Low Light and Low tech tank = Easy to maintain Planted Tank

Customers around the world who build a start-up tank are usually people who are beginners or small time hobbyists. A new hobbyist or a beginner can learn so many things from this small tank before they begin to make it bigger. Today we are going to discuss some of the features for low light in small but low tech tanks.

Low lights are ideally suited for beginners or those hobbyists who would rather not spend lots of time maintaining their tanks. Development of plants is slow when the tank is “reasonable” and the aqua-scape remains static for long periods of time. This contrasts to a high light, high tech tank that changes from week to week with lots of nutrient additions and pruning of rapid growth.

When we talk about low tech tanks, generally it refers to low light and no CO2 injection. To create a successful low tech tank, I will suggest steps as listed below.  My experiences have been critical for success.

Step 1
Initiate with 1 to 2 watts per gallon of linear normal output fluorescent lighting. Use two lamps (bulbs).  There is no need to purchase expensive aquaria specific bulbs; choose bulbs with a color rating between 5000K and 10000K. I suggest you use a mix of 6500K and 9325K bulbs.

Step 2
Choose a “rich” substrate. I suggest not using plain gravel, as it is a poor choice. Still, if you prefer plain gravel, mix in a few handfuls of ground peat and some laterite. You will find this iron-rich clay substrate at your local fish store or online. There are other combinations of substrate materials that can also be used. Just a note, always add the peat in addition to the sand, Flourite, or other material. If you have an already established tank, adding some mulm from that tank’s substrate really helps a new tank. Substrate depth should be 3-5 inches. Remember, you locate the peat and laterite in the bottom 1/3 of the substrate.

Step 3
Any style filter, even bio-wheel filters, are fine because we aren’t trying to inject CO2. Bio-wheels won’t cause a loss of CO2 in a non injected tank and, remember, do not use undergravel filters.

Once you are done with this process, 75 percent of the plants grow fast, especially their stems. Adding some floating hornwort or something similar is also very beneficial at the start. Limit surface coverage to 20 percent. Stock with small fish that aren’t too low in number during the start-up period.  Try to keep a low fish load in a low tech planted tank. It is an excellent idea to have an algae clean-up crew consisting of one or any combination of the following: Siamese Algae Eater (SAE), Amano or Cherry Shrimp, Otocinclus (Otos catfish), American Flag or Florida Flag Fish, and Rosey Barbs..

Final Steps
The final step is what makes most people embarrassed: Leave it alone. Do not change the water and don’t add any fertilizer. Just adding tap water weekly, or as needed, to top off the tank due to evaporation is all that is required. If your plants show signs of nutrient deficiencies, you can add a comprehensive fertilizer such as Flourish or Tropica Master Grow once a week until improvement is noticed; thereafter, add it only once a month. Limit water changes to times when you have immediately uprooted plants or done a major pruning. Personally, I change water in my low tech tanks about once every 3-4 months at pruning or replanting time.

My experience says, “leave the tank alone” and you won’t be disappointed. The more you try your hand with this type of tank, the more likely you’ll upset the balance and algae problems will appear. If this approach seems too tame and you desire more involvement, then you should consider the high light CO2 injected tank.