Thanks for the great info guys. We dont have a superstore here, do you know if Walmart sells anything similar to Presidents Choice BlackEarth Top Soil? Will any top soil do? I also have standard black aquarium gravel, the pieces are around 0.5-1cm in diameter, this was the smallest I could find at pet stores. Will this still work if I put a half inch layer on top of the soil?
After I add the soil/gravel, and fill the tank with water. How long should I wait before starting to add plants and a fish?
Home Depot carries a super cheap top soil known as Green Leaf but I am hesitant to recommend it as I am currently testing it on a natural planted tank that I just set up and it is too early to tell how well it will grow plants.
If you choose to go the Natural Planted Tank route, keep in mind that people have had mixed results using soil as a substrate. Some claim that it causes problems in the long run, with respect to hydrogen sulphide production and rots and others swear that they have had tanks for years using soil as a substrate without any problems.
Here is a good link to setting up a natural planted tank as per Diana Walstead concepts.
The following is an excellent forum and useful posts on peoples' experiences with Natural Planted Tanks.
You can pretty much grow plants in a variety of substrates.
Laterite and Seachem Root tabs capped with Pool Filter Sand.
Laterite and Seachem Root tabs capped with Traction Sand.
Schultz Aquatic Soil which you can get dirt cheap at a Revy or Rona if you have one in your area.
If you decide to get Seachem Onyx sand or Eco-Complete this online supplier sells it as a reasonable price and ships to Canada with no extra duty or customs fees.
As far as how long you should wait to add fish to a newly planted tank, I suggest you get yourself a ammonia and nitrite test kit and test the water weekly. When the ammonia and nitrites drop to zero you can add fish.
Some people say that you can add fish right away if you heavily plant a tank. I have set up 4 heavily planted tanks to date. And in each and every case, ammonia tested zero within a few days, but there was a nitrite spike(which can be just as bad for fish as ammonia) which the plants did not neutralize and which took much longer to disappear. A heavily planted tank only takes care of ammonia spikes but not nitrite spikes based on my own testing and setups.