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Discussion Starter #1
Hello everyone,

I'm new to the Planted Aquarium hobby. Got into it by accident when my wife and I got our 7-year old daughter a fish tank. I read a lot before getting the tank and hence purchased a 38-gallon tank to minimize the parameter fluctuations. Once we got the tank, I maintained a log until the completion of the cycling process, testing every other day for Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates and pH. This was a great learning experience for me and my daughter started learning everything about the fishes in the tank.

All the reading got me interested in creating a self-contained ecology within the tank, with the fish feeding the plants and vice versa. The more I read, the more interested I became which was when I stumbled into the books by Diana Walstad and Christel Kasselmann. I absolutely loved the two books. One area I constantly struggle is the aquascaping layouts and decided that I'll keep trying until I get it right (at least in my mind).

Currently, I'm in the phase of experimenting with different types of substrates and trying to document the pros and the cons just to learn more on the substrates. I have a 12-G tank that has only Flourite in it and a few plants along with the small Eheim Aquaball filter (not the powerhead). I'm also planning on building another 20-G Long using the Mineralized Substrate based on Aaron's article sometime in October.

That said, I purchased a few smaller tanks from Craigslist (all the expenses were out of my pocket money as my wife said that she will not be funding these expenses out of the common account - :( - if not for her I'd have been bankrupt a long time ago :D). Anyway, I have a 10-g that just has some Java moss and some Riccia growing. I setup a 20-G Long using the Diana Walstad method (DW henceforth) with the specifications shown below.

Walstad-Method Tank

Tank: 20 Gallon Long Glass Aquarium
Fish: None yet
Substrate: 1 1/2 inches of Potting Soil + 1 inch of 1 mm size Sand
Amendments: Sprinkle of laterite + 1 handful of Peat
Filter: None. But using Eheim Aquaball powerhead for water movement
CO2: DIY Yeast-based CO2 generator fed to the powerhead air intake
Lighting: 4x GE Aqua Rays 4100K 24" 20W T8 Bulbs and Filtered Sunlight (South facing window)
Lighting Fixture: 2x Utilitech 2-Light Narrow Fluorescent Wraparound Light (http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=productDetail&productId=80803-13537-80803&lpage=none)

Here are my questions:
1. The tank started turning murky right from the beginning. I'm guessing that this is due to the leeching nutrients. Am I right?
2. During the first two weeks, I saw a semi-transparent jelly-like substance in the bottom of the tank (mostly by the roots). What is this?
3. The Nitrate levels were very high and I performed a 75% water change. Was this right for me to do this or should I have left it alone?
4. After 2 weeks, the tank started developing a lot of green algae (long strands of bright green algae). I was able to remove this by hand. What causes this and is there a way to control it? Is this bad for the plants?
5. After 4 weeks (yesterday), I trimmed all the plants and changed 75% of the water to remove the cloudiness. Was this right for me to do or should I have left it alone?
6. I also noticed a 1-inch 1/16th of an inch wide eel-like creature that I took out the tank and flushed. I also noticed a 1/4 inch creature looking like a fry but how can one be there when I've never had a fish in the tank? Does anyone know what these are?
7. After I refilled the water, I noticed that all the Glosso in the tank had some kind of gel-type of substance near the base of the plant. What is this?
8. Fishes: When can I start putting fish in this tank and what types should I start with? Can I add otos, cherry shrimp and Amano shrimp to this tank?

If anyone has any additional suggestions or critiques, please post them.

Thanks for reading and thanks in advance for your comments.

regards,
Ravi
 

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You may have problems from the peat with the soil. The high tech guys who don't use soil only dust peat on the bottom, and it needs to be Canadian Peat specifically. But with the soil, it makes a bacterial bloom as it rots. (likely your jelly and gels)
Also, layerite isn't needed with soil substrate. It can be too much iron. I got algae using EcoCompolete as a topper (because I already had it). I think it contributed. Too much iron can also be bad for plants and animals.
You are way high on the light. Usually 2-3 watts per gallon for a NPT. You may need a little higher if you want to add CO2. But I think all the light is a big factor in your algae. If the plants aren't doing well they can't starve it off.
It's hard to assimilate what goes with high tech planted tanks and what should be with low-tech NPTs. Those ADA tanks sure are tempting. Some people conservatively mix in one or two elements.
You were right to change water for nitrates. Could the soil have had fertilizer in it? You'll want to have no ammonia or nitrates for the fish. The creatures likely came in as eggs on the plants. Most are grown outside. Some are carnivorous and could eat small fish/fry. If they are small enough to be eaten by fish and your parameters are ok for fish, they might be a bonus. GL.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you very much for your response, MEA.

SOIL: Scotts Premium Garden Soil. The soil does have fertilizer in it. It has Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium.

PEAT: Thank you for your comments. This helps a lot. I used it to reduce the pH to enhance the water conditions for the tetras that I plan to use in the tank. I do not have any fish in the tank. Will stay away from peat moving forward. I think the coloration explains the effect of peat also. When I change the water, it starts turning yellowish after 2 or 3 days.

LATERITE: I added it based on my reading on the Mineralized substrate method. I just added a few sprinkles, probably around 2 teaspoons. The plants seem to be growing extremely well, except for the 2 Swords which seem to be stagnant. They're not dying either.

LIGHT: I will reduce the light to just 1 fixture (2x 20 watts) from 2. Should I just stop the CO2 supplement in this tank? Also, if I do that, would there be an effect on the algae?

FISH: I still have not added any to the tank yet. I will once the parameters stabilize.

Next time around, should I just use top soil?

Thank you again for your comments and tips.

regards,
Ravi
 

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gravy9, Definitely just topsoil next time. I don't know if you'll be able to resolve the nitrates if it's coming from fertilizer. Ditto with the algae. I guess you can wait it out and see if the plants seem ok. You're right to wait and see for the fish. Maybe someone else can give you an idea what to expect with the fertilized soil. If you decide to redo, check out this neat summery by Data Guru. If you can get your hands on D Walstad's book that would help most. Best wishes
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you very much, MEA.

Will wait for another 2 weeks to observe and will probably redo the tank should this continue.

As for Ms. Walstad's book, I have it and ready. Thought I'd experiment and am really experiencing the after-effects of experimenting.

Thank you again.

regards,
Ravi
 

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Thank you very much, MEA.

Will wait for another 2 weeks to observe and will probably redo the tank should this continue.

As for Ms. Walstad's book, I have it and ready. Thought I'd experiment and am really experiencing the after-effects of experimenting.

Thank you again.

regards,
Ravi
No matter what soil you use, it will cause problems the first two months after it is submerged ('Chaos in Freshly Submerged Terrestrial Soils', my book, pp 130-135). No soil is perfect. Be prepared to change water, maintain sufficient aeration, and add charcoal to the filter.

If your soil is richer (more nutrients), you will need to do more water changes and be more vigilant. However, that doesn't mean that a rich soil is bad or needs to be replaced. You just may need to do more water changes the first few weeks.

Once the soil is established and your plants are growing, you can relax on water changes and everything else.

I'm encouraged by the fact that you say that your plants are growing well. If they are doing well, then the soil is good and your lighting is sufficient.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thank you very much for your response Diana.

The plants have been doing extremely well and are constantly pearling. I also see bubbles coming out of the gravel continuously. However, I do not have a filter. I just have a submersible powerhead for water movement and feeding DIY CO2 while maintaining minimal surface agitation. Should I think about adding a filter for the tank?

I trimmed the plants over the weekend before changing the water and ever since I "think" that I'm seeing a slowdown in the formation of green algae. I still do see some thread algae but not at the same level that I saw before. Hopefully, it's starting to stabilize now. Since Sunday, the only thing that I see is that the color has turned yellow slightly. Seems very promising and hence my comment on waiting for another 2 weeks before I redo the tank.

I still do not have any fish in the tank. Am planning on adding once the parameters stabilize.

All that said, this experience since I got into planted tanks over the past 3 months have been an unforgettable experience. I'm loving it and I have been reading like never before. :)

Thank you again.

regards,
Ravi
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Absolutely, MEA.

Thank you very much. For sure, I will post in the next two weeks as to how things turn out.

I just noticed that the algae seem to be on the decline. Three things changed over the past week: An addition week's time, trimming of plants and 75% water change. I'm thinking it is due to the fact that I've crossed the 5 week mark since the tank was setup.

I reread the section "Chaos in Freshly Submerged Terrestrial Soils" and it starts to make sense.

Thank you again for all the help. I'm really glad that I'm part of this APC family.

regards,
Ravi
 

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I just have a submersible powerhead for water movement and feeding DIY CO2 while maintaining minimal surface agitation. Should I think about adding a filter for the tank?
In this situation, I don't think you need a filter. You've got water movement to keep the water safely oxygenated. The NPT itself functions as a biofilter (bacteria in the soil and on plant surfaces reduce ammonia and nitrite levels).

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thank you very much, Diana. Appreciate all the guidance.

At what point in time should I think about stopping the water changes? Should it be when the Nitrates are under control?

regards,
Ravi
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Folks,

When changing the water today, I noticed that all the dusting in the leaves (not sure what type of algae they were) and the green algae were all gone. just a tiny bit of thread algae in the tips of some leaves. What happened? I love it now. :cool:

The temperature of the water dropped over past week also as it's getting colder in the Chicago area. The water temperature dropped from 76 to 70 degrees. I do not have a water heater in the tank. Could this have had any influence?

Thank you.

regards,
Ravi
 

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Folks,

When changing the water today, I noticed that all the dusting in the leaves (not sure what type of algae they were) and the green algae were all gone. just a tiny bit of thread algae in the tips of some leaves. What happened? I love it now. :cool:

The temperature of the water dropped over past week also as it's getting colder in the Chicago area. The water temperature dropped from 76 to 70 degrees. I do not have a water heater in the tank. Could this have had any influence?

Thank you.

regards,
Ravi
Nitrates (less than 10 ppm in aquariums) aren't that important, but temperature certainly is. Many tropical aquarium plants won't do well at 70 degrees. Why not a water heater?
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thank you for your guidance, Diana. I will certainly get a heater for the tank. Is there a minimum that I should use as a reference that I should not go below for an NPT?

regards,
Ravi
 

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"The tank has now gone with 25% water changes so far and am planning to do a 50% water change this weekend. After that I'm planning on letting it go for a couple of months without water changes. Your thoughts on this please.

Over the past two weeks, I've started seeing slowed growth and yellowing of the leaves. This is consistent with all the plants in the tank except for the Swords. They seem to be OK. Not sure what is causing this. I still do not have fish in the tank and nor am I fertilizing the tank. The only thing that's going is the DIY CO2 generator. Any guidance or thoughts on this?

Thank you very much for your guidance."

regards,
Ravi

Dear Ravi,

Since this tank has been set up since Sept, I think you could probably go several months without water changes.

I see that you've added artificial CO2 injection. This gives plants plenty of carbon so that they quickly run out of other nutrients like nitrogen, iron, etc. It is not surprising that they're starting to turn yellow indicating nutrient deficiencies. Please don't complicate this mistake by adding fertilitzers. The solution is to stop the CO2 injection, add fish to the tank, and start feeding the fish. (This will start adding the nutrients into your tank.) I don't know why you've held back on the fish. I routinely add them the next day after setting up a tank.

Remember that if you have CO2 injection, you throw the whole ecosystem out of whack. Many of your plants may collapse, now that don't have their "CO2 candy" readily available.

I think you are worrying unnecessarily about water changes, soil, nitrates, etc. Your first NPT isn't a life-or-death issue. If it works fine, great. If it doesn't, you will learn something and then can always start over.

You can always go the high-tech route with CO2 injection, fertilizers, etc. Right now, you're doing it half-way and inducing nutrient deficiencies in your plants.

I recommend that people try to follow the guidelines in my book if they want to set up NPTs.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Thank you, Diana, for your response.

As for not adding the fishes initially, it was just my initial fear of leeching nutrients and how it may affect them.

I'll remove the CO2 injection and if I remove the CO2 injection, are there any specific steps that I need to take to the loss of Carbon to address the short-term impact? I just added a few Red Cherry Shrimp yesterday. I will test the water and start adding the fish now.

I have a 20 gallon long. Is there any particular number of fish that I should start adding initially? How many can I start with and what should be the limit for this tank?

The conditions in the tank has stabilized and I will stop changing the water. Also, should I check anything specific during this process?

Thank you very much for your guidance, Diana.

regards,
Ravi
 

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gravy9 as Diana said the CO2 injection is what causing the deficiencies in other nutrient(or need for more nutrient) so removing it is removing a problem not creating a problem. There will be no impact short-term. To create other nutrients for the plant she suggest you add fishes and feed them liberally. That's to help replenish the missing nutrients. You currently providing too much of one growth factor Carbon but not the other growth factor the nutrients and thus creating a limiting growth factor and so the plants are yellowing. In your original comment you said you wanted a "self-contained ecology." Without fishes(live creatures) and fish food you are missing half of the self-contained part of the ecology. As for the fish load I would add half the planned load for now. So using the rule of thumb, I would put in 10 one inch community fishes or what 10 inches worth of fishes. As for checking process, I would not worry too much. After adding the fishes check the nitrate/ammonia level every few days for a week if all is well, I don't check anymore. After 1st week, I look for signs such as uncontrolled algae growth or fish behavior, if it's abnormal or out of control change the water else do water change every few months.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Thank you very much, Alex, for your comments.

Just a bit concerned about the impact when I make the changes. I will make the changes and post the updates.

regards,
Ravi
 

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Update:

I have a few Red Cherry Shrimps, 3 Caridina Japonica and 3 Otocinclus Affinis in the tank now. Will be adding 4 Cardinal Tetras to the tank in a few days.

Things are going well so far and the water hasn't been changed for 3 weeks now. I have removed the CO2 supply for the tank.

Question: The water is slightly yellowish in the tank. Is this natural?

regards,
Ravi
 

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Hey Ravi........:)

Nice to see your thread & the progress on your DW tank....:).

Ravi,setting up & maintaining DW tanks is really simple.
In my case I just bought some cheap potting soil from a nursery after confirming that there are no added ferts in it.Let it dry in the sun for 4 days.Layed it on the bottom for 2",covered it with sand for 2".I put a plate on the bottom,slowly filled it with water for 10",planted the plants & filled it completely with water.For the next 2-3 days I kept on adding plants.I let it cycle for 15days with the powerhead filter running,did a 30% water change.Added fish only after 20days.
My lighting is 3WPG for 10hrs a day,no direct sunlight.No CO2,no ferts dosing.I do a 25% water change once a month.Adding CO2 is like injecting steroids to your plants & not growing them naturally,its a add-on expense,maintainence,attention ....etc.

Thats it........my tank is doing wonders now.You just need to have patience :)

Thanks
Ravi
 
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