Walstad Method

Walstad tanks were infamous before the publication of Diana Walstad’s book, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A practical manual and scientific treatise. After its publication, aquarists from far and beyond started to embrace Walstad tanks and the benefits they come with. Even then, the traditional method of setting up aquariums is still prevalent.

The method, being mind-boggling in its own right, has led to many questions on how you should set up planted tanks and all related matters. I stumbled upon a similar question in online forums, and the responses given were not satisfying. What is the best soil for the Walstad method?

You can find the answer to this question in Diana’s book. She recommends using pure potting soil or pure garden soil. The soils should not be mixed as both types of soil work well enough. 

Before I can delve further into the article, I would briefly explain what the Walstad method entails?

What is the Walstad method?

Walstad tanks are the closest thing we have to the natural habitats of the aqua world. While setting up such tanks, your aim should be balancing the needs of fish and plants to establish an almost impeccable natural order.

Walstad tanks need little to no care from hobbyists. The filtration of nitrogen toxins is done naturally by the plants you plant. Waste management is also top-notch, which translates to no or few water changes. It’s hands-off and low-tech.

The method is so simple yet so hard to grasp in the beginning. If you want to understand and implement this method, you should read the book mentioned above. At this point, Diana is the only one that can guide you properly.

The benefits of setting up tanks using this method are so many. I will mention a few below:

  • Walstad is low tech hence cheaper to set up and maintain. You don’t need special lighting or filter systems.
  • Being low-maintenance tanks eliminates chances of aquarists messing things up while adjusting or conducting routine cleanings. The less you deal with the tank, the less you are going to throw it off balance.
  • Stability of water parameters. Fluctuating parameters like pH are usually very stable.
  • Established biological filtration is efficient enough to allow more wiggle room to feed your fish. We always end up underfeeding our fish due to the strict regimens we use to maintain the overall balance of the tank.
  • You dont have to worry about algae bloom or cleaning. Plants in the aquaria will take care of that for you.

I could go on and on, but I think the point of it all is home. This method is definitely for you if you have ever dreamed of a balanced, natural, and inexpensive aquarium.

Can I use other types of soil?

I would advise you to stick to the recommendation given by the author of the Walstad method. In her book, she scientifically breaks down everything concerning substrates. She goes further in proving her argument.

I see a lot of recommendations by aquarists online. For instance, the use of organic potting mix is widespread. It is all well and good until you do not have the results you expected from tanks. Your plants might not grow well, or maybe algae will be harder to control. 

As you’re starting, do everything by the book. Do not give yourself reasons to fail. Once you’ve got the hang of things, you can experiment with different soils and see what else works for you.

Final thoughts

I think tanks based on Walstad’s idea are long-lasting and more satisfying to build. As you are setting up, always remember that everything you do can somehow affect the tank. You are establishing an ecological system; it is only fair that you give it your all to get the best of what it can offer.

Planted tanks are fantastic. Learning how to set them up and the challenges you will overcome makes it more awesome. You will one day sit in front of your 6-year-old tank and reminisce the process that got you there. Until then, trudge on.