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Hi everybody!:D

I am completely new to fish keeping, and my mom says that I can get a betta fish at the end of the school year. I don't have any stuff yet, so all of it is open to change. Because I am going to boarding school next year, I am putting my betta in a 5-gallon tank, because it will be easier to transport. I really want to have live plants, and my family is laughing at me because of how excited I am about it all. I need help and advice though, and I don't know where else to get it. I have done loads of research, and my brain feels stuffed! I just stumbled on the Walstad method, and it sounds pretty cool. I do not under any circumstances want to ever add CO2 to my water, and I would rather avoid fertilizers. I want it to be very low maintenance, because I will be at boarding school and have not have much time. Here is a list of the stuff I am getting:

Equipment:
-5 gallon or 5.5 gallon tank (long)
-Hydor 25W Submersible Aquarium Heater - Original Theo http://www.amazon.com/Hydor-25W-Sub...r/dp/B0006JLPG8/ref=pd_bxgy_petsupplies_img_y and a thermometer
-10 watt (???) fluorescent daylight light that will probably be in a desk lamp over my tank, not a hood (is this correct for a 5 or 5.5 gallon?)
- Toms Aquarium Products Mini-Filter http://www.amazon.com/Aquarium-Inte...1&keywords=Toms+Aquarium+Products+Mini-Filter

Substrate:
-A cheap potting soil (got any inexpensive brand suggestions that are safe? I heard Miracle Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix works well, so I might use it)
-Either sand or small gravel to cap the soil (where can I buy this? Could I use something like eco-complete?)

Stocking:
-Betta fish (male)
-Maybe a zebra "nerite" snail named Ziggy Waldorf (if my mom lets me), what other snails are good? I don't want them to breed. I am ok with only one snail.
I have seen a lot of people with more than this in a 5 gallon. Should I add more, or are they overstocking their tank?

Plants:
-Baby dwarf tears carpet (will this grow in this setup? Will there be enough light?)
-Dwarf hair-grass (can you trim this like normal grass? How short and tall can it be?)
-Willow or Java moss (what do you recommend?)
- Pygmy or some other Chain Sword
- Dwarf Anubias (planted at the base of a log with driftwood on it)
- Willisii (Nevillii) Crypt
-Coffee Leaf Anubias (How big will this really get? Should I use a smaller plant?)
- Brazilian Pennywort
- Java fern
- Alternanthera
- Dwarf Hygrophila
-Naja Grass

Decorations:
-Mossy log/driftwood that Mr. Betta can swim through (can I use driftwood from nature? How can I tell if it's good? Where can I buy driftwood that is safe?)
-Mossy rock (same thing with the driftwood)
-Plastic Betta Leaf Hammock (apparently they love them)

Water and parameters:
Tap water will be used. I will also find a plant-safe water conditioner. Any suggestions? I also want to minimize water changes because I will be traveling from home to school. I can always bring water from home in a jug while I am away. However, how can I minimize my water changes so I don't have to lug 20 gallons of tap water to school? (I only live 30 minutes away from the school, so even though I will be boarding, I can go home for water) Also, what do you know about tank salt?
-Neutral PH, 6.8-7.4 (do PH changers harm plants?)
-78-79 degrees, 75-82 degrees

Food:
-Betta pellets
-Algae slabs for snail if it does not have enough to eat (will it need this, or will I have too much algae and need more snails/algae eaters?)
-Freeze-dried brine shrimp

General Questions that I Desperately Need Answered:
-How often do I need to do water changes in my tank? How much water should I change? For cleaning/water changes, do I need to siphon, or could I carefully scoop water off the top of the tank with a cup?
-What is DH?
-Bettas need minimal water movement because of their large fins. The filter I got allows for this. Will this filter make enough movement for the plants?
-Should I cycle my tank like any other cycle with plants, or is it different? If I still cycle, I plan to do a fishless cycle like this website says: http://www.startafishtank.com/aquar...ng-cycle-your-tank-with-fish-food-or-ammonia/
-What is a reliable place to buy live plants?
-Where can I get rocks and wood?
-Would it be possible to only add a few plants at a time? Could I start the tank with one or two, and then add to it as time goes on?

Here is a modge-podge picture I made that is what I want. Please tell me what you think and if it is proportional/possible for a five gallon? I want my betta to have enough space to swim, so could I maintain a good amount of open space with regular trimming?

Thanks for all your help!
 

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Hi everybody!

I am completely new to fish keeping, and my mom says that I can get a betta fish at the end of the school year. I don't have any stuff yet, so all of it is open to change. Because I am going to boarding school next year, I am putting my betta in a 5-gallon tank, because it will be easier to transport. I really want to have live plants, and my family is laughing at me because of how excited I am about it all. I need help and advice though, and I don't know where else to get it. I have done loads of research, and my brain feels stuffed! I just stumbled on the Walstad method, and it sounds pretty cool. I do not under any circumstances want to ever add CO2 to my water, and I would rather avoid fertilizers. I want it to be very low maintenance, because I will be at boarding school and have not have much time. Here is a list of the stuff I am getting:

Equipment:
-5 gallon or 5.5 gallon tank (long)
-Hydor 25W Submersible Aquarium Heater - Original Theo http://www.amazon.com/Hydor-25W-Subm...supplies_img_y and a thermometer
I sometimes skip on the heater because I live in an apartment that is consistently warm and has a stable temperature. It's possible to get away without one, but certainly wont hurt to have one.
-10 watt (???) fluorescent daylight light that will probably be in a desk lamp over my tank, not a hood (is this correct for a 5 or 5.5 gallon?)
For small tanks I prefer spiral compact fluorescents. The bulbs are easier to find. They're the regular spiral screw-in bulbs you probably use around the house already. Look for the "Daylight" ones with approximately 6400-6800K rating. I personally use the GE brand bulbs sold at Walmart. You can get a lid for the aquarium that will have an incandescent fixture that these bulbs will screw into, or you can use a desk lamp, or you can use a dome reflector. All cheap/simple options.
- Toms Aquarium Products Mini-Filter http://www.amazon.com/Aquarium-Inter...ts+Mini-Filter
You don't really need a filter on a tank setup using Walstad's methods. There's no necessity for water circulation on a tank that small, and the bacteria in combination with the plants will manage to filtration just fine.

Substrate:
-A cheap potting soil (got any inexpensive brand suggestions that are safe? I heard Miracle Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix works well, so I might use it)
Personally I have yet to find a topsoil that hasn't worked for me. Go to a garden center and look for a bag of "Top soil". What you DON'T want is any soil labeled as "black". Just plain top soil with no additives or fertilizers. As a side note I've had good results from topsoils that had peat additives. Not a fan of Miracle Grow Organic.
-Either sand or small gravel to cap the soil (where can I buy this? Could I use something like eco-complete?)
I have and still do use fluorite black sand as a cap. Eco-Complete would be fine. Completely unnecessary, and expensive though. Not sure how the initial nutrient load of brand new eco-complete would go over in a new tank. All the fluorite I've used has been a couple years old.

Stocking:
-Betta fish (male)
-Maybe a zebra "nerite" snail named Ziggy Waldorf (if my mom lets me), what other snails are good? I don't want them to breed. I am ok with only one snail.
I have seen a lot of people with more than this in a 5 gallon. Should I add more, or are they overstocking their tank?
I wouldn't add much more. You can have more than one nerite though. Their eggs wont be viable in freshwater, so no breeding. You could also get shrimp. Betta might eat some, but given enough cover I've never had them preyed on enough that the population crashes

Plants:
-Baby dwarf tears carpet (will this grow in this setup? Will there be enough light?)
-Dwarf hair-grass (can you trim this like normal grass? How short and tall can it be?)
-Willow or Java moss (what do you recommend?)
- Pygmy or some other Chain Sword
- Dwarf Anubias (planted at the base of a log with driftwood on it)
- Willisii (Nevillii) Crypt
-Coffee Leaf Anubias (How big will this really get? Should I use a smaller plant?)
- Brazilian Pennywort
- Java fern
- Alternanthera
- Dwarf Hygrophila
-Naja Grass

Too many plants. You wont fit them all in the tank. Personal favourites for soil tanks are Echinodorus Tennelus. Great looking fairly low-growing plant, gives a splash of colour if it's growing well, forms a carpet look, and produces a fair amount of roots for its size, which I have found to be beneficial to soil substrates. Try settling on 3-4 plants... Maybe 5 if you can be creative with placement

Decorations:
-Mossy log/driftwood that Mr. Betta can swim through (can I use driftwood from nature? How can I tell if it's good? Where can I buy driftwood that is safe?)
Use wood from hardwood trees. Most of them are ok if they're old and dead (but not rotting). There's a thread kicking around on this site that lists types of hardwoods that are safe. You can purchase wood at pet stores.
-Mossy rock (same thing with the driftwood)
-Plastic Betta Leaf Hammock (apparently they love them)
Spend the money on plants instead

Water and parameters:
Tap water will be used. I will also find a plant-safe water conditioner. Any suggestions?
Seachem Prime. It costs a little more, but it's concentrated and works out to be cheaper in the long-run. You'll probably never use the whole bottle unless you set up larger tanks. Only needs 0.1mL/gal.

I also want to minimize water changes because I will be traveling from home to school. I can always bring water from home in a jug while I am away. However, how can I minimize my water changes so I don't have to lug 20 gallons of tap water to school? (I only live 30 minutes away from the school, so even though I will be boarding, I can go home for water)
If you follow the recommendations in Walstad's book you can get away with changing about 20% once or twice a year. That's a general statement though, and certain circumstances may require more water changes. You'll also need water to top-off water lost from evaporation.

Also, what do you know about tank salt?
They can be good for treating certain diseases, otherwise they're unnecessary. Plants wont like it
-Neutral PH, 6.8-7.4 (do PH changers harm plants?)
Using chemicals to control pH usually results in pH that fluctuates a lot. Having the ideal pH is far less important than having stable pH. For this reason it's advised to avoid using these additives. pH 6.8-7.4 is fine for pretty well anything you're likely to put in a 5gal
-78-79 degrees, 75-82 degrees

Food:
-Betta pellets
A lot of brands are gimmicky and sell you low-quality food at a marked up price because it says "betta" on the package. Your betta doesn't have special dietary requirements that wont be filled by other foods for tropical fish. Hikari and NLS are brands I've used. There's plenty of good choices out there though.
-Algae slabs for snail if it does not have enough to eat (will it need this, or will I have too much algae and need more snails/algae eaters?)
You can also supplement their diet with blanched vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, etc
-Freeze-dried brine shrimp
Brine shrimp have low nutritional value, and freeze-dried foods generally aren't great to start with. Frozen foods would be a better option.

General Questions that I Desperately Need Answered:
-How often do I need to do water changes in my tank? How much water should I change? For cleaning/water changes, do I need to siphon, or could I carefully scoop water off the top of the tank with a cup?
Answered half of this already. You don't need to siphon a soil-based tank unless you've been digging plants up and need to remove soil that made its way through the cap layer
-What is DH?
Not ringing any bells. Do you mean dGH? That's a measurement of total dissolved mineral content in your water. Not something you really need to worry about for a simple setup like this, unless you have unusually hard water
-Bettas need minimal water movement because of their large fins. The filter I got allows for this. Will this filter make enough movement for the plants?
Already addressed above. There's also a thread somewhere around these forums where Walstad expressed her thoughts on adding water circulation to smaller tank. Long story short, unnecessary
-Should I cycle my tank like any other cycle with plants, or is it different? If I still cycle, I plan to do a fishless cycle like this website says: http://www.startafishtank.com/aquari...od-or-ammonia/
Ammonia from your soil will allow your tank to start cycling. Some people say to change the water to keep the ammonia down. The ammonia wont hurt the plants. You might get a bit of algae early on, but this will clear up once things establish themselves.
-What is a reliable place to buy live plants?
-Where can I get rocks and wood?
-Would it be possible to only add a few plants at a time? Could I start the tank with one or two, and then add to it as time goes on?
I would advise against it. Plant with a lot of plants initially. It's a small tank so "a lot of plants" actually isn't that much... Try to plant enough that there's a plant about 1 inch away from any other plant and there's no spaces left unplanted

Here is a modge-podge picture I made that is what I want. Please tell me what you think and if it is proportional/possible for a five gallon? I want my betta to have enough space to swim, so could I maintain a good amount of open space with regular trimming?

Thanks for all your help!
It sounds like a lot to take in, and a lot of people have a lot of opinions on setting up tanks with soil, but it doesn't have to be a complicated process, and it doesn't require much dabbling or effort from you after things are up and running. Read and follow Ecology of the Planted Aquarium and you should be successful.
 
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