The plants will tell you what they need that doesn’t come with the tap water or soil. You just have to be watchful.

More light = smaller leaves
Less light = larger leaves
More ferts = faster growth/algae
Less ferts = slower growth/less algae

This is over-generalizing, but still a good guide for my tanks. All of what I said above will change once the plants establish and fill the tank. That is when less ferts causes more algae, for obvious reason. So then you would need to lessen light and slow things down, which has never worked for me long term I think because the amount of root structure created demands more light and ferts. So unless you trim your roots, you may need to add more light and ferts eventually, or roots will rot and the tank will fail. Starting out with high light sort of forces you to stay with high light for those reasons. I’ve never heard of people trimming roots very often in aquariums. They usually cut the top of the plant, and re-plant it and throw out the old roots and all. This way, you don’t end up with so much root structure that there is no way you can supply enough energy to them without causing imbalance within the whole tank.

Once the plants have grown to maturity and fill the tank (if it doesn’t fall apart before then), adding more fish for fertilizer can be a good idea, rather than adding more bottled ferts.

Currently I have started a tank with LED’s way above the surface, about 1.5 feet or more. So my water wisteria is growing very slowly, and growing larger leaves (less lacy looking). The stem plants are reaching up to the light and growing long, not bushy. Everything is in slow motion really.

I will bring the lights closer to the surface as the plants establish. Or not…


04-27-2016 –

The tanks that have coir seem healthier.  I’ve been using coir in tanks off and on over the past year.  The bacteria don’t cover the plants as much as they cover the coir.  So the plants seem healthier.  Algae also tends to grow on the coir, not the walls of the tank.  Tanks without the coir have plants that get covered in ‘white’ bacteria (probably nitrifying bacteria), and need cleaning off every week.  So the coir behaves as an internal filter giving the beneficial bacteria a place to colonize other than the walls and plants.

I don’t like that the coir falls apart over time if it get’s moved around for cleaning.  I have to use a net to clean up the debri before placing a diatom filter on the tank.  But I do like that I can move it around or even take it out easily.  At 3-4 dollars a foot (36 Inches wide) replacing every 6 months is doable.  I put the used coir in my garden.  So it has two jobs.


04-04-2016 –

I believe keeping a clean tank is the key to success in this hobby.

  1.  I’m not convinced substrate (soils, sand and gravel) is the ‘best’ way to keep a planted tank
  2.  I’m not convinced that EDTA iron is not ‘poisonous’ over time from chelates building up in the form of salts in the tank
  3. I’m not convinced that I can’t make a beautiful Un-Planted tank that I can clean thoroughly every  couple of months, or when it get’s nasty because I over feed often, etc.
  4. I’m not convinced that LED’s don’t cause more algae.  But I also believe LED’s are the future, so we better get on that learning curve.  I need to get a really nice set one day, maybe my Xmas present to me.  And give them a fair shot.
  5. I am convinced that pH and GH make huge difference in plant’s ability to take in nutrients well, and stave off more algae.
  6. I am convinced that the addition of CO2 is beneficial to the plants.
  7. I am  convinced that using plants as a filter is smart.  I believe plants, and using a diatom filter when cleaning, and UV light running a few hours a day, is a perfect pairing.  Like beer and pretzels.


04-08-2016 – As of today, I am no longer using ‘Leaf Zone’ or ‘Aqueon Plant Food’, or any other iron supplement that uses EDTA iron.  The iron in this chelated form is only available to the plants if the tank water is kept at a pH of 6.3 -6.4 or less.  I am currently researching other methods of supplying iron to my plants.

04-05-2016 – I do not have the conventional planted tank. I keep the ‘Un-Planted’ tank. For this reason, I can never recommend anything for planted tanks regarding fertilizers because I pull my plants out of the tank when they look yellowish or small from lack of nitrates, iron or other minerals that ‘weekly Leaf Zone’ type products do not accomplish, and put them in a hydroponics solution for a few days under the sun outside if it is warm enough, or in a ‘grow out’ tank in the house during winter. I just don’t want to change 50% water every week, and play dose-e-dose. :} For this reason I don’t have algae ‘problems’ (I still get green algae in some amounts, easily wiped clean and filtered out with a diatom filter) in my tanks, and can do thorough cleanings, top to bottom, of my tanks monthly or every two months.
So my tanks only get the weekly Leaf Zone or Aqueon Plant Food ferts: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. (Sometimes only twice a month depending on how the plants look.) I only add water to the tanks as it evaporates, or when I vacuum the bottom.
For trace and mineral supplementation I use a hydroponics mix A-B (Two Bottles) A = Macro nutrients, B = Micro, about once every month or two months, give or take, depending again on how much yellowing and smaller leaf growth I’m getting in the tanks. This is done outside of my fish tanks in a grow out tank. And yes, algae grows like crazy in that container! It’s a 60 gallon? plastic storage container. I clean it out completely after fertilizing.
My reasoning behind this method is twofold:
1. There are nutrients from the fish waste so I don’t want to add more unless necessary
2. I’m lazy and don’t want to do that much work on my tanks, but would rather play with rearranging plantings and experimenting with plants and fish, but I still want a beautiful tank.

03-30-2016 – I have taken down the Mogul base 125watt/2700k CFL’s, and replaced them all with clip on desk lamps with 13 and 23 watt CFL’s.  I like the ability to move the lamps quickly yet still get the benefits of plant growth from CFL’s.   My 29g and 55g both have four clip on lamps, while still leaving some darker corners of the tank for the fish.  I have placed sheets of coir in the bottom of my tanks for looks, as well as to make caves and shelves for fish and plants.  The floating plants are growing very well under the CFL’s, and I rarely make any water changes.  Consistently testing 0 ammonias.  I quit testing for nitrates.

02-25-2016 – For 10 months I have experimented with no filters in my tanks.  I have found that floating plants are better at filtering the water than other types of plants.  Ammonias rise in water, so the floating plants are in position to absorb them better than plants in substrate or near the bottom of the tank.  I have been able to go for many weeks without water changes in all of my tanks since adding the floating plants, ammonias and nitrites staying at zero.  (Water lettuce, frogbit, and hornwort.)  The hornwort is a nutrient hog, and drops needles readily if it is not fertilized well.  Adding liquid fertilizer is necessary.  Keeping floating plants blocks the light to the bottom of the tanks, so I came up with the idea of adding plants that I don’t mind dying, like peace lilies.  They are inexpensive, and have lasted almost a month so far.  (More on peace lilies in my blog posts for February 2016.)


12-25-2015 – For about 8 months now, I have successfully kept fish in three 10g tanks without filter, substrate or air.  This is totally doable.  I now have a 29g without a filter for about 4 months that is also doing great.  My 55 gallon had the filter removed about two weeks ago.  It is the only tank I have with conventional substrate (pool filter sand).  I’m watching chemistry, but all is well.  Heavily planted tanks with healthy plants make it work.  I’ve held plants down with vinyl fencing or coir mats and rocks.  Weekly water changes of 20-30% are absolutely necessary.  I’ve added bubblers at night for the ambiance, for the oxygen levels, and the fish love to play in them.

UPDATE March 2, 2016:  Pool Filter Sand was removed from 55g January 2016, because it caused high pH.  Diatom algae was difficult to control without bringing down the pH.  So I got rid of the sand, and now all of my tanks are substrate free and I have no more pH issue.   I no longer use the coir or vinyl fencing to hold plants.  Currently I have only floating plants (frogbit, water lettuce, hornwort) filtering the water.  I am also using Peace Lilies under the floating plants for line of sight breaks and hiding spots for the fish.  They look beautiful underwater, and have lasted approx 1 month so far.  (See blog post.)  I am able to just add water to the tanks without making water changes since the floating plants are so abundant and filtering the water efficiently.  I add a liquid fertilizer weekly.

Using filters

I have seen where introducing a filter on a tank which has gone filterless for three months has  changed the pH and KH.  If hardness/alkalinity and the potential of hydrogen to buffer ions is affected by adding a filter, then there is much to learn from that.  With the least amount of anything in a tank, such as no filter, substrate, or air, one is limited to type of fish and plant.  To add filter, substrate and air, is to open up your options, and allow you to create a beautiful ecosystem.  It takes a lot of understanding and research to do it well.   I want to do it well.

09-16-2015 –  I’ve added the Fluval U2 filters to two of the 10g tanks.  They are suctioned to the bottom of the tank and push water straight up to the surface.  I have taken out the charcoal filters but left the sponge and the bio-balls.  I am really liking these for a planted tank, because I can have a low flow, closed system within the tank.  I want to compare the CO2 levels of these tanks without and with filter flow.  Finding credible CO2, & KH  tests are a problem, and keeps me worried about any readings I get.  So I watch plant growth and fish health and any amounts of algae to gage my tanks parameters.

11-15-2015 – I’ve taken the U2 filters out of the tank, from anger.  It killed a cory, and scared another for life :{.  But I’ve put the U2 filters in my 55g, without the fish killing holding brackets.  I wanted to give them another chance.  I really like this filter concept.  But no, they don’t work.  Move them just slightly if rearranging the tank, and crud spills out into the tank.  So on my 55g I am back to either no filter, or HOB.  I would feel more comfortable with a HOB.

12-23-2015 – The filters have been out of the 55g for approx 2 weeks.  Nitrates and ammonias creeping up by day 4-5, so I do a 30% water change.  The 29 gallon has reached a nice balance after about 4 months of no filter.  I use a diatom filter without powder, just the filter bag, to help me clean at water changes.  I have used the Fluval U2 and U4 intermittently for cleaning during water changes as well.  I just put them in the tank and run them during a water change and weekly cleaning.  They help get the debris that comes up.  Then I take them out and store them.


NFSA – No Filter, Substrate or Air – Part 1:

After years of working with aquariums, both salt and fresh water tanks, I have decided to think ‘out of the box’, and try different set ups.  Cleaning nasty filters and substrate is a part of the hobby.  But, I wondered if it had to be.  Do I really have to keep up with failing equipment, and multiple power strips with ugly wires tangled up behind each tank?  Do I have to worry when the power goes out?  What about the costs associated with all the ‘stuff’?  Do I really want to clean the whole tank when I want to rearrange plants, etc., because it get’s fouled by disturbing the accumulated gunk in the substrate?  My answer was ‘NO WAY!’  Who really wants to have these worries and chores?  I have not done anything completely new with my NFSA tanks.  There are many articles written about successful simple tanks.  This success is undoubtedly achieved by taking greater control of fewer variables.  Water, light, plants and heat.  Those are my my only constants, (and sometimes rocks or other decorations).  I am not creating a highly dependant environment that will come crashing down when one thing gets out of whack.  I’m letting nature take it’s course, to a greater extent, by keeping it simple.  Obviously, there are limits to this type of tank.  The inhabitants must be air breathers, or labyrinth breathers, like corys, otos, bettas, and gouramis.  This is because of the build up of Co2, which robs the tank of precious oxygen at night.  I must keep an abundance of plants in the tanks, and high wattage lighting, I’m using 12.5 watts/gallon, (or in the case of one of the 10g’s, 8 watts/gallon), because I already had these CFL’s for my Patio Plants in Winter.  I believe this ultra high light pushes the photosynthesis that can create high levels of Co2.  This way, the plant growth is substantial.

NFSA – No Filter, Substrate or Air – Part 2:

I have found after approximately three months of NFSA in my 10 gallon tanks, that I can get rid of most problems by keeping very clean tanks.  You can make a lot of mistakes and get away with them if you clean the tank almost 100% each week.  A good top to bottom scrub.  *09-19-2015 pH is key to a good tank. My tap water is acidic, often 5.8pH.  So by the time the tanks are up to 7.2 I’m changing 80% or more of the water again.  I keep these tanks between 72F to 76F. I created a wall of plants made with vinyl fencing and 125 watt/2700k CLF’s. I took the plants out to fertilize and wash off at every water change.  High CO2 levels were recorded.  I assume this is because of the biofilm on top of the stagnant water.  Plants growing well.   (See my ‘Chemistry’ section.)   This kept me from keeping gill breathers, but my labyrinth breathers, and air breathers like otos and corys had no issues.  I made 80% water changes to those four 10g tanks each week.   I had no issues, and fantastic plant growth.  (See the ‘As The Plants Turn’ section of my blog.)  If I had it to do all over again, I would try the ‘recommended’ amount of light of the most successful planted tanks out there.  I used the high wattage lights I had for greenhouse growing in winter.  125 watts over a 10 gallon tank!  I believe the plants might do fine with a bit less light.  But, the biofilm does create a drop in light getting through to the plants.  So maybe, the light needs to be very strong.

Regarding the plant mats:  My invention of the plant mats has really become a joy.  It is so nice to be able to fold up the plant mat, put it in a bucket, and clean the whole tank, then replace.  I am also able to soak the plant mat in fertilizer solutions that I would not be able to use in the aquarium with fish.  I continue to start more tank mats, and can switch them out to please my needs for the day.  Those not in use are in a plastic bin soaking up the sun rays outside.  The mats take quite a bit of work, as I explain in the ‘Plant Mats and the Work’ section of my blog.  The reddish and thick structure of the water wisteria (Difformis) stems weave into interesting shapes to look like big tree roots.  Sort of like terrestrial woods.  It reminds me of a path you have taken along the hiking trail.  Like underwater bonsai.  It draws me in and makes it all worth my while.

12-25-2015 – I have stopped using vinyl fencing as a plant mat, and started using coir.  I like the look of it.  It does leave some trash, and I am not sure how long it will last.  But the plants are rooting in it nicely, and I can still pull the plants out to clean, etc.

09-08-2015   All three 10 gallon tanks had lights raised to 18″ above the water surface, where before they were about 6″ above the water surface.  I will need these lights for the patio plants when I bring them back inside during winter.  So I want to try the desk style clip on lamp with cfl’s over each aquarium.  Without a PAR meter, I feel I am always guessing when it comes to choosing lights for planted tanks.  So finding PAR ratings on different CFL’s is my next job.  I have found some forums where PAR is compared using 2700K and 6500K CFL’s.   I am not convinced 5000K and up is necessary for any kind of plant growth.  I like the red tones of 2700K.

Will raising these lights create:

1. Less light and less photosynthesis…?

2. Less CO2 naturally produced…?  I’ll take pH and KH readings to find out.

11-15-2015 – No changes in pH or KH by raising lights.  I have changed to LED red/blue spectrum spot lights, E27, and white led stip lighting to add color.  The plants are showing the same strong growth as they did under 2700K CFL’s.  More reds in plant colors now.

12-23-2015 – I have ADDED the 125w CFL’s BACK to the 10 and 29g tanks. The plants grew leggy, then started turning brown under Just the LED lights.  I think the spot LED was too strong, and the MarineLand strip light too focused on certain spots.  I moved the spot further away from the tanks, but then the plants didn’t grow as well.  They just seem to do better with the CFL lamp, than with the led’s.  I believe that the LED’s need a broader angle, instead of the narrow focus directly below each led.  The best LED lighting is still very expensive, and I’ve seen some bad reviews.  Super high end LED lighting, around 200 to 500 dollar range, seems to be what is required to grow aquarium plants well.  I’m not ready to purchase.  I have also added bubblers that come on at night.  The water is very clear, the plants are growing very well, and the fish are very healthy.   Water chemistry good to excellent with weekly water changes.  The 29g has 17 fish: 2 Gourami, 10 female Bettas, and 5 otos. I do weekly 20 – 30% water changes and cleaning. I let the algae grow on the plants. So far, there is enough plant growth to keep the algae to a minimum. The gourmais and otos eat a lot of the hair algae. It is easy to just pinch the algae ridden part of the plant off and throw it out or clean it and start another plant from it. The plants are Water Wisteria, Dwarf Lily, Creeping Jenny, Hornwort, Parrot Feather, Windelov Java fern, and some odd grass like bulbs that never seem to do well in any of my tanks :{. : Oh, I forgot to mention the frogbit and water lettuce I have started on the surface. The lights are staggered on timers. 125watt/2700k CFL for 4 hrs/day, 12watt LED Red/Blue Spectrum Spot 6 hrs/day, Marineland HIdden Strip LED Lighting 8 hrs/day, 15watt Green CFL 2hrs/nite for effect. AND, I add a cap full of liquid fertilizer (currently Aqueon ‘Plant Food’).  The 55g is a work in progress.  It has pool filter sand substrate that won’t hold plants well.  So I’m trying the coir covered with sand.


Enjoy checking in with this site from time to time.  I’ll be experimenting.  Fish & Me 002