My Dirty Little Adventure :D A Journey to a Dirt Tank from start to finish

What's up to everyone out on Fishtank TV!

So it's been about at least 8 years since I've been in the hobby, and back then I was just keeping goldies with fake plants.  Well since the invention of youtube and viewing everyone else beautiful tanks on the net it's stirred up my interest again.  So what happen in the first place you may ask.  Well, I was in my mid 20 and it seemed like I was moving into new apartments almost every year and moving a 30 gallon tank was becoming a hassle. Especially since my roommates and I always seem to find apartments that were not on the ground floor and buildings with no elevators.  Not to mention take up precious space in my already small rented room.  But I never got rid of my tank, it currently sits at my mom's daycare center for the kids to watch. 

Now let's Fast Forward to today.  Like I said, some of the videos on youtube has sparked my interest again, which also led me to this site which turned that spark into a bursting inferno.  Since I gave up my tank setup to my mom's daycare center it felt wrong to take it back.  So Criagslist was my new resource for used tanks.  I really didn't feel like dropping 200 to 300 bucks on a brand new tank and stand.  CL really helped me out here.  Someone was giving up 2 30 gallon tanks with one hood lighting, heater, and gravel enough for one tank for $100.00, I was able  to haggle it down to $80.00, so I felt that I scored a nice deal here.  From there I ended up getting some of the other necessary equipment.  I went down to my nearest Home Depot and picked up some Organic dirt.  I also found some wood pieces that I thought would look great as driftwood, more on that later.  The clay I picked up at an arts and craft store which was the same clay that everyone here talks about, "The Mexican Clay."  So, I was with all my necessary equipment to start a low tech tank.

You may notice the back of the tank is all black.  I did that using some basic acrylic paint and a paint roller.

While I was still not ready to take the jump and start the tank, for lack of confidence.  I continued to troll the forum and videos, trying to see if I might have missed some little bit of knowledge that would help me in the long run.  Finally after some long reads and viewings, and rereading, and reviewing.  I finally took the plunge on Mothers day, which was just a couple of weeks ago. 

Day 1

Before I left to spend the day with the family I got up early and started dumping dirt in my tank then added some water until I got that muddy consistency that Dustin talks about.  I left the dirt soaking all day and left to be with the family.  When I came back home I added the clay and then capped it.  Also towards the front of the tank I made a small trench so when I capped it with gravel, the gravel would cover the dirt.  I put a small plate on the gravel and slowly started to add water over the plate as to not to disrupt the gravel and dirt to much.  Tank was now full of water and cloudy, so I immediately did a 50% water change.  On a side note I did the recommend 1" of dirt and 1" of gravel.

Day 2

I woke up the next morning and notice the tank was cloudy again.  I wasn't to worried because I was informed that this was to be expected.  I did notice a thin layer of what look like thick mist hugging the floor to the tank.  Later that evening I did another 50% water change and purposely siphoned out the mist like substance. 

Day 3,4 and 5

Was pretty much the same as Day 2.  Cloudy water and 50% water change each evening, but by day 4 or 5, can't quite remember. The mist like substance was pretty much gone, I was just left with a very cloudy tank.  The image below is from day 5 with the lights on. 

On day 5, I'm not sure if it was my inner child that has no patience or the little devil on my shoulder whispering in my ear.  In any case I went out and purchased my first batch of plants to put in the tank.  What I ended up with was a Red Tiger Lotus,  Red Broad Leaf Ludwigia and plain Ludwigia.  Also grabbed two kinds of wendtii crypts. One was a red lead and the other was Florida Sunset.  I ended my purchased with what I thought was Java Moss but come to find out later it was Christmas Moss.  I came home and siphon out about 75% to 80% of the water.  I then began planting and decorating my tank to my liking.  Here was the end result 24 hours later, you'll still notice that it's a bit cloudy but not as much as the pic above:

Day 6

So when I first purchased my tank off of CL I was given a hood lighting with a bulb.  I did not know how old the bulb was so to be on the safe side I went out and bought a new.  It was a single T-8 light fixture and I got the appropriate bulb for it and my plants.  My original plan was to stick with this set up, even though I kept reading about how everyone loved the results they were getting with their T-5's and were very happy to make the switch.  If it wasn't for the unexpected bonus I received at work I would have just continued dreaming about a T-5 set.  But a bonus I did receive and while a huge portion went to pay off bills I did set aside some for a cheap T-5 set up.  ZooMeds offered a 2 T-5 light fixture set up for about $75.00 so I snagged that and picked up a new T-5 bulb.  I later then returned the new T-8 bulb that I purchased a few days before and exchanged it for another T-5 bulb.  While I was doing the exchange I looked over and saw the pet store selection of Betta fishes.  I normally don't give these guys a second glance, again I don't know if it was the inner child or lucifer at my side, but one Betta fish just grabbed my attention.  Needless to say I ended up coming home with my second T-5 bulb, a Betta and some Betta food.  :D

Day 7

Betta is like his new home.  New T-5 lights are up and running.  Water still a little cloudy, did a 50% water change.

Day 8

By now my plants and fish have been in the tank for a good 48 hrs.  Everything is looking good, I have notice some leaves floating in the tank and some of the Crypts and Tiger Lotus slightly beginning to melt.  Still doing a 50% water change everyday and being careful now that I have a Betta fish that the water temp is the same.  On this particular day before the water change I decided to test my water.  I was pretty amazed to see the water quality was good.  pH was at 7.4 and all other parameter was at basically 0.  Maybe the tank hadn't started to cycle yet who knows?  After testing the water I grabbed a brand new sponge and I wanted to wipe down the inside of the tank.  Just give it a good cleaning.  As soon as I submerge the sponge I notice a white cloud emit form the sponge.  I quickly removed it and thought to myself what could that be.  I went to my sink and ran it under some water and to my horror I notice it was kind of soapy.  I couldn't imagine how since it was brand new.  I did peel off the green scrub from the sponge so maybe it was just the chemical that bind the two.  In any case, chemical or soapy substance I panicked!!! I grabbed a big gulp cup filled it up with water and condition it, grabbed my Betta and moved him over temporarily.  Then I realized I didn't check the water temp in his new home, one rookie mistake after another.  So I quickly added some warmer water, condition it and prayed that I haven't but the poor guy in to much shock already.  I then began doing a complete water drain of the tank.  I drained it down as far as I could and then replenished the tank with new water.  I condition it and waited to make sure that the temp was close to what it was before.  With hesitation I add the Betta back in, by this point it was getting close to midnight and I was done for the day.  I only prayed that in the morning I didn't not find an upside down Betta floating at the top.  Although I will note that that after the complete water change, the water was a lot clearer, one could say crystal clear.


Day 9

I awake to good new this morning.  The Betta is alive and well, swimming around as if nothing to worry about.  I am noticing more leaves floating and more of the Crypt and Tiger Lotus melting away.  But I'm not going to panic about this, because it is to be expected.  Some of the Christmas Moss is also browning but not all.  I really wish I had asked if it was Java instead of assuming it was.  I ended the day with another 50% water change and cleaning out the floating leaves. 

Day 10,11 and 12

Betta Fish is doing great after the scare. Plants are melting away even more.  I know I'm not suppose to freak out about it but I kind of am, their melting bad. I've been still doing 50% water change and have done water test on day 10 and 12.  I'm finally getting a reading on Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate.  According to my chart in the same order the readings are 0.25, .025, 5.0, my pH level on both days was at 7.4. After testing the water on day 12, during the water change I decide to try and clean out most of the melting leaves that was still attached to the gravel.  The Ludwigia is the hardiest of the bunch, still maintaining it's leaves.  Here's a picture below of the tank after the clean up.  I will say that after the clean up I did notice at least from the Tiger Lotus a new leaf growing :)

Day 13

Well my tank is looking pretty empty and I'm not sure if I should call the broad leaf a lost cause or what?  The green leaf Ludwigia is still standing strong and I'm seeing the Tiger Lotus new leaf is growing.  I was panicking quite a bit this day but I went onto APC and scanned their forum for melting plants and what to do and/or expect.  Someone in one of the threads said something reassuring and put my mind at ease.  They said that the plants will melt and the reason is because they were raised in different parameters.  While those leaves melt and fade away new growth will come and these will have adapted to your tank setup.  So with that said I am noticing some growth from the crypts and the Tiger Lotus is obviously doing well too.

Day 14

Well now, it's been two weeks since I first started this journey.  Its had its ups and downs but I'm glad to see growth in the tank.  I'm wondering now if I should add more ludwigia or just hold off and see what else will grow.  Currently it looks like I have The Tiger Lotus and possible three crypts with new growth.  I really would have like to have seen some new growth from the Red Broad Lead Ludwigia.  But still nothing, so I'm thinking these guys aren't going to make it.  When I got these the really didn't have any good root system at all so that could be why they failed.  Although the green leaf Ludwigia had the same lack of a root system and they seem to be doing the best over all.  I would like to plant some Dwarf Sag but doesn't seem like anyone local sells them.  I am thinking of getting more Ludwigia to add some more plants in the tank but I think I should wait to see what other growth I get.  What do you guys think? If any of you guys have any insight or recommendation I'm all ears. 

Views: 608

Comment by Ronald Last on May 29, 2012 at 5:58pm

I've haven't done a "dirted tank" yet, but this is what I think...

Get more plants. Cheap,fast-growing, lightish green ones of different sorts, and some plant that floats, even if it's only duckweed.

You need fast growing plants to "clean" the water. Crypts have always been known to often need a long period to adjust to new conditions and they grow fairly slowly so it takes time before they start contributing to the well-being of the tank...

And, by the way, I may be mistaken but your "green leaf Ludwigia" looks, to me, more like a Bacopa sort...

Comment by SoCalBetta on May 30, 2012 at 1:21am

Hey thanks, for the input.  I plan on picking up some more plants tomorrow.  This time from a place that seemed to specialize in aquascaping.  I wish I'd have found them before 2 weeks ago.  Here's a link to there yelp page:

And on the comment of green leaf Ludwigia, your probably right.  I'm fairly new to all the different plant types, and the store I purchased these at didn't have them label as any specific species just under assortments. 

Comment by Ish Cruz on June 4, 2012 at 12:59pm

Just make sure to do a lot of water changes since you just started it and also since its not planted heavily. 

Comment by Josh (fishman) on June 5, 2012 at 12:41am

Nice choice in dirt! =)

Comment by SoCalBetta on June 5, 2012 at 12:49pm


Comment by Nick Arnett on October 31, 2012 at 12:22pm

well documented experience.  i'm sure this will serve to be very helpful for those looking to get into dirted tanks.  definitely recommend more plants.  lot of people like the real heavily planted look, but i prefer somewhere in between.  also, definitely recommend wisteria and moneywort.  these are real  easy to maintain and fairly fast growers.  check em out sometime.


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