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Questions about the Walstad Method


FrozenFins
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I have become so fascinating with walstad tanks as of lately. I want to set one up in the near future, and all though this wont be for another month or two I have some questions. 

Its my understanding that you do 1" - 1.5" layer of soil and then you cap that off with another inch of gravel/ sand, is this correct? Is there anything in the some soils that I should avoid? or will any soil do?

I also understand that because its heavily planted the nitrogen cycle is not necessary. I can add the fish the same day I add the plants? But I also heard that you should wait two months before adding the fish to let the aquarium balance out. Whats your opinion on this?

And of course in walstad tanks because theres no filtration, Diana Walstad reccemends to have some flow in your aquarium. This would probably help with preventing the bio film that lives on the surface of the water when theres no flow. But then also if something were to go wrong with your plants you have that added source of oxygen. Is this right?

Anything else I should know?

Its going to be a 5 gallon that will probably house some pumpkin shrimp.

I'm also considering ordering the book off amazon because my local library doesn't have it.

Thanks guys!

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There is an entire book on the Walstad method titled"Ecology of the Planted Aquarium", so obviously there is a lot more to it. But for me, if I put in an inch of garden soil and put some gravel or sand on top, I feel I like I am doing (at least in spirit) what she intended.

She was/is a member of our local aquarium club and I what learned talking to her was to be patient. In her tanks and mine all the nutrients that come in with the soil can easily cause an initial green water bloom. This bloom will last until the excess nutrient are used up which can be weeks.

After the that, the water stays very clear and the plants are happy. Case in point is my 1930s aquarium which has 1 inch of garden soil covered by 1 inch of gravel from my creek. It sits in front of a South facing window with all day full sunlight. Yes, it was green for a while at first, but since it has cleared, it is very clear.

image.png.88819261fd640d0a0eac5d1e34b70899.png

The Vallisneria which are heavy root feeders are very happy. I am not an evangelist for any one method, but her methods are inexpensive, easy to implement, and produce good results.

I don't have an airstone in this aquarium, but having any airstone is almost always a good thing. I usually put plants and fish in any aquarium I setup right away, dirt or no dirt. I have always used soil from the woods or garden when I needed soil.

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Something to be cautious about the Walstad method is keeping an eye on the bioload. The tanks tend to not to have a lot fish so the balance is maintained with respect to the plants. Also, after a couple of years, you will need to supplement nutrition for the plants as the substrate may become exhausted.

Edited by eatyourpeas
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On 6/11/2021 at 2:45 PM, James Black said:

Its my understanding that you do 1" - 1.5" layer of soil and then you cap that off with another inch of gravel/ sand, is this correct?

Essentially correct, but small sized gravel 1-3mm) is much preferred over sand.

On 6/11/2021 at 2:45 PM, James Black said:

Is there anything in the some soils that I should avoid? or will any soil do?

Yes to the first question, and no to the second.  Best results will be obtained with organic potting soil. Do NOT use anything with added fertilization.  The "soil" is the hardest part.  Try to find this...

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004FI7FZG/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Screen it to remove rocks, twigs, etc. (there will be lots), then add a cup of laterite powder (essentially iron-rich clay), here is a link to that...

https://www.amazon.com/Brightwell-Aquatics-FlorinBase-Substrate-Freshwater/dp/B079NYTG7L/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=laterite+powder&qid=1623439394&sr=8-5

Mix well dry, then place the dry mix nto base of aquarium and add water to create a thick "mud".  Then layer gravel over top.

If you try to wet the soil and "float" out the debris (like some advise), you will regret it.

On 6/11/2021 at 2:45 PM, James Black said:

I also understand that because its heavily planted the nitrogen cycle is not necessary.

Incorrect.  The cycle works the same way as in any setup, just faster.

On 6/11/2021 at 2:45 PM, James Black said:

And of course in walstad tanks because theres no filtration, Diana Walstad reccemends to have some flow in your aquarium. This would probably help with preventing the bio film that lives on the surface of the water when theres no flow. But then also if something were to go wrong with your plants you have that added source of oxygen. Is this right?

Correct...

On 6/11/2021 at 3:05 PM, eatyourpeas said:

Something to be cautious about the Walstad method is keeping an eye on the bioload. The tanks tend to not to have a lot fish so the balance is maintained with respect to the plants.

Not in my experience.  I have a 20 gallon Walstadt setup that houses 12 White Clouds, 8 Cherry Barbs, 2 Dwarf Gourami's, 4 snails, and loads of shrimp.  Thats a pretty decent bio-load.  Has not needed a water change in over 6 months now.

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On 6/11/2021 at 2:16 PM, Daniel said:

For the first few months running 3 identical setups, the dirted tank, the Eco-complete tank, and the tank with normal gravel all produced about the same results.

What an excellent experiment!!!  I also like the side-by-side photo for comparison.  Do you have a thread on this experiment? 

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I tried to go 100% Walstad on my 55 gallon tank when I first set it up. Before that, I had a 2.5 gallon fishbowl with a betta that was a Walstad setup. (I’d never keep a betta in it now—too small—but I didn’t know better at the time.) I read her book almost from cover to cover—I got the online version and took notes/highlighted as I went. I have a terrible memory though so I’ve forgotten anything I didn’t reinforce through experience.

Here are some things I learned from my setups:

Substrate:

  • Soil from the yard works just fine. I think the reason she says you can add fish right away and not wait for the tank to cycle is that the soil already has a lot of bacteria in it—much more than you’d find on aquarium gravel.
  • Don’t skimp on the soil cap!!!!!! Use *small* gravel or sand, and use the recommended thickness. Regular aquarium gravel doesn’t work very well. The soil will seep up and create a huge mess. I’m still feeling the effects of this mistake in my 55.
  • Related problem: fish that like to dig (such as yo-yo loaches) constantly throw soil up and make even more of a mess. They don’t care of course, but if you like pristine tanks, you might.
  • A sand cap (and maybe a fine gravel cap?) will result in air pockets in the substrate. People online freak out about these being full of hydrogen sulfide that will kill their fish when they burst. Stories of that actually happening are rare. Still, if you get some Malaysian trumpet snails, they’ll stir the substrate for you and you won’t have to worry about it.

Air flow/filtration:

  • Small tanks may be fine without an air stone or something to increase the flow, but large tanks definitely are not. Plants are not enough to provide your fish with the oxygen they need in a larger tank—my fish were hyperventilating and gasping for air. At first I got wavemakers for my 55 that were just circulating the water, no filtration added, but even after covering them with filter floss, small fish and snails would still get suctioned to the intake. Later I switched to a power head with a sponge intake and I’ve stuck with that. It lets me bubble some air into the water, which seems necessary for my setup. However, that high flow does mean any soil particles get spread around and end up stuck in my moss. If I were redoing this, I would stick with air stones or sponge filters.

Ferts and plants:

  • Not all plants do well in pure Walstad. My plants grew beautifully for the first few months. Unfortunately, fish poop doesn’t provide a lot of potassium, which stem plants really need. My swords, anubias, etc did fine, but the stem plants all died. I ended up supplementing the tank with a potassium fertilizer. Eventually the soil nutrients got used up and the plant growth outpaced all the nutrients that came in through fish food/poop, I switched to Easy Green. So my advice would be to avoid stem plants entirely if you’re not going to use ferts.

Hopefully that helps you avoid some of my mistakes. 😄 

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Thanks @Hobbit

What kind of gravel do you suggest to cap the soil? I was also thinking of using plants like Crypts and Hygrophillia Roanervis, do you think those would be fine? I'm also of course going to use rhizome plants like Bolbitus, Anubias, Java Fern.

I was thinking about getting a small little water pump to create some flow to help prevent the ugly biofilm that always comes ontop on all my tanks when I dont get enough flow.

 

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On 6/11/2021 at 3:18 PM, Hobbit said:

soil already has a lot of bacteria in it—much more than you’d find on aquarium gravel

Excellent point!  I use a little teabag full of yard soil in my sumps when I start a tank.  Seems to help get things started.  Actually, I take it from the soil beneath the compost.  Loads of decomposition happening there!

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Those sound great @James Black! I’m not sure about the posgostemon and the bolbitus just because I don’t have firsthand experience with how they’ll do in a Walstad setup, but of course I say give it a try and see what happens!

In terms of gravel, I’ll let @Streetwise, @tonyjuliano, and others that have had success weigh in. And I’ll listen carefully. 😄 

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