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New 10 Gallon Walstad Natural Planted Tank setup | Home Fish Aquarium Guide

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New 10 Gallon Walstad Natural Planted Tank setup


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So, with the recent batch of fry it’s pushed us over the edge towards getting a new tank. I had already decided that the next setup I did would be a natural planted tank. Plastic plants just aren’t my style and the high tech approach to fertilizers and estimating which nutrients to add, co2 generators/etc.etc…. is too high maintenance for my taste. So here’s what I put together today. 10 gallon Top Fin tank and hood from petsmart. Tetra whisper 20 air pump. An old sponge filter I had laying around (not necessary, but I’m using it to help settle the cloudiness in the water. I had a huge bag of garden pro potting soil which I filtered out to use as the soil and laid down about an inch. On the edges I used the black gravel that they had at petsmart (probably topfin brand. A 100 watt topfin aquarium heater. Marineland plant/daylight bulb (10 watt)/ air check valve and an old thermometer from our other tank. We had some tubing. I also picked up an amazon sword plant, anubias, and wisteria to try out. We already had a boatload of anacharis, some java fern and lots of java moss.


The only thing I took out of the main tank today was 2 sprigs of java fern and one of the two branches of water sprite/hornwort which had shed leaves but still have green stems and an appearance of growth. I filtered the soil to remove floater type stuff like bark and wood branches using a large flower pot. The drainage holes in the bottom helped to filter out the smaller soil particles to use in the tank. I rinsed off the black gravel and laid about an inch of that along the edges of the aquarium so you wouldn’t see a difference in substrate from the side. The center of the floor was filled with the potting soil and then the plants were added. Amazon sword, anubias and the wisteria I went ahead and stuck in soil. From what I’m reading about anubias, that could have been a mistake, we’ll see. I also planted some anacharis direct in the soil and used gravel to anchor. I filled more gravel until there was about an inch of that on the surface and then started to fill with water.

The water was a tricky process. I’ve seen it suggested to put a plate down and pour water on the plate, but I really didn’t want to use a kitchen plate. So, I used a small flower pot (plastic). The drainage holes make for a nice way to blunt the flow of water into the tank and it didn’t really stir up any gravel or soil. The water is a bit cloudy (white) at the moment but our regular tank always did that with a big water change anyway until it settles down or the filter has a chance to run it all through. Currently I’ve got it set to the same 72 degrees Fahrenheit that the main tank has and we’ll test water over a couple days to see where we stand.

Normally in a natural planted tank you might be able to go ahead and add fish on day 2, but…. my main concern here is that we don’t have enough plants yet. The water tests will be an important indicator of when we feel comfortable to add fish. We may add seashells to adjust the ph. Our tapwater is very acidic and we have used seashells in our original tank to raise the ph up into the 7.4 range from 6.4. I would like to do that before we add any fish into the tank. This has given quite a few possibilities for future articles so stay tuned for more!

update – 1/10/11 – 9:30pm

Well – my suspicions about not enough plants seem to be bearing out. Ammonia is between 0.25 and 0.5, nitrites around 0.25 to 0.5 and nitrates showing 10-15ppm. I’ve put just about everything plant wise in that was sitting on the shelves hoping to get it in shape relatively soon for the male platy that needs a break from the two cranky females in the 5 gallon. As I move him over (possibly a bit sooner) I may move a couple of plants/tank decoration to help with the cycling. Even though it’s a natural planted tank I imagine it can still be thought of as having a cycling process as the ammonia/nitrites are processed by the plants (or bacteria as the case may be.)

I would have gone out to buy even more plants, but we’re now snowed in pretty well. I would have really liked a thicker planting from the start, but …. I have what I have and we’ll have to work with that for a few days at least.

1/11/11 – 3:45pm

I have upped the lighting a bit and moved a java fern and tiny bit of dwarf hairgrass. I don’t want to take all the living plants out of the other tank or I’m afraid we’ll really be in trouble there given that I’ve had a mini cycle already. Next priority is more plants for this one and seeing the ammonia/nitrites go down before migrating Mickey (male platy) from the smaller tank. This AM both ammonia and nitrites were at 1 in this tank. Nitrates weren’t tested.

1/11/11 – 9pm

I rigged up a simple floss/sponge filter with a tube, airstone and some foam filler material. I’m hoping it will help on the haze that we see in the tank. Ammonia/nitrites still hovering around 1ppm. The ph has settled into the 7.2/7.4 range which is pretty close to the other tank. Unfortunately our tap water is 6.6/6.8. The haze could be a bacteria bloom, or particulate from the gravel. I washed it a little, but have never seemed to do really well rinsing the gravel. I guess I could do a major water change on this one, but with no fish in there yet it’s not quite as urgent.

1-12-11 – 6:30pm

Did a 60% water change today. I added some plants (water sprite and two red melon swords.) In the process I stirred up some soil and did the water change to try to clear things up a bit. nitrites are down now to 0-0.25 and ammonia down to around 0.25

Just tested nitrates around 8pm and they’re at around 5ppm in the new tank (post water change).

1/13/11 – 2pm

Ammonia is between 0.25 and 0.5, nitrites are below 0.25 today

1-14-11 – 10pm

Same results today for ammonia/nitrites. Although the nitrites are possibly a bit closer to 0.25.

I had made a sponge filter the other day out of a little plastic tube. Refined it a bit today with pvc pipe and seeded it with media from the main tank and an air stone from the main tank. I’m hoping that will give a bit of a kickstart with some biological filtration as the plants don’t seem to be doing enough to get the ammonia/nitrites down to zero yet.

Update 1-15-11

I put the new sponge filter in today. I borrowed a bit of gravel from the established tank, the airstone from the established tank and a bit of floss from the current filter so we should have a pretty good jumpstart on bacteria. My only concern with the filter is that I may have packed it to heavily with the floss and cut down too much on the potential flow. (Maybe I need to go back and widen the holes a bit more as well?) We’ll just see how it performs for a few days.

Update 1-16-11

Did a big water change to get the cloudy water under control. About 70-80% was the amount. After the change ammonia and nitrites both read 0ppm. If they continue to stay down we may be ready to add fish here. After the change it really is looking good water clarity-wise. Hopefully in 2-3 days we’ll declare it ready to host fish.

update 1-19-11

Ammonia is holding at 0.25 the last few days and nitrites 0, nitrates at 5ppm.

update 1-22-11

Ammonia is close to 0 (closer to 0 than to 0.25, nitrites are 0 and nitrates were unmeasured so far.)

Update 1-24-11

Ammonia – VERY close to 0 but possibly non-zero – nitrite – 0, nitrate less than 5 but more than 0. On 1-22-11 I added one female platy to this tank (who has done little more than make poo.) I’ll keep an eye on ammonia for another couple of days before migrating another fish in. But at the moment it looks pretty good. In comparison to the 5 gallon this seems like a monstrously huge tank. Several times I’ve had to hunt quite a bit more to find her in the tank (Billie).

We do have a green algae bloom of sorts going on. I’ve read that rooting willow cuttings in the water can suck enough nutrients out to help. For now, I may just dose with nitrates (my potassium nitrate dissolved in water mix.) To see if it could be that we’re nitrate poor (it’s pretty close to zero….) Hopefully as we add in more fish we’ll get to a good balance where I won’t need to fertilize.

I’ve also ordered Rid-Metals which should arrive Wednesday. It’s a water treatment to get rid of trace heavy metals in the water. If you’ve been reading, I’ve been trying to figure out what is wrong with my anacharis. It always disintegrates in my tank. It’s supposedly an easy plant. It’s sensitive to seachem’s flourish excel. I’ve never used excel though. I’ve tried adjusting the temperature down (from 78 ish to 72 ish). I’ve tried fertilizing with nitrates (we were running 0 nitrates consistently in the 5 gallon.) I’ve tried upping the lighting…. So, my latest theory is maybe copper in our water is the issue (our tub for instance stains copper green/blue. We have old copper pipes and it makes sense. I’ve found that anacharis is coppoer sensitive and apparently there is a copper compound in the ingredient list of flourish excel (so maybe that’s WHY anacharis melts with excel.)

Anyway, I got a huge boatload of anacharis a few weeks back and it’s almost all gone. I have a few sprigs on the window sill and as soon as I confirmed that anacharis was copper sensitive I dumped the tap water and got a jar of water from the creek to try the anacharis in. That’s been a couple days – I should look and see if it’s still green. If it is maybe I’ll have a “seed population” of the stuff and not have to go buy any more. (Which has been my hope for quite some time, to just have some on hand to be able to add in to the tank as needed (or into a hospital tank, or outdoor pond/etc.))

Oh, I did a slight dosing with prime yesterday due to the fish being in the tank and there being just a trace of ammonia.

Update – 1-27-11

0 ammonia, 0 nitrite – almost 0 nitrate. I think the plants are doing their jobs. We’ve now moved Mickey and Billie over. Next step will be Myke (female molly/swordtail – frankly she was sold as a platy, but looks more swordtail.) I received the rid-metals today and dosed the tanks with it. Hopefully we’ll have a better chance with some of the plants now. I’m not sure there’s enough anacharis left living to get a good test with. There is some hornwort that may be able to be used as a test (although it’s leaves are already brown, just the stem is green.)

Update 1-27-11 (evening)

Just did a water change – didn’t need to for the water parameters. I scraped some algae off the glass though and wanted to try to get some of the dead anacharis leaves out. I guess they could serve as plant fertilizer, but… they didn’t look that great so I wanted to clean up a bit. It was around a 27% change and so I redosed with rid-metals. I found a few very tiny (1cm long) crowns of anacharis that hadn’t melted yet and threw them back in hoping that maybe they will take off. If I don’t see any progress from our anacharis fragments that are left I’ll go out and buy some more. i went ahead and moved a third fish in today (ammonia is still holding at 0.) So, now the tank is home to Mickey, Billie, and Myke three Platys (two females and a male). Myke was sold as a platy and that’s what I took her for at first glance, but the more I watch I think she’s actually a swordtail. Of course, platies and swords have been crossed quite a bit.

update 2-1-11 (just past midnight)

Really it’s just been four days since adding Myke. We’ve had just a trace of ammonia for the past few days. no nitrites. (By a trace, I mean that it’s not 0.25 ppm and it’s not 0, today it was just barely noticeable (in one room it looked pretty clearly zero, but in other lighting you could tell that there was just a hint of green there. It seems as though it was a bit higher the last few nights. I’m hoping that by tonight when I test we’re clear. I’ve been adding some prime just in case. Overall. I think they’re much happier in this 10 gallon than they were in the 5. I don’t see any nipping or aggressive behavior as I did on occasion in the 5 gallon. (It makes a lot of sense really. Stuck in a small room with several other roommates – you’d be cranky too!)

Update 2-4-11 evening

Let’s see, the evening of the 2nd the ammonia was up to between 0.25 and 0.5 – same 2-5-11 and I did a large water change (3 1/2 gallons or so.) After that the test still looked to be in the range of 0.25 0.5 (Although to be honest I find the API test kit difficult to distinguish between 0.25 and 0.5)

I then did another large change this evening (2-4) of about 4 1/4 gallons. Now it really looks like it’s close to 0.25 (or less.) I plan another change tomorrow to see if we can get it more obviously lower. I’ve been adding prime of course to keep the ammonia less toxic. I’ve also added more plants in the last couple days. On 2-2-11 I added a few stems of “anacharis”….. it’s funny this stuff is a bit different from the last anacharis – it’s more compact, a richer green color and feels a bit rough. I’m thinking it may be Hydrilla. I also got a small crypt and a bunch of about 5 sword plants (not amazon, not mellon sword – the blades are fairly narrow.)

The water sprite is putting out roots like mad right now and the duckweed is spreading at an amazing pace as well. I’ve seen growth from the anubia and wisteria very clearly. Much of the other plants just look to be at least holding up well. (Maybe a bit of growth from the melon swords.)

We’ve had the tank running almost a month now (5 days shy.) I’m still thinking about a possible 20 extra tall to replace our 5 gallon (and thinking about doing a more dense planting initially.)

I have seen bubbles coming up from the substrate and was a bit concerned. From reading in the forums there seems to be a suggestion that the roots of the plants will eventually colonize areas that become anaerobic (and produce h2s). (Planting new plants into those areas may be a challenge though.)

I should admit I’ve ordered a few more plants (hard to resist… there was money in the paypal account and they looked so good and filled some gaps.) Hornwort (we’ll see if that sprig I have really is hornwort…), anacharis – looks like the elogia, a chunk of cholla wood (I may tie some java fern to that?), also myriophyllum pinattum, dwarf sagittaria sublata. I plan to divide them up a bit between the two tanks (and maybe a few on the window sill.)

I’m also treating with the rid-metals still and so far everything seems to be holding up fine. I haven’t had another plant disintegrate.

Update – 2-5-11

Unfortunately our platy burst in the 5 gallon, literally. So, in order to keep the biofilter active there I have moved Billie over from the 10 gallon. That should help with the ammonia issues as well. I also did another 4 gallon water change. Before the change the ammonia was between 0 and 0.25 I believe so we should be much better now. I’ll keep watching it of course. New plants should be on the way too.

update -2-9-11

We’ve been holding steady at around 0.25 the last few days, a bit higher in the morning, a bit lower in the evening. New plants still on the way. Prime has been applied tot he tank to keep the ammonia safe. I expect to do at least one big water change (around 50%) this weekend. The plants really seem to be taking off. I identified a few of the new ones – giant hygrophila corymbosa (is one – that seems to be rooting very easily (one leaf broke off and now has roots..) It makes sense because it seems related to the water sprite which is also a hygrophila – it is growing like mad. (I really ought to anchor a couple more of them down to the substrate…) The duckweed is multiplying like crazy!. The new anacharis which may be hydrilla verticallata has grown quite a bit in the week I’ve had it (a couple inches at least.) There were a couple of fragments of it that had come in with the water sprite a few weeks back and they still seem fine (growing as well.) I’m thinking if we have fry in this tank many may survive because the inch or two below the surface is pretty thick with water sprite leaves, and roots from the water sprite and duckweed. It’s a pretty cool forest. (Oh by the way the giant hygro leave is floating and still growing roots. I think it’s the narrow leaf variety.

Update 2-11-11

The batch of plants came. Really, this should be the last batch for this tank as it’s getting to be silly (I think one of the platys rolled their eyes when they saw me unwrapping more plants for this tank. I got a small cholla chunk to tie some java fern to. (The java fern has been in there.) I added some anacharis, hornwort (that other stuff isn’t quite the same – have no idea what tha is.) Some Myriophylum (foxtail), also some dwarf sagitaria (sp?) All was good looking stuff at a reasonable price. I bought via ebay – but the have a store at http://shop.plantedaquariumscentral.com. Of course, I divided the plants up a bit and put some in the smaller 5 gallon to help Billie feel a bit more at home there. By my guess we should be about halfway through gestation for her and for Myke as well. With regards to Myke, I suspect any fry she has will likely live with this jungle of plants. I even pulled some floating plants out to keep them from shading the other plants. (There’s still a ton of plants in there.)

I coupled the planting with a water change. We were just a shade below 0.25 for ammonia before the change and now this evening we are just a shade above 0. Nitrites are holding at 0 (and nitrates). I’m hoping the ammonia finally goes back down and we’ll see about adding in another platy (Billie?) or perhaps some Red Cherry Shrimp? On another note, our ph is really low in this tank at the moment, around 6.0 (in spite of the shells that are in there. I’m considering looking for crushed coral to put in the filter.)

This time around on the water change I had the idea to use old tank water for the mason jars on the window sills with scrap plant material. Since that’s already been treated for copper, we’ll see how that does. I think since the rid-metals, even the java moss is looking better than before. It’s color looks a bit more vibrant.

Update – 2-12-11

Anyone doubting the ability of plants to soak up ammonia….. reading today 0 very clearly. Now I need more fish to feed the plants…..

Update 2-12-11

Yes, I did add fish. My intent was 3 neon tetras (with another 3 later in the week) and a female mickey mouse platy. On inspection we have another male mickey mouse platy instead…. I love the coloration though – very vivid red. So, I’m thinking of keeping him and rotating him over to the grow out tank after the fry drop. There doesn’t seem to be a big problem in the main tank with two males and the platy/sword female so…. we’ll see. The tetras are looking great. I’ve done two water tests today for ammonia – both 0. (One this morning and late this afternoon. I added the fish around 4pm yesterday.) It looks like such a jungle in the tank, you can sit and look or 5-10 minutes without seeing any of the 6 fish that are living there. I’m looking forward to another trio of neon tetras and some red cherry shrimp later in the week!

Of course, I’ll be testing the water each day for the next few days to keep an eye out for any ammonia.

Update 2-14-11

This morning I did an ammonia test and was disappointed to see the ammonia starting to climb. not quite 0.25 but definitely not 0. I did a slight feeding of dried worms (which I questioned whether I should…) and planned for a water change this evening. This evening before the planned water change I tested again. 0. Zero, zilch, nada. Very clearly no ammonia in the tank. Wow – I would high five the plants if I could. This morning when I tested the lights had not been on much more than an hour, by this evening of course they had been on all day and I suspect the plants had soaked up the excess ammonia as they photosynthesized. How cool is that! I’ll still check again tomorrow (probably in the morning again too.)

On the flake food vs. dried worms. I have found the flake food seems to affect the ammonia quicker than the dried worms. (I fed them flake yesterday after taking Saturday off from feeding.) I may skip feeding tomorrow. I certainly don’t want to starve them but I think they’re far from starving at this point and I don’t want to put too much food in. Hopefully if things hold steady we’ll be finishing out our tetra shoal by the end of the week and possibly some red cherry shrimp. (Maybe enough to put a few in each tank.)

Update 2-16-11

Well, no red cherry shrimp this week. We’ll have to look for them next week. I did pick up three more neon tetras to acclimate and fill out the group I had started over the weekend. Ammonia is still zero. Plants are looking good. The duckweed may be going through a bit of a die back. I notice about 10% of it seems to be a bit pale and even whitish in spots. ( I was really hoping to stock with the red cherry shrimp to help eat some of the decaying leaves.) So, we’ll try to keep a close eye on ammonia for the next few days into the weekend and the only other livestock I plan on adding at this point are the shrimp when they become available. (Billie is still in the “labor and delivery tank”. I think we have about a week to go there before there are fry. When that happens I may move her into the large tank and move the newer, more juvenile male to be with the fry.

update 2-18-11

Well… one of the neon tetras died today. There is an upcoming post about one of the new ones doing a high dive act as I was trying to transfer it into the tank. I believe this is the one that has died although I can’t be certain. (Can you tell your neon tetras apart?) All parameters seem good, so I will not suspect disease unless I see other symptoms or another tetra death. This one did look normal although i’m suspecting that the fall (2x) may have caused internal injuries or the retrieval from the floor did.

Update – March 6 2011

Well on Thursday (March 3) I added about 15 red cherry shrimp to the tank. I think one or two may have been an instant snack for Billie and Myke. I don’t know the exact number because they were so hard to keep track of as I netted them. I had ordered 20 shrimp (and there were a couple extras) and split them between the two tanks. 7 wound up in the 5 gallon tank.

I did a large water change yesterday (and have been every 2-3 days) because the ammonia had been running high lately. Nitrites never seem to go up from 0 (we had a cycle long time back…) I was afraid the dying plant matter (hornwort and myrio shedding) might be part of it, I was also a bit skeptical that the cholla driftwood may be breaking down quickly so I pulled it. I also moved one of the male platies to the 5 gallon with the fry to try to get the ammonia under control. We had been topping 0.5 ppm (a bit more than 0.5 but less than 1 ppm.) For a few days. The last big water change was yesterday and today we are at less than 0.25. I didn’t measure immediately after the big water change.

My approach to the water change has been to draw down about 6 gallons, add two, take away two, add two, take away two and refill. I’ve thought of it as a “running water change” because I add in fresh while it’s still vacuuming out tank water. It has seemed to do wonders for cutting down the ammonia levels. Although if I let it get too low then the fish start to get a bit panicky with all the greenery descending upon them.

The shrimp seem fine. I counted as many as 8 this morning. They can be very hard to find at times though. There is at least one large female with a “saddle” and one that appears to be “berried” meaning that she has fertilized eggs and may hatch out baby shrimp in a month. Today I broke down and ordered another 30 cherry shrimp from a second source to bolster the colonies that I’m starting. (I also wanted to add some genetic diversity and have a better chance of actually spotting them any given time I stop in and look at the tank.) I suspect that again some may become snacks although I’ll try to do what I can to avoid that. I’m sure that when they have babies there will be some that will be snacks, but with all our plant cover I’d be surprised if some don’t survive.

Update April 14th

After a long stretch of experimentation – more floating plants, fewer floating plants, second filter, third filter, only one filter…. different outlet styles (spray bar versus just a standard flow…. well…. finally we are back to 0 for ammonia and nitrites and maybe 5 for nitrates. Shrimp all look fine – as do the fish. It appears that we have at least two broods of young shrimp at this point. I seem to be seeing them out in the open more often in the last few days. I could just be looking at it a bit more or it could be that the young are getting old enough to be more active.

We had baby platy fry again Monday as well….. let’s see I’ve added some guppy grass and taken out a lot of the water sprite. It seemed to be deteriorating (lots of brown leaves). That was part of the whole try to figure out what’s wrong with the tank experiments. I also wound up shutting off the sponge filters and moving from the spray bar on the canister filter thinking that there might be too little co2 in the water. (No test kit for that at the moment.)

Of course, by the time I adjusted with the idea of reducing co2 loss….. the filter was also getting up to speed (cycling) and after about 10 days with the new canister everything is clear. At this point in time I have nothing but good things to say about the filter, I’ll keep an eye on the plants and hopefully they won’t be adversely affected by the filtration. My hope is that the plants are the first line of ammonia defense (out competing the beneficial bacteria), but the bacteria are there to consume the excess. I think I’m approaching the time to clean up some of the overgrown plants again and try to make it look a bit nicer. (It’s a JUNGLE at the moment.)

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January 9, 2011 - 9:05 PM
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