3rd time's the charm? Redid my 20 gallon again using the Walstad Method.


Okay, I THINK I may just be done with redoing my main tank for a while lol. My 20 gallon tall had completely gone downhill, I think mainly because the height of the tank wasn't allowing the light to reach the bottom, therefore killing off the majority of my plants. That, along with DIY CO2 problems and improper ferts just killed everything. I almost tore it down for good without wanting to redo it, but I put in way too much money and time for it all to go to waste.

So... I moved everything to a 20 gallon long, and went the Walstad Method! I wanted to make this really for anyone who was interested in trying a Walstad tank, because I wanted to show you my set up and post weekly updates! So hopefully some of you fine this interesting and helpful.

Basically, you start by dirting the tank. I chose Miracle Grow Organic Choice Potting Mix for this, and I put about 1 inch down. Then, I went ahead and partially planted any plants with large roots such as my swords and crypts. This made it a lot easier instead of having to jam them down into the substrate with tweezers. Once those were partially buried, I used my Eco-Complete from the last set up and gently layered about an inch as well. it's a bit tricky working around your planted plants so just be careful that you don't bury the leaves by mistake.

Once the substrate was down, I added the driftwood and went ahead and planted everything else. I'll list the plants at the end if anyone is interested.

Now, for lighting! I wasn't able to afford a new T5 fixture, so I chose to just stick with something simple and basic. I bought 4 clip on lamps from Walmart for $6 each, then bought Philip CFL 13W 6500k bulbs at Home Depot. That's putting me at 52W over my 20 Gallon, and 6500k is what you need for plants. I believe it's considered Moderate lighting, so we'll see how the plants do. I'm hoping this will be sufficient for the plants I have, but really it's an experiment. In total, I spent about $33 on the lighting.

Here's a picture of the tank finally set up. There will be no filter, since the whole point of the Walstad method is to create a natural ecosystem using the soil and plant as the biofilter. I have a powerhead to help circulate the water, and will eventually add a heater before adding the fish.


As you can see, the crypts on the left, middle, and right have all begun to melt. They always do this, but will eventually perk back up. The water also will get more clear in time. I'm curious as to how that will work since there will be no filter.

For the list of plants;

Left- , Amazon swords that have been trimmed down, Giant hair grass (leading to the back too),WendtiI Crypt, and a couple random stem plants I'm trying to revive.

Foreground - crypts and dwarf hair grass, which I really doubt will grow but it's my last try at this plant. If it fails, I'll switch the dwarf sag. Java fern is also randomly placed in cracks on the driftwood.

Right- more WendtiI Crypts, an Anubia, Penny Wort, Rotala (trying to revive) and a random stem plant (I believe it's some kind of Hygrophila)

Back - Giant Hairgrass, Water Sprite (you can't see it but it's on the far right) and some more Rotala.

I'm very nervous for the Giant Hairgrass, seeing that I've failed miserably at trying to grow the dwarf version. But yeah, this tank has a long way to go, but I'm super excited to see how the soil affects the plant growth. I want to make this into a log just to help others see the difference a dirted tank can make. I'm excited to see the results as well! Hopefully after the dreaded melting plants stop, I'll see some major plant growth. Only time will tell! I must say, I'm pretty happy with the layout... hopefully I can maintain it this time and actually grow some plants lol.


My favorite part is the driftwood. Those are amazing, perfectly set up as well. Good luck! Your lighting method is exactly what I like to do, it's cheap and viable lol xD


Nice layout with the driftwood! I'm going to have to look for some lights like yours. I've been wanting to up the wattage on a couple of my tanks. I'll want to see more pics as time goes on


if I knew that lighting looked and worked as well as they do, I wouldn't have spent all that money on my t5 HO fixtures starting out. The tank is going to fill in great. looks amazing.


Day 3- 95% of the crypts have melted, and a few of the stems plants are losing their leaves. The giant hairgrass is turning yellow in some area's, but luckily my DHG is actually looking very green. I was hoping the plants wouldn't be hit too hard to the adjustment but they did unfortunately. At least my other stem plants seem to be adjusting well, and my swords have remained green. I just have to get past the plant's transition to the tank and hopefully, I'll start seeing some growth. The water has also turned tinted and is producing a nasty film at the top from the soil leeching stuff, so it's probably not safe for my fish just yet. I've got a long road ahead I feel. u.u

On a surprising note, last night, I found a baby cherry shrimp hanging out on the driftwood, despite me not putting anything in the tank besides a few hitchhiker snails. I was shocked... it must have come from the driftwood when it was in the previous set up, and it somehow survived being out of water for over 24 hours, being in regular tap water, and no heater or filter. It must have found a hole in the driftwood that had a small puddle of water, and lived in that until I set up the new tank. What hardy little creatures these are! O_O

The Dude

Looks great man


Looks really nice. Should look outstanding once everything fills in.


It's been a couple weeks since an update- well, good and bad news.

The crypts made quite a good come back from the dead and have now began growing at a decent pace. My other plants... well, they seem to be stunted. I thought "oh any day now they'll pick up the pace" but they never did. My amazon swords even began yellowing and going clear, and my hygrophila stricta was growing extremely slow. The only plant that was doing decent was my pennywort. I think I found out why I had stunted growth...

0 nitrates. T_T Yep, these plants are starving and I have no idea why. My tank is about 70% stocked according to aqadvisor so I should be getting at least 5-10 nitrates. I'm wondering if having my filter is not a good idea with this tank since the bacteria may be consuming all of the nitrates and starving out the plants. Luckily, I have no algae problems besides just a tad bit on the dying leaves, but that's a sign there is some kind of imbalance. I'm now stuck on deciding whether to add more fish to increase nitrates, start dosing Nitrogen, or getting rid of the filter. My stock is;
-1 bristlenose pleco (I thought he alone would add enough nitrates lol)
- 4 platys ( 3 fry)
- 2 glowlight tetras
- 2 german rams
- amano and RCS

Was planning on adding 3 more tetras to form a school anyways, so I'm wondering if those 3 would help boost the nitrates a bit. But yeah, I just can't seem to win with these plants. I don't seem to have a very green thumb. Any suggestions what I can do to fix this and maybe start seeing some changes in my poor plants?


Sorry to hear that! Dont get rif of the filter though, it won't get rif of nitrates. Nitrates are the end product of the nitrogen cycle. Supplement if you have to.

A few more fish will help for sure and you can overfeed a little bit.

Its also worth noting, it could be your test kit - if you don't shake nitrate bottle #2 good enough you will get 0 readings.

I'm having kind of the same problem in my tank. Can't get over 5 nitrate so I've been doing less frequent water changes.



Well, I skipped the water change this week in hopes of building up some nitrates, and I've dosed nitrates twice so far. I had a little bit of staghorn algae before on the slow growing plants, but the last couple days, it has began exploding on almost all of my plants. Plant growth isn't great at all ( at least, not what I was hoping for) so I'm off to a horrible start with this. I thought dirt would be the way to go, but the plant growth is barely doing anything, and now the dreaded staghorn and a little BBA has arrived.


I would recommend reducing your lighting, and not to add any more nutrients to the tank for now. For the first month of growth, the plants are going to be mostly growing root systems, and the dirt is expelling all the nutrients they need. after a month that you don't have algae, go ahead and increase the wattage to more than 2 watts per gallon. My tanks run on 0 nitrates, without any problems. Maybe your used to your old Co2 setup, because I find my plants grow fine with less than 2 watts per gallon.


I think the lighting is what's off, yeah. I added more only because the water in this tank goes completely tea colored due to tannins, so it's not as bright looking as it should be. Unfortunately, the piece of wood that I have in there won't ever seem to stop leeching them so I'm stuck with muddy looking water lol. I was just worried that the water color would block out the light and not allow it to reach the plants, but I think my assumptions were wrong. I'm going to see if reduced ferts, frequent water changes, and reducing the light period w/ a one hour gap in between will have any effect on what's happening. If I don't see any changes though, I'll probably take off one of the lights and hope that helps. :/ My poor plants... they just look embarrassing.


I do a 4on-4off-5on period on all my tanks. This seems to work best for me, since I actually just changed it to this photo period in a 10 gallon and i've noticed less algae.

Actually I would hold off on the water changes. By doing water changes you are taking out the nutrients that the plants would be using in the first place. The only reason to do water changes is if it's been a longggg time (they could go for months, I usually do a water change if my tank gets "messy"), or if for some reason you are getting ammonia-nitrates. Water changes in non-planted tanks are to counteract the increase in nitrates that the denitrifying bacteria can't hold off. When you have a heavily planted aquarium with fast growing species, nitrates are generally eradicated like in your case, so why do water changes in the first place? Like I said before, and there's trace elements that aren't always recycled in the aquarium without a water change.

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