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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I have decided to try a Walstadish tank. I have no experience with aquariums and very little good judgment, but a lot of acceptance of novel outcomes. I read some stuff on the internet then took Ecology of the Planted Aquarium out of the library and went through it. I have some notes and a general sense of what I should care about. Alright, time to begin.
--- Updates ---
Update 1 - Pre-setup pictures, measurements and (bad) plans:
Pictures https://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/threads/my-haphazard-tank-journey.146596/post-1019378
Blah blah blah https://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/threads/my-haphazard-tank-journey.146596/post-1019379

Update2 - Initial setup and second day

--- Original Post ---
Here's where I'm at so far (will update with pictures/progress as I go along) and where the trouble starts.

I bought a tank tank for $50 on craigslist advertised as "55 gal, but could be 75, someone told me 100". It's more like that 100, I can measure again, but it's 40 inches long and something like 30 inches tall. In other words, Not Recommended Dimensions. It's kinda dinged up, too, but we'll interpret that as personality.

I scraped off the paint on the outside with razor blades. Then filled it with water to see if it leaked, which of course it did. I watched some youtube videos and decided to give resealing a try. I scraped out all the sealant, rubbed with alcohol and applied the stuff, waited a week then filled it up. After 4 days with no leak I'm calling it a success, but in a month I'll be posting about how I never could have foreseen how this used and abused mystery tank could fail and ruin my whole house.

Next, I built a platform out of old 2X4s and a big piece of thick plywood. Most people would call it ugly probably, but I like it. (pictures later if anyone cares). It's very bulky and sturdy though, so I'm 99% sure it won't collapse, so if (when) my living room gets flooded it won't be due to platform failure.

So that's where I'm at today. Here's my plan for the future:

Gonna dig up dirt in my yard to put in the tank. I'll sift out the big rocks/sticks/carcasses somehow, but I am just gonna use my own dirt. Grass and weeds grow just fine in the spot I'll be taking it from so there's no obvious problem with it, but certainly it's a gamble.

Oh, the tank came with a bunch of gravel of mixed size, not too big not too small as far as I can tell. Just kind of generic looking brown stuff. Makes about a 2 inch layer in this tank but I didn't measure. I think it'll suffice, or maybe it'll be full of poisons and choke all my fish, who knows.

Currently, I'm figuring out how to get plants free or extremely cheap. Ideally trying to find some Duckweed, Frogbit, Java Ferns, Monte Carlo, Hornwort, cryptocrynes or amazon sword, but mostly taking what I can get. Also planning to grab a few of whatever I can find from nearby ponds where it's legal to grab a couple whatevers. Probably get some nice parasite/disease-filled water at the same time.

And then there's fish. Hoping to get some snails, nerites/trumpets/ramshorn and I hear you get hitchhikers with plants, so I'm anticipating that'll happen on its own to some extent. Probably will have to actively acquire a couple shrimp and long-term I want a weather loach and a hillstream loach but I don't have a lot of very specific preconceptions, just the suggestions from the book.

I'm going low tech, but will get a small circulation pump/powerhead, as Diana Walstad recommends. I have a sunny corner spot picked out and some silly LED light strips I bought off amazon that will either become tank lighting or room lighting depending on whether they suck at being the former. One set is brighter than the sun and the other is a rainbowy mood lighting thing that is not likely to support much photosynthesis. Also have some everyday shop-type clip lamps with standard LED bulbs I might use. Gonna experiment there.

And that's it.
 

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I wouldn't write-off the rainbowy mood lighting completely. Aquarium lighting is a compromise between the color spectrum the human eye can perceive best (a lot of green and white) and what plants absorb most efficiently for photosynthesis (a lot of red and blue.) Maybe combine both strips?
 

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Welcome to APC! A few suggestions:

Get as many healthy plants as you can. Walstad tanks depend on lots of plants for biofiltration.

Weather loaches live to dig and they grow 10" long! Even one will create havoc in a soil substrate tank. Hillstream loaches require specialized conditions and are not a good choice for a beginner. But that still leaves you with a huge range of choices.

For inexpensive lighting, clip-on shop lights with LED bulbs can work well. Look for "daylight" LEDs with 5,000K to 6,500K. Outdoor floodlights work especially well. You can try different bulb wattages and number of fixtures to get the light intensity you need. Very deep tanks like yours are more difficult to light.

Good luck and please show us photos!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Welcome to APC! A few suggestions:
Thanks!

I was planning to experiment with different combinations of lighting, including those moody lights. I do recall that tall tanks are hard to light, though I am not sure why I can't just light it from behind to deal with the penetration (does the glass filter too much?). I do have 5k LED bulbs on hand for the shop lights.

Too bad about the loaches, I guess the right amount of digging/aeration is not something I've fully understood. My impression is that you want critters that do some loosening of the soil but not a massive amount. Sounds like the loaches are a bad idea though. I was going to start with the inverts and just some basic cheap fishies (tetras probably) before going for any specific ones.

As for pictures it'll be a few days but I'll definitely update. How terrible of an idea is it to set up the tank, put in the dirt and gravel then gradually acquire (lots of) plants and add (a few) animals as I find it easy to do so, or are bad things going to happen chemically if I don't get a critical mass of plants in immediately?
 

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How terrible of an idea is it to set up the tank, put in the dirt and gravel then gradually acquire (lots of) plants and add (a few) animals as I find it easy to do so, or are bad things going to happen chemically if I don't get a critical mass of plants in immediately?
You'll need as many plants as you can get when you start the tank. When you think you have enough...add more! Some will die off (that's just the way it is) and the rest will do their thing. You want lots of rooted plants to help aerate the soil. And some floaters too to help absorb excess nutrients. If you don't have a lot of plants to start with you're inviting algae to take hold in your tank, along with the possibility of anaerobic conditions developing in your soil which you want to avoid.
 

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Newly submerged soil can release lots of ammonium, which is toxic to fish (and plants in very high concentrations). But plants use ammonium as a nutrient, so lots of plants right away means that it never gets out of control.

Lighting the tank through the glass from the sides should work. The major undesirable effects would be distorted plant growth (aesthetic problem only) and lots of algae growing on the glass at the lights (scrape it off with a razor blade).

Your tank is 30" tall x 40" wide, but how long? None of the "standard" size tanks are 30" tall, the tallest listed are 28". So now I'm curious just how big this thing is, LOL.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Your tank is 30" tall x 40" wide, but how long? None of the "standard" size tanks are 30" tall, the tallest listed are 28". So now I'm curious just how big this thing is, LOL.
It's quite possible it's not 30"or that it's 30" from the base tot tip but there's a couple inches of lip on the... top and button wrap-around thing (this not a fancy tank with nothing but transparent panes).I know it's 48"on its longest dimension (I would call this long but I think you're calling it wide). Then it's like 18" deep? It may only be 26 or 28 tall. When I did the math it came out to just about 100 exactly, but 48X30X18 is 112, so obviously I'm wrong. I'll give more accurate measurements when I'm back home.

So I will attempt to get as many plants as I can in immediately. There's sort of a chicken or egg thing though there if I don't have the tank set up I don't have a place for plants and if I don't have plants I shouldn't set up the tank.
 

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There's sort of a chicken or egg thing though there if I don't have the tank set up I don't have a place for plants and if I don't have plants I shouldn't set up the tank.
When we say you need the plants right away, it means within a week or two. You definitely need the tank planted and stable before you add fish unless you are prepared to test the water and do water changes.
 

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This all sounds very ambitious. You could set up a small tank beforehand to test out your soil, get plants growing etc. My article 'Small Planted Tanks for Pet Shrimp' (available free on my website) describes setting up a small tank or bowl. You can have just as much fun with something small without the potential headaches of a big tank.

If you plunge onward with big tank, though, I would use any wait time to mineralize the soil in the tank while you wait for the plants. Just cover soil plus gravel substrate with a couple inches of water. Do your water changes, ammonia/nitrite monitoring, leak checking, etc. Then plant it when you get the plants. And please don't add driftwood to this tank. You've saddled yourself with enough challenges.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
If you plunge onward with big tank, though, I would use any wait time to mineralize the soil in the tank while you wait for the plants. ... And please don't add driftwood to this tank. You've saddled yourself with enough challenges.
Well, call me the plumber because I'm big into plunging. I do own a 30 gallon tank but to be plain about it my wife is ambivalent about the 100 gallon and is distinctly opposed to a second tank, so I might use it as a temporary holding tank sometimes in the basement but it's not going to be a full member of our household decor. And yeah maybe I should start with the 30 gallon, but I am keen on the 100 gallon.

The outline of my vague plan is to

1. Put platform in house and the tank on the platform.
2. Dig up and sift dirt. Leave near tank.
3. Spend a day digging up a variety of plants and a bit of pond-bed soil at a nearby pond or two (I've already run this by the local conservation commission) and keep them... somewhere
4. Put 2.5" of dirt in tank along with pond soil.
5. Soak dirt
6. cap with gravel
7. Add 6" of water
8. Plant most plants
9. Fill to top with water
10. Adjust/add rest of plants
11. Wait 24 hours
12. Add initial snails/fish
13. Watch in horror as my ill-prepared ecosystem collapses.
 

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Do a fishless cycle. It's an interesting process where you add ammonia and bacteria until your filter is ready. It's more humane than using animals to cycle your tank. I'm not a vegan or with PETA or anything. Do add plenty of plants from the very beginning though.
 

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Do a fishless cycle. It's an interesting process where you add ammonia and bacteria until your filter is ready. It's more humane than using animals to cycle your tank. I'm not a vegan or with PETA or anything. Do add plenty of plants from the very beginning though.
A dirt tank pretty much cycles itself, I think.
 

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A "fishless cycle" is intended to promote growth of beneficial bacteria in a biofilter. Valkenar is not going to use a filter, so it will not work. In a Walstad tank, the critical biomass of healthy plants functions as the biofilter, replacing the bacteria. Not that bacteria are absent from a Walstad tank, but they are not necessary to detoxify ammonia.

Stuff that tank with plants! Then put some more in!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 · (Edited)
Alright here's initial pictures. Measurements and self-indulgent words in subsequent post.

Here's the tank by itself on a little dolly I built out of skateboard wheels and some other random stuff I had around. It's ugly and awesome.

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Here's a closeup of the really ugly job I did resealing it. Hope the jaggedness is just cosmetic and doesn't cause issues.
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This big damaged area worries me. (1.5" at the widest point)
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Here's the platform I built. I like it but it's rustic.

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This is the gravel I have.

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Here it is almost ready to flood my living room. The couch knows not its danger.
73725
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
Measurements:
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Glass is .5" thick
Purple is from the bottom inside to the lip at the top i.e. where water could go. (28.5")
Pink is the viewable portion not blocked by the rim. (26.75")
Cyan is the full top to bottom height including the rim (30.5"). Theres about a half-inch between the bottom of the bottom pane and the bottom of the rim.
Green is the outside dimension of the glass (18" outside, 17" inside")
Red is glass width (48" outside, 47" inside)

I dunno how aquariums are sold.
The inside dimensions of the glass are 47X17X28.5 -> 98.6 gallons
The outside dimensions of the glass are 48X18X28.75 -> 107.5 gallons
If we count the rim it's 48X18X30.5 -> 114 gallons.

I'm calling it 100 gallons but the actual amount of water is gonna be more like 22" high, so 82 gallons.

Some notes:
* The window the tank is lined up against is a slightly south of due west and the window that it's near but not in front of is slightly east of south. The way the trees and stuff are it will get direct morning and afternoon sun.

* The tank has ugly paint remnants on the outside. This isn't the final orientation, so some of that will be hidden and i might scrape some more off with a razor blade but the hideous rim is probably gonna stay hideous. It's not impossible I could eventually paint it though.

* I came back from a week of vacation to find that the half inch of water I hadn't quite cleaned out was home to a few dead snails, a cool-ass diving beetle type thing and some inch-long wiggly-worm thing. I love insects and other unpopular critters and am super looking forward to seeing more of these types of things in the final tank. Gonna do some microscopy too. Hopefully unseen enemies don't kill all the plants and fish though.

*I've set it up with water just to verify that it does't leak everywhere immediately. I tested before for 4 days but who knows maybe I damaged it during the move or maybe my awful resealing job won't hold.

* It's more level than it looks. My house is some kind of Escheresque funhouse from the 19th century and the angles are not what you'd call square.

After I finish posting I'm going to go dig up and prepare some dirt. During the week I'll identify fish and snail sources. Next Saturday and Sunday I'll go looking for plants in local ponds (confirmed ok by local conservation authority). On Sunday evening I'll add the dirt, gravel and plants. On Monday or Tuesday I'll go buy a couple fish/snails. I've got a basic mini pump coming, I've got my lights (though I was wondering if right now it even needs supplemental light because of its position.

#4 will bring about #13. No more than 1.5" of soil, 1" is better with 1" of gravel cap.
I was a little uncertain how much to use. I had read the 1.5" advice, but on the other hand I'm getting some native plants that are fairly large (like 25" tall). I would imagine they'd have deeper roots and appreciate a deeper substrate. Is that not the case, or is it not relevant because anaerobic process will overwhelm everything even if I do have these more deeply rooted plants?
 

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I was a little uncertain how much to use. I had read the 1.5" advice, but on the other hand I'm getting some native plants that are fairly large (like 25" tall). I would imagine they'd have deeper roots and appreciate a deeper substrate. Is that not the case, or is it not relevant because anaerobic process will overwhelm everything even if I do have these more deeply rooted plants?
In the case of large, well-rooted plants, a clay pot inside the tank is your best friend. That way, if things get out of control with one substrate, you don't have to tear down the entire tank to start over. Personally, with a tank that size, I would have a lot of clay pots just because I like the aesthetic.
 

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I was a little uncertain how much to use. I had read the 1.5" advice, but on the other hand I'm getting some native plants that are fairly large (like 25" tall). I would imagine they'd have deeper roots and appreciate a deeper substrate. Is that not the case, or is it not relevant because anaerobic process will overwhelm everything even if I do have these more deeply rooted plants?
Most rooted aquatic plants have at least some ability to move oxygen to the roots, but can only overcome anaerobic conditions in soil immediately adjacent to the root. A 2.5" layer of soil could go anaerobic very quickly, before the roots of even very large plants can colonize it. Please don't make this more difficult than it needs to be.

BTW, I do enjoy your sense of humor. If you stick with native plants and animals, this tank would qualify as a biotope aquarium, a rarely seen type.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Update 2: Setup
First, I grabbed these plants and put them in my spare tank. The towel on the ground is representative of how neat and tidy this process is.

73732


I also got some plants and snails in the mails. My wife made the snail-mail joke.
There's more jars than this but I'm a jerk and didn't take pictures, sorry. All in all I got red root floaters(not pictured) frogbit and hornwort (disintegrated R.I.P) and a morimo. And then I grabbed, uh, stuff from a pond that's also in jars.

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Okay so in this horribly overexposed artistically composed photo you can see my dirt-sifting setup.
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Here it is in the tank. I smoothed it out with a windshield-scraper which was silly because of course I just had to do it again when I added water.


Yeah, I kept it to 1.5 inches...
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Then I tried to suck the water out of my other tank because I wanted nice bacterially active water and not chlorinated tapwater in my soil. Dunno if it matters I found mixed opinions online.
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The white thing in the tank is the base of a fan holding a lily pad root under the water because this is a very sophisticated setup. Also this sweet setup didn't even work because the pump I have couldn't drive the water up that high.

At this point I also have a bag with more plants just the morning before executing this step.


So I used just a bucket to manually dump and got this:
73738


Next I planted the plants that like dirt in the dirt. Looks kinda cool I think but obviously they'll just die without water.
73739
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Next I tried to cap with gravel but, uh, my gravel is no match for these giant root balls that I was advised to put in a pot but didn't because [insert reasons later]. That remote is for my sweet mood lighting which I'm not even using yet.
View attachment 73740

So now I add the rest of the water from the smaller tank. Now something you have to understand here is that this water is full of dirt. So I just kinda dumped it straight in because that's what I wanted to do and I figured the dirt would settle. Then I topped the tank off with a hose: It's dirty and you can't see anything at all but it has water and plants and dirt so maybe it's an ecosystem. Also do you like how safe and robust my electrical setup is? So much to be jealous of here, try not to give in to envy, folks.

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I added that really bright LED strip that confuses the heck out of my camera's auto-exposure system. I think this picture is kinda neat though. The led strip is outside the tank, not inside, despite appearances.

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Here's some of the stuff I've got going on in here.

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Look, a fish: I bought 6 zebra danios.Gonna see how they do for a while.

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Today the water is clearer. Not up to to the standard of any normal person but I'm not horrified.
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Okay maybe there's a little horror:
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But yeah that's where I'm at
 
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