Iwagumi Dry Start Progress...

So on April 30th I bought some bunches of Hemianthus callitrichoides (Dwarf Baby Tears, H.C.) and a bit of Eleocharis parvula (Dwarf Hairgrass) to start the process of dry-starting my ten gallon Iwagumi tank. Its been nearly two months, so I thought I would compile all the photos I've taken over this time in a blog post just to show how its grown!

For those of you who don't know, the Dry Start Method is a method of going out aquatic plants in an emersed form before filling a tank with water, developed by Tom Barr. This allows the plants to spread a bit more and form a sufficient carpet before filling the tank with water. I did a lot of research into doing this before I started, seeing what seemed to work and not work for other people, and planning out my tank and process accordingly.

I started with my hardscape. Some dragon rock I found in a local fish store (Not seiryu stone, it won't look as blue, but I like what I ended up with's more black/red tone) and ADA Aquasoil (both regular and powder), ordered online. I had more than enough soil, and have some left over. Maybe someday I'll set up my five gallon spec again, this time as another iwagumi and use the ADA Soil I have left over.... We'll see. I took a lot of time laying out the stones, and let the hardscape sit for a few weeks before panting it to make sure I liked the layout. Once it was perfected in my mind, it was on to the plants!

 H.C. on a coco husk mat

H.C. on a coco husk mat

I only spent about $40 on plants I think. Which isn't terrible, and I got more than enough to create a good ground cover to start with! My local fish shop (the Austin Aquadome) had gotten a fresh shipment of plants the day I went in, so I walked out with quite a bit of H.C. and Hairgrass.

 Just starting to lay the plants down...

Just starting to lay the plants down...

 And done! Now to wait....

And done! Now to wait....

 Front view, when first planted.

Front view, when first planted.

Ever since the initial planting it's been a game of waiting. I had heard that not much growth happens in the first few weeks or month, and I found that to be very true. The tank looked the same for a long time. I kept the tank covered with Seran Wrap, misted it, aired it out once in a while, and waited.... After nearly a month, however, I started seeing the H.C. sending out little shoots!

 Little shoots of H.C.

Little shoots of H.C.

 Top down view. You can see the improvement from the last photo.

Top down view. You can see the improvement from the last photo.

 And a front view

And a front view

It was around this time I noticed a few things. The first being that the lower parts of the substrate were getting too wet. Here's a note for anyone wanting to try this method in the future: it is hard to let a tank that is being dry started get too dry once you get the substrate pretty soaked (if you're using a high quality soil type substrate). I remedied this issue by backing off on my mistings (I use water with some Flourish Excel and Seachem Prime dosed by the way) and allowing the tank to air out for quite some time with the Seran Wrap off. I let it air out for an hour or two a couple times a week now, it seems to keep it from getting too wet a lot better.

The second thing I noticed were some new friends!

 Not the clearest picture, but here's a little baby snail that I've found crawling along the side of the glass a few times!

Not the clearest picture, but here's a little baby snail that I've found crawling along the side of the glass a few times!

Anyone whose ever spoken to me about "pest snails" in a tank will know that I rarely if ever consider them actual pests, but a helpful part of the enclosed ecosystem that I think we all try to achieve in aquariums, to the furthest extent that we can (or understand). So I was really happy when I found the first little snail. I've only ever seen one at a time, but I'd be willing to bet there's more! I've also noticed a few teeny white worms that are likely planaria, which isn't surprising considering the nutrients that are undoubtedly in the soil. So I've already got life going on in there that isn't plant life, and is totally natural.

Now on to the really good stuff. My latest photos of the tank, after nearly two months of Dry Starting.

 Latest photo from the top down

Latest photo from the top down

 And the front view

And the front view

I haven't gotten the chance to really look at these photos next to each other, and the progress has really convinced me that the Dry Start Method works really well. Soon I will fill the tank, add a CO2 system and a filter.