Tag Archives: fish

Setting Up My First Dirted Aquarium

About a month ago, I started considering putting an aquarium in my house. We had a 55-gallon fish tank about 15 years ago, and I thought that would be a good size again. Unfortunately, we have no room for a tank that size in the house. The best I could do was a 29-gallon fish tank. There was barely enough room for that on a cabinet in the dining room. Our cats like to lie on that cabinet and look out the window, so I would have to take that away from them.

I didn’t want a typical fish tank. I wanted something as close to nature as possible, so I did a fair amount of research. I discovered something called the Walstad method, also known as a dirted aquarium. Diana Walstad wrote a book called Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, which I bought. I found it written more like a scientific journal with much more information than I cared about. Instead, I went to YouTube and learned from people using the method. Most of the videos I watched were similar, but everyone had a slightly different method or list of ingredients.

Last Friday, I was in Petsmart and saw they had a 29-gallon aquarium kit on sale for $120, down from $150. I decided to look online when I got home and found the same aquarium kit on the Petsmart website for $75, so I bought it and arranged to pick it up in the store the next day.

The Walstad method requires a layer of soil topped by a layer of sand. The consensus is about one inch of dirt topped by two inches of sand. Some people only use organic topsoil, while others have a recipe of a half dozen things to supplement the soil, including peat moss, compost, manure, epson salt, bone meal, iron oxide, and diatomaceous earth. The substrate, meaning the sand and soil, should eventually be self-sustained, but that could take a year or more, so the additives help until a balance is reached.

A symbiotic relationship should exist between the plants, fish, and all the microorganisms in the tank. I don’t know the exact process, but the microorganisms break down fish waste and dead plants and convert it to plant food. The plants then help remove ammonia and nitrates and provide oxygen for the fish. I’m sure many other things are going on as well.

I went to Home Depot before picking up the fish tank. I compromised because I could not find most of what I was looking for. I bought topsoil that contained peat moss. I also bought a combination of manure and organic compost. I finished by picking up a bag of play sand and a bucket.

I had epson salt and diatomaceous earth at home and decided to skip what I couldn’t find.

I mixed three-quarters of topsoil and one-quarter of compost/manure in a 5-gallon bucket. I added a small amount of epson salt and diatomaceous earth to the mixture. I then added about one inch of it to the tank. I had a spray bottle filled with water and sprayed the dirt until it was soaked.

I put two inches of sand on top and pushed it down along the front glass with a wooden turner to hide the dirt.

The next step was to add water, but it needed to be done carefully. If the pressure from the water exposed the dirt, there would be a big mess. I placed a paper bowl upside down and brought in my garden hose on the sprayer setting.

I used a paper bowl because I didn’t want to wash sand down my sink, but the bowl started floating, which complicated the filling a bit.

Once I had the tank filled, I added a small amount of Prime, a chemical designed to neutralize the chlorine in the water. After that, I added the plants I bought while I was at PetSmart. Later we bought six Tetra fish and added them to the tank.

I forgot an important step that I did the next morning. I went to a nearby creek and pulled a stick and a few leaves out of the water and added them to the tank. This was to introduce beneficial bacteria and microorganisms to the tank.

I bought a few more plants a couple of days later at Pet Supermarket, which had them for a fair amount less. As I write this Thursday evening the fish are still well and I will probably look for another type of fish to add to the tank within the next few days.

I will follow up in a couple of months to let you know how it is going.

Enjoying the “Real World” on Honeymoon Island

Last weekend Rose and I went to Honeymoon Island for a walk on the nature trail. She didn’t really want to go but she knew I wanted to take pictures so, as a good wife, she suggested it.

At the beginning of the trail we saw an armadillo going about his business, total oblivious to our presence (which is why most armadillos die near roadways). Further down the trail, it seemed that every hundred feet or so there was an osprey in a tree. Some were in a nest, others were nearby keeping a lookout, still others were flying overhead, sometimes with a fish, possibly bringing it to feed their young. We could even hear the sound of young osprey calling out to their parents, but we could not see them over the top of the nests. It is a world of wonder that can’t be fully appreciated from your living room, even while watching National Geographic.

Rose initially came as a favor to me but was soon glad she did. I was also glad to be there but was somewhat disappointed that my camera lens was giving me trouble. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and it was refreshing to be outdoors in such a natural environment.

The last part of the nature trail was closed a few years ago because bald eagles had built a nest there. It has become an attraction as people walk the trail to see the young eagles during the winter and early spring. We walked to the end and spotted two young birds in the nest. There were a few other people around, some with cameras and another with binoculars. The eagles were too far for a good look but close enough to see what they were doing. On this day, one of the young birds was jumping around the nest flapping his wings like he was almost ready to fly away.

While we were there we met a man named Mike Brown. He was visiting his father from Ohio and we got into a discussion on how people today spend too much time indoors watching television or playing on the internet. When they are outside, their concentration is focused on their phone and they just don’t see the beauty that is in from of them. It is a shame because disconnecting yourself from technology and entering the real world, even for an hour or two a day is very refreshing and I would say even healthy.

Before we left I gave Mike my card he has since contacted me. I feel like we have made a new friendship that would not have been made over the internet. Don’t get me wrong, the internet is a fine place to meet people but there is never a strong connection until you can talk to someone face to face. There is so much we humans communicate visually that can’t be revealed in a text message.

Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise

I ordered a new lens, which arrived yesterday, so Rose and I took another walk on the trail yesterday afternoon. This time we were greeted by a gopher tortoise instead of the armadillo that greeted us last week.

On the first part of the trail we saw fewer osprey than we did last week until we walked a little further down. We then saw one osprey after another, each a few trees away from each other and every one of them was eating a fish. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, which must be lunch time for ospreys. It’s amazing what you can see when you make the effort to get out once in a while.

Osprey with fishOsprey with fishOsprey with fishOsprey with fish

We then walked to the end where the eagles were. One of the eagles was watching from a high branch. We saw the adult eagle flying toward the nest as we approached the end of the trail. There were a couple of photographers there that said she brought them food. We couldn’t see them eat but they must have finished pretty quickly because they seemed like they were excited, jumping back and forth across the nest.

Bald eagle with young

The other eagle watched from a nearby tree.

Bald eagleAll in all, it was a great walk on a beautiful day and I look forward to doing it again.