I agree with the filter. I would say an Aquaclear of the appropriate size would be good.
Substrate could be anything. I think Flourite at best (or similar), Petco gravel at worst.
Co2, I would say try not using it. It actually can be fun. The only thing that I personally find to be more challenging is carpet plants.
I am almost thinking a standard 10 gallon with an incandescent hood. Then throw 2 13 watt CFL's or similar. Add substrate of your choice.
I may be willing to go along for the ride and try the same. I have to see if my old 10 gallon is still holding water. I have the light, I would just used Petco gravel. I just need a filter.
I was hoping you'd chime in on the CHALLENGE, and I would welcome you to join in with me with open arms!
So is the challenge to do something hard or something easy?
Low-Tech is the easiest thing for me, but it is because I use safe plant choices.
Either way I'd say just use Aquasoil, no powders, additives, etc.
Dirt tanks aren't very fun in the long run, so I vote against that.
Substrate: Just aquasoil
Light: Whatever you want
Plants: HM as a carpet + whatever plants someone else might think would be good. Or ferns + anubias - because that is as easy as it gets.
Hardscape: Whatever you want
Difficult Proposal: (This one is hard to even come up with because low-tech with aquasoil is always easy and its benefits are even more profound in the long run in low-tech tanks with bi-weekly or monthly water changes)
If you wan't something hard you could do Eco Complete or Flourite but I think demonstrating how easy it is to do a great tank with nothing more than Aquasoil is a great thing to demonstrate.
I'd vote against any ferns bolbitis blah blah.
It is easy and overdone.
I see many tanks with very dim light and loads of ferns and they are stable and quite boring, IMO.
It's not so much going for easy or hard, rather something that is a cool and desirable scape.
To be honest with you: if driftwood is to play a role, then of course a Java Fern Trident and some Anubias would be a great addition for the role they play in the scape.
However, the overriding goal is to have a carpet going here. And not a moss carpet. Moss will be used with driftwood - but to the extent to which it's tied to the driftwood.
The balance of plants with a composition is just as important to the CHALLENGE as it is to grow the plants into the full form of the scape.
I'm envisioning the use of stem plants, of course.
My vote is to use aquasoil in the low-tech(w/o the powders), or if your going for the readily available products approach, azoo plant grower or fluval stratum, any kind of nutrient rich pellet substrate. I think the idea of the journal should be, not to do what we've seen done here and fail several times over like Tom has said, with a very small percentage of success. But if you want to go non c02, low light and h.o.b, what are the key components that will make this setup WORK! Having a good substrate is IME the most vital component in a 'low-tech' and i think your journal should express that.
Good feedback! Of course the ultimate objective here is to have something duplicatable by just about anyone.
"The home aquarium is an ecosystem always on the verge of collapse."
This fits in with your description of all living aspects of the planted tank being Malthusian.
That is what I have in mind when I'm building my tanks/nanos/bowls.
The difference between a low tech tank and a high tech tank has nothing to do with budget. It is what you use as the limiting factor for those Malthusian components in your tank.
With "High Tech" tanks the goal is to provide more than enough light and nutrients to grow your scape. The limiting factor is CO2. You are spot on with your many points that cost should not be your limiting factor if you wish to go for a tank like this.
With "Low Tech" tanks the goal is to use lighting as the limiting factor. You can absolutely use Aquasoil for a tank like this, you can also use top of the line equipment and have CO2 and still be a "low tech" tank.
I think Tom made a key observation about the type of people attracted to each method.
Back to my earlier quote. A high tech tank consumes quickly, grows quickly, and can go wrong and be fixed quickly. A Low tech tank, consumes slowly, grows slowly, and goes wrong slowly and gets fixed slowly.
The biggest problem people following the "high tech" method run into is not paying due diligence to balance and maintenance. Your insight into this has been amazing.
The biggest problem people run into with "Low Tech" is too much light and cutting corners with fertilizers, water changes and refusing to use CO2 when necessary to rescue a tank they've let be neglected too long. (cheapskates)
Your mind is absolutely in the right place here. You are seeing how there's really no difference between "tech's" one just exchanges factors, but the basic formula and method is the same.
Execution and strategy has variation to it that equipment plays a role in, but otherwise the same methodology applies.
There are a few limitations between strategies and equipment, but the message here is that by and large one does not guarantee success and the other does not guarantee failure. They are only tools for us to use.