05-10-2008, 10:39 PM
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What kind of substrate depends on what kind of filter, fish, and plants you're going to put in there and what your budget is. You can get really great planted tank substrate in a variety of grades from fine sand up to coarse gravel at about a buck and a quarter to a buck fifty a pound, but you'll want at least one pound per gallon (or more if you're going for a deep, sloped substrate), ad mostly it comes in 25 lb bags, so your looking at 60 bucks for two bags of eco-complete, Onyx, or Flourite if you want to go that route.
For less, much less, than half that, go get a 50 lb bag of play sand (make sure it's not coral sand) and a 50 lb bag of organic potting soil. Mix half of each together, and rinse a dozen times until the water isn't opaque any more. (Plant a tomato in the other half, or chives, or both.) If you like, you can add some peat and/or some laterite while you're mixing to lower the soil PH and add iron.
My experience has been that plants like a substrate that's as fine as possible without compacting. That's also what bottom feeding fish tend to like. If you do use a fine substrate, particularly in a deep bed, you will have to put something in there to keep it stirred up. I use Malaysian Trumpet snails. Other people use a fork or a skewer to stir the substrate once a week.