Want to set up 20g low-tech heavily planted
Hey guys! so I have a 20g long tank that i would like to set up as a low tech, heavily planted tank. I basically would like to get your input on EVERYTHING.
-What light system?
-Do i use only a mechanical filter and leave the biological stuff for the plants to have?
-do i use an in tank filter to reduce surface agitation and conserve CO2?
-What kind of substrate?
-How much Substrate?
-heater? what kind? what temperature?
-What kind of fish/invertebrates do you recommend?
I'm looking for a guide from start to finish for setting up and maintaining this thing, my water parameters are around 8.2 atraight out of the tap, according to the annual water report issued by East Bay Mud. So how do i bring this down to around 6.3 or so for the plants? I really want this to success and I do not want to go inblind. I have read plenty of articles on the stuff but have yet to find a step by step guide from start to finish. I think this would be incredibly helpful.
If you are planning on a heavily planted tank and you under stock your aquarium to about 60 - 75%, you don't need a filter; heresy I know. For around 100 years, people kept fish in containers with plants only and the tank plants and fish thrived. Then came filters and the belief that a tank without a filter would be disastrous; this is true in a "bare" tank or very lightly planted tank.
To start your tank, add in the background some "fast" growing low to medium light plants, an excellent example of this would be "Hornwort" which is well known for its absorption of nitrogen which it can do in minutes and hours of the nitrogen appearing, ugly plants but great for its biological sanitation of the tank:
I am setting up a 20 gallon tank, I'm entering my fourth time in the hobby. I started in 1960 with a small tank that was heavily planted, the "Vals" went crazy in it. I didn't use a filter, more out of ignorance than "proper planning" and the fish did very well, even though I heavily overstocked the sucker. As I "advanced" in the hobby, I went to "internals" then "HOB's" then to undergravels, and finally canisters.
Now I'm about to go back to a basic medium to heavily planted tank with no filter. After being in the hobby for so long, I no longer have the need to have massive community tanks with "you name it" fish stocks. I'm more into Amano styled tanks (more plants than some of his have, but less than his heavily planted tanks). I'll be relying on roughly 2 watts per gallon of light at 6500 - 6700 Kelvin. I plan on daily doses of Flourish Excel with Eco Complete substrate and weekly fertilizers. I plan on around 3 inches of substrate.
You asked about temperature to keep your tank and of course the type of fish you keep will determine the heat required. Here is a good calculator to use, but it doesn't take into account the "planted" tank, so if you indicate no filter, you won't get an adequate accurate reading. You will notice that you can chose what filter, or even two if needs be:
If you have the courage to go planted tank only, tetras and cory's would make a great combo, but realize you shouldn't add more than about 12 fish to your 20 gallon.
For you plants, begin by reading all the stickies in the planted forum here, I'd print them out (I have) and keep them for reference:
As for starting your tank, don't until you have a definite "cycling" plan in your mind. What I plan on doing is setting up the tank, including plants but no fish. I'll add two cocktail shrimp in a woman's nylon sock and sink it and hold it down with a stone or such. I'll leave it in for a month, but I'll treat the tank with Flourish Stability for the first week to "advance" the nitrogen cycle. During the month, I'll be testing the water with an API test kit for ammonia, nitrogen and nitrates. The rotting shrimp add ammonia to the tank to kick start the cycling in the aquarium. Once my readings have settled down (learn about reading your test results), you can start adding fish. I'd personally add four fish at a time, and test the water to look for spikes in ammonia readings, if after two or three weeks I don't get spikes, then I'd and another four.
For a heater, Eheim Jager is a well knon quality heater; 75 watts if your aquarium room is kept warm, 100 watts if your tank is in a cold bedroom. Here is a video showing the difference between a cheap heater and an Eheim heater:
Good luck, if you enjoy doing research and learning, you'll do well in the hobby.
ok great. thanks guys i really appreciate it. Would it be better to overplant the tank than to underplant it?
I haven't read the link provided by Byron...so I don't know if it addresses the soil based low tech heavy planted tank, with that said, have you thought about the soil based natural planted tank? Easy once it is established, low tech, low/mod lighting, low cost if you have a good source for the plants...the trick to success with this type of set up is lots and lots of plants to start...and they are loads of fun.......
Research the Diana Walstad method...even better get her book.....
And when you do lots of plants and low stocking you don't have to worry about the cycle per se' as the active plant growth will use the ammonia that the fish provide as plant food.......
Most of the plants that do best in the low tech set-ups like the harder water too......
Wait- What is this "overplanted" thing you're talking about?
No such thing. lol.
Byron's articles (the stickies at the top of this forum- look, you can't miss them) are great, but they don't take into account soil.
Soil is a preference thing really... All I have is clay soil so I had to buy organic soil... and after 3 months it's still settling. (the snails like it, but with the number of bubbles coming from the substrate, I'm not going to risk anything expensive)
I don't really think soil is required... I have two tanks- one with soil, one gravel.
The plants in the gravel tank are doing great, most of it is thriving-- my cabomba and shinnersia rivularis aren't looking well though. Everything else is so awesome though, I might take the other two out.
In my soil tank, there's very little new growth, but the cabomba looks better. Maybe it's not enough CO2, maybe not. I'd still go with gravel (or sand if you want to get some MTS snails.) before soil for my next tank.
Ah, and as far as light, most people would probably say a fixture that can handle two NO full length tubes would be plenty, perhaps too much... I'd go for 30-40 watts of light.
If you want a real filter, go for it and get an external canister, or an internal submerged if you can't afford the canister.
If you want no filter, just know your tank will need to have a lot of plants. When I say a lot, my understanding is the tank needs to be 90% planted... IMO, makes it kind of hard to see your fish. (just MY opinion though.)
It'll be easier to lower your PH with a filter though... put peat in the filter... Or just get plants that love hard water (though most will tolerate a mid 7 without problem) Vallisneria, java moss, and java fern come to mind.
The advantage to the cycling (for a while) is you can add the PH to your filter, and when the tank is cycled, measure your PH. That way you know what your tanks PH will be adjusted too.
All this being said, I've never used peat (have naturally soft water) do not use canisters (use a submerged internal filter except my soil tank is unfiltered. May break down and buy a filter though) and do not use flourescent tubes over my tanks (I use CFLs approx 2 WPG)...
but it's what I'd do in your situation.
As soil has been mentioned, I'll provide my views on that aspect. First, allow me to point out that the method I outline in the stickies is "basic" which means the absolute minimum for success. There are two inter-related reasons for this; first, it takes full advantage of nature with the least amount of interference/input from the aquarist, and second, first-time planted tank aquarists will (in my experience) have more chance of success because there is so little input and less input means less things to go wrong. Provide the essentials and the plants and nature will do the job. I have also maintained lush planted tanks for 20 years like this, and the photos illustrate that this does work.
Soil. The nutrients in soil eventually become depleted. This happens in our gardens; and we regularly re-pot house plants for this reason. Soil provides the nutrients it contains to the plant roots, but the nutrients do not replenish themselves. In gardens, decaying vegetation (autumn leaves, etc), earthworms, various ground insects, birds, rain all contribute, and some people add fertilizers even if basic like manure or compost. Without this, the soil would eventually be useless to support plants.
The same thing happens in an aquarium. When it does, you either pull the tank down and start over, or you add nutrients to the substrate. With gravel, you never have this issue; and nutrients can be added (if needed) from day one via fertilizer tablets/sticks.
Second consideration is the type of plants. Only substrate-rooted plants will benefit from substrate nutrients such as soil. Floating plants, plants rooted on wood or rock, and many stem plants derive little or no benefit from soil or enriched substrates. Liquid fertilizer must be added to provide the essential mineral micro-nutrients for these plants. Stem plants have roots, all along the stems often, and they assimilate nutrients via the leaves. Substrate-rooted plants benefit from substrate nutrients, but as mentioned above these can easily be added and over time must be even with soil or an enriched substrate material. For the past year I have used substrate fertilizer for my larger swords. For the prior 18 years I did not. The swords grew well either way.
Third, there are issues with soil. Diana Walstad has written that for 6 months a soil-based tank is not stable, and one has to be careful; she explains some of the issues that can occur. As I mentioned earlier, my idea in the basic approach I outline is to make it as easy as possible because this almost guarantees success. And while more experienced aquarists can do some experimenting and fiddling with this and that without too much danger, someone just starting out with fish tanks can create a disaster and kill the fish with too much intervention. Stability is key to success in any aquarium, and the less the aquarist interferes with the biology the more stable will it be.
As I frequently write, balance is the key. Fish, plants, and bacteria (in the substrate as well as nitrifying bacteria) must be balanced; light and nutrients must be balanced. There are different levels of balance--my preference is to have the minimal or basic level because there is less to go wrong. Every time something is added it means the level of balance is being elevated, and in most cases other things have to be modified/increased to maintain the balance at the next level. Keeping it simple, basic and minimal is the best place to start.
I would definately not reccomend trying soil. I wanted to try it for a side-by-side comparison to satisfy my own curiosity-
and I would say it's not worth the extra effort.
I've actually said that to many people who pm me because of my soil posts-
IMO- it's just not worth the 3 month waiting period for growth that may or may not be noticably different-
cycling for 2-3 weeks is hard enough.
I am a big supporter of soil based planted tanks. I would have to say that 75 or so of my tanks are layered with soil and pea gravel. Some are even just soil only. Many of these tanks have been established and substrate untouched for 6-7 years now. I have seen no drastic changes in plant health pointing at nutrient deficiency. The nutrients are replaced by natural plant decay and shedding and waste from inhabitants as well as replenishment from water changes. In my experience I have seen much better results in plants grown in soil versus gravel only. The main concern when using soil is to use soil with no additives or manure based soil that is well aged. This will eliminate any dangerous gases that will cause instability in water chemistry.
That has been my experience too Dan, I really enjoy my soil based tanks and have not had any issues with the soils I use that range from dirt from my yard, potting soil and top soil...all with no additives, however, even the couple I used potting soil with the vermiculit has done well, but I wished I would have sifted it out but only because it is ugly and messy looking when it floats from planting or pulling plants.
They do replenish themselves IMO/E from the natural breakdown of fish waste, plants etc....and I have never used any type of ferts or added CO2..... and my biggest problem if you want to call it that...massive plant growth....lol.....from some really awesome plants I got from Sweet Aquatic
You do need to be careful in the beginning to avoid anaerobic issues but my MTS and stem plants take care of that for me, never lost any livestock or plant rot from soil related issues.
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