Originally Posted by Blue Ridge Reef
How so? Not arguing, but I have set up quite a few planted tanks with inert substrates and have yet had a bad experience (well, substrate-related, can't blame Flourite for Columnaris etc.). Is there a nutrient soil that doesn't bottom out KH? The biggest reason I seldom use them is I don't want my water softened and pH to be 6.0 expect in a few applications.
You must have some pretty soft water (which i'd be totally jealous of) coming out of the tap if yours is consistently going that low in pH. Typically with a nutrient rich substrate my pH hovers around 6.8 and KH around 40-80 ppm depending on a few things - out of the tap my water is ph 7.2 and KH 180ppm. About 'how so,' I have more in the quote from Greggz.
Huh?? Based on what?
With either one you need to understand what you are dealing with, and I have seen both disasters and spectacular tanks with both.
My preference is inert. But to each his own.
It's simple: a nutrient rich substrate (any of them) is much more plug and play in it's application and much more 'plop it in, plant, fertilize done.'
Inert substrates require a higher skill set to pull off the same level of consistent growth as a manufactured and tested nutrient rich substrate. Sure there are guides out there, and some mixes you can buy, but it's kind of like "Here, follow this guide to put together an engine and go drive your car now" when someone just needs to learn how to drive first.
So it isn't that an inert substrate is impossible to make a great scape with, and it's not that you can't do it (I mean, hell, we made some pretty awesome 'mud tanks' pre Aqua soil days, but I gotta say, they never came anywhere near the predictability and reliability of a nutrient-rich manufactured soil), but for the average joe it's going to be a lot less consistent, a lot more difficult to get the right mix going and going to result in a lot higher of a learning curve and, likely, more time and/or money spent fixing totally avoidable problems.
So if the primary concern is price, just buy the stuff that you have a pretty much consistent guaranteed result with, again $500 is nothing for a pretty much guaranteed outcome. If the primary concern is flexing your skill, then do inert.
Plus, not to mention there's a higher percentage of people who can accurately diagnose aqua soil / nutrient rich soil related issues on a community board, and suggest accurate feedback and a much smaller pool of successful inert substrate tank owners (which goes back to, it requires a higher skill set to pull off an inert tank to the same level of quality as a nutrient rich substrate).
In the case of it being a new person, I'm always, always, going to err on the side of suggesting the advice that has the least amount of variables to go wrong with and lets them just try to get some success first before doing the geeky stuff.