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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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