No-Tech Aquarium Resources

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Aquarium Advice Apprentice
Jan 26, 2006
Can anybody point me towards good information about no-tech aquariums? Google searches have come up mostly dry. The best resource I've found is

Feel free to chime in if you have experience with natural sunlight as your only source of light for a planted aquarium. Is there anything you wish you knew before you started?

Thank you. is definitely the place to go for this type of tank, and my buddy Bob over there has a lot of experience - he may even be able to direct you to more web resources.

You definitely need Diana Walstad's book, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, if you do not have it already, as there is a wealth of info there that will help you.

I have kept natural aquariums and I gradually got out of it because I had trouble keeping them looking esthetic (to my eye - personal choice). I have a "low-tech" bowl that has a light over it but no filtration.

I will move this over to the Planted forum, where you will find members who are using this technique with success
I second Walstad's book. Kinda heavy reading, but invaluable.

-Basically, you need to use 1" gardening soil with about 1-2" of fine gravel over it.
-Plant heavily right away. Don't "ramp-up".
-Know your plant's requirements and select those that will survive/thrive in the lighting/temps/water you have.
-Make extensive use of floating or emergent plants
-Don't vacuum the gravel.
-Use fish food flakes in excess (feed the fish, then feed the tank). It acts as fertilizer, too.
-Decaying plant matter is healthy as long the root structures are healthy, too.
Thank you.

It might be helpful to provide additional information about what I'd like to do and what my expectations are.

My expectations: Natural sunlight only, no filtration aside from plants. Tank does not need to be aesthetically pleasing. I'd prefer a healthy tank over a sterile one.

What I'd like to do: Maintain a small planted aquarium that will permit the growth of plants with moderate to higher light requirements. Perhaps keep a few smaller fish/inverts depending on the needs of the tank and plants.

I'm looking for a challenge, as well as a tank that stands in contrast to my 29 gallon tank with HOB, plastic plants, 15W light, and general sterile feel.
Slap some crypts and java fern/moss into that 29 and see what you can get, even if you have regular aquarium gravel. Put some root tabs in for the crypts and you are good to go. My 55gal used to have about the same lighting as your 29, so I know it is possible.

I am sure you can achieve your goals with the natural aquarium, and be sure to post pics and descriptions of what you learn along the way.
TankGirl said:
Slap some crypts and java fern/moss into that 29 and see what you can get, even if you have regular aquarium gravel. Put some root tabs in for the crypts and you are good to go.
I've currently have some anacharis floating and i'm having success with it. I put it in for the reason you have suggested; to see what happens. So far it has been growing slowly. I also threw some of the wal-mart bulbs in and had zero success with that.

what exactly are root tabs?

I'll be sure to document as much as I can if I decide to start a no-tech tank.
Root tabs (Seachem makes some) are substrate fertilizer tablets that you can bury in the gravel under the plant. Crypts do very well in low light setups but are heavy root feeders and the root tabs do wonders for them.

Those Walmart bulbs are a hit or miss kind of thing, and many of them are duds, so you could try them again.
Agree on the Walmart bulbs. I've bought probably 10 packages over the years and have never gotten more than 50% of the Aponogeton to sprout. The Lilies are an even worse %. The Apon seem to prefer a fair amount of light (1.5-2 wpg) for optimal growth. Less than that and you'll get long stems and floating leaves followed by a die-off...IME.

Walstad is ADAMANT about a soil-based substrate layer. She goes on at great lengths about it in her book. At the minimum, I think you should seriously consider a substrate of Eco-Complete or Flourite. I prefer the Eco-Complete for both it's aesthetics and buoyancy (it's a bit less buoyant then Flourite).
UPDATE: For the past week or two I've continued to research and at the same time experiment with a spare tank i had laying around.

Tank: 2.5 gallon acrylic
Filter: none
Light: Natural sunlight from south-facing window. In February, direct sunlight from approximately 10am to 5pm.
Heat: Sunlight again. I don't have a thermometer in this tank 24/7, but test readings from time to time with one i have in another tank. I do have a digital air thermometer next to the tank which tracks daily hi/low air temps. Air temps range from 60F to 83F in my apartment (drafty window + direct sunlight causes 23 degree temp changes).

Plants: I was keeping anacharis for a while, but it's not doing well in my hard water (GH/KH both exceed 14). Just picked up some hornwort this weekend which is better suited to hard water, and it's growing like gangbusters. In fact, the hornwort seems to grow much faster in the natural sunlight than in my 29 gallon tank with 17w light.

Fish: none yet.

Next steps:

Add heater? it may just be a necessity during the winter months. I need to do take water temperature readings before sunrise and before sunset to get track min/max water temps. I don't think the 2.5 gallon tank will be able to hold as much heat overnight as a larger tank would.

Plant research - find more plants suitable to my water parameters.
You'll need a heater when you add fish. Something 25w...visitherm makes a nice one.

In the summer, the tank may get too hot. 83F is as hot as you should really let it get, and if its hitting that in the winter with sunlight and a much cooler apartment ambient temp, I fear it could hit 90 in the summer if left in front of that window.

Plants, not just fish, have problems with above normal temps. This is why you sometimes see plants flagged as 'discus plants'....discus need warmer water, and these flagged plants tolerate, even thrive in the warmer water.
I would get yourself some sort of thermometer for the aquarium and pay close attention to the temperature - the concerns Malkore raises could make or break this tank, especially when warm weather arrives.

I love my Hydor submersible heater, which is basically a 7w flat heating pad about the size of a deck of cards, and would be perfect for this size tank. It can be buried in the substrate so it won't take up any (precious little) tank space.
I really appreciate everyone's input. I'm going to collect water temp readings this week and I'll report my findings next week.
I recorded water temperatures at various times yesterday:

12:00 noon (sunny skies, direct sunlight): 80F
5:00 pm (sunny skies): 79F
8:00 pm (dark): 70F
6:30 am (just before sunrise today): 60F

I'll more seriously consider adding a heater to help bring the low overnight temperatures up. In terms of keeping the water temperature lower during the day, I am going to try a number of different orientations:

* move the tank away from the window
* keep the window shades drawn shut
* perhaps tape up a percentage of the tank facing the sun to block some of the sunlight and prevent it from heating up the water.
To keep it low tech, you could make sure the top minimizes evaporative cooling, increase the stone mass inside the tank to act as heat batteries, and/or reduce the direct sunlight.
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