02-13-2011, 02:13 PM
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Welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.
All things are possible, and the benefits of a planted tank cannot be understated.
First, you might want to have a read of my articles at the head of the Aquarium Plants section, entitled "A Basic Approach to the Natural Planted Aquarium" for a background to low-tech or natural planted tanks.
Now to your specific questions. First, watts is only the measurement of energy used to produce the light emitted by the tube, so it is a rough guide at best. Fluorescent tubes come in standard wattages for the tube size so there are no options. However, some types are more intense (producing brighter light). And some manufacturers make more efficient tubes with lower wattages, so there is some variation, but as i said, this is rather meaningless. There are three options that come to mind.
One, a new regular T8 fixture with two tubes. Then use two "daylight" tubes available from hardware stores for a few dollars. Phillips and Sylvania make them, I believe GE does too. The kelvin rating on these three is important, around 6500K. I use them myself and they work fine.
Second, using a Life-Glo tube in the existing fixture. Hagen make the "...Glo" series of tubes and these you can find in most fish stores. They are much more expensive that hardware stores tubes. There is a Life-Glo and a Life-Glo 2 type, the first (without the "2") has a coating on the inside of half the tube that directs the light out the other half, producing a brighter light.
Third option is a T5 fixture (new) that would take a T5 HO (=high output) tube. These relatively new tubes produce 1.5 times more light that T8 tubes of the same type and size. While normally I recommend against them because they are so bright in normal situations, here is one place they should work well. Tubes are limited, the Life-Glo 2 tube is even more expensive than the T8. And remember, tubes need replacing regularly. T8 last 1-2 years, T5 supposedly longer but I've no numbers to hand.
Substrate is up to you, but should be determined by the fish's needs. Gravel (of varying sizes) and sand, or an enriched plant substrate which for a relatively smaller area will not be that expensive. Seachem make Flourite, a plant substrate that comes in black (stunning) and reddish/brown, and there is another called Eco-complete which I believe is also black. Forest fish like dark substrates, and the plant and fish colours look best with a dark substrate, so one of these fits all requirements. If you go with sand, be aware it can compact more easily. Small-grain gravel (1-2 mm size grains) does work best all round. I use the latter, but the others work too. I would not suggest spoil to someone who is starting out with their first planted tank, since the issues it creates can be problematic and it takes much longer (or should to avoid the issues) to get the tank running with fish.
Liquid fertilizer will be needed to ensure all nutrients are provided to the plants. Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive is what I currently use and find to be the best. Make sure it is the Comprehensive, they make several products under the Flourish label.
Many plants are possible. In a tank with that depth I would love to see an Echinodorus cordifolius. We have plant (and fish) profiles here, second tab from the left in the blue bar at the top, or you can click on the shaded name in posts, as in the plant just named. Have a look. Also at the other plants there. We can discuss species more, there are many options.
This should get you started.