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Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

This is a discussion on Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad within the Book Reviews forums, part of the General Discussion & News from Members category; As per jennewt's request I am going to write a little about this book. First and foremost, it is a ...

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Old 18th November 2009   #1 (permalink)
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Default Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

As per jennewt's request I am going to write a little about this book.

First and foremost, it is a book geared towards fish aquarists. And it is a heavy read with alot of chemistry and biology. To sum up the book: the author wrote the book to bring it to the reader's attention that an aquarium is a sort of (semi)closed ecosystem, and it needs to be thought of as this in order to be successful in raising the plants and animals inside the aquarium. she then describes the biological principles behind her methods of setting up and maintaining "low-tech" planted aquariums (as opposed to hi-tech, like those of takashi amano). She uses a plethora of scientific paper references to back up her methods and ideas. and then at the end of each chapter relates how these principles and ideas work within the spectrum of aquariums. The chapters cover topics like, "plants as water purifiers," "sources of plant nutrients," bacteria, carbon sources, substrate, lighting, and "algae control." She inserts periodic question and answer boxes within the book where a practical issue that someone has had with their planted aquarium is answered using her scientific principles. She also includes data from some personal experiments she conducted for the book.

Now, as for what I think of it and how it has changed my newt aquariums. overall I liked the book alot. The concept of the aquarium as its own ecosystem really excites me, and I had never really realised to what extent this is true until I read this book. and as a biology lab technician, the scientific aspect of it was really interesting. I learned some stuff about bacteria that I never knew before. Something I really like about it is that it has some things that I have heard elsewhere, but instead of just explaining, she goes into how and why it is true. We all know the general idea behind the nitrogen cycle, but she went into some serious depth, and I appreciate that.

as far as newts go, I tried adding hornwort and anachris to my tanks to remove nitrates and nitrites from the water, and I stopped using a filter (which she does not specifically suggest in the book, but I read elsewhere [http://naturalaquariums.com/] on the internet that people have done this with success if they are careful). after several months without a filter I was amazed to find no nitrites and the nitrates in my tank at a reasonable level. and my newts seem to be fine. as far as other things she suggests like using dirt as a substrate under the gravel layer, I have not tried this, but it does interest me. I might try it sometime in the future, though probably not with newts (if they even got close to the dirt . . . what a mess!). she suggests that the best way to control algae is to outcompete it with fast growing plants, and to keep nutrient levels low. and, i have noticed that with the fast growing hornwort, that there is less algae. So, if you like the idea of planted newt tanks and semi-controlled ecosystems in your tanks I think there is alot of information that is useful in this book. But, one word of warning is that newts are much bigger than fish and mine eat much more than my fish (thus larger bioload), so I am not sure whether plants could adequately filter tanks with a high newt density.

as far as cons, I feel she leans to much on the scientific side and there is not enough practical information. I feel like she should have given more setup ideas and pictures of her setups. and I sometimes question the validity of her use of scientific papers. I feel like she uses data from experiments done in systems that are not relative to the aquarium, and sometimes uses plants that aren't feasible to grow in aquariums as evidence for aquarium related topics. but this is just my opinion.

Overall: as a newt enthusiast, this book is probably not worth the money. as a planted tank enthusiast, this book has a lot of good ideas, and is sort of a alternate view on the hobby than you will find many places. And, most of the ideas can be used in planted newt tanks.

But this is just my personal opinion. As Lavar Burton always used to say, "don't take my word for it!"



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Old 23rd January 2010   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I have just finished reading this book, in its entirety. There were a few sections that I skimmed, as I didn't find them highly relevant. But overall, I found this book VERY informative. Even if you don't give a rat's patootie about aquatic plants, this book will explain all sorts of things about how an aquarium ecosystem works on a fundamental level.

For example, here are some of the things I have always "heard on the street" but never knew the "whys":
-Plants that grow above water are the only ones that can bring down your nitrate level.
-The pH of most aquariums tends to decrease over time.
-Algae grow better than plants.
-A water conditioner should include a chemical to deal with heavy metals.
All these things are true (or partly true), but this book explains exactly WHY. If you are the sort of person who always looks critically on the "usual" advice about aquariums, and if you can tolerate a some chemistry, this book is for you. I agree with eldaldo that it is rather heavy on science, and you have to hunt for the pieces of practical advice. But the practical information is there.

The biggest piece of enlightenment I got from this book was the idea that it's OK to put dirt (yes, real garden dirt or potting soil) into an aquarium! I've always been a big fan of "real dirt" in my terrestrial setups, and the idea that you can use it for aquariums is earth-shaking to me. The reason most people have difficulty keeping live plants alive in their aquarium is that plants simply don't do well in a substrate of plain gravel. Imagine how well your houseplants would do if you planted them in plain gravel! The author recommends an inch or so of real dirt, topped by an inch or two of gravel. If you do a couple of large water changes initially, all the cloudiness allegedly goes away. It's a way to keep aquarium plants truly healthy without resorting to CO2 injection, fertilizers, etc.

For me, this book was worth every penny. It gave me a whole new way of looking at aquariums, and some new ideas about setup, maintenance, and algae control.



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Old 23rd January 2010   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I made plant bundles with soil and the plant roots in a piece of stocking and tied the end close around the plant so the dirt can't escape and get all over.

Here are pics:
Plant Bundles



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Old 23rd January 2010   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I used to walk though a alley on my way to work and look in this yard that grows nothing but plants, Placed on selves head high are tupperware containers full of all kinds of water plants. They are growing in 6 inches of garden soil!!!!! I know thisd cause I saw his trash. He threw some cracked containers out this summer. Soil and plants included. I was amazed. His plants are big and healthly!!! So I can see the soil being as good as she claims in the book. Cause Ive seen it!!!! I have never seen the guy to talk to and don't want to look like a stalker in the alley........LOL But I would really like to talk to him.



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Old 23rd January 2010   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Dawn your a genius!! I think alot of wives are going to be missing the toes in their stockings



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Old 24th January 2010   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Sorry for replying so late, but i'm rarely checking this area of forum... I have also read

Quote:
-Plants that grow above water are the only ones that can bring down your nitrate level.
uuhhhhmm... WHAT? As i remember, plants prefer ammonia as source of nitrogen, with lack of it, they use nitrate - and they aren't only emersed plants. And i'd like to remind that nitrates are much less harmful than nitrite and ammonia, and only in big concentrations.

Quote:
I might try it sometime in the future, though probably not with newts (if they even got close to the dirt . . . what a mess!
What does the newt change in this case? They don't dig, fish don't dig too. I am using nearly ONLY planted tanks with soil under the gravel in my newt tanks. Plants are doing very well and newts are breeding - can i want more?

Few photos of my newt aquariums set on pot soil:
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.



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Old 25th January 2010   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Yahilles, thank you for the photos. It's great to see that there is someone applying the "dirt" idea to newt tanks. And yours look very successful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Yahilles View Post
uuhhhhmm... WHAT? As i remember, plants prefer ammonia as source of nitrogen, with lack of it, they use nitrate - and they aren't only emersed plants. And i'd like to remind that nitrates are much less harmful than nitrite and ammonia, and only in big concentrations.
Actually, the limitation on aquatic plant growth comes from scarcity of carbon, not nitrogen. In water, all molecules move more slowly, so the plants' ability to absorb CO2 from water is lower than their ability to get CO2 from air. One solution to this limitation is to supplement the water with extra CO2; the other solution is to grow plants that have leaves above the water. Plants that grow above the water line can grow much faster and can absorb much more nitrate.

Although nitrate is not toxic, it is still important to get rid of it, somehow, eventually, or it will build up to very high levels. In my tanks (little or no plants), I get rid of it by water changes. But planted tanks need less water changes because the nitrate, phosphate, etc, are removed by the plants.



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Old 27th January 2010   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I have not yet read Ms. Walstad's book, but I am very interested in low-tech planted tanks and have set up several with varying degrees of success. My lesser siren is currently dwelling in such a tank, planted with lizardtail, Echinodorus cordifolium, and vast clumps of riccia and various algae.

Aquatic Plant Central has a subforum called "El Natural" devoted to this style of tank. Ms. Walstad is a regular poster there. It's a good place to get additional information on this sort of setup.



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Old 2nd April 2010   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Quote:
Originally Posted by otterwoman View Post
I made plant bundles with soil and the plant roots in a piece of stocking and tied the end close around the plant so the dirt can't escape and get all over.
This is brilliant!!

My plants arrived off ebay this morning and my only concern is that my newt aquarium for now won't have any CO2 for the plants so I used your idea. The soil has not leaked one bit.

For now the plants will get some nutrients from the soil until I add some cloud minnows in a month or so perhaps..

I used quite a thick denier... Thanks for the tip!



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Old 13th September 2010   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I just noticed all the replies to this review. There is some great stuff in all the replies. Particularly Dawn's stocking method of dirt control, and Yahilles' pictures of his tanks. Those both really inspire me to use soil in my aquariums of the future. Also, your tanks are beautiful Yahilles, they are so lush. Very inspiring.

I just wanted to update on how my natural aquarium experience is going. After over a year using these methods, I still have lush plant growth and no nitrates. I have noticed through experimenting with different tanks that emergent plants are indeed important to completely remove nitrates from the water. since a tank I had with only aquatic plants did build up a low level of nitrates over time which I removed with water changes temporarily and ultimately with pothos and wandering jew.

I think this observation has alot to do with the bioload in the tank as well. the larger the bioload, the more nitrates need to be removed. with a smaller bioload it might be possible to remove nitrates with only aquatic plants. But, newts are a pretty large bioload for my relatively small tanks especially the larger bodied ones, so I have emergent plants in all my newt tanks. which is fine because they are semi aquatic anyway.

This summer I moved my newts into the basement to escape the heat of our un-airconditioned house. I left my 20g and 20g long upstairs because to move them would totally upset the plants in them. The tanks I left upstairs had visibly diminished plant growth. which, to me, is evidence of a lack of fertilizer from the newts waste. This is a logical observation, but a pretty cool one, showing how you can really maintain a little ecosystem in your tanks. My T Karellini did not breed last year, but i am hoping they do this year, because I am going to try and raise the larvae in the tank. There are tons of little worms and coepods and other invertebrates swimming around for larvae food. I am excited to see how well that works.

All in all, pairing natural (low tech) planted tanks with newt raising has been so rewarding both intellectually and visually, that I would recommend it to everyone! all you really need is a cheap fluorescent shop light or two and some plants.



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Old 26th December 2010   #11 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Hi Janusz,
I want to try that method in my newt tanks too.

May I ask what kind of lighting and water specs (pH, temperature, hardness) you have? And which plants have worked for you? Do you fertilize the plants or supply CO2 as well?

Claudia



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Old 26th December 2010   #12 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

I have used garden dirt for many years in my planted aquariums. I find that the periode where all seattle in in the aquarium is rather long, but some day suddenly the water is clear and beautiful and the whole system seems to be working much better than gravel. I only use filters in aquariums for animals who prefer some water movement.

Martin



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Old 8th January 2013   #13 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Can I please ask 1 or 2 questions, being new to this site I am rather naive on aspects. I love the look of the natural tank up above. Janusz Wierzbicki
(Yahilles,
Few photos of my newt aquariums set on pot soil: Your tanks are fantastic. I would like to 'pimp' my tank as at the moment it is rather sad - java moss, duck week is growing, a rock and a holey rock to hide in but a bare bottom floor - rather sad.

My question(s) is/are will my Chinese fbn be alright in your type of setup (my tank is split in 2 - 30% and 70%), with a land portion on the 30% side.

And my second question/query is, I keep reading about about "using mechanical filtration as well. A power head with a pre-filter works fine," "Aeration: only if the fish are piping/gasping in the early morning hours," I looked this up and I see, it appears to be talking about a sponge filter. Am I right in this?

If not, can someone please point me in the right direction please.

Any help would be gratefully appreciated, please
Sam



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Old 8th January 2013   #14 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Hi Sam,

Cynops/Hypselotriton orientalis will do just fine in a setup like this. Be sure to provide some kind of cork bark for them to climb on if necessary (especially if you're not sure that you have avoided the peaks at the beginning of the setup), and besure to plant heavily enough for the newts to rest on top of the planting and near the water edge. I have kept (and bred) my firebellies for a year that way and I think Janusz is doing the same.

As to aeration, I think this can be done with any device used for it, I think the author also uses air pumps with those bubble-stones (don't know the name). But would rather wait on other opinions.

Greetings
Jakob



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Old 8th January 2013   #15 (permalink)
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Im considering the walstad setup for my alpine newts and also for a tropical fish 100l tank.
From what I've read around the internet,it doesn't take as long to cycle-is this true?i plan on waiting before adding any livestock anyway but some sources suggestion you can add your fish/newts after a few days after setup.

Another question,do you use fluorescent lighting or purely sunlight?(not for my newts).
How heavily can you plant?i was planning on quite heavy planting with a lot of floating plants to start as I've heard this helps.

Thankyou!

Sent from my GT-I9100 using Tapatalk 2



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Old 9th January 2013   #16 (permalink)
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Default Re: Book Review: Ecology of the Planted Aquarium, by Diana Walstad

Thank you for that Jakob, I appreciate all the advice I can get.
Sam



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