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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
One month ago I set up my first Walstad aquarium, and my first aquarium in over 30 years. About two years ago, a friend told me about the work of Takashi Amano and I looked him up on the internet. What I saw amazed and delighted me, then the description of how this beauty was created and maintained amazed and appalled me. I forgot about planted aquaria for another year and a half.

Then somehow while browsing the web, I came across a description of Diana Walstad's method of creating planted aquaria and immediately thought, "I can do this." I bought a copy of her book, and started reading everything on the web I could find. This aquarium was set up using her method with very few deviations.

We'll start with the tank: a used 20 gallon tall with a damaged rim. The rim was so bad that I had to remove it. The clamp lights are temporary.


Inspired by emersed driftwood designs, I used mazanita and crape myrtle. The mazanita is in the back, actually three separate pieces held together with stainless steel screws.


Originally I intended to fill the tank only about 2/3 full, but that changed later.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The title "Hidden Spring" comes from a simple river tank manifold. (This is what comes of doing too much reading before you start!) There is a 50 gph power head on the left rear side of the aquarium that pumps water through some plastic fittings and vinyl tubing under the substrate to the right front corner. The outlet is concealed behind the crape myrtle stump. An overhead view shows the tubing running from left to right.


This view from the left side shows the power head connected to the tubing. You can barely see the outlet at the top of the photo attached to the stump. The scrap tile is stacked in the back of the tank were I wanted to build up the substrate several inches higher than the front. I did not want the substrate too deep to avoid severely anaerobic conditions, so the inert tile is just there to take up space.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The soil portion of the substrate is Miracle Grow Organic Choice potting mix. I think the main advantage of this material is that it is a nationally sold product with consistent ingredients. It also has a nutrient analysis on the bag, which is very rare for any potting soil. It is about one inch deep, dry and straight from the bag.


The cap for the soil is the only experimental part of the set up: expanded shale. This is a horticultural product used to amend clay soils and in potting mixes, and also as a light weight aggregate for concrete. It is made from natural shale, heated in a kiln until it "pops", producing a very porous coarse gravel with a particle size from about 3 to 8 mm. It is chemically inert, and I have used it a lot in terrestrial soils, so I was confident it would work. I also set up a planted test bowl before deciding to use it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Now for the really fun part, planting! I found it easier to plant with no water in the tank, just the damp substrate. Plants were kept wet during the process with a mister.

The plant list, almost all of which came from members of DFW Aquatic Plant Club:

Anubias barteri nana
Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Tropica'
Cryptocoryne sp. #1
Cryptocoryne sp. #2
Helanthium angustifolium 'Vesuvius', Vesuvius sword
Hydrocotyle leucocephala, Brazilian pennywort
Hygrophila difformis, wisteria
H. polysperma 'Sunset', Sunset hygro
Mycrosorum pteropus, Java fern
Taxiphyllum alternans, Taiwan moss
Taxiphyllum barbieri, Java moss
Utricularia gibba, the hitch hiker
Unidentified floater

Thirteen species is probably three or four species too many, and in fact I removed the Java fern to another tank about three weeks after planting. Here is the tank immediately after planting.


About five minutes after this photo was taken, the large manzanita "root" decided to float, despite being soaked for a solid month and sinking to the bottom of my outdoor pond! Apparently it dried out enough during assembly to float again. I will spare you the obligatory photo of the driftwood being held down with a brick. The tank was a mess, with soil everywhere and a scum of little pieces of wood floating from the MGOC on the surface. I went to bed, thinking I would have to tear the whole thing down the next day.

But the next morning most of the small pieces had settled out and disappeared into the expanded shale. The floaters were easily removed with a net. The substrate did get pushed around, and ended up deeper in places than I intended. But I dodged the bullet!
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
The tank two weeks after planting:


Here are some more of the typical specifications.

Water movement/filtration:
50 gph power head pumping water to the "hidden spring".
Aquaclear 50 HOB filter with coarse sponges only. This filter was added to cope with the floating driftwood crisis, and will be replaced with another power head to move water at the top of the tank. I do not want to lose my natural CO2.

Lighting:
24" Coralife fixture with 65w power compact flourescent, 6500K/10,000K. The fixture is raised above the tank on the standard legs. I run this on a siesta schedule: 5 hours on, 4 hours off, 5 hours on. This is a lot of light for an El Natural, and I plan to raise the fixture farther above the tank as soon as my light hanger is finished. Currently the light spread is not even over the tank, with the back being a little too dark for the wisteria; raisng the fixture will help with this. Raising the fixture will allow growth of some non-aquatic epiphytes on the emersed driftwood, maybe fig ivy and small bromiliads.

At one month, I have had no problems with algae and the plants are all growing very well--I've had to trim the Sunset hygro twice. The only thing I dislike is that the soil (and maybe driftwood) are leaching tanins into the water, turning it amber. This doesn't hurt anything, but I like very colorless water. Next time, I will soak and rinse the potting mix several times before I set up the tank.

Originally I planned to fill this tank only 2/3 full, to expose the driftwood more. But the taller plants looked good in the back, so I have decided to keep it full.

I'm going to take a break for a few days and hopefully get good new photos. Next time I will talk about animals.

--Michael
 

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Wow Michael, that's a really nice set up. I love the driftwood, and never knew Crepe myrtle could be used in an aquarium.

I have the same problem with tannins in my big tank, and made the same decision for future set ups to soak and drain the MGOC several times before re-setting up. I may even completely do away with my driftwood, though I have though about using it elsewhere in the future; we'll see...

I look forward to updates,
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks, Mudboots and Sampster.

The idea for using the crape myrtle actually came from Tex Gal's sticky in Aquascaping, "Wood choice for the planted tank". The crape myrtle piece was cut a year ago, and had been drying outside. Before it went in the tank I soaked it for about a month, then power washed it. This took off all the biofilm and the bark.

The manzanita had been knocking around in the attic for years and still had the bark on it. (We have parrots, and manzanita is popular for perches because they can't destroy it immediately.) It was soaked and power washed like the crape myrtle.

I did some carving and shaping on all the wood, plus assembling the manzanita. The crape myrtle was almost as hard as the manzanita, so it should hold up well under water.
 

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Am I correct in understanding that the tank had a black rim at the top and bottom?
I ask cause without the plastic trim the tank is susceptible to bursting. The silicone isn't meant be under that sort of pressure and the thickness of the glass is less than the optimal surface area. Then again I know those who've taken the rim off with no problem but I'm just voicing some caution.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for your concern! Actually it was bad fake wood grain plastic. The tank had been stored outdoors for some time, and UV degradation had turned the plastic brittle, to the point where it would break under light pressure. A large piece of the bottom rim had already broken off, to the point that the tank would not sit on a flat surface without rocking.

I did a test fill on the tank after the rim was removed, and the total bow in the center of the top was 1/8". This has remained constant in the month that the tank has been filled. I think the glass will hold. You are right, the silicone could fail catastrophically. In that case I will be using the wet vac to clean up a HUGE mess.

Very long ago I built a 55 gallon aquarium without a rim, using DIY silicone sealant. That tank was still intact when I gave it away years later, so I am not too worried.

Keep your fingers crossed for me. If the worst happens I will warn everyone else.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Thanks, Mudboots! I would not try de-rimming anything larger than 20 gallons.

Here are two photos taken yesterday, an overall view and a slight close-up, with my male Apistogramma borellii.





Obviously I need some help with my photography. I am using a 10 year old point and shoot with the color balance set on automatic. The colors look more life-like in the close-up, but still not great. The amount of light from the fixture on the tank is just barely enough--the camera wants me to use the flash but that looks terrible of course. Any suggestions, besides getting a better camera?

The tank is just about fully stocked. Fauna were chosen for adaptability to my water (pH 7.8,
GH 150 ppm, KH 180 ppm), and cooler temperatures since I don't plan to use a heater. Also, I like "no drama" dispositions.

11 golden white cloud mountain minnows
5 kuhli loaches
1 pair of Apistogramma borellii
Wild-type Neocardina heteropoda
Ramshorn snails

I've loved kuhli loaches since I was 11. The LFS store had some mature golden white clouds in a display tank (NFS) that looked good, so I bought some young ones. Boy are those things inbred! The shrimp may have started off as "red cherries", but after many generations of being bred as feeders for another hobbyist's cichlids with no selection for color, they aren't even pink. That's OK, it will help them survive in this tank.

The apistos are the stars. I picked the species because they are supposed to be small, peaceful, non-destructive, and adpated to my water. No one told me the male would turn BLUE! What a great color! They are tiny fish and do not bother the other inhabitants (baby shrimp being the exception), but they do have that cichlid attitude.

P.S. I have no idea why the first photo is displayed so small. Both photos are at similar resolution.
 

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That's coming along great. The apistos are definitely well suited for planted aquaria; that cichlid attitude just brings out a whole new personality to the tank.
 

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I'm going to be coming back to this thread a lot. We have similar water parameters, specifically the high pH, and I'd like to see what does good and bad in your water. How have the kuhli loaches done over the years?
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Sampster, when I had kuhlis previously, I lived where the water was neutral and somewhat soft. I'm hoping that these captive-bred kuhlis are adaptable to the water here. So far they seem very happy.

I have another 10 gallon tank set up about 3 weeks after this one. It has a different group of plants but the same water obviously. I'll post more details later.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Apparently the kuhli loaches are not happy. In fact, they are so unhappy that 4 of the original 6 have committed suicide by jumping out. Or is it that they are TOO happy, and can not contain themselves?

Seriously, I wonder if the jumping is caused by non-specific irritation from the water chemistry. It is sad because I really enjoy that species in the tank, and wanted a decent sized social group. But I'm not going to add more with this high mortality rate.

The other fish are fine, and the plants are doing very well. I have not lost a single species, and the Hygrophila 'Sunset' is almost ready for its fourth trim. The tank is only 6 weeks old.
 

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the Hygrophila 'Sunset' is almost ready for its fourth trim. The tank is only 6 weeks old.
Goodness; that's some pretty hot growth rates you've got going on. Keep track of how this species is doing; I am curious to see if other folks experience a bit of "burn out" after a while.

Sorry to hear about the loaches; they are a really nice species.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
It would be fine with me if it slowed a little. Obscured by the H. p. 'Sunset' is Helanthium angustifolium 'Vesuvius'. It is spreading over the back of the tank, and I may decide to let it be the background plant and remove the 'Sunset' or wisteria.

Surprisingly, the wisteria has not needed a trim yet. Most people describe it as incredibly fast growing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Here is a photo update:





These photos were taken 2 weeks ago, when the tank was 3.5 months old. Since then I have removed the wisteria on the left side, and the 'Vesuvius' sword from the middle, and replaced them with vallisneria. The wisteria had begun to look disheveled to me. 'Vesuvius' was growing but not thriving, and the spiral leaves were too busy.

So it was time to simplify! I'll post some more photos when the changes have time to grow it.

--Michael

Edit: It seems the photos aren't showing up, but you can see them in my album.
 
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