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20 Gallon Dirted / No Filter Tank


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This thread is to document the setup, care and lifetime of my newly created 20 gallon long Walstad deep sandbed tank! I've been planning this project for a while now, and after assuring that the cabinet the tank was destined to sit on was sturdy enough, I took advantage of the latest Petco sale. My husband was a total enabler on this one, which was fun!

I've been fascinated by Walstad tanks (and other dirted tanks that use plant-only filtration) since I restarted in this hobby a few years ago, and though all of my other tanks are dirted, none of them have that deep substrate or the no water changes / no filter rule. So this will be a new experience. The planned live stock will be a colony of bloody mary neocaridinas, a vampire shrimp, and perhaps some rabbit snails (among my usual hitchhikers).

Edit: It's come to my attention that what I'm doing is slightly different than Diana Walstad's method, but the idea is still the same. 

After spray painting the back black, I was sure to center the tank and the runner it sits on as best I could. I might have to move that hyena picture above it... it looks off center now!

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This is the brand of dirt I chose to use. I've never used it before, but I couldn't find the cheapo stuff I used before.

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I didn't bother sifting the dirt, I just pulled out bigger pieces of wood if I found them. I spread an inch deep layer and pressed it down, and then sprinkled some crushed coral over it, as my water has pretty low Kh.

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I then sprayed the dirt down with a spray bottle to get it wet, before capping it with two inches of Black Diamond blasting sand - my go to substrate, I like the black color and how cheap it is. I didn't bother washing it, because I'm convinced it doesn't matter.

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I used a wooden skewer with an inch and three inches both marked off, so I could ensure I had the proper layer depths.

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Now to fill 'er up! I put a ziplock bag on the sand to soften the water flow. Worked like a charm.

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As it began to fill, I sorted out the air pump and bubblers. I used Aquarium Co-Op's black airline tubing that they sent me in my care package, and I gotta say it hooks up like butter. Very nice. The bubblers are these fancy ones that came with my Eheim pumps. I wanted lots of flow for the vampire shrimp, so I added two bubblers.

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Time for hardscape. I'm keeping it simple, and just used some slate pieces I had sitting around.

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And then it was time for more filling. This time I used a bowl to disperse the water flow.

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I filled it almost all the way, and then decided it was planting time. I grabbed out a bunch of Val from my 29 gallon.

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Here's how it looks with the plants in. I do intend to get some moss or maybe Susswassertang. If my new pink flamingo crypt settles in the 75 well I might put some in here too. But for now, I'll let the val fill in

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The first inhabitant - a pink ramshorn hitchhiker. I'm sure there's eggs on the plants, too.

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It's getting too warm to safely order livestock here in AL, so this has all summer to get grown in and seasoned. I'll post updates on plant growth and whenever I add a new plant for now.

Edited by H.K.Luterman
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I changed the title after it was brought to my attention that Diana Walstad uses a different combo of substrates in her method. I'm going with a dirted, deep sandbed tank, using malaysian trumpet snails for soil aeration; with the simple outcome of a stable environment that needs no filter or water changes. Sorry if this caused any confusion! 

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Before bed last night I noticed the inside of the cabinet was wet. The cloth runner under the tank was soaked, and upon further investigation, I found the source was a seeping leak on the bottom seal. The water level hadn't dropped at all, so I must have JUST caught the disaster in the early stages. Cue me dismantling the tank at midnight, salvaging the plants and as much sand as I could. I did find both the trumpet snails and the pink ramshorn, so they're in a bucket with the rocks and plants. 

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I left the mud at the bottom of the tank and had to wake my poor husband up to help me move it to the back deck outside. He was a good sport about it, and is going to call Petco for me to see if we can exchange the tank. 

What a nightmare. But as tank disasters go, I was very lucky; the tank only had a few snails in it, the leak was slow and I had just discovered it in the early stages. Whew.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Got a dwarf red aquarium lily bulb from the Co-Op, and it already has little doo dads emerging. Does that mean I should flip it over? Are they roots? They're kind of pinkish. 

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Also got the ammonia testing strips and tried them out. No ammonia was detected in the tank, and I guess that's not very surprising since it's empty save for the snails. However, there's the deepest pink color's worth of nitrite in there! I would have thought some ammonia would need to be present for that much nitrite. There was a lot of nitrate as well.

Edited by H.K.Luterman
forgot the photo
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