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Starting a dirted 3 gallon no filter tank

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I'm starting a third tank because I am a crazy person.  I am just super curious as to how to make a dirted tank work.  Now, I live in a very old, tiny house so we don't have room for another tank and frankly, I don't really want another full blown tank.  So I bought a jar.  From Target, 2 gallons and it was only $14.  I would like to do it Walstad style, so I bought some organic potting soil, sifted it and covered it with sand.  Put the rock and the plants in and let it sit over night.  I now realize I want to take it all out and try again... this time I want to put the sand around the outer edge first, then put in the potting soil, then a deeper sand cap because the soil keeps wanting to peek out in spots and I think that will just be a mess if I don't fix it now.

I tried to do a good mix between slow growing plants and fast growers.  I have an anubias nana, a java fern, scarlet temple, dwarf grass, pearl weed, spiral val, java moss on the rock, s. repens and crypt undulata red. I might even go crazy and add a stick.   

I am just using a regular old desk lamp over it and I'm getting a little nano air pump with a little valve regulator thing so I can do a super minimal air stone in it to keep it from getting stagnant.  Once I get it more figured out, I will add some floaters (red rooter cooters and I caved and ordered some frogbit on ebay that's coming soon, if it doesn't fry on the way here). 

Ultimately, I'd like to add some of my new super cute red ramshorn snails, some shrimp and put one of my zillions of guppy fry (or maybe one of the Endlers that annoy the guppy females too much).  I'll probably add the snails relatively soon, once its set up again but the rest will wait until the plants are established and I feel like this will actually work without a filter and all that.

It's a fun little project/experiment!

I assure you, the jar is not breaking the laws of physics.  I canNOT figure out how to get pictures to not post sideways... I seriously cannot sort this out on my own.  I've tried editing the picture, control-right clicking the picture and so on.

Edited by Just Renee
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  • 3 weeks later...

I decided that I didn't like the look of the jar because it just distorted everything too much, so I bought a 3 gallon rimless Aqueon tank at Petco.  Restarted with more soil, some more new plants and it's been going for a couple of weeks now.  It's looking pretty good, not sure on the growth yet.  I put some snails in after a week due to algae and today I caught one of my endlers and chucked him in because I found... now this part is gross so prepare yourself... MOSQUITO LARVAE in my tank!  GROSS!!!  So now I guess I'm doing a fish in cycle or else my husband is going to divorce me immediately.  He is not about mosquitos because they are sooo about him.  

I'll post a pic a little later.  That's the update!  It's a fun project, I highly recommend!

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I have about an inch of organic soil with chicken manure in it from the Despot of Homes.  I made it a little too wet so when I poured the gravel on top... it sorta sunk in a bit so it's like an inch and a half to two inches of gravel.  I actually think I set this up 3 weeks ago, now that I think about it, so it's settling in nicely, I suppose.  I was playing around last weekend with making a diy Co2 setup (following Chung from YouTube "The Water Box" - very informative videos on diy Co2) and tested it on this little tank because it only had snails.  I'm glad I did, because I didn't have it set up correctly and over-gassed the tank... the drop checker was bright yellow.  LOL  I had the Co2 on this tank for about 4 days and this weekend I'm going to set it up on my 20 gallon.

Last night, I noticed the mosquito larvae and was completely grossed out.  When I got home from work today, I checked the water just to see where it was at, parameter wise, since I had already decided to add a guppy or an endler to take care of the mosquito larvae.  I hadn't changed the water in 2 weeks-ish and figured that since it only had a couple of ramshorn snails (and bladder snails, I hate them so much but whatever) that the water might finally show something parameter wise.  Well the soil or something made the ammonia shoot sky high, practically dark teal green on the API test.  The test strip showed some nitrates and nitrites, so I did a 90% water change, checked the water again and of course it was fine so in went the endler.  I'm not sure what exactly caused the parameters to go so bananas... was it the soil?  Snail poop?  Somehow related to the Co2?  I don't know but I am going to have to keep an eye on it for my suddenly required fish in cycle.

I thought I read somewhere that Walstad tanks sorta cycle themselves, like all the nitrifying bacteria was in the soil already?  I thought that sounded like BS but I swear I read that somewhere.  I hope it doesn't take weeks to get this tiny thing cycled...

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On 7/2/2021 at 8:11 PM, Streetwise said:

I really enjoy organic soil tanks. I generally use organic topsoil, which doesn't include manure.

Your substrate is very powerful if it includes chicken manure, and it might limit your choice of livestock. Unless you want to reboot your substrate, you might want to focus on plants for a while.

That was actually my plan... until the mosquito larvae.  I was actually thinking about just making it a shrimp tank.  I guess I'll have to keep an eye on the parameters and do lots of water changes until it sorts itself out.  

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About an hour or so after I put the first endler in the tank, he started gasping at the top of the water.  So I added an airstone and he went back to swimming normally so I've kept it on since then.  I don't understand why the dissolved O2 is low when I feel like it's pretty well planted and the plants are doing well.  

Today I checked the parameters and the ammonia was zero with low nitrites so I think the cycle is already about done.  Wow, that was fast!!  I changed out about 60% of the water.  The 2 endler bachelors are doing well and they got fed their first meal in the new tank (outside of hopefully eating all the mosquito larvae)... I gave them the tiniest little pinch of flake and they scarfed it up.  

So far, so good.  I'm hoping I can take the airstone out at some point.  I may try it tomorrow in the morning and then keep an eye on them during the day.

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Here is a pic from the tank today. Here are the parameters: ammonia 0

nitrites 1

nitrates 10-20

gh 300+
kh 40

ph 7

temp is 76ish (no heater, room temp)

I have a cheapie led light from Amazon set to be on for 8 hours a day  stocking is now 2 male endlers, 2 rams horn snails and some bladder snails Mosquito larvae is hopefully ZERO.



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