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Emerald Terror 03-16-2013 04:06 PM

Cheap Aquarium lighting and Substrate
I'm a newbie to the world of aquarium plants and from what I hear the majority of the cost will be in aquarium substrate and lighting. I'm pretty sure my LFS worker led me in the right direction on substrate by giving me the idea of half black sand and half plant soil that are at a relatively low cost. However, this worker was an owner of 5 100+ gallon tanks and he put a lot of money into the lighting of his tank. I don't want a 200$ light for 200$ tank so can anyone lead me in the right direction for a cheap aquarium light for a 75 gallon tank that will grow most plants?

Chesh 03-16-2013 04:53 PM

As far as substrate is concerned, play sand is available from shops like Home Depot for around $3 a bag. It looks very nice in the tank, too, and is inert. If this is your first planted tank you may (or may not!) run into trouble using soil (be sure to do some extra research there before you commit!)

Lighting can be tricky, but if you get the right full spectrum aquarium bulb, you can get the lighting fixtures for far less money by buying a standard light from the hardware store. . . they probably won't match your tank hood, but a light is a light is a light, neh?

Emerald Terror 03-16-2013 05:04 PM

I'm still a little confused on the lighting. I have the standered light fixture that you get at petsmart with a new tank. Do i just need to get 2 new bulbs with a full spectrum? Another question about the substrate, I've heard a lot of people talking about the play sand so do i not even need soil if i get play sand?

Chesh 03-16-2013 05:25 PM

Play sand all alone is a wonderful substrate, lots of people use it all alone in planted tanks. I've never had a problem with it. The only 'catch' with the play sand is that it's really dirty when you get it, so you'll have to rinse it really well before you add it to the tank. Also, if you end up choosing heavy root-feeding plants, like sword plants and crypts, you'll need to put a fertilizer tablet into the substrate at their base every few months or so. With a soil tank, the dirt will provide nutrients to these types of plants - but only for a limited time. Eventually, you'd need to supplement ferts even with a soil based tank.

As far as lighting is concerned, yes. As long as you get the full-spectrum daylight bulbs, you will be able to support some plant growth. But the size of your tank will come into play here, as will the types of plants you choose. With ONLY those two bulbs over your tank, you're looking at very low lighting. . . my tank has, I would guess, the same type of stock lighting as yours, but is only a 55g. My plants are still alive and doing well, with help from ambient room lighting, but the tank has a low lighting level, so I can't grow plants that require higher lighting in there. That's as far as my experience goes, so hopefully someone with more experience in lighting larger tanks will stumble by soon to help you out as far as how much additional lighting you'll need. T5 is probably the best way to go, but like you said, they can be fairly cost-prohibitive. . .

Emerald Terror 03-16-2013 05:35 PM

I just called my local fish store about the 48" T5 bulbs for 20$ a bulb. Would two of these bulbs light my tank enough to work with Anubias , Amazon Sword , Java Moss , Corkscrew Vallisneria , or Java Fern.

Chesh 03-16-2013 05:40 PM

I would think so, most of those plants do well with lower lighting, so my guess is that you should be okay. I'd still hold out for the advice of one of our planting gurus, though!

Emerald Terror 03-16-2013 05:45 PM

Alright one last thing is I want black sand substate in my tank however I can't find any play sand that is black. Is there some at home depot that just isn't on there website?

Chesh 03-16-2013 05:55 PM

Not that I've ever seen, though I won't say it doesn't exist. I ended up using Tahitian Moon Sand to get a black sandbed in my tank, but it is fairly expensive - especially when compared with the cost of play sand! PetCo sells a similar, and slightly cheaper version, and there are other black sand options out there, but to my knowledge nothing as inexpensive as play sand. Be sure to know what you're looking at when checking into black sand, and be extra wary with any that you find at the hardware stores. They do sell black 'sandblasting' sand, which is iron slag, and very sharp - probably not the best option available, though it may be the cheapest. While I do love my black sand, I must say that the playsand does look more natural, when all is said and done. . . You can always go back to the idea of a dirt substrate, but these are topped with sand or gravel as a general rule. You would be spending less on the sand if you only need it as a 'cap' to the soil, as opposed to filling the entire tank with it. . . but again, do your research here first. A dirt-bottomed tank is a bit different than a tank with an inert sand or gravel substrate, might be easier for you to start simple. . .

Emerald Terror 03-16-2013 06:09 PM

To be honest I'm looking at the cost of the play sand and I can't believe how cheap it is. Ill just have to live with play sand and the pictures of tanks with it look amazing. I want to get a few more opinions on the lighting of those plants but you have been the most help out of everyone so far.

Chesh 03-16-2013 06:28 PM

Glad I could help! I agree, the play sand looks really nice. I do believe that most people would run a dual T5 over a tank that size, but yes - do get some additional advice here. I only know what I know, lol!

I keep crypts, anubias, Java fern/moss, and crypts in my 55 - all are low light plants that I would guess should do well for you. I've kept vals before, but in a smaller tank with better lighting. They didn't work out for me - they prefer hard water, so that may be something for you to do some research into, as well. I 'replaced' it with cryptocoryne spiralis - a different feel, but also long and grassy, and it seems to be quite at home in my bigger tank.

Best of luck, you'll have to be sure to post pictures when you start bringing things together!

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