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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all. I tried posting this on 5/24 but it was never approved, so I'm trying again now that more time has passed. Here is an introduction to my first tank.

Set-Up Details
• Tank: 9.6 gallon (Lifegard brand)
• Heater: 50W Eheim Jager heater, set to 72°F
• Lighting: 18-24" Hygger LED light, with a photoperiod of 5 hours on at 100%, 2 hours off, 6 hours on at 80%. Receives dappled natural sunlight during late morning.
• Substrate: 1" layer of Bonnie's Harvest Raised Bed soil (sifted) mixed with ~1/4 cup crushed oyster shell, capped with 1.5" layer of 2-4mm gravel

Plants
• Floaters: Dwarf water lettuce, Red root floaters, Amazon frogbit, Salvinia minima
• Stems (left to right): Ludwigia repens x arcuata (emersed), Rotala spp., Limnophila belem, Ludwigia brevipes, Bacopa caroliniana (variegated and normal), Pearl weed
• Other: Nymphoides hydrophylla (Taiwan lily), Eleocharis belem

Day 1 (5/21/22, morning after planting)
Plant Water Vertebrate Natural environment Botany


Day 9 (5/29/22)
Plant Vertebrate Light Nature Rectangle

I have been monitoring the water parameters and will include a chart for reference. There are no GH and KH values until 5/26 because I realized that I had been performing the test incorrectly (silly me, giving myself headaches for no reason).

Font Material property Rectangle Pattern Circle

The nitrogen cycle has been suspiciously smooth. The soil I chose had a low nitrogen content (0.12%), so maybe this has helped reduce fluctuation. Or maybe fluctuation is yet to come.

From my tap water's GH and KH values of 3, I was able to raise these to around 9 each through the use of Wonder shells, baking soda, and crushed oyster shell (though I feel that the oyster shell has probably contributed less than the others).

The plants appear to be thriving. The Limnophila is the most visually obvious success case; despite some leaf melt, it has grown several inches and is now about an inch shy of reaching the surface. The lily lost two leaves in the transition, but has already put out three more. The water lettuce roots are growing long, and the plants are putting out babies. The red root floaters are flowering beautifully (which I can't take full credit for, they looked lovely when I bought them). Much to my surprise and delight, the pearl weed and the E. belem have been pearling considerably throughout the photoperiod. This sight in particular made me incredibly happy...

E. belem root, 22 hours apart
Plant Organism Terrestrial plant Grass Tree

The root went from just visible to touching the soil in less than a full day, growing about an inch in length.

As anticipated, not all of the plants are so successful. The Bacopa is suffering from significant leaf melt, but has healthy leaves and is growing more. I suspect it needs more time. The Amazon frogbit was very unhappy. Its roots regressed, and its leaves yellowed and developed brown and white spots. I have removed it after several days of decline and replaced it with more water lettuce. Perhaps it was diseased, or some complicated allelopathy has hindered it. I'm not distressed; the other floaters are thriving well enough.

There has been a potentially ugly recent development. I was worried that the hitchhiker snail did not have enough to eat because he became more mobile around the tank, so I sprinkled pieces of half an algae wafer around. I know that Diana recommends feeding the tank with fish food, but I may have added too much too soon. Just a day after doing that, I noticed small white worms on the tank glass, and their population has boomed since then. I have also noticed a web of filamentous white algae forming around the E. belem, which is the area of the tank that receives the most light. There are also hair-like organisms on the glass, and I'm not sure if they are hydra or more algae. They don't move much, so I think they're algae, but it's still concerning. I will include a few photos of these interlopers for identification.

First worm found (5/26/22)
Water Plant Cloud Sky Astronomical object


Fuzzy glass (5/29/22)
Water Vertebrate Liquid Organism Vegetation


Algae (5/29/22)
Water Plant Terrestrial plant Wood Grass

Besides the addition of fish food, I'm not sure what other reasons could account for the explosion of these two populations. Insight into possible causes and management would be appreciated. The tank is new, so this could just be part of the settling in process, but I'd like to address any potentially catastrophic problems sooner rather than later.

To close off this long post (I never claimed to be brief), I am thoroughly enjoying watching this tank's progress. It has been going much better than expected. I attribute its current success to the wealth of information in Diana Walstad's book, and forcing myself to take a few weeks to plan despite my excitement to get started.

Thanks for reading. Here are some flowery red roots for your enjoyment.

Water Plant Liquid Flower Botany
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I just replied to your earlier post and see that my tardy advice is now somewhat irrelevant, but hopefully there's a message for others.
Tank looks very nice and promising.
Your floating and blossoming red plants are beautiful. What a treat to see them this morning!
Thank you! I get great joy out of them. Their flowers are so little and delicate.

To your reply to my last post: Less of a testing anomaly, more of a tester anomaly. I promise I can read instructions. 🤦‍♀️ At least the GH/KH are fine now.

Because the nitrogen cycle has been so stable and there is an excess of nutrients based on the appearance of algae, I decided to add a group of shrimp yesterday (5/30/22) to help out the snail with clean up. I now have two small amanos and five ghost shrimp and they have been settling in nicely.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Two week update...
Plant Light Rectangle Nature Leaf

Day 15 (6/4/22)
Check out the plant growth! The lily is absolutely taking off. It grows nearly an inch taller every day and puts out new leaves every other. The water lettuce roots are fanning out and the RRF continue to bloom. The E. belem is putting out tons of runners and new blades. The bacopa is finally starting to improve, growing new leaves and side shoots where the others rotted. New growth on the emersed ludwigia is starting to look more aquatic. The pearl weed and E. belem pearl all day long. I will attach some more tank pictures below if you'd like to see.

And oh my, the invertebrates. I enjoy them immensely. I now have 2 amano shrimp and 2 nerites as permanent residents. I have 5 ghost shrimp as well, but I plan to give them to a friend's tank and replace them with some wild-type neos in the near future. Little baby ramshorns are showing up as well. They are just so small and cute, I melt.
Plant Terrestrial plant Grass Wood Ingredient

I think the invertebrates and the incredible plant growth are helping to keep algae at bay. There are still good amounts of fuzz and green spots on the glass though. The ramshorns and shrimp don't really feed on the glass, only the nerites do. Should I bother cleaning it off, or will it take care of itself in time? I will attach some pictures of the algae as well.

I've also noticed that the new growth on the salvinia, rotala, and limnophila are very light green to white in color. Is this concerning? The water parameters have not changed. The plants are growing so fast that I can't imagine it's a nutrient deficiency, but maybe. The color is honestly quite attractive, but if it's indicative of an issue, I want to fix it. Here's what they look like:
Flower Plant Petal Botany Terrestrial plant

Plant Leaf Terrestrial plant Window Vegetation

I spend so much time sitting in front of this tank every day that it's giving me back pain. I should probably get out more lol. But it's just too much fun!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Dirt tanks are good for rooted plants, but not so much for floating plants.
I would add a little nitrate & chelated iron. Seachem flourish should work.
Doesn't Flourish have relatively low NPK? I think it's a nitrogen deficiency based on the symptoms and my low nitrate (<5.0ppm), so I don't think that Flourish would be the best way to address it. If nitrogen is what they need and Flourish contains mostly micronutrients, I would risk overdosing on those and causing other problems.

In chapter 5 of her book, Walstad writes, "Planted tanks without adequate fishfood additions would probably become rapidly depleted of major nutrients nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus." I haven't added anything since that algae wafer last week. The rooted plants like the grass and the lily are doing fine, but the water column feeding stems and floaters are showing the deficiency. Will fish food help feed the water column?
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
yeah, fish food will help. I just noticed you don't have livestock! Fish poop would help add nutrients into the water column.
I only have 7 shrimp, 2 nerites, and a slowly growing horde of baby ramshorns. I do see them poop, but they definitely don't have as high a bioload as fish.

I think I will try fish food since I already have it. I'm a little worried that adding it will cause an algae spike though. I'm also considering buying KNO3 in some form instead, which would give me a more direct answer as to what is limiting the plants. Both options probably risk algae. I'll have to be careful not to add too much.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
So this might be a dumb idea... but my nitrate levels are disappearing and I'm trying to come up with ways to quickly feed the water column as cheaply and naturally as possible. I have this spare tank with about two inches of water containing plant scraps that I've just been letting sit, just to see if the scraps do anything with no intervention on my part. I tested the water in there and the ammonia is high (~4.0ppm) because of the decomposing plant material.

From what I've gathered, the fish food fertilizer option seems to be intended for replenishing the substrate nutrients. I could be wrong. I don't know how well it addresses water column deficiencies.

Would the scrap tank's water be able to act as an extremely diluted nitrogen fertilizer? Since it's so dilute, I don't think the inhabitants would be harmed like they would be if I were to add a concentrated ammonia fertilizer. 4.0 ppm is only 0.0004% ammonia after all. Using this calculator, I would need to add over 2000 mL of the scrap tank's water to increase the ammonia concentration of the main tank from 0.25 to 0.5 ppm. So it might not be enough to have any effect at all, either by improving plant nutrition or negatively impacting inhabitant health.

This was a random idea I had. Any thoughts are appreciated.

Aside from that, I'm still not certain it's a nitrogen problem at all. New growth is white. On the Limnophila, the old growth appears to be yellowing/spotty. It's hard to tell for the rotala. The salvinia old leaves are green, but some are dying off. So I can't tell if this is a mobile or immobile nutrient deficiency.

Oh, and an additional observation: the RRF are still growing in very red. Does this indicate that it isn't an iron problem?

Either way, for now I'm going to feed fish food until I get more insight. I appreciate any help from you more experienced aquarists.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Well I knew floaters were nutrient hogs, but it's a different thing to watch it happen.

Rather than adding the scrap tank water to the main tank, I decided to try "feeding" the floaters directly by moving them to that tank yesterday afternoon. I left them there overnight and tested the water again this morning. And, wow! The ammonia readings reduced from 4.0ppm to 0.5ppm.

That was a shocking difference, but the Ecology of the Planted Aquarium chapter VII supports the possibility. Figure VII-1 shows that Elodea nuttallii, a water column feeding plant, reduced ammonium concentration from 2mg/l to 0.5mg/l in 16 hours. The floaters were in that tank for 17 hours. Walstad also discusses the potential for plants to take in nutrients in quantities above the critical concentration (almost 2.5x more for N in her tank), and the preference for ammonia over nitrates both in speed of and energy required for uptake.

I considered the possibility that the floaters introduced nitrifying bacteria that may account for the reduction. I did not take NO2 and NO3 measurements yesterday, but today they were 0 and >5.0ppm respectively. But I don't think bacteria are fully responsible for the reduction for two reasons:
A) NH4 -> NO3 occurs in a 1 to 1 ratio throughout the two step reaction, in that 1 NH4 results in 1 NO3 by the end. The NO3 test was closer in color to 0 than 5.0. While not precise, this indicates to me that the plants were responsible for at least some uptake of nitrogen. Not all NH4 was converted to NO3.
B) The scrap tank has very little surface area on which bacteria could colonize. The tank has no substrate, so besides living and dead plant matter, there is only glass.

Very cool to see hungry floaters in action. I think I'll leave them in there another day to see how they affect the NO3 reading. An image of the floaters in the scrap tank is attached. Could be a trick of the light, but the salvinia looks a little greener.

Yesterday in the main tank, I added about 1/6th of a bottom feeder tablet dissolved in water in little drops around the plants that were suffering the most. Mostly around the left back corner on the rotala and limnophila. This morning, there was a web of white algae around those plants. It was not dense, and the algae was mushy so I just brushed it off with tweezers. I will monitor the algae growth throughout today and won't feed the tank until tomorrow if I notice more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Now you need to feed the nutrient monsters everyday :)
If they can just utterly clean out the water column of nitrogen to this extreme, no wonder my tank became deficient while I wasn't feeding it. The poor suffering stem plants, overrun by these voracious floating monsters.

Yes, this seems to be the most convincing reason that the floaters, not bacteria, are responsible for the observed ammonia reduction.

Now to figure out how I'm ever going to be able to keep these things fed. Goodie.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
For NPK, I would add fishfood or your magic potion. For the floater, I would add chelated iron (FeEDTa) or a micro-nutrient fertilizer.
You called it. Water lettuce are showing chlorosis, and their roots are growing desperately out of control. The other floaters, salvinia and RRF, don't seem to be chlorotic but it's hard to tell because the RRF are so red and the salvinia is still very light green from the nitrogen issues.

The "magic potion" seems to be helping the submerged plants. They are greener overall and continue to grow rapidly. None are chlorotic either, I'm guessing because they have access to the soil iron.

I am a little frustrated about these deficiencies. Going into this, I expected to have the opposite problem! I understand how I drained the tank of NPK by not feeding it, but the lack of iron is confusing me. The book suggests that the soil should contain plenty of iron, and within the first few months, freshly submerged soil chaos should release enough of it into the water column.

My pH is ~7.4, so maybe that is reducing available iron in the water column? Or maybe the lack of water movement without a filter is keeping the plants from being able to get the nutrients they need due to the formation of a "depletion zone" around the exchange surfaces?

I was really hoping to go fertilizer-free, but at this point it looks like I have to choose between keeping the water lettuce or following the purist approach. I like the water lettuce too much to watch them starve, so I guess I'm trying chelated iron. Sigh.
 

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Discussion Starter · #22 ·
Oxygen in the overlying water makes iron unavailable to plants. After the iron enters the water column it is converted to iron oxides, which plants cannot use.
Does this always occur? If so, how do floating plants get iron at all?

I resisted iron fertilization for decades, because I wanted to stick with a purist approach. But I've given in. Once in awhile if I see real iron deficiency and my floating plants are dying, I'll add FeEDTA.
What would "real iron deficiency" look like? I thought the visibly darker veins compared to the rest of the tissue on the water lettuce leaves looked like chlorosis. The plants did not look like that when I got them; their leaves were uniform in color and the veins were not visible.

However, since (2021) I started keeping tanks without filters or aerators. Now, I have almost no problem with iron deficiency in my floating plants. [Filter bacteria and aeration (oxygen!) will remove soluble iron from the water column.]

These filter-less tanks are great. I now have 9 guppy breeding tanks with only floating plants and potted plants--no deep substrate. I've described them in a recent article 'Potted Plants for Fish Breeding Tanks' on my book's website: Planted Aquariums
In those tanks, do you just rely on livestock movement to bring water to the plants for nutrient exchange? I have a very lightly stocked tank, so I've been stirring around the water when I add my "magic potion" a few times a day to help with that. I know that terrestrial plants can deplete the water directly around their roots of nutrients, and that's why mycorrhizal associations are so beneficial. I imagined that the same thing could happen in stagnant water, since your book mentions that medium flow is beneficial for plants.
 

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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
Of course as I am about to begin my summer classes out of town, strange happenings occur. For the next two months, I'll be spending my week days in another city and only coming back here on the weekends. My roommate will keep an eye on the tank while I'm away.

So, 4 week update...

Stems were getting tall and floaters were blocking light, so I decided to give the tank its first trim on 6/14. Here's a before and after. Nothing drastic, just trimmed and replanted to promote thicker growth of the stems and thinned out the floaters to allow more light. Note that the left was taken on 6/14 and the right was taken the next day.

Plant Plant community Green Botany Organism

Since the trim, the tank has become very cloudy, so much so that looking through it long ways, I cannot see my hand on the other side until it is touching the glass. You can already see that it was cloudier just a day after the trim, but here is a photo taken today:

Plant Plant community Green Vertebrate Light

Not sure who the culprit of the cloudiness is between bacteria and algae. There is always a thick layer of biofilm on the surface when the tank is left undisturbed for any length of time. Additionally, the water doesn't look particularly green to me, mostly just white cloudiness, so I'm leaning towards bacteria. I will attach a comparison of tap water (left) vs. tank water (right) in test tubes so you can see the difference.

There are several variables at play. I have been feeding the tank either once or twice a day since 6/6. Because of the water lettuce, I also decided to dose Flourish Iron (which I realize is not chelated, but my friend had a bottle so I wanted to try it). I added 1mL twice, on 6/15 and 6/16. I also removed about half the floating plants and trimmed the water lettuce roots. All of these factors have probably resulted in a higher concentration of nutrients in the water column than there was before the trim, possibly contributing to the cloudiness.

Besides aesthetics, I don't think the cloudiness is necessarily harmful. Water parameters are all normal except for a pH rise from 7.4 to 8.0 between 6/14 and 6/18. GH and KH also reduced by 1 over the same time period. Maybe the cloudiness is actually algae, using CO2 and nutrients during photosynthesis and thereby increasing pH and decreasing hardness.

To my excitement, I have noticed a blooming community of tiny animals! I see ostracods hanging out near the surface and around the roots of floaters. Copepods skip their way across the glass, and I have seen several carrying eggs. Small white worms wiggle in the water column, and larger ones (1/4-1/2 inch in length) occasionally emerge from the substrate when disturbed. I am happy to see these critters playing their part in the ecosystem. I wonder if they like to eat whatever is clouding up the water.

My larger critters are doing well, too. I have seen numerous shrimp molts over the past week. The more sociable ones enjoyed sharing some boiled peas and cucumber. The largest ladies are saddled, so I hope to see shrimplets in my future. The many spotted ramshorns are growing, the biggest almost dime sized in shell diameter. They are funny, they shoot up like rockets to the surface sometimes for fast travel. My nerites are very shy, but they are coming out of their shells at their own pace (a snail's pace, if you will...)

All this is to say, maybe my leaving town is actually perfect timing. I go tomorrow morning, and won't be back until Thursday afternoon at the earliest. So until then, the tank will be left to its own devices and we'll see how it is when I get back. Probably better than trying to intervene myself. Just let nature take its course.
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
My apologies. I must have missed it. What was the point of trimming the water lettuce roots? That's where all the nutrient uptake gets done. Also, I'm wondering if two hours is a sufficient siesta period?
The root trim was purely aesthetic, they were blocking my view. Not the best reason, but they're already growing back so oh well.

2-4 hours for a siesta is something I've seen Diana mention frequently. On page 179 of the Ecology of the Planted Aquarium (we need a shorthand for that) the benefit of a siesta appears to increase linearly over the 4 hour period. A full 4 hours brings CO2 from 4 to 8 mg/L in Walstad's tanks, and the graph suggests that half that time would provide half that benefit.

The growth of algae causes a rise in pH due to CO2 uptake. Bacteria growth would lower it. Cloudiness is usually a mix of bacteria and planktonic algae.
I am giving a water sample to my friend who has access to a microscope in the lab he works in. I'll share here what he finds!

And yes, next time I'll do a more conservative trim. I didn't remove any stem biomass, but removing half the floaters and trimming the water lettuce roots seems to have really made a difference.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
My friend was able to look at the water sample under the microscope today, but had a few limitations. The sample was pretty dilute, so it was hard to find things in it. And he was short on time. But he still sent me some interesting things!

I organized all the photos onto a presentation with my best guesses as to identification. Much harder than I expected it to be! I am inexperienced with identifying microscopic organisms, so take my opinions with that grain of salt.

The only thing I'm certain about is the presence of diatoms (specimen 2). The rest are very general and uncertain guesses.

Sometime later this summer (when we are both back in town) I will join him in the lab after hours to take a look for myself. That way I can spend as much time as I want looking at the microorganisms and taking pictures. What fun!

Anyways, peruse the pdf at your leisure. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 ·
Yes, it does sound like fun! But definitely will need help of a biologist! What you've photographed are the big animals (protozoa and probably debris--unless it's moving).
Your tank's cloudiness could be due to bacteria and micro-algae that you will not see without 400- 1,000X magnification. For the bacteria, you will need special staining or a dedicated microscope (phase-contrast?).
The size of bacteria range from 0.2 to 20 microns. Micro-algae are somewhat larger.
I will have to see if I can get access to one somehow. Maybe one of the labs I volunteer in has a beefier microscope.

My friend used a complex fluorescence microscope to get those photos. His lab works with fungal genetics, so he uses it to determine the presence of genes he's tagged. It's great for that purpose, but somewhat lacking for my interests.

Still interesting to see the larger animals, but I wish I could see more.
 

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Discussion Starter · #33 · (Edited)
5 week update...

Well, I left the tank alone for a week. The cloudiness hasn't changed much, but just about everything else has!

Plant Light Green Purple Natural environment

6/24/22
From the photo, the cloudiness looks better than it did last week, but the visibility longways is still poor. I would say it's maybe slightly better than last week. Hard to tell.

The pH normalized as well, back to around 7.6 where it's been for all of June.

The plants are really starting to look denser now which I love. The pearlweed is getting especially wild. It has sent out two runners over the carpet, challenging the hairgrass. The hairgrass is thick and holding the front lines against the pearlweed, but some has retreated towards the left side under the ludwigia.

As you can see, the water lettuce was not to be disgraced by my trimming of its roots. It has grown them back twice as long as before. I am giving up for now and allowing it.

The lily is exploding as usual. It is sending up two leaves today. One is sitting at the surface unopened. I've read mixed things about whether or not this plant forms lily pads like other species do. I've been hoping that it will.

In my time away, many of the plants have become greener. The salvinia finally looks normal again, and the water lettuce has improved some. The bacopa and rotala look much better as well.

The only plant struggling right now is the limnophila. It is responsible for the thin area in the center back. It is branching out laterally since the trimming, but the leaves are small, curled, light in color, and some are dying off. Interestingly, this was the plant that was growing the fastest in the beginning. Maybe it is an inferior competitor. I am interested to see what happens to it as time goes on.

As for the animals, there are exciting developments! I think I was right about the ostracods and copepods feeding off of whatever is in the cloudy water, because their populations have boomed compared to last week. I estimate that I'm seeing 2-4 times as many today than I was on the 18th. I saw at least ten copepods carrying eggs. Also, I think I have two species of ostracods present. Some are larger and transparent yellow while others are smaller and black, about the size and color of a poppy seed. Interestingly, there has been a sharp decline in the amount of detritus worms in the water. I did see large ones in the substrate, so maybe they grew big and decided to burrow. Unsure about that.

And the biggest news of the day... I'm going to be a grandparent! I was elated to see that my largest yellow shrimp is carrying eggs. It's a good sign. The shrimp are settled in, happy and healthy.

Things are going well. The cloudy water is not a catastrophe. The plants are growing, the crustaceans are breeding, and that's about all I could hope for.
 

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Discussion Starter · #36 ·
I had a brief experience with ostracods and copepods last year at about this same time of the year when I brought home some topsoil from a farm in North Carolina. I was convinced the creatures were daphnia at first until dissuaded from that view by the Au Naturel community. The soil was likewise accompanied by a grayish cloud when added to water. So, i'm wondering if this is also the case with your substrate which is a commercially sold "raised bed" soil mixture. They sometimes contain compost which can be pretty rich in bacteria. I would suggest letting the critters do their thing; they already seem to be making a difference. I wouldn't add any fish until the creatures are done procreating and have disappeared on their own.
Thanks for sharing your experience! I am using a raised bed soil, Bonnie's Harvest is the brand. Perhaps there is a similar thing going on in my tank.

I definitely don't mind the critters. In fact, I enjoy their presence, I wouldn't try to remove them. And I don't plan on adding any fish until my summer classes are over anyway so I can actually spend time around them.

Gives me plenty of time to consider what fish to get. At first, I was planning on a Betta, but they're kind of a dice roll when it comes to compatibility with shrimp. Lately I've been thinking about celestial pearl danios. My tank is the minimum recommended size for them though, so I'm not sure if they'd be comfortable.
 
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