Idea for a dirted tank


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HI everyone! I was doing some reading on water gardens and discovered that apparently you are not supposed to do water changes on them when an algae issue comes up...reportedly the algae eventually run out of one or more essential minerals/nutrients in the water column and die off. With that in mind, I am thinking of attempting a similar, walstad-esque idea for an indoor planted tank I may start in the next few months. Here are my ideas;

Tank - Probably a 5 gallon.
Substrate - About 1-1.5 inches of a equal mix of sand, topsoil, and clay cat litter.
Light - Two 1,650 lumen, 5000k daylight bulbs, on for about 7-10 hours a day. ( there such a thing as a 'cheap' underwater light meter?)
Fertilizer - Root tabs entirely. No water column ferts. (The clay is intended to keep the nutrients in the substrate, out of reach of the algae)
Water changes - Once every month or two? Tank will regularly be topped off with distilled water.
CO2? - If actually used, an in-tank yeast bottle restarted once a week. The tank will be covered with plastic wrap with only a single small hole in the wrap for ventilation...this would hopefully slow CO2 escape enough for the CO2 to naturally dissolve into the water.
Filter - A small internal filter (in practice this is purely for circulation and gas exchange)
Plants - TBD (but mostly root feeders)
Fish - TBD

How does this sound? Thanks :)


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4 years
If you have soil substrate you don't need root tabs for at least a year or two. In a 5 gallon a small airstone would probably be ideal... Adding yeast CO2 sounds like more trouble than it's worth. 5 gallon tank is pretty small, water parameters will fluctuate, etc. I wouldn't get any fish for at least a month after setting it up to allow the soil to leech out ammonia and get used to being submerged. I suggest following a "siesta" schedule for lights, 5 hrs on, 4 hours off, 5 hours on to help against algae breakout. Not sure about your lumens amount. I usually think I'm terms of watts (and watts of T5 , T8, CFL, and LED mean different things, yes). If you haven't already, I suggest you read Ecology of Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad. The last chapter of the book explains step by step how to set up a dirted tank, and the WHY behind why the first month of a dirted tank the nutrient levels are all crazy etc.

Tropical hornwort is great floater ... Also have lots of ludwidgia, bacopa, moss etc. For dirted tank, Amazon swords and crypts do well. The Amazon sword is much too large for a 5 gallon though. You may need to some variants like red melon sword or something.

One of my first tanks was a 10 gallon dirted tank. It ended in disaster, as light was too bright etc. My second one is my 55 gallon tank, still going strong, now it's in 5th year. My most recent tank was a 5 gallon Walstad tank (my plant nursery) which was completely neglected for two years. Did great for the first year or so then it just got gross. I didn't even have water circulation, which is a mistake. Air bubbler in the tank made a big difference and was needed when I had to decomission it. You would be surprised how much hydrogen sulfide will build up in a 5 gallon tank.

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