There’s two lights I can think of that are not cheap, and have great features: Fluval Plant Nano (not as expensive), and AI Prime HD (approaching Kessil price). Both will get you to the high light level but are adjustable, are packaged well for the cube-ish tank, and will look very nice. Desk lamps work, too, on the budget end.
Lots of folks succeed with capped dirt substrate, no doubt. Plants will have their fill from their roots. I would usually keep that suggestion for larger tanks, though, where the volume of substrate would be seriously pricey.
For me, in a small tank in particular, I’d use something like Fluorite Black. It won’t give you any unknown variables like what dirt can, and will help hold nutrients for plants. On the cheaper end, Black Diamond Blasting Sand (or any black aquarium sand if rinsing is too much) is a great looking inert substrate. It won’t hold nutrients, but also adds nothing that can cause you to battle with your tank.
Since size isn’t big, an aquasoil really won’t be killer cost, and can be a good way to get familiar with it.
As said above, small tanks can be more maintenance, with small intended/unintended changes having larger impacts. I love nanos, though, and really enjoy the tweaking, scaping, diy filtering, etc.
Enjoy! You may even want to open up a journal thread here on TPT.
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I can only grow plants when they're completely under water. Everything else is doomed.