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Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

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Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Fri Jan 03, 2014 1:34 pm

My husband really wants to start a soil-based tank. I have heard and read mixed reviews on this. In some searches online, I have read that they can be very beneficial for fish. I, however, spoke with the owner of a fish shop who told me that they are a bad idea insofar as the nutrients are not compatible...or something along those lines! He said just to go with a good substrate meant for growing plants. We would like to start a fully planted tank, with plants growing both inside and popping out from the top...any advice?

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-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by cephalotus on Fri Jan 03, 2014 4:15 pm

I would say that soil is the perfect substrate for growing plants Wink Remember that the fish store people don't always really know what they're talking about and are trying to sell you a product.

I started with dirt tanks and have never had anything else so I can't do a direct compare/contrast. In general a dirted tank is capped with another substrate, like sand or gravel, to stop the soil particles from floating around too much. Mine are capped with play sand. I haven't done a lot of rearranging of plants since I started my tanks, so the cap has stayed in place fairly well. Some of the dirt particles inevitably come up to the surface which can make it look a bit "messier". The larger chunks are too big to get sucked up by the gravel vac - you could probably pre-sift the soil to reduce this problem. I imagine if you/your husband were the types who like to move plants around a lot, that it could get very messy - but perhaps a gravel cap wouldn't be as bad as sand.

The plants like it and it hasn't bothered the fish.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by caoder on Fri Jan 03, 2014 6:01 pm

Try it out on a small tank and see how it goes... Many lessons can be learned. Its always easier to clean a small tank than a large one.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:02 pm

can't wait to see this tank if/when you guys set it up!.....
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by GaryE on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:05 pm

Fish choice is important - nothing that digs!
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:13 pm

Okay, at this point I'm feeling like it will be a go! Thanks all so far...! Still would love to hear other comments!

Cephalotus - we definitely would not move plants around. We have live plants in the 220, 36, and the 10...the only time we moved plants was when we transferred the mosquitos and snails from the 5.5 into the 10 (BIG mess for a bit after!!). I think if we did this, it would be a 'plant and stay there' kind of deal! Hoping to get lot's of tips as we move forward!

Gary - hubby wants the dirt tank...I want angel fish (I have wanted them since I was little...funny that we have 8 tanks and not one angel fish!)...so I am hoping this will work! We are thinking of getting a 45g...maybe 2-4 angel fish?


Last edited by Shell on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:21 pm; edited 1 time in total

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-220g home to 6 gold barbs, 10 denison barbs, & 2 weather loaches
-55g home to 10 black skirt tetras
-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Fri Jan 03, 2014 8:19 pm

oh I am so excited for you!
Our kids look at the angel fish at the fish shops all the time and ask if we can get some....
angels and clown fish...think that's what they are called...
mmm...maybe someday! not living together though as I do not believe that would be a very good idea!!!!!!! ha....
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by GaryE on Sat Jan 04, 2014 7:56 am

I don't have angels now, but I have had a lot over the years, and I used to breed them. You need tall tanks, good filtration with low current and an understanding of aggression. The dominant male will always bully other males (and they are hard to sex), even killing them. If you buy two and get 2 boys, uh oh. I prefer to start with 6 to safely spread out the picking, but you have to be mentally ready to have a murder in your tank. Plus, you will watch some low-key violence. That's how angels fly. You can get a bunch and have a peaceful tank, or not. When they fight, it is relentless. When they are peaceful, it is majestic.

It's a lottery.

Clown fish are saltwater (Nemo). Clown loaches are in with angels in the shops a lot, and are freshwater. The stores don't tell you they grow to 8 to 12 inches, have heavy, filter taxing bodies and need sparkling clean water. Few fish are as badly treated in the hobby as our cute clown loaches, as most die of water pollution at 3 inches or so. Well kept (I wouldn't keep them in less than 120 gallons, as they are social) they have long lives.

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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by sucker4plecos on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:46 am

As a fish store worker, I will suggest that the owner of the fish shop do some research before giving advice to customers. I have done several planted tanks with various non standard substrates including a 120 gallon display tank at our store that has potting soil, peat and fluorite in it. As well, it sat empty looking for over a month as I used a "dry start" method to grow ground covers in it and had carpets of dwarf baby tears (HC), Glossostigma and UG growing before adding the water. I just recently redid it after having it set up 3 year and it is again sitting almost dry with a carpet of HC again being grown out as it awaits some new wood and plantings. Because my article has been published somewhere else I can't post it here but if anyone would like a copy of the article, contact me and I will e-mail it to you.

Soil works fine as long as it is covered with another substrate and fish don't dig too much as Gary has suggested. I have a large show tank with peat, kitty litter and fluorite and had some smaller Geophagus spawn in the tank - they dug down to the glass and piled up everything in a heap and I couldn't see into the tank for days. Another thing to watch for is anaerobic gas build up. This can happen if the soils are sealed and there is nutrients breaking down under the surface. Gas bubbles will be released when the soil is poked. In my tank the gases were forcing some roots up - I tried planting them back in and there was a large WHOOSH of released gases and I couldn't see the back of the tank for several hours as the peat blew up in the tank. After that I used to prod the substrate with a rod before doing my gravel washes to release any hidden gases first but after a year or so they were gone. Oh, and one other little thing. If you have to move the tank it is either very heavy to move with all of the substrate in the tank or you have to pull everything out, throw it away and start over again because it will be such a mess if you remove it that it isn't worth reusing.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by sucker4plecos on Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:55 am

Oh, and while I'm at it.... Yes, I agree with Gary on the clown loaches. I try talking as many people out of buying them as those I sell. They are wonderful fish BUT.... they will grow large over time (it takes years) and they are easily stressed so can be ich magnets. They should only be kept in groups as should most loaches and botias. They like hiding places in caves or driftwood and should be given proper foods. They will eat flakes but they like meaty foods like blood and black worms, brine shrimp and they are very good at eating snails which is why many people decide to bring them home. They sometimes develop a wasting disease which usually stems from parasites. They can eat but they look very thin and skeletal. I also warn people to not get too excited if they look dead in the tank - clown loaches tend to "sleep" and will often be lying on their sides looking like they have expired. Usually they are just fine.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Biulu on Sat Jan 04, 2014 6:47 pm

If you are still doubting whether you want a dirt tank or not, have a look at this tank:

http://www.aqcenter.net/topic/197-bucket-2-he-must-be-mud/

You will be sold instantly! I hope one day I will be able to set up a 40 breeder in this way without filter and just a power head.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Sat Jan 04, 2014 8:08 pm

Biulu, that was great to see! Hubby is even more inspired to start one up.

On a sad note, I guess my wish for angels will not come true unless we go bigger...not sure we have the room for that  Crying or Very sad

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-220g home to 6 gold barbs, 10 denison barbs, & 2 weather loaches
-55g home to 10 black skirt tetras
-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by cephalotus on Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:34 pm

Biulu - Tom's Bucket O' Mud is one of my favorite tanks ever!!
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by alexmtl on Sun Jan 05, 2014 10:59 am

S4p, the people are lucky to have your advice available to them in the store. I would love to have a knowledgeable person who is a breeder and avid aquarist around. I used to hang out at a local fish store when I was a teenager and Gerry the Dutchman was a great source of info. He had friends that were also avid hobbyists, like the old man that kept pacu and arawanas.

Anyways, I learned to use clay pots with soil for the plants. The clay pot would have some cloth on the bottom drain hole to prevent the soil from breaking up, and on top I put aquarium gravel. While aesthetically you will see the pot, it was great to have the plant that was moveable and did great. My amazons always sent out runners.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Ppulcher on Sun Jan 05, 2014 3:11 pm

I have a 36" long dirt based tank that's been running for a few years. I used the Miracle Grow organic potting soil based on an aquarium magazine article, and I read Walstad's "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium." I personally didn't enjoy the tank as much as I thought I would. The initial plant growth was good but tapered off after about 6 months. The vals I planted pretty much overtook the tank and removing them was a messy nightmare for me. I have the soil in the tank still and I'm growing some swords in there right now. I'm due for a bulb replacement but the vals are not doing as well as they have in the past.

All in all, for my tastes I don't think I would go this route again for future tanks. I am using some small clay pots with soil capped with gravel for some crypts and the like.

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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Sun Jan 05, 2014 4:11 pm

what no angels?
what will you do then?
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Sun Jan 05, 2014 4:14 pm

@goldfishbetalover wrote:what no angels?
what will you do then?

Not sure...maybe figure out a way to go bigger?!  Razz 

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-220g home to 6 gold barbs, 10 denison barbs, & 2 weather loaches
-55g home to 10 black skirt tetras
-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Sun Jan 05, 2014 4:19 pm

why wouldn't angels be ok in a 40 gallon tall?
perhaps I missed something!
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Sun Jan 05, 2014 4:33 pm

@goldfishbetalover wrote:why wouldn't angels be ok in a 40 gallon tall?
perhaps I missed something!  

From what I now understand, it is all about numbers. Having 2-4 might work out, but it depends on the actual fish (i.e. their temperaments). Having 6+ seems to be more ideal to tame aggression and have a peaceful family of fish...which would be best accomplished with a bigger tank with lots of space and height  Very Happy

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-220g home to 6 gold barbs, 10 denison barbs, & 2 weather loaches
-55g home to 10 black skirt tetras
-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Sun Jan 05, 2014 4:54 pm

oh...
so you guys need to think about getting a bigger tank for the space you have in mind OR a 40 gallon with dirt and a different type of fish?!
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by sucker4plecos on Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:16 pm

Don't be fooled by the numbers thing.... I had 6 angels that I raised from juveniles in a 120 tall tank (60x18x26) and once they matured it didn't matter how big the tank was. I had one pair set up and removed them to a breeding tank. I ended up with two more pairs and they literally split the tank down the middle as far as territory. If one fish of the pair crossed the line by an inch it was attacked, and it went the same way from the other side..... It was rather interesting to watch.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by Shell on Mon Jan 06, 2014 7:07 pm

Hmmmm....I am getting the feeling that angelfish may not be for me! I am not wanting any crazy aggression going on...so far I guess I have been lucky with my fishy choices and, if I were to get angels, maybe that would change  Crying or Very sad Sad 

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-220g home to 6 gold barbs, 10 denison barbs, & 2 weather loaches
-55g home to 10 black skirt tetras
-55g home to 1 angelfish, 5 kuhli loaches, & 4 zebra loaches
-36g home to 8 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 2 zoogoneticus tequila
-10g home to 1 panda cory
-10g home to 1 zebra nerite, 1 onion nerite, & 1 leopard ramshorn
-3.5g home to several leopard ramshorn snails
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by hello_rockview12 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 7:19 pm

You could always get a single angel as a centerpiece with a school of smaller fish! Angels are great fish.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by vince0 on Mon Jan 06, 2014 8:49 pm

@Shell wrote:Hmmmm....I am getting the feeling that angelfish may not be for me! I am not wanting any crazy aggression going on...so far I guess I have been lucky with my fishy choices and, if I were to get angels, maybe that would change  Crying or Very sad Sad 


you'd be surprised at how harmless angelfish aggression is... Granted there are always fish that can get mean in under stimulating environments (such as a bare tank with no hiding spots) but for the most part the are as harmful as a clawless toothless puppy.
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Re: Dirt Tank: Yea or Nah?

Post by goldfishbetalover on Tue Jan 07, 2014 5:01 am

can an angel live happily on his/her own? I always thought they needed or should be kept in pairs....
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