.

Filter: No filter. I was thinking of adding something for water movement, but I've read it's not necessary for smaller tanks.

Heater: 50watt 20cm with heater cover. Temps around 26-27° (80F).

Tap water parameters:
pH: around 7.5
KH= 20°d
GH= >16°d

Fishies: 1 male Betta Splendens, some Amanos, Horned Nerite Snail, Malaysian Trumpet Snail (I've read they help with the soil), maybe some Caridinas. I'm not sure on the number of snails and shrimps, I don't want to annoy the Betta too much, but at the same time I want to keep algae at bay.


Hardscape: Yes, I know. Hardscaping is a bit difficult to do in a NPT tank, but doable. I've read that I should not rest driftwood and rocks above the gravel but directly onto the glass so that it doesn't block oxygen. The problem is that the overall substrate is going to be around 6cm, which covers a good part of the wood and rocks I'd like to use. Do you know a cheap, inert way to raise them up? Maybe by gluing/tying something below them?

At the moment I have 1 piece of driftwood and 2 pieces of Jati Wood (I think that's mangrove root?). I have been boiling these to remove tannins. I was thinking of getting another small piece of driftwood and two small Seiryu Stones. Do you think that's too much?
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Imagine the driftwood to not be floating... I was testing the tank and the heater here.

Do you think that it would be too crowded by adding the other things mentioned?
I was thinking of something like this:
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BTW, the post-it notes outline where the substrate would end. That's why I want to raise the scape a little bit.

Starting Up: I've read that a Walstad tank maturation also depends on the fishes, so it's advised to add them early. The problem is that the Betta is kind of expensive and I don't want to risk losing it during the maturation of the tank (I was thinking to add him after 2-3 months, when things have settled). What if I start the tank with the snails and shrimps, but also temporarily accommodate around 5 Zebra Danio, which I will move to another tank when I'll add the Betta. Do you think that's a good idea?

Thank you all in advance!
 

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I don't have the experience to speak on much, but re: starting the cycle, I would say you can very likely start without any fish or inverts. Give it a couple weeks so you can see what plants are growing and which ones aren't. If you think you need to introduce ammonia, you can "feed" the cycle with some cheap fish flakes, but it really depends on how "hot" your soil is and how much it leaks ammonia into the water.

Again, I don't know how hot your soil is. There's way smarter and more experienced people that will probably fill you in here. I'm mostly speaking from my experience.

To raise your hardscape, you could use cheap gravel or stones to raise the areas you want raised. I'll be using gravel when I set up my 10 gal betta tank so I can have some raised levels, and that should help prevent anything from going bad. If you just want the hardscape lifted, maybe you can get slate tile and break it to fit underneath the wood/rock.
 

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I would not mix clay with the soil as it could cause metal toxicity. For such a small tank where you are restricted to smaller plants, I would not make the gravel layer so deep; 2 cm is plenty. A thick gravel layer may smother the soil bacteria. How long you have to wait to put fish in depends on how well the plants grow and how fertile the soil is. I always add fish the next day and then do water change or add filter with charcoal if there are problems.
I would focus more on the plants than the hardscape.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
What if I cut some plant grids and shape them into some sort of cubes ? I could make wood and stones sit onto these and inside fill it with gravel.

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This shouldn't create any problem, right?
 

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The total depth of the substrate (soil and cap) should not be more than about 4 cm. I suggest that you put ceramic tile, slate, or flagstone where you want the hardscape. You can do several layers so that the top of the tile is about 3 cm above the glass. Put the soil in, place the hardscape, then finish with gravel. The tile will be covered with about 1 cm of gravel so you won't see it.

This is what I do to prevent anaerobic soil under hardscape.
 

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I tested my water parameters.

Tap water parameters:
pH: around 7.5
KH= 20°d
GH= >16°d

It is really hard. What should I do?
My water is very similar in PH & GH to yours. Most plants I looked at when deciding what to plant seem fine with harder water, and I went for Echinodorus, Sagittaria Subulata, Cryptocoryne Wendtii as the main ones. Snails happy and Amano Shrimp. I go for hard water fish like Endlers.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Hey everyone! I'm back with an update. I wanted to make this at the 7 days mark but I've been quite busy with university stuff and so I had to postpone this a couple of days.

I started the aquarium on the 28 of May. As I mentioned in previous replies, I wanted to try to build a support for the hardscape using egg crate - and I did - but during setup I quickly realized that by using that I wouldn't have enough space to place enough soil, so I scrapped that and simply used gravel (what a huge waste of time :ROFLMAO:). In the end, I went for 1 inch soil + 1 inch gravel.
I had never planted an aquarium, so it was a bit troublesome for me (especially for Micranthemum umbrosum), but I managed to do it. Originally I planted the Micranthemum in the front and all the other plants in the back of the scape, then I attached the moss on some parts of the scape. I filled the tank with dechlorinated tap water. For some reason, I spent like a hour rinsing the gravel to remove any dust or whatever, but I didn't rinse the sand that I wanted to make a trail with, so I clouded the water. In the next 2 days I did water changes for the dust that didn't want to settle and I kept poking the substrate to let the air go out.

I waited a couple of days to see if everything seemed OK, then I added the fishes. On day 3 I added the 4 Danio, a Ramshorn and a MTS that I ordered from an online shop with the plants. The next day I added 2 Amano and 2 very small Horned Nerites which I bought from a local store.

By day 4 all parameters were the same, but the water became too tinged so I did a small water change. I also noticed that the two young nerites were quite lethargic (they looked ok back at the store). I moved them in front of the aquarium to keep an eye on them. The next day I found them where I left them, and by the 6th day they were both dead. The parameters remained the same all the time and I spent a long time to acclimatize them, I honestly don't know what happened. Maybe they were already sick or simply too fragile. Everyone else was fine. A this point I became a bit paranoid and I noticed that the MTS seemed lethargic too, but they are nocturnal so I wasn't so sure. In the following days I kept track of its movements but luckily it was fine (I can see it moving even during the day now). I've never seen it buried though.

On day 5 I noticed some invasive snails which I guess arrived with the plants. I found 5 and moved them in a temporary setup I have, while I left one in. They've grown quite a lot in the span of a week: there are 4 bladder snails, 1 ramshorn + another rams that I left in the main tank. I'll probably add a couple back to it when they're a bit bigger.

On day 8 I noticed a slight decay in the plants positioned on a particular spot of the tank, which is probably too dark. So I moved them to a better spot. By this point I couldn't really tell the pH of the water by using the test strips, as the color kept changing all the time. So I decided to do a water test at the store. I didn't know this, but they do not test pH as they say that it changes by the time that you bring the sample to the store. So I simply confirmed that the kH is at 14° and that NO2 and NO3 are at 0. I'll have to buy a test kit for pH and do it myself.
This day I also noticed something: the Danios are suddenly frightened of me. Up until now, they were curious and always around my fingers and tools when I worked on the aquarium. I could even touch them. Now it has become hard to even feed them, because as I approach the aquarium they run away and hide under the wood. They also seem to be less prone to swim around the front of the aquarium, even if I'm not there. What could be the cause of this? Lack of Oxygen? Reflection? I didn't move the light though.

By day 9 most of the other plants reached the surface, so I cut them at approximately half height and replanted the cuttings, which look really healthy and colorful. I planted the cuttings of the Ludwigia on the front, while the ones from the Rotala next to their original spot. By now I had cut the Hornwort twice. I removed the anchored and floating Hornwort and stuck it between the cavities of the wood. The floating plant is reproducing too, maybe a bit slower than I expected. Maybe it's the species (Red Root Floaters). They're quite green though.
I also found the moult of one of the two Amano, so I guess that's a healthy sign.
Another thing that I noticed is that the white sand is darkening? What is that?

Considering that I'd like to house a Betta here, I decided to slowly do reverse osmosis water changes and see if it will be possible. This week I'll do a 20% and see where that brings me.

And that's pretty much it. I'm still quite unsure If I need to add something to move the water a little bit or that's fine as is. Let me know if you have any suggestion about anything mentioned up here.
I attached some pictures for you to see. I can't add more than 10 so I'll add more to my next reply.
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NO3 = 0
NO2= 0
gH= >16
kH= between 10-15
pH= around 7.5 (I'm never quite sure by using these test strips
Cl2= 0
Leaf Insect Plant Arthropod Terrestrial plant
Plant Plant community Water Light Green
Water Organism Aquatic plant Wood Grass
Leaf Natural environment Wood Organism Terrestrial plant
Plant Plant community Water Organism Vegetation
Plant Water Terrestrial plant Grass Wood
Plant Beak Water Organism Terrestrial plant
Water Plant Green Nature Botany
Liquid Automotive tire Water Grass Terrestrial plant

Thank you!
 

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I see a lot of soil and driftwood but very few strong rooted plants. In the back of tank (left side in photo), I think you've planted Hornwort, which is a rootless plant. The small plant Micranthemum isn't big/strong enough to keep substrate from going bad, unless it is growing in massive amounts.

I would get something to circulate water to increase oxygen. The driftwood could be releasing DOC (dissolved organic carbon) causing bacterial bloom in water, causing the slight water cloudiness. Bacterial growth is further depriving water of oxygen and killing your animals.

My suggestions: Remove some of the driftwood, get more rooted plants and temporarily add a pump/filter/air stone to circulate water and get oxygen. You'll probably need to poke substrate as well.

The black color is probably FeS (iron sulfide) suggesting toxic H2S release from a severely anaerobic soil layer.

I wish beginners would focus more on plants than hardscape. :cry:
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I see a lot of soil and driftwood but very few strong rooted plants. In the back of tank (left side in photo), I think you've planted Hornwort, which is a rootless plant. The small plant Micranthemum isn't big/strong enough to keep substrate from going bad, unless it is growing in massive amounts.

I would get something to circulate water to increase oxygen. The driftwood could be releasing DOC (dissolved organic carbon) causing bacterial bloom in water, causing the slight water cloudiness. Bacterial growth is further depriving water of oxygen and killing your animals.

My suggestions: Remove some of the driftwood, get more rooted plants and temporarily add a pump/filter/air stone to circulate water and get oxygen. You'll probably need to poke substrate as well.

The black color is probably FeS (iron sulfide) suggesting toxic H2S release from a severely anaerobic soil layer.

I wish beginners would focus more on plants than hardscape. :cry:
There are 12 stem plants in total between Rotala and Ludwigia. I'll add more if needed instead of waiting to replant the cuttings.
Hornwort is no longer anchored to the ground.
I've been poking the substrate quite a bit, actually. I'll try to do it more. Should I go all the way down to touch the glass?
As for water circulation, can anyone suggest some product names?
 

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Poking to the bottom is good.

I would also temporarily reduce the water level. That will make water changes easier and bring more light to your stem plants. It will also facilitate oxygenating the substrate. (The deeper the water, the longer it takes for oxygen from the air to penetrate water layer and get to the substrate.)

A small Whisper air pump with air-line tubing for gentle bubbling would work fine. These air pumps are inexpensive and last forever. Secure the end of the tubing to one of your tank's hardware pieces for gentle bubbling. I would make sure to get a gang valve to control the air flow as the Wisper produces far more air than necessary. I use a single Whisper 10 to circulate water in 4 tanks.

Other people here may have suggestions but finding a water circulation pump or submerged filter for such a small tank is difficult and/or they are expensive.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
I made a purchase before reading your comments because I wanted it to arrive before the start of the weekend, or I would have end up without anything for days. I'm still in time to return it back if it's not the right choice and get something from your suggestions (thank you, by the way!).

I bought a small external filter, but I'm not sure if the water movement is enough for Oxygenation.
I've put it in a temporary position on the left side to have easier access to it, I'll probably move it in the back later.
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This is right after installation:
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At minimum flow:
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At maximum flow (I fear it disturbs the plants too much? Let me know how I should keep it):
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If this is okay, I'll change the media inside it because it is kinda bad. I'll probably add a sponge on the intake too. If you tell me this isn't enough I'll take the air pump route instead. 😄

By the way, since I've added it everyone inside is a lot more active and the fishes have returned to their former selves. I've also finally seen the MTS bury itself in the gravel (I guess this is the result of my continuous poking). I've also found another Amano molt :giggle:

I've also cut and replanted two Rotala stems that had reached the surface. In the weekend I'll go check out the store to add some plants that you suggested. Thank you for your answers, as always!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
Hey everyone! I'm back with another update, I hope you've had a good weekend.

Front and back. These were taken right after cutting some plants.
Plant Plant community Water Organism Terrestrial plant
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As I mentioned last time, I wanted to add more plants. Instead of buying them I thought to browse the local marketplaces to find if anyone was selling their cuttings, and I found another hobbyist giving them away for free.

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There were so many that he didn't remember the names of some of them.
There are three types of floatings plants: I think they're Water Lettuce, Salvinia minima and Limnobium laevigatum.
Two types of moss: one is Java Moss, the other I have no idea.
Then some other stem plants: Vallisneria, hygrophila (maybe?) Bacopa and another one which I haven't been able to classify.
And also an Anubias, don't know which kind.

They were so many that I ended up only using the healthiest ones in the tank that I've been showing you, the rest I planted them in a secondary, fishless tank. Before inserting them, I thoroughly inspected and washed them in a hydrogen peroxide - water mix, then rinsed them.
I planted 2 Vallisneria, 3 Bacopa, 4 hygrophila, some unknown ones and placed the Anubias and some moss around. I've also been replanting the rotala, which has been growing very fast.

Talking about the health of the plants, I think there might be some nutrient lacking in the water, as my red root floaters keep melting. I thought that it might have been a problem of light, but I put them in an open jar outside and the result was that they became a lot more red, but still died. I'm left with just a couple, and I fear that also the new floaters are going to end up the same. Also a leaf of the Anubias (which I simply weighted down on the substrate, as it has no roots) is flaking. Could brown algae be the cause?

Leaves of the Ludwigia.
Plant Leaf Water Terrestrial plant Groundcover

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Red Root Floaters inside the tank.
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Red Root Floaters outside jar test. I removed the dead ones after taking the photos.
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Anubias. It wasn't perfect when I got it from the other guy, but I think it's getting worse.
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Talking about the animals, they're all doing fine. The 2 Amanos are moulting every week (because they're young I think) and the Danios are very active. I think they've also mated? I'm not sure, but one morning they were going crazy and ignored the food. After a short while they stopped and returned to their usual behaviour. I thought at first that they were being aggressive, but I don't see any sign of injury. I compared it to Danios mating videos on YouTube and it kind of looked like that.
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Quality isn't the best, I know. Before filming them, they were doing the same but staying close to the substrate. They were going so fast they even uprooted some of the newly planted micrantheum 😅
 
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