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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!



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.



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.



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.



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



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



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.



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



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



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.



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



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



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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Awesome!  I'm wanting to learn more about Walstad method, but I have too much going on in life to read through that book!  So many things to do/learn in life, so little time!!

EDIT:  Oh BTW, what is an "invert" tank?

Edited by Martin
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16 minutes ago, Martin said:

Awesome!  I'm wanting to learn more about Walstad method, but I have too much going on in life to read through that book!  So many things to do/learn in life, so little time!!

EDIT:  Oh BTW, what is an "invert" tank?

Invertebrates. 🙂 Going to just be shrimp and snails.

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18 minutes ago, Hobbit said:

Yay! Looks great so far! For the brief time I had an invert-only bowl, I found so many random little creatures I’d never seen before. Without fish to eat them, the wiggly life really flourishes!

I'm really looking forward to that!

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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. 


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...

20 longs were back in stock! Finally was able to trade in the leaky one for a new one. Just got it set up and running again. The val is a little sad from being in a bucket for 2 weeks, but I'm hopeful it will bounce back. I made sure to get all the snails back in as well, and added a few more.


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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. 


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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