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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I picked up a Fluval Ebi Nano the other week from Petcetera for $25 (tank with the lid, plastic corners, foam anti-slip mat, and shrimp net - didn't have the internal filter, shrimp substrate, mini compact lamp, or the chems and shrimp food). I liked the look of the all-glass tank with it's rounded front corners and couldn't resist the price.

My intention is to set it up as a dirted tank. I plan to leave it uncapped and fishless until I get the plants established. The plants won't go in all at once as I'll be using mostly clippings from my other tank so this could end up being quite be a drawn out project. I'm thinking 6 months or longer before any fish (or maybe shrimp) go in.

I started with some organic outdoor soil and removed all the big pieces of bark mulch. Using a bucket I got as much floaters out as possible with several rinses. I didn't add clay, sand or anything else to the mix. I'll experiment with just the soil and a couple of root tabs and see how it goes.

Equipmentwise I didn't want to spend too much on this so I am reusing some equipment that I had laying around:
an Eheim-Jagr 25W heater, Penn-Plax Cascade 300 internal filter, and Hagen air-driven sponge filter with a Fusion 200 air pump.

I did go out and splurged a bit on the lighting though: a Fluval Nano Aqualife & Plant Performance LED I got at IPU ... they had 20% off. So with the discount I also figured with 50,000 hours this should last me at least 13 years if I go 10 hours a day on a timer help which makes it the same cost as simple desk lamp using a CFL bulb that needs replacing every couple of years at about $10 a pop.

So here's day 1:

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Yup, cloudy with a chance of hopefully less cloudiness! :D

I got both filters using sponges and some cut up scrubby pads to help with filtering of the heavier "stuff" in the water.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Tea Time

Here's how it looks after a couple of days. The cloudiness is gone and I can see the baby tears cuttings I threw in there from day 1. I had some of these already pushed into the dirt. But I did leave some floating which now are also planted down.

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Day 3 - it's tea time!

I figured there would be lots of tannin released what with the organic soil being wood-mulch based. So I removed the sponges from the filter as they were full of slivers and stuff and put in a new sponge and some ceramic media into the internal power filter and replaced the sponge in the air sponge filter with a bag of activated carbon.

It also looks like some of my Malaysian trumpet snails made it into the tank already with the cuttings, which I actually don't mind. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
I Like My Tea Weak Please

Day 5 - Last update for the week ... the water is a bit less brown so that is encouraging. I may need to do weekly changes on the activated carbon or just live with the black water look. I haven't quite decided yet which way to go.

I had a ludwigia repens rubin uprooted in my 5.5 gallon nano and instead of taking the time to replant it there, I brought it over to the 7.9 to see how it'll fare in dirt. I also got a few rocks in the back that are pressing some java moss against the styrofoam "rock" wall background. I don't think the moss is visible through the murk.

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I can see clearly (erm a bit more clearly?) now.

I'll take a few more photos in the upcoming week but don't expect too have any major changes until I pick up some hardscape. I got some anubias barteri nana saved up in a tub but still pondering how to make best use of it in here. I'm thinking down low around the base of a nice piece of dark rock or maybe a pile of rocks with anubias in the holes and cracks? I'm wanting something different from the driftwood/anubias combo I already have going.

P.S. About the styrofoam wall, I did resilicone it back on as it was detached when I got the tank. I did a complete ring around the background with a few dabs in the middle using aquarium silicone sealant. I did scrape the old silicone off the glass wall to allow for a flatter, more flush fit. But due to the amount of silicone used to seal it on, I'm thinking I might have a larger than normal brown diatom outbreak down the road as the new tank breaks in.
 

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I hate to say it, but your organic soil setup is wrong. You're suppose to put a layer of sand or fine gravel on top of the organic soil as a cap to keep the soil from floating away. Without the cap layer, all that nutrient from the soil will leach out into the water column and the dirt will float away if disturbed. Soil and store bought substrate are two different things. As the store bought substrate is designed to be used on it's own whereas soil requires a cap.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks vdub for the advice. I do plan to cap it down the road but not until I figure out my plant arrangement. Otherwise I'm more worried that I'll mix my dirt in with the cap, when I move new plants and hardscape in and try to arrange them around.

But definitely having a cap before adding in actual livestock is great advice, otherwise they WILL kick up the dirt and make a real mess.

Of course, there is also the concern about algae bloom with too much nutrients getting into the water column ... I may need to get some floating plants, save up my java moss in a bucket to use as a nutrient sponge, or something.

Hmm, now definitely something you got me thinking about that may need to be done sooner than later.
 

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Actually you're suppose to cap it before adding in water, I have no idea how you were able to pour in the water without all the dirt kicking up. The dirt doesn't compress well in water without a heavier cap on top of it, so I have no idea how those plants are staying in place. It's not suppose to take days for the water to clear up but that's because there was no cap to begin with.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Getting the water in involved:

1. Using airline tubing to siphon in 2 gallons of water into a styrofoam ontainer (tubing taped down to bottom of container using waterproof tape) with the container on top of the rinsed soil to minimize disturbance. I used a 4L ice cream bucket which I filled twice.

2. Removing the top 1/2 of what was siphoned in to remove floating chunks.

3. Siphoning in another bucket which at this point the water was deep enough for me to pour slowly directly into the container the 4th bucket.

4. Removing another bucket of more floating stuff.

5. Repeat the 2 for 1 water filling until almost at the top.

By the end, there was just very minor wood fibers so I just pour slowly straight in from there. The minor stuff I got rid of the next day, as all of it went to the edge of the glass by then, by draining a small bit of water and wiping off what stuck to the glass when the water level dropped. Just the usual white cloudiness in the water which I am familiar with in a new dirted tank persisted into day 2. I was actually very surprised at the day 3 photo which had almost no cloudiness with the water just a dark tea brown.

The filters did kick up a bit more loose debris initially which either settled back down elsewhere in the tank (like a snow drift bank) or ended sucked into a filter.

I think the dirt must be compacting enough for the plants to stick otherwise I wouldn't have any idea why they are staying in place either, especially as the top layer is quite "fluffy" when I inserted them. These are cuttings that I'm using so it could be the bottom leaves are helping to anchor them somewhat and the dirt compact enough to let them hold. Now to see if they root quick enough or if they rot and float up and away ... Time will tell.

I don't expect the water to clear up completely even with my current chemical filtering but I can keep on top of it using new activated carbon weekly. Or at least that's the plan until I put a proper cap in. :)

For placing the cap, I do plan to drain down to within a few of inches of the dirt, cap from there then refill using the similar method to how I initially filled. I may have to tug up on some of the plants to bring them level with the cap depending on the plant. I'll probably do a cap of 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches which would compress into the dirt to give me 1/2 to 1 inch of gravel. But it all depends on how fluffy this dirt is too. If the gravel sinks right in, I'm going to be in trouble so I'm going to have to be careful with what to cap it with.
 

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Hmmm... an interesting approach. I'm somewhat less than convinced it'll work like you're hoping; but I've been wrong before. Make sure you let us know how it goes.

I suspect the brown water is going to murder the light levels at the bottom of the tank. Something that might be worth thinking about.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Update 2nd week

So, the water is definitely getting clearer after a couple of more days. But there is a bit of suspended particles hanging around at the bottom that leaves a more defined brown water look on the bottom 2 inches. It's not really noticeable in the photos but it's make me decide to cap within a few days rather than waiting 'til later. I also added a couple of crypts from my other tank to see how they'll do.

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A few more days have gone by and I decided on using plain black aquarium gravel (about small/medium sized). I also picked up two more plants, some water wisteria and corkscrew val.

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Some of the baby tear got a buried by the gravel and I'll have to see if they will manage to grow out of the cap covering or not.

I moved my internal filter toward the middle and switched to using a diverter instead of the spray bar ... not sure I'm liking this new look with the equipment. I may switch it back if it doesn't grow on me. I'll put the heater back horizontal on the bottom and the filter in the back corner (but may or may not switch from diverter to spray bar). I'll also be removing the air filter with carbon some time next week so there'll be a less cluttered look.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Not much to update after a week ... but I did add some obsidian rocks to the center of the tank. I'm not exactly happy with the placement but it'll do for now.

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I got a small piece of wood with some loma fern/subwassertang placed in the middle of the rock formation. It's very small but I'm hoping it'll grow out to cover the crevice between the rocks. Too bad it's not noticeable from the photos.

Also, I'm getting some melting of the wisteria and vals, but was expecting this due to the rough shape they were in when I got them. The good news is I'm seeing new growth coming out which is always promising.

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It's been a few days and I can't take it! The one small obisidian rock in front has got too much of a glare from the top shiny surface! Gotta move it ... lets try closer together and rotated over so it's stacked a bit with the two bigger pieces.

The rocks look good together, so let's group the crypts together too! One crypt got moved next to the other one which left a bit of a hole in the gravel cap. I patched this with some excess gravel I kept for this purpose.

I also plunked a rock with some mystery moss meshed on (ug, red mesh! maybe I should have ran out to get a black hair net to use instead). The moss come in with some plants as a single strand, which managed to grow out after a few months to be enough cover for the rock. I'm not sure if it'll fully cover the rock and over the mesh, as it is more stringy than java moss. It'll be an experiment to see what comes of it.

There's definitely a browning of the water from tannins still leaching out. I'm going to wait to see how brown it gets before doing anything ... especially as the tank is still fishless. I'm sure it'll go away with time with continued partial water changes.

The snails are sure enjoying snacking on the decaying plant matter as the new plants acclimate to the different water condition. Maybe I should put more of them in this tank. It's got to be better than running for their lives in the other tank from the assassin snails.

P.S. Sorry about the quality of the pictures. I'm using my phone's camera to keep track of how the overall tank is shaping up.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Anubias, yellow dwarf shrimp

Wedged a few anubias cuttings into the cracks of the rock formation and moved loma fern to behind the black rocks ... will see how this will grow out. The snails have cleaned up a lot of the decaying plant melt from the wisteria and val.

Also, added a bit more cuttings of baby tears and seeing a bunch more coming up. I'm really excited about that!

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Finally, added yellow shrimp (thank you raygen168 aka Marvin, and good luck to you on the move!).

Thanks April for the comment. These Fluval nanos are very cool little tanks. I'll have to pay you a visit and see in person how your two are turning out. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Rosewood, rocks & more anubias

Slowly coming together ...

The rocks in the back were looking out of place with the black gravel and obsidian pile in the middle. So I replaced them with some more obsidian pieces.

Also, some more anubias was added to the middle cluster of rocks so it now looks much "fuller".

I had a piece of rosewood driftwood I got about one and half years ago from King Ed Pets which was too big for my 5.5 gallon so I ended up cutting it down a bit. The leftover piece was sitting around so I soaked it to use in this tank. Took almost 3 weeks to become water logged enough to sink but finally it is now ready to go in. It's a small piece but I think it adds a bit of impact.

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Small update

I went and removed the red mesh and added some bits of broken off rosewood roots. But I messed up and removed the mesh too soon (or maybe I should have just left it on and let the moss overgrow the rock), because the moss started lifting off from the water current and was held on by one little strand of moss that did get anchored on.

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The moss eventually detached and all I got to show for it was this:

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It should grow out in time, but now a question of how patient I can remain while it does so ... :p

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Discussion Starter #15
One Year Later

Some small adjustments to the tank was done in February, but mostly waiting for plants to fill in. Here's the latest photo. Looking back at the beginning, I didn't think it changed that much but hmm, am I ever wrong about that!
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Another Year Gone By

Another year gone by with small changes:

1. Got a new sponge filter.
2. Nitrates and phosphates have bottomed out, so have been dosing but I may need to increase phosphorus as I'm getting some GSA on the anubias.
3. Dosing excel which has stunted the vals (kinda expected that) but really helping with the other plants.

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Great progress after two years!

I just start out a Diana Walstad style natural 20 gallon tank.

I put a layer of the Fluval Plant&Shrimp Stratum on the top of the organic soil instead of using gravels to try out the possibility.

I will also post my journals on here sometimes.
 
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