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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Disclaimer: This is a long post. I appreciate help with any section. Thank you!

Hello everyone. My name is Elise, and I'm new to the hobby. I would like to preface this by saying that I have read Diana Walstad's book, a few of her supplemental articles, and much more on this forum and others, so I feel that I have built a fairly solid foundation on the subject of planted aquarium ecology. However, I lack practical experience, and have several questions that I need answered to inform my planning process.

Before getting into that, here are some tank details: I will be using a 9.6 gallon, 11.8in tall rimless aquarium. I intend to use a heater and artificial lighting to supplement limited indirect sunlight, but I would like to avoid using a filter pump or airstones if I can to keep it very low tech. I will be following the standard 1in soil topped with ~1in fine gravel or sand (haven't decided yet) for substrate.

WATER HARDNESS: The first obstacle that I have encountered is that my tap water is soft. I haven't tested it myself yet, but my city's annual water quality assessment indicates that the hardness is 3GH, which is below the threshold of hardness that most plants need for good growth according to Walstad. The general consensus for addressing this simply and long-term seems to be by adding crushed oyster shell to the soil during set-up. I have a few clarifying questions about this method.
  1. How much oyster shell should be added per unit of substrate?
  2. How does this actually work? To my understanding, the oyster shell slowly dissolves, releasing calcite and aragonite into the water. Does this mean that I could add dechlorinated soft water from my tap to the tank and the oyster shell will raise the hardness naturally?
  3. How quickly does this happen, and how long is this effective for? Will I need to supplement with more oyster shell down the line?

PLANT SELECTION: Because of my soft water, I am unsure about which plant species to pick. I think this will depend on how effective the oyster shell is at adjusting/maintaining hardness in the tank, so I have two lines of thought.
  1. If the oyster shell does not perfectly address the soft water problem, then should I allocate my plant budget towards soft water tolerant plants?
  2. Alternatively, if the oyster shell does make my water consistently hard enough for hard water plants to be competitive, should I avoid wasting money on soft water species that would just be outcompeted anyway?
It may be best to go with the "try a bunch and see what happens" method of planting, and get a selection of both to see what works. But if anyone has input on the hard vs. soft water plants, or suggestions for species I should try, I'd like to hear it.

CARPET: Like many others before me, I have dreams of a lush carpeted tank, and even if I am likely to be unsuccessful, I am still going to try. I would like to experiment with two carpeting species, plant them on either side of the area I want carpeted, and see if one, both, or neither can succeed.
  1. Is a dry start necessary? If so, where can I read more about this method besides Walstad's shrimp bowl article?
  2. In her chapter on allelopathy, Walstad mentions that dwarf hair grass is extremely competitive and chemically inhibits other rooted plants. Are there any other carpeting plants that have the potential to compete against DHG and are capable of growing in a NPT? I was interested in Monte Carlo as a HC alternative, but I'm not sure if you need CO2 injection to grow it.

LID OR NO LID: I have been going back and forth on this. The rimless tank I ordered does not come with one, so if I decide one is necessary I will be DIYing it and will cross that bridge when I get there. There seems to be pros and cons regarding the use of a lid, and I hope to get some further insight here.
  1. How necessary (or unnecessary) are lids for Walstad, low tech set-ups? Will a lid affect the consistency of the conditions in the tank in terms of oxygen, nutrients, and other factors?
  2. Most of the "pros" for going lidless tend to be primarily concerned with aesthetics. But I have also seen that the lid can negatively impact certain floating plants by keeping the humidity too high and dripping water on top of them, resulting in die-off. Also, I want to encourage amphibious and emergent growth. So, I guess what I'm getting at is, does it benefit plants to be lidless? Would it be reasonably safe for livestock to go lidless but have floating plants as a sort of pseudo-lid to discourage jumping? I think I would prefer to go lidless for aesthetics and emergent plant growth, but the health of the tank is the first priority.

EQUIPMENT: My final few questions are simple ones about heaters and light, because I'm a newbie.
  1. I believe for my tank size I would need a 50w heater. Is a heater cover necessary to prevent plants or animals from being burned? If brand recommendations are allowed on the forum, I would appreciate that as well.
  2. Lighting confuses me. The tank will be by a window that receives dappled if any direct sunlight throughout the day. For an 11.8in tall 9.6 gallon tank, what wattage and what type of light should I look for?

Thanks for bearing with my long post. I appreciate any information I can get on these topics. Looking forward to getting my plan together and finally starting this thing. :)
 

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1. I would try things without a heater first. Is your room's thermostat ever kept below 65F? There's a good chance the ambient room temperature is above 70F even in the northern U.S.. Your aquarium will mirror the room temperature.

2. If you have soft water, don't count on it ever becoming truly hard. The Wonder Shell regimen is covered pretty extensively in other DWalstad replies. It helped mitigate the softness of my New York City soft water. But, I would still make my bio-purchases with a view that my water is still on the soft side.

3. My understanding of the dry start process is that it is aimed at overcoming the prevalence of aquatic plants kept and sold over-the-counter in dry containers (emersed?) IF, you can find a family owned store that still sells plants grown underwater (submersed?), I would go with them and forego the dry start method.

This is just my experience. I'm still learning as I go. Hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
1. I would try things without a heater first. Is your room's thermostat ever kept below 65F? There's a good chance the ambient room temperature is above 70F even in the northern U.S.. Your aquarium will mirror the room temperature.
Thanks for your reply. Is there a benefit to not having a heater? My room temperature fluctuates a lot because my roommate and I like different temperatures. Plus the tank will be by a window which I assume could cause additional fluctuation.

Also, I will look into the Wonder Shell thing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Then, you'll need a heater. The only reason I asked is that it's one less piece of equipment taking up space, if you can do without it.
Yeah, I figured I'd just be better off having one even if I could be okay without it. I think I'm going to do a little experiment between the Wonder Shells and crushed oyster shells before I set up my tank, just to see how they each affect the water hardness.
 

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Yeah, I figured I'd just be better off having one even if I could be okay without it. I think I'm going to do a little experiment between the Wonder Shells and crushed oyster shells before I set up my tank, just to see how they each affect the water hardness.
The crushed oyster shell will likely take a while before you see any real change. I'm in the PNW and have soft water too. I added a very thin layer of crushed oyster shell between the soil and gravel, and I also add a quarter Wonder Shell each time I do a water change, which isn't very often. Regarding plant selection, you're gonna have to see what works and what doesn't. It's a bummer because some plants will do really well, and some won't. Start with LOTS of rooted plants. When you think you have enough, add more. You may need floaters too to help keep algae under control as they will take up excess nutrients at the start of your tank that will stimulate algae growth. My understanding about Monte Carlo is that it requires high light and C02 to really thrive, both of which aren't really part of the essence of a Walstad tank. I've never had any luck with it. S Repens on the other hand is doing pretty good in my tank, although not really forming a "carpet", just slowly spreading around. Lighting can be really simple, or really complex...just depends on how much you want to spend. Small aquarium LED lights are relatively affordable and easy to find. The key is finding the right amount of light (intensity) and the right duration that keeps plants growing but keeps algae at a minimum. I have a Fluval light that I can control intensity and spectrum and currently run it at 50% with no blue lights in the spectrum. Once I turned off the blue LEDs my algae issues cleared up pretty quickly. Lots of us use a siesta schedule - lights on for a few hours, lights off for a few hours, lights on for a few hours, lights off overnight. This can be set up with a simple timer used to turn house lamps on and off. Inhabitants are part of the equation too so you'll need to factor that in as well.
There's really no "easy button" to push here since every tank, and environment you create, is different. Follow Diana's book and keep it simple. Ask more questions here. We're always learning from each other. You'll have to experiment to see what works best in the world you create. That's part of the fun with these tanks.
 

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I would use the Wonder Shells. Also 1 tsp baking soda, since Wonder Shells don't provide bicarbonate. However, no reason not to mix a little (2-3 tablespoons?) of oyster shells with the soil underlayer when you set it up.
Unless your house temperature is kept above 70F, I would add a heater since many aquarium plants are tropical. 50 watts is fine. Rest heater at the bottom and parallel to the bottom glass to encourage water circulation.
If you don't use a filter or aerator, you can probably get away with not having a lid. Less evaporation and this will be nice for floating plants.
Since this is your first tank, I would avoid carpet plants and especially driftwood. Tend to cause problems.
Any inexpensive LED lights would probably be fine. If lighting is too intense, you can do a siesta regimen or add floating plants to dim it down. Let the plants work it out.
Main thing is to start with a large selection of plant species.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I would use the Wonder Shells. Also 1 tsp baking soda, since Wonder Shells don't provide bicarbonate. However, no reason not to mix a little (2-3 tablespoons?) of oyster shells with the soil underlayer when you set it up.
Unless your house temperature is kept above 70F, I would add a heater since many aquarium plants are tropical. 50 watts is fine. Rest heater at the bottom and parallel to the bottom glass to encourage water circulation.
If you don't use a filter or aerator, you can probably get away with not having a lid. Less evaporation and this will be nice for floating plants.
Since this is your first tank, I would avoid carpet plants and especially driftwood. Tend to cause problems.
Any inexpensive LED lights would probably be fine. If lighting is too intense, you can do a siesta regimen or add floating plants to dim it down. Let the plants work it out.
Main thing is to start with a large selection of plant species.
Thank you for your response, Diana. I think I will do both the oyster shell and the Wonder Shell like you said, and add some baking soda for KH.

What sort of problems do carpeting plants cause besides being difficult to grow in this type of set up?

Also, I was in the process of starting a new discussion to ask about soil when I got your notification, so might as well bring it up here. It seems that Miracle Grow no longer makes the Organic Choice Potting Mix that you've recommended in the past. What do you recommend now? All the soil at my local Home Depot has really high nitrogen (.20-.30) so I don't think those would work. I've seen people using cheap top soil, but those conversations frequently mention mineralization. Is that necessary for all soils or just top soil, or is it even necessary at all?
 

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Other than taking up planting space, carpet plants are harmless. Sagittaria subulata is a much better grower, so it can thrive in a soil-containing substrate and contribute to the health of the tank's ecosystem.
Ordinary potting soil should work. I mineralize soil in the tank rather than a bucket. People with not enough plants, soil layers deeper than 1", driftwood all over the tank often run into problem of the substrate going severely anaerobic. My book describes my method. Mineralization method is fine. It is your choice which method you want to use.
 

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The general consensus for addressing this simply and long-term seems to be by adding crushed oyster shell to the soil during set-up.
As others have mentioned, Wonder Shells work really great! I am in PNW like maico and my water is 0-1GH. I added a couple wonder shells to my setup a year (or longer?) ago and it has maintained a ~13GH since and hard-water plants grow great. I also add baking soda (in the form of Seachem Alkaline Buffer) when I do water changes. So it's definitely possible to have hard-water plants in your aquarium.

should I avoid wasting money on soft water species that would just be outcompeted anyway?
In Ecology of the Planted Aquarium Diana talks about this - soft plants grow even better in a hard water environment than a soft water one. They can (and prefer) use those nutrients, but have just adapted to water where they are not as frequent. In my experience vallisneria will absolutely overrun a hard-water tank and out compete a lot of other "hard-water" plants. Honestly, I have pretty much completely ignored whether plants are "hard" or "soft" water in my setups and most things grow pretty well.

But I have also seen that the lid can negatively impact certain floating plants by keeping the humidity too high and dripping water on top of them, resulting in die-off. Also, I want to encourage amphibious and emergent growth. So, I guess what I'm getting at is, does it benefit plants to be lidless? Would it be reasonably safe for livestock to go lidless but have floating plants as a sort of pseudo-lid to discourage jumping? I think I would prefer to go lidless for aesthetics and emergent plant growth, but the health of the tank is the first priority.
The biggest difference I've seen is evaporation. You will have to top off the tank much more frequently without a lid. I have a variety of floating plants and they seem to do slightly better with no lid (or a higher lid), but they still do fine with one as well. I think your biggest consideration will be your fauna. If you have something like killifish or another jumper, a lid is the way to go. Otherwise it doesn't really matter.

Is a heater cover necessary to prevent plants or animals from being burned?
I've never used one, had many plants growing up against the heater and they don't get burned. Shrimp sit on it and pick off of it, I guess they just leave if it gets too hot. I have had some unfortunate snails (mostly baby ones) get stuck in between the heater and the suction cups, but other than that the plants and animals just treat it like any other part of the tank.

what wattage and what type of light should I look for?
Like maico mentioned, having something you can adjust the intensity on is invaluable. You don't even need a fancy light for this, I believe you can buy dimmers for some lights as well. My main "treatment" for algae is to turn the light down a few notches and wait for it to disappear, then adjust it back up again over time.
 
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