The tank will be fully aquascaped and will require a lot of substrate. I am unsure on which route I want to take, meaning do I go with eco-complete for simplicity or something similar. Or do I make my own soil based substrate and deal with potential headache. Or Just a super cheap route of doing a plain sand or gravel.. I really need some input
I should mention i am trying to do this without breaking the bank, so cost is a factor.
The tank will not be heavily stocked, and will have a ton of plants.
I'm new to planted tanks, but I've been using Black Diamond Blasting Abrasive for a while. It looks good and is extremely cheap. About 8 bucks for a 50 pound bag at Tractor Supply. No problems with any fish I have kept.
Look on You Tube for tutorials on how to build hills or they will flatten out on you.
Since you said don't break the bank, I'll assume you are not using injected CO2.
But if you still want nice plants you still need ferts but might do better/w the PPS type.
It sounds tricky when you first read it but after you are set up you will find dosing a lot simpler. Even though the calculator has a part for low light, EI is mostly designed for tanks which have CO2. Actually I use the EI for my non CO2 tanks but very reduced versions of it, more for the one which has Excel and less for the one which does not have any CO2.
I've got a few tanks with plain old BBS top soil. My 75 I did something different. I wanted gravel. I also wanted a lot of plants. I used pea gravel from the BBS. I put the plants in soil in net pots, added a gravel top to that so the dirt wouldn't go all over and sunk it into the gravel. After a year it is still going gangbusters.
I have a 75 gallon too. I went with Flourite Black and sand for my Dutch style aquarium. It took about 4 bags of Flourite Black and 2 bags of Flourite Sand.
I have other tanks of various sizes and I have tried the following substrate.
1) For my Fluval EBI shrimp tanks I used ADA Amazonia - by far the best but also the most expensive because of the cross country shipping.
2) I used EcoComplete in my 20L. Growth is good but it is difficult to get any of the stem plants stay down but once the plants take root, they grow just fine.
3) I used Flourite Black in my 29 gallon and used tab roots. Everything grows fine and the stem plants are easier to plant.
4) I used Fluval Stratum in my 10 gallon. By far this is my least favorite. I would not recommend this substrate because it is too light to hold down stem plants, it crushes easily and turns to dust, and it clouds up the water with any movement.
So far I like the Flourite Black because it doesn't cloudy up the water too much when I move plants around and it's easy to plant stem plants. It's available at my LFS and I don't have to replace in the future.
FYI: I did not see any benefit to mixing the Flourite Sand to the Flourite Black.
Hope it helps. Good luck with your project and continue to share your journey
My 75g has Safe T Sorb. Cheap, works well for planting, and I like the look. Biggest issue there is it is takes a lot of work to clean. If you have a screen for the top of a 5g bucket that would help a lot.