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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
After being out of the hobby for a year and well over 12 years since my last planted tank, I've decided to get back into the hobby with something that I had never tried before: a dirted tank / Walstad method / Natural Planted Tank (NPT).

Tank: FLUVAL Spec V (5 gallon)
Equipment: original pump and LED light that came in the kit. Added a 50 W heater in the pump compartment.
Mods: added silicone to plug the "safety" holes in the filter compartment in order to prevent the filter by-pass that was designed by Fluval as a safety back-up in case of poor maintenance. Poked a few holes in the pump return pipe to reduce water flow and add circulation in the pump compartment as others complained of stagnant water in there. Added stainless steel wire mesh over the overflow filter intake slots, so that future baby shrimp don't go inside the filter.

I sifted organic potting soil to remove all the large chucks, twigs, etc. Apparently these tend to float (which could get real messy) and release lots more tannins. Ended up with very fine particle soil to use in the tank.
Added 1-1.5" of fine soil on the bottom. Then mixed a bunch of crushed red clay balls into the soil to add iron and capped everything with 2" of black sand. I used the Top Fin Black Sand (I know Top Fin is a bad brand), but this sand is great - used straight from the bag and didn't need any washing at all. I've tried to plant it as much as I could right at set-up to help against algae.
These pics are from the first day, right after filling it with water (very surprised how clear the water was right away, as I didn't wash the sand):




Planning to have a breeding colony of red cherry shrimp, snails and one male Betta.
I want to keep it a low-tech tank that will become as self sustaining as possible.
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
1 week

Even it being a dirted tank, ammonia has been consistently unmeasurable (0 ppm), likely due to the mix of floating plants: duckweed, dwarf water lettuce and salvinia.
Got a couple pond snails as hitchhikers with the plants from day 1 and they didn't seem to be affected at all.
I've added a few Malaysian trumpet snails on day 4 since ammonia was still 0 ppm and the floating plants were thriving.

At about day 7 the driftwood was completely covered in mold.
At day 9 I decided to add 4 red cherry shrimp (hoping they will eat the wood fungus) and added a few alder cones:



Day 10 shows the water getting darker from the tannins released by 3-4 alder cones.



Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate continue to be 0 ppm. Every 2-3 days I have to remove some floating plants as they get over-crowded.
As far as lighting duration I'm trying Walstad's suggestion of including a mid-day siesta to allow dissolved CO2 levels to naturally increase. I have the light on a timer set to 4 hrs ON during morning-noon, 4 hrs OFF during afternoon, 5 ON in the evening, and OFF overnight. The tank also occasionally gets 1-2 hours of sunlight in the morning.
So far everything appears to be going great.
 

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Nice setup.

Morning sunlight might be a problem later on.
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Nice setup.

Morning sunlight might be a problem later on.
Thanks for your comment and advising that the morning sunlight might become a problem later on. Can you please elaborate on this?
I'm assuming you're hinting at algae problems. Luckily so far so good, been running for 4 weeks without any algae at all. Have lots of floating and stem plants, which have been able to keep ammonia, nitrite and nitrate at zero.
I haven't even had to clean the glass except once around day 10, and it's been exceptionally clean - I'm really surprised myself.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Some new photos of my Spec V. It looks much better in person, as the picture quality of my phone is mediocre at best. Also the stock Fluval light shows up very bright at the water surface in most photos and I don't know how to bypass that.
Added a dozen of young red cherry shrimp from a local breeder to the other 4 adult RCS that I had picked up from the LFS. I have about 16 RCS now and even though it's just a 5 gallon tank, it's almost impossible to see & count them all.
Also got some Christmas moss (UK) and a few of the tiniest Marimo moss balls ever (China) thru ebay.

Front view on day 28:


Side view day 28:


Close-up shot of a red cherry shrimp:
 

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One of the most important factors for a successful planted tank is achieving a stable balance between light and nutrients. If direct sunlight is hitting your tank then as the days lengthen and the strength of the sunlight increases, your tank will possibly receive too much light and the algea will take off. One of my tanks receives sunlight in the summer evening hours and I've had to put a black plastic over one end of the tank every summer so that this doesn't happen.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
One of the most important factors for a successful planted tank is achieving a stable balance between light and nutrients. If direct sunlight is hitting your tank then as the days lengthen and the strength of the sunlight increases, your tank will possibly receive too much light and the algea will take off.
Thanks TomC.
I've been playing around with sunlight only because I'm currently unemployed and staying home all day. I can always keep an eye on things and close the window blinds if too much sun light hits my tank.
The stock Fluval LED lamp is on the low end of light intensity, so the occasional natural sunlight seems to help the plants. Also Diana Walstad has experimented a lot with natural "dirted" planted tanks in low-tech setups and supplemental sunlight has been proven to be successful. The stories say that she even tore down a wall to add an extra window in her house for a planted aquarium.
When I'll start working, I will probably leave the blinds mostly closed during the work week.

One of my tanks receives sunlight in the summer evening hours and I've had to put a black plastic over one end of the tank every summer so that this doesn't happen.
This tank of yours that needs to be shaded in the summer, does it fall under the same type of "dirted" low-tech heavily planted tanks with fast growing floating & stem plants together with snails & shrimp?
 

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It has a few glass containers with made for aquarium soil, capped with sand. These have Crypt wendtii (spelling?). The rest is pretty much just loose hornwort and marimo balls.
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Here's my 3 months update on my nano planted tank.
I've added a male Betta right at Christmas - a Halfmoon variety as young (small) as I could find, so that he hopefully would not hunt and kill all the RCS. My girlfriend named it Jackie Fhan. He ate most of the RCS babies at first, but I see that a few have survived and grown to 1/2 their adult size, so they are fine now. The snails are up to around 50, all small species - bladder snails and MTS.
Everything is thriving, no algae at all, very low maintenance.



and a side view of the little jungle:



I wish a had an actual camera, or a better phone camera, but I'm frugal and basically broke right now, so it is what it is. You guys (and girls) have to trust me in that it truly looks much better in person.
I didn't take any photos for a while, because I superglued the Christmas moss to the wood branches and I used too much superglue, which turns bright white under water and looks really crappy. I had to wait until the moss grew enough to cover all the superglue leftovers. It looks a bit like the moss is covered in green algae in my photos, but it's really not the case - just poor image quality. There's no algae at all anywhere in this tank - it really blows my mind - it's never happened to me before. I've only cleaned the glass once in 3 months, and even then it wasn't dirty - I just wanted to remove snail eggs.
I change about 15% of the water every 2 weeks and clean the filter once a month. No gravel vacuuming.
I'm still surprised at the water parameters, how constant they all are. GH, KH, pH are all normal and good. But the nitrates are still at 0 ppm and have been at 0 ppm the entire time that I've done weekly water tests from when I got the test kit around day 20 until now at day 85. I've never had a zero nitrate tank before. I've also never measured any ammonia even though it's a dirted tank, it's always been at 0 ppm and I got the ammonia kit around day 5. Those floating plants are really NEXT LEVEL !!!

It still gets around 1-2 hours of morning sun...on every day that the sun actually shines in BC in the winter months :bigsmile:
And I'm continuing the afternoon siesta (lights out from 12-4:30pm) just because it seems to work great in my setup.
 

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Looks amazing man. I always preferred the jungle planted style tank, it just has a more mature simple look to it
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Looks amazing man. I always preferred the jungle planted style tank, it just has a more mature simple look to it
Thanks Chronick!
I also prefer the jungle look in planted tanks over the Iwagumi style. I think an Iqagumy concept in a 5 gallon tank would become real boring real fast.
And I don't have any claims or aspirations of being an aquascaper - I'm not very artsy-fartsy.
I just wanted a little underwater jungle to delight my eyes after a day's worth of working on the computer. I also wanted to dabble with "dirted" planted tanks and have a low-maintenance setup.
 
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