How To Setup A Walstad Shrimp Bowl: A Comprehensive Guide!

A Walstad shrimp bowl is an innovative and natural approach to setting up a shrimp tank that primarily relies on live plants to maintain water parameters, instead of using a filter. This method, which has been used in niche communities for decades, was popularized by Diana Walstad in her book, “Ecology of the Planted Aquarium.”

Setting up a Walstad shrimp bowl involves choosing the right tank size, selecting suitable shrimp, preparing the substrate, and arranging essential plants, among other important steps.

Understanding the Walstad method is key to creating a thriving and self-sustaining ecosystem within this type of shrimp bowl. This method promotes natural waste recycling, eliminating the need for equipment like filters or CO2 systems. As a result, the tank requires minimal intervention and maintenance, providing a unique and enchanting visual display of aquatic life and lush greenery.

Properly setting up and managing a Walstad shrimp bowl requires attention to various factors, including lighting, temperature controls, and water changes.

Additionally, it’s crucial to monitor nutrients and growth control for both shrimp and plant populations, ensure appropriate algae and biofilm management, and select the right equipment and accessories to ensure the success and longevity of a Walstad shrimp bowl.

Key Takeaways

  • A Walstad shrimp bowl is a natural, low-maintenance approach to a shrimp tank, relying on live plants rather than filters.
  • Understanding and implementing the Walstad method is key to creating a self-sustaining ecosystem within the shrimp bowl.
  • Proper setup and management involve various factors, including lighting, temperature controls, and nutrient growth control.
An infographic of a Walstad Shrimp Tank Care Sheet

Understanding The Walstad Method

Cherry shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Red Cherry Shrimp

The Walstad Method, pioneered by Diana Walstad, is an innovative approach to setting up a thriving aquarium ecosystem. It is featured in her book “Ecology of the Planted Aquarium” and has gained widespread popularity among aquarists for its simplicity and effectiveness. The primary focus of this method is to create a balanced environment where aquatic plants and shrimp coexist, minimizing the need for artificial filtration and chemical additives.

At the core of the Walstad Method is the use of soil as the primary substrate in the aquarium. This encourages the growth of healthy, nutrient-absorbing plants, which in turn help maintain optimal water parameters for aquatic life. The method relies on the natural processes within the ecosystem, such as the breakdown of organic matter by bacteria, to provide essential nutrients for plants. This eliminates the need for additional fertilization and CO2 injection, simplifying aquarium maintenance.

What you need for a walstad shrimp bowl

In a Walstad shrimp bowl, the focus is on setting up a heavily planted tank that provides ideal conditions for shrimp to thrive. The live plants not only supply a natural source of food for the shrimp but also act as a biofilter, absorbing excess nutrients and maintaining water quality. This self-sustaining ecosystem allows the shrimp and plants to support each other, reducing the need for mechanical or chemical intervention.

One key aspect of the Walstad Method is the use of sufficient lighting. While some may perceive it as a low-tech method, adequate light is crucial for the plants to grow effectively and contribute to the biofiltration process. By providing proper lighting conditions, the aquatic plants can photosynthesize efficiently and absorb nutrients from the water, eventually minimizing algae growth and effectively supporting the shrimp population.

In summary, the Walstad Method is a proven and environmentally friendly approach to aquarium keeping that revolves around a well-balanced ecosystem. By using soil as the substrate, providing adequate lighting, and fostering a healthy plant and shrimp relationship, enthusiasts can create a low-maintenance, sustainable, and visually appealing Walstad shrimp bowl.

How a WALSTAD SHRIMP BOWL works
How A Walstad Shrimp Bowl Works.

Choosing The Right Aquarium Size

A blue shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Blue Dream Shrimp

When planning to set up a Walstad shrimp bowl, the first step is selecting an appropriate aquarium size. While there is no strict rule regarding the tank size for a Walstad setup, the size greatly depends on the number of shrimp you wish to keep and the type of plants you want to include.

A 1 gallon shrimp tank can be a great starting point for beginners interested in keeping a few small shrimp and plants as they are inexpensive and easy to maintain but limit your possibilities.

However, if you’re considering a more ambitious setup with more shrimp and plants, it is recommended to use larger tanks, such as 5-gal or 10-gal planted bowls. Larger aquariums offer more options, better stability, and increased flexibility in terms of aquascaping and plant choices.

Different tank sizes can work well for walstad shrimp bowls

Among the tank size options, small bowls are not advisable for high-tech tanks or elaborately aquascaped setups, as they have limited space and can become overcrowded. On the other hand, 5-gal planted bowls are considered the minimum size for a high-tech tank with more demanding plants and equipment.

It is essential to ensure that your aquarium has enough space and depth for plants to spread their roots and for shrimp to have ample swimming area. In addition, smaller tanks can require more frequent maintenance, as water parameters may fluctuate more rapidly compared to larger tanks. As a beginner, it’s wise to choose a moderately-sized tank that will provide stability and room for growth.

Ultimately, the right aquarium size for your Walstad shrimp bowl primarily depends on the number of shrimp, the plants you want to include, and your desired level of aquascaping complexity. By considering these factors, you can ensure your selected tank size will support a thriving, healthy shrimp bowl but we usually recommend a 5-gallon tank as a minimum.

Selecting Suitable Shrimp For A Walstad Tank

A yellow shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Yellow Shrimp

When choosing shrimp for a Walstad tank, it is essential to select species that can thrive in the tank environment. The most popular and adaptable shrimp for this setup are Neocaridina shrimp, which includes cherry shrimp and their color variants like blue or yellow Neocaridina shrimp.

These hardy shrimp are known for their ability to survive in various water parameters, making them an excellent choice for a Walstad shrimp bowl, especially for beginners.

We highly recommend one of the following types of Neocaridina shrimp for your Walstad shrimp tank with cherry shrimp usually being the cheapest option:

1. Cherry Shrimp

  • Coloration: Their vibrant red color adds visual interest to the tank.
  • Ease of Care: Cherry shrimp are hardy and adapt well to a variety of water parameters.
  • Breeding: They breed easily, which can be fascinating to observe and maintain population.
  • Algae Control: Efficient in controlling algae growth.

2. Yellow Shrimp

  • Unique Appearance: Their bright yellow color can create a beautiful contrast with green plants.
  • Compatibility: Peaceful nature makes them suitable for community settings.
  • Maintenance: Similar to cherry shrimp, they are hardy and require minimal care.
  • Breeding: Known to breed readily in proper conditions.

3. Blue Dream Shrimp

  • Striking Color: Their deep blue color adds a unique aesthetic appeal.
  • Care Level: Relatively easy to care for, suitable for beginners.
  • Feeding: They help in breaking down organic waste in the tank.
  • Behavior: Peaceful nature, a good addition to community tanks.

4. Snowball Shrimp

  • Appearance: Their white color creates a nice contrast and can be a centerpiece.
  • Adaptability: Known for adapting to a wide range of water parameters.
  • Breeding: Breeds well, with females often carrying large clusters of eggs.
  • Algae Eating: Helps in keeping algae in check.

5. Green Jade Shrimp

  • Unique Green Color: Offers a different shade of green that can blend or contrast with plants.
  • Hardiness: Adapts well to various water parameters.
  • Diet: Assists in breaking down leftover food and plant detritus.
  • Breeding: Can be bred in home aquariums with proper care.

6. Chocolate Shrimp

  • Distinctive Brown Color: Adds a different color spectrum to the bowl.
  • Maintenance: Suitable for both beginners and experienced aquarists.
  • Compatibility: Generally peaceful and can live with other non-aggressive species.
  • Diet: Contributes to the cleanliness of the tank by consuming algae and detritus.
Different types of shrimp for aquariums

It is important to consider the shrimplets, or baby shrimp, when preparing a Walstad shrimp bowl. As shrimp experts like Robert Lupton suggest, provide enough hiding spots for shrimplets to grow safely without being preyed upon by other inhabitants. By ensuring a shrimp-friendly environment, the shrimp population can flourish.

Please note that different types of Neocaridina shrimp can crossbreed with each other but their shrimplets will usually lose their bright colors and revert back to their brown wild type coloring.

Some people choose to use their Walstad shrimp tank as a breeding tank for amano shrimp for their main aquarium. As we covered in our article going over keeping amano and cherry shrimp in the same tank, we usually recommend you stick to a single species for this type of setup.

Other types of shrimp that work well in a Walstad shrimp bowl include ghost shrimp, crystal red shrimp, red rili shrimp, orange rili shrimp, sunkist orange shrimp, black rose shrimp, and bamboo shrimp. These tend to be less popular options due to their price, availability, appearance, or hardiness.

Setting Up The Substrate

A green jade shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Jade Green Shrimp

When setting up a Walstad shrimp bowl, a crucial step is choosing the right substrate. The substrate serves as the foundation for a thriving ecosystem and must be chosen carefully. The right substrate will provide a suitable environment for both the plants and shrimp while maintaining a healthy and balanced aquarium.

Here are some popular substrate options that can work well with different types of Walstad setups:

  1. Organic Potting Soil: Many hobbyists prefer organic potting soil because it’s rich in nutrients and doesn’t contain artificial additives or chemicals.
  2. Mineralized Topsoil: This is a process where regular topsoil is stripped of its organic material through repeated wetting and drying. It creates a nutrient-rich substrate that is less likely to cause initial water clouding.
  3. Miracle-Gro Organic Choice Potting Mix: A specific brand of potting soil that’s sometimes used by hobbyists. It’s generally free of additives that might harm the tank’s inhabitants.
  4. Peat Moss: Often used in conjunction with other substrates, peat moss can help to lower pH levels and soften the water.
  5. Laterite: A type of clay that’s rich in iron and other minerals, laterite can be used as part of the substrate layer to nourish the plants.
  6. Aquarium Soil: Some commercial aquarium soils are designed specifically for planted tanks and can be used in a Walstad setup.
  7. Sand: Usually used as a cap over the nutrient-rich layer, sand helps to keep the soil in place and can prevent large particles from floating into the water column.
  8. Gravel: Like sand, gravel can also be used to cap the soil, and it allows for good water flow through the substrate.

If you are new to keeping Walstad tanks and are setting up a small tank under 20 gallons we usually recommend you go with the cheapest option in your area from the list above.

Aim for a layer of approximately 1-2 inches of soil. Be mindful that some potting soils may release ammonia initially, and it is essential to allow the tank to cycle and mature for a couple of weeks before introducing shrimp.

Next, cover the potting soil with a layer of sand or gravel. This layer should be around 1 inch thick, serving as a barrier that prevents the soil from being disturbed by the shrimp and clouding the water. Sand and gravel also provide the added benefit of anchoring plant roots, ensuring they stay secure and stable in the substrate.

A walstad shrimp tank with soil in

To enhance the soil substrate’s performance in aquariums, some aquarists may choose to mix the soil with a clay-based substrate. This combination enables better water retention and nutrient uptake by the plants, further improving the health of the ecosystem.

In summary, a well-prepared substrate in a Walstad shrimp bowl involves a nutrient-rich potting soil base layer, covered with a layer of sand or gravel. This combination ensures optimal conditions for the growth of plants and the well-being of the shrimp, leading to a successful and low-maintenance aquascape.

Essential Plants For A Walstad Tank

A chocolate shrimp relaxing in its tank.
A Chocolate Shrimp

Choosing the right plants for a Walstad tank is crucial for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Since plants play a vital role in filtering toxins, absorbing carbon dioxide, and producing oxygen, selecting suitable aquarium plants helps ensure a thriving environment for your shrimp.

The following aquatic plants can all work well in a Walstad shrimp tank but tank size will play a role in the best options for you:

  1. Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri): An easy-to-grow moss that provides great cover for small creatures.
  2. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus): A hardy plant that doesn’t require a lot of light.
  3. Anubias species: These are robust plants that do well in various lighting conditions.
  4. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus): Known for its large leaves, great for creating a centerpiece.
  5. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum): A floating plant that helps in absorbing excess nutrients.
  6. Cryptocoryne species: Available in various species, they grow well in different conditions.
  7. Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata): A grass-like plant that can create a carpet effect.
  8. Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis): Fast-growing and can help in nutrient absorption.
  9. Vallisneria species: They grow tall and can create a background in the tank.
  10. Rotala Rotundifolia: Known for its beautiful coloration, it grows well in a Walstad setup.
  11. Duckweed (Lemna minor): A floating plant that reproduces quickly and helps in removing excess nutrients.
  12. Elodea (Elodea canadensis): Great oxygenator and is an easy plant for beginners.
  13. Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides): Can be floated or planted in the substrate.
  14. Guppy Grass (Najas guadalupensis): Provides shelter for shrimp and fry.
  15. Ludwigia Repens: This stem plant adds a splash of color with its red and green leaves.
  16. Bacopa Monnieri: Another stem plant that can grow in different lighting conditions.
  17. Hygrophila Siamensis: Easy to care for and adds diversity in leaf shape and texture.
  18. Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum): A floating plant that adds a natural look to the water’s surface.
A Walstad shrimp tank with plants added

There are other plant options that can also work well with this type of tank setup but we usually recommend the options above due to their price, ease of care, and availability.

We would recommend cryptocoryne, anubias, java fern, hornwort, duck weed, and java moss for absolute beginners.

Incorporating a combination of these aquatic plants in your Walstad tank will ensure that you create a thriving, low-maintenance environment for your shrimp.

Water Changes And Parameters

Rili shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Red Rili Shrimp

In a Walstad shrimp bowl, water changes are typically reduced due to the heavy presence of live plants that help maintain water parameters. However, monitoring the water parameters is still crucial to ensure a healthy environment for the shrimp. Important parameters to keep an eye on are ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and dissolved organic carbon (DOC).

Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates are byproducts of the nitrogen cycle in an aquarium. In a well-established Walstad shrimp bowl, the live plants and beneficial bacteria will naturally process these compounds. However, it’s essential to monitor the levels to prevent any harmful spikes that could be detrimental to the shrimp:

  • Ammonia: Produced by waste from the shrimp and decaying plant matter. It’s highly toxic, and the levels should always be kept as close to zero as possible.
  • Nitrites: Produced when beneficial bacteria break down ammonia. Nitrites are also toxic and should be maintained at near-zero levels.
  • Nitrates: The final byproduct produced as bacteria further break down nitrites. Nitrates are less toxic, but high levels can still be harmful, so it’s best to keep them below 20 ppm.

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is another critical parameter to consider in a Walstad shrimp bowl. DOC consists of various organic molecules released from decaying plant matter, animal waste, and leftover food. High levels of DOC can lead to bacterial blooms and poor water quality, so it’s essential to monitor and maintain appropriate levels.

A walstad shrimp bowl with water in it

To keep the water parameters stable, consider using aged aquarium water during water changes. Aged water has undergone a natural dechlorination process, allowing beneficial bacteria to stabilize and the water chemistry to mature. This can help maintain a balanced ecosystem within the shrimp bowl.

In summary, regular water parameter checking is critical in a Walstad shrimp bowl to maintain a healthy environment for the shrimp. Live plants and beneficial bacteria help reduce water changes but keep an eye on ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and dissolved organic carbon levels to ensure the shrimp’s well-being. Using aged aquarium water during water changes can further enhance stability within the shrimp bowl environment.

Lighting And Temperature Controls

A Black Rose Shrimp In A walstad shrimp bowl
A Black Rose Shrimp

When setting up a Walstad shrimp bowl, it is important to consider the lighting and temperature controls to ensure your shrimp and plants thrive. Here is what you need to know to make the right decisions.

For lighting, there are several options you can use to provide the necessary light for your plants. CFL (compact fluorescent light) and LED desk lamps are recommended for their energy efficiency and availability. An LED desk lamp with a 6400k cool fluorescent bulb is a cost-effective and suitable choice for a small shrimp bowl. If you do not have access to suitable artificial lights, using a window light can be a viable option as well, but make sure that it provides enough light for your plants to grow.

Choose a location in your home that has ample natural daylight and avoid direct sunlight, which can cause rapid temperature fluctuations and algae growth. If you decide to use artificial light, ensure that it emits a color temperature of around 6500K to promote adequate plant growth. Maintaining a consistent light cycle of 8 to 10 hours per day will support both plant and shrimp wellbeing.

A walstad shrimp bowl with lighting units added

Temperature control is another essential factor to ensure the survival of your shrimp in a Walstad bowl. The ideal temperature range for most shrimp species is between 70°F and 80°F but always check for the specific species you want to keep.

Room temperature may be sufficient for some species, using a reptile heating pad is an effective way to maintain consistent temperature in the bowl if needed. Ensure the heating pad is set at an appropriate temperature, and place it under or around the shrimp bowl to provide stable heat distribution.

In summary, providing adequate lighting and maintaining an optimal temperature for your Walstad shrimp bowl are essential for the health and growth of your plants and shrimp. Choose the right type of light source and ensure proper temperature controls, and you’ll be well on your way to success with your shrimp and plant ecosystem.

Adding Your Shrimp To A Walstad Tank

Snowball shrimp relaxing in a tank
A Snowball Shrimp

Adding shrimp to a newly set up Walstad shrimp bowl should be done with great care to ensure the survival and thriving of the shrimp. At this stage, we are presuming you have your substrate, plants, water, lighting, and heating rigs all setup and ready to go.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on our method of adding shrimp to our tanks:

  1. Cycle the Tank: Before adding shrimp, it’s essential that your tank is cycled properly. This means establishing a healthy bacterial population that can handle the waste produced by the shrimp. This process might take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
  2. Test the Water Parameters: Ensure that the water parameters like pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate are suitable for the shrimp species you are keeping.
  3. Acclimate the Shrimp: When introducing shrimp to a new environment, it’s crucial to acclimate them slowly to prevent shock. This can be done by:
    • Float Method: Float the sealed bag containing the shrimp in the tank for 15-30 minutes to equalize the temperature.
    • Drip Acclimation: After temperature acclimation, set up a slow drip using airline tubing and a valve or knot to control the flow. This slowly mixes tank water with the bag water over a period of 1-2 hours, allowing the shrimp to gradually adjust to the new water chemistry.
  4. Avoid Adding Water from the Bag: The water in the bag from the pet store or breeder might contain contaminants or different water parameters. It’s best to use a net to transfer the shrimp to the tank and avoid adding the bag water.
  5. Provide Plenty of Hiding Spots: Make sure your bowl has plenty of plants, rocks, or other hiding places to make the shrimp feel secure.
  6. Monitor the Shrimp Closely: Keep an eye on the shrimp for the first few days to ensure that they are adapting well to their new environment. Check for any signs of stress or disease.

Remember, patience is key in setting up a Walstad shrimp bowl. Ensuring that the bowl is fully cycled and that the shrimp are properly acclimated will go a long way in ensuring their health and happiness in their new home.

A walstad shrimp tank with the shrimp added

Nutrients And Growth Control

A bamboo shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
A Bamboo Shrimp

In a Walstad shrimp bowl, plant growth plays a significant role in maintaining the water parameters and creating a balanced environment for the shrimp. To ensure optimal plant growth, the availability of essential nutrients is crucial.

These nutrients include macro and micronutrients that play a pivotal role in different metabolic processes of the plants, including photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the process where plants convert carbon dioxide and light energy into oxygen and glucose. Oxygen is released into the water, which is essential for the shrimp’s respiration. Moreover, the plants uptake carbon dioxide produced by the shrimp, maintaining a stable balance between these gases.

To provide adequate nutrients for plant growth, a nutritious substrate is essential. In a Walstad shrimp bowl, soils rich in organic matter are used as a substrate. These soils contain vital nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are absorbed by the plant roots.

The presence of snails in the system can also contribute to nutrient cycling by breaking down organic waste but most people choose to use the available bioload for more shrimp.

Nonetheless, sometimes additional supplementation of micronutrients might be necessary to promote healthy plant growth. Trace elements like iron, manganese, zinc, and copper can be added using liquid fertilizers. Remember to apply fertilizers carefully and in small amounts, as over-fertilization can lead to undesirable growth of algae and harm the shrimp.

In conclusion, ensuring a balance of nutrients and controlling plant growth is essential for maintaining a successful Walstad shrimp bowl. Proper substrate selection, oxygen-carbon dioxide regulation, and careful use of supplementary fertilizers will create a thriving ecosystem for your shrimp.

Managing Algae And Biofilm

A ghost shrimp in a shrimp tank
A Ghost Shrimp

Algae and biofilm are natural components of any aquatic ecosystem, including a Walstad shrimp bowl. While they serve as a food source for shrimp, excessive algae growth can be unsightly and detrimental to the overall health of the tank.

Maintaining balance in a Walstad shrimp bowl can help discourage excess algae growth and ensure a healthier environment for your shrimp.

Incorporating fast-growing aquatic plants into the shrimp bowl can help outcompete algae for nutrients. Plants such as hornwort, water lettuce, and duckweed absorb excess nutrients in the water, thus limiting the growth of undesirable algae.

One potential problem with fast-growing plants is that they will require more maintenance from you and may have to be trimmed often.

Regular maintenance, including water changes and cleaning, is crucial in controlling algae and biofilm in a Walstad shrimp bowl. Performing partial water changes of about 10%-20% every two weeks can help maintain water quality and remove excess nutrients from the system.

An amano shrimp in a walstad shrimp bowl
An Amano Shrimp

During water changes, gently scrub the interiors of the bowl using a soft brush or sponge to remove any visible algae buildup. Be careful not to disturb the substrate, as this can release accumulated nutrients and contribute to further algae growth.

Lastly, avoid overfeeding your shrimp, as excess food can contribute to algae growth by increasing nutrient levels in the water. It’s essential to closely monitor your shrimp and only provide them with enough food that they can consume within 2-3 hours.

Adjust the feeding frequency and amounts according to the shrimp population to prevent uneaten food from accumulating and decomposing in the bowl.

By ensuring proper lighting, incorporating fast-growing plants, performing regular maintenance, and carefully monitoring shrimp feeding, you can effectively manage algae and biofilm growth in your Walstad shrimp bowl, creating a thriving and visually appealing aquatic environment for your shrimp.

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