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Experimental Dirted 11g Rimless Aquarium

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I decided to try a true riparian type of setup. We'll see how it flies. I bought an 11g long rimless aquarium for this. I figure if it fails, I just break it down and do something else. Ah, the joys of reusable project components. LOL

TANK: Lifeguard Low Iron Rimless 11g Aquarium - measures 31.75" L x 7.875" D x 10" H

FILTER: Nicrew Magi Mini Internal Filter (rated for 2-5g) - currently contains only poly-fiber to remove particulate (I forgot to wash the sand - OOPS!) - using the spray bar for water flow and aeration (kept right at the water surface) - the filter is currently on a KASA Smart Plug, so I can easily shut it off for maintenance and turn it back on (the outlet is behind a BUNCH of large heavy houseplants, so I REALLY don't want to have to try to get to it every single time I need to do something with the filter)

No heater

LIGHTING: A cheap LED full-spectrum strip light I've been using with good success over a bunch of houseplants (on a timer with a 10 hour on / 14 hour off cycle)

HARDSCAPE: spiderwood, lava rock

SUBSTRATE: organic potting mix, silica sand (cap on the potting soil PLUS in areas where there's no soil)

dwarf hairgrass (1 bunch fully submerged and 1 bunch mostly emergent)
lucky bamboo (bottoms in the water, tops above)
Java moss (submerged and semi-emergent)
Salvinia minima & duckweed for floating plants
Peacock Calathea (a species of Prayer Plant) (emergent)
Raindrop Peperomia (emergent)
Dumb Cane (emergent)
Tillandsia air plant (fully emergent and away from the water) - it wasn't doing well where I previously had it (despite 2 others doing great), so I decided to try it here

Still planning to add Anubias nana 'petite' when it arrives - don't have any to spare right now.

LIVESTOCK: ramshorn & bladder snails

With the way I set things up, it currently contains only 5g of water. The water level is kept low, and the riparian section takes up a good bit of the tank. I got everything at that end to stay in place securely by creating a barrier using black plastic canvas (plastic mesh for crafting) and 10# test Fireline (braided fishing line). I stitched it together in a custom planter box shape (i.e. not round or square, but contoured), so even the deepest part of the substrate isn't putting pressure on the outside walls of the tank as you'd expect).

It's "dark water" right now, which I REALLY don't like, but I'm prepared to deal with it for the moment. I'll do a few major water changes later to get rid of the tannins. I'm not a dark water / black water fan. To me, it just looks like a dirty tank. Yeah, I'm one of THOSE. LOL


The water was still kinda cloudy when I took that photo, but it's crystal clear now, except for the tannins.

If this works out as well as I hope, and water parameters stabilize, I'm thinking about adding neocaridina shrimp of a color I don't currently have. Just not sure which color. I think they'd enjoy all the nooks and crannies.

BTW, am I the only one who did NOT know some pieces of lava rock will FLOAT?!?!?

Oh, behind this is my pair of terrariums. I'm leaving them there for now. I haven't set another space in the house for those yet. I'll pull them out, though, when I do and put regular houseplants behind the tank. I've got a bunch to choose from for that. I've already put 2 baby houseplants in front of the left corner, as you can see by the above photo. A rex begonia and an aluminum plant. That's a Syngonium (arrowhead vine) sitting lower in the left hand corner. I like to use those in tanks, too, but they get WAY too big for a little tank like this.

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Interesting project, looks good as far.

How much dirt did you end up using? I’ve heard Cory talk about dirt tanks on the livestreams. And knowing most of us will try one at some point he mentioned only using a really thin layer under the gravel. Curious to hear how it goes so please keep the updates coming.


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@ScottieB, under the sand on the right side of the tank, the dirt tapers from about 1/2" at the back wall to nothing as it comes forward to about halfway. The front half of the tank on that end is only sand. Since this is a very small tank, and not deep, I didn't want to add more than that. The sand cap in that back area is at least 1.5" deep, then slopes down toward the front. At the shallowest point over the dirt, it's about 1" thick. I used lava rock and driftwood to help hold that in place. In the foreground where there's no dirt, the sand decreases to no more than roughly 1/2" deep.

On the left side, in the corner where the riparian plants are, the substrate is layered. Roughly 1.5" layer of lava rock, most of which is in a media bag to keep the dirt from blending with it. Topped by about 2" of organic potting mix. That's capped with a thin layer of sand, and there's more lava rock on top of THAT just because I like the look of the red lava rock.

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So far, everything is doing well. The water tested this morning as 0 ammonia, 1 ppm nitrite, 20 ppm nitrate. WAY better than it was a few days ago, let me tell you. LOL

I did a 1.5g water change to start decreasing the tannins. Needless to say, with the water as dark as it's been with THOSE, algae hasn't had a prayer of setting up residence. The submerged plants are still settling in, but the emergent ones seem happy so far. Also, the salvinia is growing well, so it's apparently happy. The java moss - mixed - the submerged section is doing well. The emerged part isn't quite so happy, but it was fully submerged before, so I'm not surprised by that. I'm watching to see if it'll shift into emergent growth in that section. Even the fully emerged lava rocks tend to stay wet, so water access definitely isn't a problem for the moss.

Oh, and my Anubias nana 'petite' arrived yesterday, so I got it put in. Ended up splitting one plant into two parts. 1 is in the lower right hand section attached to a piece of driftwood. It's not too far from the filter but difficult to see because the water's dark. The other is attached to a piece of lava rock. It's clearly visible in the image below - left of the center on the upward slope of the riparian area.

Today's pic (keep in mind, this is AFTER a 30% water change - the tannins had made the water REALLY dark):


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