Planted Tank on a Budget
I figured since I always looked for a thread like this I would try to put together a few tips for people considering a planted tank, but being afraid of the costs decide against it...
For starters there are 4 main parts to a well planted tank - substrate, lighting, nutrients, and CO2, all of these can get very expensive if you aren't careful. But I will go through my experience and what I used with prices
1. For substrate, most types will work, if you want you can go with one of the specialty substrates such as Flourite or Eco Complete, I found that if you have a larger aquarium this can be very pricey
My solution: It is called Turface, it is the fine clay they use to top baseball diamonds. I used the pro-league (note: this did leach color for awhile and needs to be rinsed A LOT) but I do know a guy that lives near me and uses Turface MVP without rinsing and it works just as well. Turface is a baked clay with a high CEC, meaning it will absorb and hold ferts well. With the Turface I also use Seachem Flourish Tabs.
2. Lighting - I really considered two options here. This is the biggest investment I made towards my planted tank other than the tank itself. You can either go t-5 bulb route, or cfl bulbs. It really depends on what size tank and the look you want. The odyssea lights seem to be the best bang for the buck. They aren't top of the line, but they work.
I personally didn't want a raised light, so I decided to try a DIY method. It ended up costing me about $40. But will save even more when I go to replace the bulbs rather than buying the pricey t5 bulbs every 6 months.
I followed this thread. And it works great, I use 4 5500k bulbs and 4 7000k bulbs (or whatever you can find close to 6700k at walmart or home depot)
3. Ferts - I use a dry macro /micro mix from aquariumfertilizer.com (http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/in...ditU=1&Regit=2). 1 pound shipped comes to around $20. The mix is 1 tablespoon powder to 8 tablespoons water, I use 5 ml per day so this size mixture will last 22 days. The 1 pound of this powder probably is close to 3-4 cups (possibly more, just aiming low). Just some quick math 1 cup = 16 tablespoons, 1 tablespoon lasts 3 weeks, 1 cup lasts 48 weeks!
The root tabs usually cost around $12 and last 4 months per planting (a box can do my tank at least twice, depending on what plants)
4. CO2 - some people will use a DIY set up. Personally i find mixing the yeast, sugar and water all the time would get annoying and poses a small risk if you aren't careful. Another option is Seachem Flourish Excel, but long term this will get expensive (1 gallon usually around $60). After some research I decided to try metricide 14, it is a medical disinfectant that is a stronger version of excel (rather than 1.4% it is a 2.6% solution). One warning with the metricide 14, it comes with a small activator bottle - throw this away right away, it is what makes it a poison. Also do not try the metricide 28, I have seen bad results from this.
I was able to pick up a gallon of metricide 14 on ebay for $20 shipping. I dose 5 ml per day in my 55 gallon (1ml / 10g). Once a week I do a 40-50% pwc and after the water change I do a 20ml dose of the metricide. Since starting this I can see growth everyday. This uses a total of 50ml per week for my 55g. So the math 1 gallon = 3785 ml, @ 50ml / wk this will last 75 weeks!
So a quick wrap up of my costs:
Substrate: 50lb bag of Turface = $21 (was enough for my 55 gallon, and two 10 gallon tanks)
Lights: A t5 set up should run $40-$70 depending on tank size (bulbs probably $30 every 6 months), my DIY ran me $40 (bulbs >$20 every 6 months)
Ferts: A two year supply (possibly more) costs $20 shipped plus the cost of a syringe and mason jar to mix it in
CO2: A year and a half supply costs $20 plus syringe and mason jar for easy access
Upstart costs: $60-$100 for substrate, lights, and misc mixing / dosing equip (be prepared to buy significant other a new set of mixing spoons)
Yearly costs: around $65 for the ferts, metricide, root tabs, and replacement bulbs
I hope this helps anyone looking into switching to a planted tank, I feel this is the cheapest route you can go unless you can find some used equipment. As for plants, places like aquabid have many sellers that will put together big packages for you or you can always check you LFS for decent prices, my 55 probably has about $40 worth of plants... remember, plants grow and propagate, so stock it lightly to medium at first, and propagate it up to a heavy planted tank if you wanna save a few bucks