40 gallons is a big jump into planted. Maybe you could start a simple and small test aquarium to get you started. Figure it out as you go along. Build from the absolute base needs of an aquatic plant and go from there.
Nahh, 40 is not that bad of a size to start with.
That all seems pretty reasonable, but I suppose it doesn't just stop with the dirt...
What about nitrates? I saw an advertisement for aquaripure, this system that's supposed to bring them down to about 0. The guy running that site told me in a private e-mail that it still works well with planted tanks, just keeps the algae down. Others seem pretty derisive toward that notion noting that the plants themselves are supposed to be the de-nitrator and they need the nutrients.
As you say with the shop light, the prices are sky high and it's hard to know as an inexperienced newb exactly what is so essential in that expensive bulb versus the vanilla ones. Also, before I drop $500 for the latest LED light, are most typical plants fine with the 1-2 w/g you get from a simple hardware store fluorescent? It sounds like yes from some comments and no from others.
The virtues of hard water containing nutrients to allow less supplementation... versus the benefits of soft water. I see one point one place and the exact opposite view a few minutes later.
I guess it's just sort of funny how much at the end of it all you are right--plants like dirt, light and water. The rest can be really helpful or overwrought marketing, and it's going to take a while to figure it all out.
Lots of questions here. I would highly recommend starting in the substrate section of the forums, and then lighting. Lighting drives the tank, so figuring out what kind of light you are going to want should be your first priority.
What are your goals for this? Are you wanting something simple, slow growing easy management? or are you wanting to jump in full bore with all the bells and whistles, getting break neck speed growth, high maintenance, and high Challenge?
This is the first question to answer.
Low tech, low light tanks usually are a good starting point, they are less forgiving of mistakes, and generally easy to maintain, this allows you to get used to the growth habits of the aquatic plants. After you get the hang of that, it is quite easy to work your way into the second category of tank which requires the use of pressurized injected co2 systems, more light, and very rigid fertilization methods.
Once you figure out what kind of tank you want, go take a look at the lighting chart in the lighting section by Hoppy. The old Wpg method of measuring light is very outdated, and useless with today's types of lighting. T5 HO lighting is one of the more common light fixtures out there, they provide alot of light, so being able to raise the light above the water surface a bit or being able to screen light out if you wish for low light is going to be something to consider.
With the low light low tech tanks there are several methods which work great. The Walstad (sp?) method, which includes the use of organic soils topped with sand or gravel, and just a regular plant it the way you want method. the pros of the walstad method are the soil used provides plenty of nutrients to the plants, and stocking heavy for fish to provide the rest into the water column. the cons come in when you start to rearrange the plants, it generally will be a pain in the rear, causing soil and particulates to float around the tank for days. I did a tank once with this method, and found it to be too much of a pain for me. Florite substrate is a pretty good substrate, it is easy to find, and looks pretty good. There is also the Aquasoil, which is expensive, hard to find but you get the best bang for you buck. There is also in the substrate area a recipe for Mineralized top soil. I have yet to do this, so others might be able to give better answers. Pool filter sand is also a good way to go, a dark substrate will be easier on the eyes, especially when you start having fish, they tend to mess up white sand with tons of poop. Root tabs full of fertilizers placed before the sand will ensure that your heavy root feeders will get enough to eat.
Finding the plants that will survive in the environment you provide is the next goal. Aquaticplantcentral.com has a great plant finder, as well as this site in the plant area.
I would start with the easy plants such as different species of Anubias, or Cryptocoynes.
Hopefully the info will help a bit, and hopefully it is all correct lol, I am sure if I had something wrong, someone will chime in to correct it.
and it looks like laura beat me to it lol