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FishyFishy89 03-03-2014 03:23 PM

How To: Dirting an Established Tank
I figured I should share my experience in dirting my angel tank. Dirting means adding soil and making your tank NPT(Natural Planted Tank). An established tank is a tank that has completed the Nitrogen Cycle. Meaning, at maintenance, your tank should not be acceding .25ppm in Ammonia. Preferably 0ppm.

If your tank is in the middle of cycling. Do NOT attempt to do this! See here for cycling your tank:

HINT: If you are dirting a tank larger than 20 gallons, it is best to invest in something like an Aqueon or Python water changer. Because it can be a back breaker for larger tanks.

Dirt: Always, ALWAYS go with Organic soils. I went with Miracle Gro Organic Potting Mix. It is also the most recommended soil to use. You don't want any fertilizers or chemicals. I used 14lbs(32 dry qt) of soil. It was the perfect amount for my 75 gallon. You want about 1.5" to 2" of soil

Cap: You can use any sand or gravel to cap your soil. Yes. You must cap your soil. You don't want your fish swimming in mud ;) Personally, I find it best to use 2 caps incase you accidentally disturb a cap.

Plants: You should have atleast 50% stems and 20% floating plants. You should have atleast 1 type of plant that is a nutrient sink. IE: Anacharis, Duckweed, Asian Water Grass, etc.

Stocking: It is easier to do this if your tank isn't fully stocked. But if you have the holding space, it shouldn't matter.

- Remove all plants and put them in a bucket, tub or sink full of water
- Remove all fish and put them in a bucket, tub or spare tank.
- Drain your tank. AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Don't even leave a few inches of water.
- Remove your current substrate. Really no easy way to do this. I tried using my gravel vac for my sand, it just didn't work out too well. Scooping it out with a cup worked best.
- Double check out much water is left, remove more if needed. A turkey baster comes handy here. My husband and I had fun with cups. lol
- Dump your soil in your tank. It is okay if your soil is mud pie wet. Even it out and sift around in it. Remove any large sticks, mulch or rocks if you wish. I didn't remove anything.
- Add your cap. This was somewhat tricky and I hope I can explain this as best as possible. Get a cup or bowl full of your substrate. Start at the front, right up at the glass and slowly put your cap down. Go up and down the length of the front. Continue adding your cap along this line. When you have a nice pile of "cap", use your hand and gently even out your cap over your soil. Make sure you have a half inch to an inch of cap ontop of your soil. Once you get about halfway, make a new "cap line" halfway and do the same thing you did with the 1st line.
I'll be dirting my betta tanks soon, so I'll take a video of this process to better explain it. lol
- Once your soil is completely capped, place a heavy plate where you'll be adding water and start adding water. Once your water line gets halfway, check for cloudyness. If it's cloudy, remove some of that 50% and add new water. Check again at the halfway mark and remove/replace if it is still too cloudy for your tastes.
- Once you're satisfied with your water, stop adding water at 50% and start your aquascape. Start with your filter, airstones and heaters. Add your hardscape and then add your plants
- Once happy with your aquascape fill the rest of your tank. Add conditioner, turn the equipment on. During this time, take a small net and start filtering the surface of your tank for the pieces of soil that is floating about. Remove as much as you want, or just leave it there. Whatever makes you happy.
- Once your done messing around with the tank and aquascape, add your fishys!!!

From here on out, for about a month-ish, do daily 50% water changes. Here is where it becomes back breaking but so rewarding. You must do daily 50% water changes if you want your fish to stay alive, healthy and happy. You're doing this while your cycle catches back up.
Test your water often. Testing your water is how you know where your cycle is during it's game of catch up. Once your cycle is stable you may resume maintenance schedules.

There is a lot of mixed thoughts on dirting an established tank. I had folks who were strictly against doing this. Who told me, "Don't risk it, don't do it, your cycle could crash, you could lose your fish" etc etc. But really, have common sense. Do your daily 50%, test your tank often and your tank will be perfectly fine. The amount of people I had against dirting an established tank was equal to those I had supporting it.
I assure you, keep up the daily water changes and monitor your water prams. Your. Tank. Will. Thrive!

Because a thread is worthless without pictures. My 1st NPT. It is only day 2, but water params remain harmless and stock is SUPER happy. My male gourami has actually been flirting with his ladies and building bubble nests.
Oh, and don't mind the floating mass. Those are going to a new home soon.

I hope this helped out some folks! Feel free to ask questions. I will answer to the best of my abilities.

rsskylight04 03-04-2014 12:12 PM

great thread fishy!
python is a great idea. i still use buckets, but only because i like the workout and i use the water for gardening.
Thanks for the great photos!
Good luck.

FishyFishy89 03-04-2014 01:01 PM


Originally Posted by rsskylight04 (Post 4042649)
great thread fishy!
python is a great idea. i still use buckets, but only because i like the workout and i use the water for gardening.
Thanks for the great photos!
Good luck.

Thank you :)
If I had a garden I probably Wouldnt mind the bucket method. But then again. It's so nice not having to lug buckets for my 75 gallon. Lol
Day 3 and the tank is still doing excellently.

Sent from Free App

FishyFishy89 03-23-2014 02:30 PM

I finally started dirting the betta tanks and made a video of the capping method I was describing.

beaslbob 03-25-2014 03:24 PM

FWIW I do about the same thing only I wet each layer and plant the plants before I put in more water.

I do think it is amazing how clear the water is with a dirtied tank with a cap on the dirt.

Before I did that the tank would be cloudy at first by clear up in a few days. By cloudy i mean you couldn't see 1/4 inch into the tank. Then 2 days later it was almost totally clear.

Which didn't bother my system as I use no circulation or filters. I could see how all the cloudiness and floaties coudl plug up a filter rapidily however.

my .02

KathyR 03-25-2014 07:13 PM

I've been done really well by just taking my time and moving really slow with moving the dirt into the tank

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