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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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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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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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