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Natural Planted tank: Soil based with lots and lots of stem and floating plants. Common snails and shrimp complete the little ecosystem-everything has a job.

Plants functions as the filtration-All livestock and anything organic function as the ferts-When the organics start to break down and decomp-they naturally produce CO2 that the plants need. Shrimp also shred dead/dieing organics/plant matter so that it will break down faster and eat some algae. Snails-eat organics and dead/dieing plant matter and some algae.

Soil based tanks are as close to a complete ecosystem you can create in a closed system/aquarium. Everything works together to create the Balance.

It can take about 3 months for a soil based tank to mature. Once the soil has started its life under water, is alive and full of critters/microorganisms. I like to remove my filter or water movement in my 10gal and under tanks. I do use water movement in my 20gal and larger.

Nitrogen cycle-in properly setup soil based tank with lots of plants you don't need to worry about the nitrogen cycle or do anything special-It happens on its own. The silent cycle.
Often with heavy planted tanks-it will take a long time if ever to see the nitrate reading we normally look for that tells us cycling stage/completeness-But the nitrogen cycle is happening-its silent.

If you properly setup the soil based tank-you can safely add all your livestock on the same day you set it up.

Once mature-water changes are limited and this can vary from once a month to 4-5 times a year. If you want that really clean tank floor with an organized look-the soil based may not be for you.
Over cleaning-water changes and vacuum can upset the balance, however, your water should always look crystal clear-this tells you that you have good balance and the plants, microorganism, shrimp, snails and fish are doing their job.

Dirt-Look for organic type potting soil, top soil or use dirt from your yard. You don't want any added ferts, chemicals...etc.....
Sift the soil or pick through it to remove any large pieces of organics and wood.
In 1-10gal tanks use 1-1.5 inches of dirt
In 20-55gal tanks use-1.5-2 inches of dirt
In over 55gal-use 2-3 inches of dirt

Cap-use either-pool filter sand, play sand or small diameter gravel.
The cap is to help hold the soil in place and you only want to use half as much cap as you do soil.

Hard scape-If using large based items-like big rocks or driftwood-along with more than 1 inch of dirt. Place the hard scape item on top of the first 1 inch of dirt-then add the rest of the dirt and cap.

*Hint: Place the filter and heater in the tank before you place hard scape items. This will help you with proper placement and then place the hood if you are using one to check that everything will fit properly-You want the overflow of the filter to be directed over a hard scape item so it doesn't cause a kick up. Check the intake to insure that it isn't too low to the dirt/cap line-you may need to shorten the intake or place a flat rock under it so it doesn't suck up the soil/cap and ruin the filter.

Lights-proper lighting is really important-without the proper color temp bulb the plants can't see the light to use it for photosynthesis. Without good plant growth the soil based tank will crash.
You want-"Daylight" 6500k bulbs-watts will vary based on length of bulb.
You want to change both the bulb and the starter every 12 months-even if they still work since florescent bulb intensity can be lost over time.
The partition between the light and plants-need to either be removed all together or ensure it is kept clean for best light penetration to plants.
Photoperiod-keep the lights on 10-12 hours. Plants naturally are on 10h/day PP with 1 hour before and after of less intense light.
*Too short a PP or wrong color temp bulb, old bulbs can trick the plants into thinking its a season change and time to go dormant, die or flower.
Poor plant growth can result in poor water quality. You should need to make your first plant trim in 7-10 days after planting.

Algae: Its normal, expected and a sign of a healthy system, however, since this is a closed system-even the good algae needs to be manually removed on occasion. With soil based systems that have proper balance you shouldn't have algae issue-you will have some-but as long as you have enough of the right species of thriving plants-they should out compete problem algae.

Plants: If you can't start a soil based tank with enough of the right species of plants-DON'T set one up...It is important to have enough of the right species of plants on hand, correct lights from the start-otherwise the system might crash.
You want to start with lots of fast growing stem plants and some floating plants. You can add the moss, ferns, anubias to your hard scape items and add some rosette plants too.
Plants I like to use:
Stem plants:
Najas indica (naja grass)
Cabomba caroliniana(green)
C. piauhyensis (red)
Hygrophila dfformis (westeria)
H. corymbosa (giant hygro)
H, siamensis (thin leaf)
Ludwigia natans
Rotala indica
Rosette plants:
Vallisneria americana-var Biwanesis
V. spiralis
Sagittaria subulata
S. platyphylla
Cryptocryne walkeri
Crypt-bronze
C. wendtii
Echinodorus bleheri (amazon sword)
E. ozelot
E. tenellus (chain sword)
Other:
Nymphaes stellata (red lily)
Aponogeton ulvaceus
Microsorium pteropus (java fern)
Vesicularia dubyana (java moss)
Floating plants:
Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce)
Limnobium laevigatum (frogbit)
Lemna minor (duckweed)

Once the hard scape items and fully planted-make water only changes until the water is clear-Turn on the filter and heater-Once at temp-add the livestock after proper acclimation.
If you don't have trumpet snails that burrow to add-be sure and poke the soil a couple of times a week with either chopstick, wooden spoon...etc.....This will help prevent anaerobic soil. Once you make your first trim, plants are thriving-the roots of the stem plants will help prevent anaerobic soil by pulling oxygen into the soil layer.

You will need to make 1-3 times a week 25-50% water only changes for the first 1-2 weeks-Then decrease as you see plants growing/thriving to 1-2 25-50% a week. By the 3 month stage and provided plants are thriving and you have had to make at least 4-5 trims on the stem plants-Reduce water changes to monthly 50% and remove the filter if you want. As the tank matures-plants thriving you can use your judgment on water changes and reduce them further.

I don't use any added ferts or inject CO2-neither are needed in soil based balanced systems-They make everything they need if allowed, however, adding an extra pinch of fish food weekly is a great plant food for NPT's.

Once you have 1 thriving soil based tank-you will soon need another tank due to the plant growth.

Links to more info on NPT's
https://www.bettafish.com/showthread.php?t=84915
https://www.bettafish.com/album.php?albumid=2903

 

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As always, another FANTASTIC thread OFL! I insta-bookmarked. =)
 

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Thank you!

I've been wanting to add plants to my tank, and was leaning towards going full NPT, but was confused on some of the finer points. This post helps a lot!
 

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Thanks, OFL! =)
 

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Just a question, you say that it can take up to 3 months for a NPT to mature...but fish can be added the same day the tank is set up.
What do you mean by mature? To become completely "self sufficient" ie the plants and micro organisms have established enough to make regular filtration unnecessary? Just want to make sure I understand.

I have a 6.6gal and I've heard that the rule of thumb is 1gal per inch of fish. Does this change in an NPT? I have one betta right now, wouldn't mind adding a trumpet snail (for aeration) and maybe some other fish if possible.

Thanks!
 

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You can safely add fish the day you set one up and you really want to add a couple of trumpet snails from setup as well since they have a pretty important job of aerating the soil until the plant roots can help get the job done.

With enough active growing plants-they use the byproducts in the tank to help keep the water safe-the key being active growth-the plants need to be feeding-the plants are the filtration. Along with the plants-the microorganisms recycle byproducts-everything working together.....It can take up to 3 months for the soil to start its life underwater and for the microorganism, nematodes...etc....to colonize in great enough numbers to do the job.

Since this is a closed system-it will never be completely "self sufficient" but they are close....
 

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Excuse my ignorance (for there is much of it and it is large) but how big of a difference is there between soil or just a sand planted tank, or a gravel tank? What do gravel planted tanks require? If there is a post on this somewhere and I missed it I apologize.
 

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Excuse my ignorance (for there is much of it and it is large) but how big of a difference is there between soil or just a sand planted tank, or a gravel tank? What do gravel planted tanks require? If there is a post on this somewhere and I missed it I apologize.


I believe the difference is that the soil provides nourishment to the plants, whereas there is no nourishment in sand and gravel, and you have add supplements like root tabs to give the plants what they need to grow.
 

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I believe the difference is that the soil provides nourishment to the plants, whereas there is no nourishment in sand and gravel, and you have add supplements like root tabs to give the plants what they need to grow.
Thank you! And here's another stupid question: Why don't all those nutrients and good stuff in the soil eventually leach out into the water making the soil useless? I know a tank is a relatively small area, but I'd think that it would happen eventually.
 

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As the tank mature you have natural decomp from organics that add nutrient back to the soil-along with all the poop/byproducts produced by the livestock...All food for the plants and to help maintain nutrients in the soil itself.

This is why you don't want to over clean a soil based tank.

Sometimes, if you have a lot of root feeder plants-like swords-they might need some extra food after about 4-5 years. I make clay balls from my native clay-allow them to dry in the sun-then cram them under/around the base of the sword plant a couple of times a year or when the plant looks tired.
 

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If using dirt soil for an NPT, wouldn't that make it mud once you added the water after you added the dirt soil? Wouldn't the water be hard to look at? How would you make it look good without making it mud? Sorry for all the questions.
 

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That is what I thought too.....dirt+water=mud....But it isn't like that if you set a dirt based tank up correctly. The sand or small diameter gravel you cap the dirt with will help keep the dirt in place until it become water logged. Once the dirt is water logged and starts its life under water-it stays in place......

When I dig up plants or replant-I will get dirt up in the water column-but within 10 min or less the water is crystal clear and you would never know that I had a mass amount of dirt floating around.

All my tanks are dirt based and all my tanks water is crystal clear all the time.

Go to my album and you can see some pic of all my dirt based tanks
 

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That is what I thought too.....dirt+water=mud....But it isn't like that if you set a dirt based tank up correctly. The sand or small diameter gravel you cap the dirt with will help keep the dirt in place until it become water logged. Once the dirt is water logged and starts its life under water-it stays in place......

When I dig up plants or replant-I will get dirt up in the water column-but within 10 min or less the water is crystal clear and you would never know that I had a mass amount of dirt floating around.

All my tanks are dirt based and all my tanks water is crystal clear all the time.
So, in my gravel only planted tank should I add something to it? It is on week three and doing very well, plants growing, rooting etc. Should I use some sort of ferts besides the fish poo and extra food?
 

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When using inert substrate-you will need to add ferts of some type. If you have root feeders-root tab and if water column feeders you need water column food. Seachem has a pretty good line of plant food products, however, I have limited personal experience since I don't need them.

You also should schedule water changes so that you add the water column food after a water change-This way you will remove any unneeded/unused food so the algae can't use it....

I would really like to try and keep this thread on the topic of soil based tanks.....
 

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Does the sand cap and soil end up being all mixed together when the snails burrow into the substrate?
 

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Oh my goodness - that's a lot of snails!

Thank you for the answer :)
 

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When using inert substrate-you will need to add ferts of some type. If you have root feeders-root tab and if water column feeders you need water column food. Seachem has a pretty good line of plant food products, however, I have limited personal experience since I don't need them.

You also should schedule water changes so that you add the water column food after a water change-This way you will remove any unneeded/unused food so the algae can't use it....

I would really like to try and keep this thread on the topic of soil based tanks.....
K...sorry..thanks
 
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