I finally decided to do something with an 18 gallon tank I've had sitting outside for a while. I wanted a really nice looking planted tank. I've been keeping fish for some time now but could improve my knowledge and skill in keep healthy plants. After much research, I decided on using dirt (organic potting soil) as the base substrate in the tank.
I put together a series of videos showing my progress. The above photo shows the finished product. I'll update as the tank progresses. In time, I'll be doing the same thing with my 29 and 55 gallon tanks.
How to Set Up A New Dirt Tank
Here is a step by step generalized process post with a few different options you can use. By no means is this the "be all, end all" but it will give you a good idea of what you plan to do. There are many different ways and methods of doing this.
Get a sheet of paper, draw out your tank, from an above view and front view. Draw in a rough key or where you want what items, plants, and equipment. This will give you a good idea of how you plan to set your tank up. Worst case, change a little later. Find a layout YOU like. A good way to start is to pick plants to hide your heater, filter intake, and cords. If not, not a big deal. Make a list of plants you want, which you have, and which you need. Then make a stocking list of fish you want, and which order you will get them in (algae control last).
Got your plan done? Okay, now go get your equipment. To set up the tank you will really only need a few things that are mandatory:
1. Aquarium (with lights)
2. Dirt (Miracle Grow Organic Potting Mix seems to be the dirt of choice, but any organic/top soil works)
3. Gravel or Sand (if you use gravel, try to stay with finer types)
4. Water Dechlorinator
Optional Equipment at time of set up but will ultimately be needed:
1. Clay or Flourite pieces (or any root fert tabs you may want to use, all are matter of choice)
3. Filter (or power head in rare cases)
4. Airstone, Co2, Ferts, Misc.
1. Rinse the aquarium with tap water to ensure no dust or anything is in it.
2. Set it up on a sturdy, level surface near outlet.
3. Add in your choice of dirt (about 1 inch thick is all that is needed)
**Note- Some people choose to slope the dirt up from front (1/2 inch) to back (1 1/2 inch) so that taller stem plants may have more root space. Strictly matter of opinion.**
4. If applicable, add in whatever pieces of flourite, iron, or fert tabs you have generously to the soil.
5. Slowly spray/sprinkle the soil a bit, then stir it up, add more water, stir...repeat until a VERY thick mud. **Note-You should see NO puddles of water on top of the soil. If added too much water, or even for a precaution, let the dirt sit for an hour to soak any water up.**
6. Once the dirt is the consistency of thick mud, add in whatever substrate you will be using to cap the dirt (I.E- Gravel, Sand, Ecocomplete, Etc.). Add the same amount of substrate as there is dirt.
**Note- Example; If 1/2 inch of soil in front, add 1/2 inch of gravel...if 1 1/2 inches of soil in back, add 1 1/2 inches of gravel**
7. Place any driftwood/rocks/heater you have in the tank.
8. If siphoning in water from an outside source, use airline tubing and knot the tubing so the water siphons very slowly. If pouring in water, put a heavy plate (that doesn't float) on the bottom of the tank on top of the gravel or sand and begin pouring slowly onto the plate to not stir up substrate.
9. Once filled half way, plant heavily... being careful not to disturb TOO much soil from under gravel/sand. Taller plants in back, medium in middle, short in front.
10. Use a small net to net any loose pieces of dirt floating.
11. Finish filling slowly (Don't forget to dechlorinate). Once finished the tank should be a little cloudy but should be ready for a filter. Let the tank sit until most of the debris has settled (if any) and start filter.
12. Add rest of equipment, lights, etc. Watch it grow!!
At this point, if done right, your tank should be ready to rock. With a few water changes your tank will be crystal clear. You can begin your nitrogen cycling for the tank, or wait to add fish. The soil should sustain nutrient and co2 output for the plants for a while without fauna. By no means is this the ONLY way to do it. Some add peat to the bottom of the soil. Some soak dirt for weeks. Some mineralize the soil before adding to tank for months. So many different ways to do it. This is the simple way to start it.