First, thanks OFL for your advice! I now have a 10-day old, dirted 20G long tank that's happily growing with plants that are probably a day out from some dividing and pruning.
As for floating plants, I like water sprites (ceratopteris thalictroides) because of how easy they are to care for and because they grow in the same kind of slow to still-moving water conditions that bettas are typically known for. Two days after I planted my water sprite, it had started sending out new roots.
Salvinia is another good floating plant that is easy to care for and good at absorbing excess nutrients.
As for my light, I also thought about removing the plastic (acrylic) cover, but optically, acrylic doesn't really inhibit the transmission of UV light. In comparison, clean glass hoods absorb about 5% of the light the plants need so it really comes down to how much you want to deal with cleaning them and how much you care about 5% extra growing light.
OFL, one question I have is about filtration. I recall you mentioning that you used your filter for water movement, but I can't remember if you said to use the standard carbon inserts also. It seems like that would filter out all of the things that the plants want, so I only have the sponge in my filter to provide my beneficial bacteria somewhere to grow.
Did I remember your advice right? A salesperson at Aquarium Adventure told me otherwise and they're supposed to have been through classes before they hit the sales floor, which is making me second guess myself.
Floating plants that have worked well for my NPT's-water lettuce is my number one-then duckweed, frogbit.
Hornwort is also a good floater-but it tends to get hair algae due to being too close to my lights. I have never kept water sprite, however, I have heard good things about it.
I have never had any problems with my lights-regarding moisture and I have had my light strips fall in my tanks on more than one occasion and still going strong. They do sell special end caps you can use on lights to prevent moisture issues.
I don't use active carbon/charcoal in any of my tanks-IMO/E it is not needed and it can remove minerals/nutrients that plants need. I do, however, always have fresh carbon on hand for emergencies-for the hopefully rare accidental toxic substance that gets into the tank.
What tanks I do have a filter running-they are for water movement-since in planted tanks-especially soil based will have the BB on/in them-Plus, since the BB are sticky they adhere to all the surface areas-as well as in the top layer of inert substrate.
I also like to limit too much agitation at the surface from filters and airstones-due to gassing off the CO2 that the plants need.
With soil-it is best to use types that don't have any additives-like ferts and water absorbing beads...etc...I have used all kind of soil-from my yard, organic potting soil and top soil.
You could use the top soil you found, but I've only seen super-generic topsoil mentioned when people talk about mineralizing their topsoil, which was a process that was alot more complicated and time-consuming than I was interested in. With the MGOCPM, you can just add it to the tank, put your cap on and fill it.
I'm just about to load my dirt into the tank when I see that there are some little white sort of rocks in there besides the little sticks I am sifting out. I got my soil from Lowes and it was the only organic they had. It is Cedar Grove organic potting soil . It is made from compost and has earthworm castings in it.... ARGGG is this ok to use ?? I hope someone answers soon as everything is waiting on me, plants, soil , sand and shrimp snails and Betta !!!
Just wondering as far as cleaning the substrate what do you do? This will be my first NPT and I wasn't sure. Also would you recommend filtering my 5 gallon NPT it's been cycling for about 2 weeks now. No fish yet because I have yet to go to the store.
Unfortunately, I don't have answers for any of your other questions except that my MGOCPM had tiny wood chips in it as well, but it's the specific brand everyone seems to prefer when starting a planted tank with just potting mix and pool filter sand.