75g Vert Planted Paludarium—partially retrospective build journal
(Planting is still in progress)
I had made my first viv in 2007. Since then I had begun to notice how stunning planted aquariums were, and I love the idea and look of paludariums. Several others have made big vert vivariums, and I was inspired by them. The problem is that unless you invest in halide lighting, you have to limit the height, which really limits what you can do. The trick is in the lighting. I figured if I could use an internal reflector, I could light through the back, and make a big vert planted paludarium. So here is my overly verbose journal.
I The tank
Originally I started with a 55g that I had gotten cheap from Craigslist. But, you know, how are you going to recreate the Amazon in only 11 1/2 inches of depth? Medium sized broms mounted on the back wall can touch the front glass. So I bought a new 75g aquarium to use.
The first thing I did was take off the black bands on the top and bottom that they ship it in.
Those suckers are tough to get off.
My initial goal was to avoid cutting the rim and take it off in one piece, so that it could maybe be used when moving it, or reapplied later if i switched back to an aquarium. After 1/2 hour of absolutely no discernible progress, I got out the saw and cut the top rim into 3 pieces.
I had read many threads about taking off rims, plus I just had the experience from taking the one off of the old 55g, which was a piece of cake. Brand new rims are apparently tougher.
Eventually I found a method that worked. I used a knife to slice the silicone up along the edges, inside and out. I cut through the rim diagonally right at the corners. For this, a Japanese-style pull saw rocked, but a hacksaw would have been fine. Then I used a long wedge (a square bamboo chopstick, actually) to slide in under the top edge. Once I got it started, using a small soft piece of scrap wood was key. I slid it along the edge I was pulling up, trying to keep it square to prevent any chips off the edge. The top rim took me about 2 hours, partly due to trialing things, and the bottom only 30 min.
I was so eager to get the rim off that I took no pictures of the aquarium with the rim on, but here it is after it is removed:
II Interior Shelf
After figuring out where I wanted my water level to be, the next step was figuring out where the reflector should be. I used a big plate mirror and a light fixture to determine the optimum angle, which was good, because I assumed it would be 45º, and it actually ended up being much closer to 30 º. I was also trying out the cypress log I got for the front of the shelf, trying to see how much space I would need. It ended up sticking out about 11”, with another 3-4” for the log, and has a rise of about 6½ “, so there is just less than 2 sq feet of floor space.
I really toyed with the idea of having the shelf being fully removable. It would make maintenance easier, and I could do a partial tear-down without destroying everything. It ended up being almost removable.
The far slanted edge is supported by some polystyrene I siliconed on below the shelf, and some great stuff for added measure. The back edge is held up by some aluminum channel; I adhered a strip to the wall of the paludarim, and a strip to the shelf, and you can slide it in and it locks in place. The near diagonal is supported by a triangle of foam I glued on. And the front edge is glued to the cypress log. The whole thing slid in and out without much trouble at all, until I siliconed in the stainless steel mesh for the vent and the track for the sliding glass doors, which effectively lock it in place.
To the bottom of the shelf, a polished aluminum reflector is attached. I searched many places for one, and really was having a tough time finding it for a reasonable price. Finally I called AH Supply, and they gave me one that had been bent for a 2x36 light, but the corner was slightly clipped, so it was a reject. I flattened it out and trimmed it and it works great. I need to wear short sleeves to clean it, though.
III Aquarium Rock Background
I started on the face rock wall background for the planted aquarium part by siliconing the side that might be visible if the tank is not in a corner, and then siliconed on several polystyrene foam blocks to add a little more bulk for a ridge.
Then I covered the area with black can Great Stuff, which is the double expanding type. I had learned in the past not to try to put on more than 1 layer at a time, so after it had cured for about 4 hours, I built up parts with a second layer.
The plan was to cut off the smooth surface and create a rock-wall appearance. I spent over a week trimming, about a half hour at a time. And when I was done, the thing looked like crap. I had created a wall that looked like it was made of stacked potatoes.
I went back and looked at the walls by Melas and Arielelf, and theirs did not look like a bunch of potatoes. I considered ripping the whole thing out and ordering some Polyethylene foam sheets like they had used. Instead I got much more dramatic with the knife, and only 2 days later, I had something I was mostly satisfied with. I also built up some foam for rock for the viv portions.
I used cement (floor leveler) made with acrylic bonding compound. The three layers went on pretty quickly. I tried a little sculpting at the end, but it didn’t seem like it was adding much. I then washed on black acrylic and wiped it off, followed by some brown sponged on. The finishing touch was to take some 220 grit to it and rough it up a little. I am pleased with the results. Just please don’t compare mine to the master’s such as Hx.
IV Viv background
For the viv background, I siliconed on these absolutely huge cork pieces. They were a great deal on eBay, but I almost am afraid they may be too big. The one on the left had enough of a curve that I will use the top as a pot for hanging plants. I added a GS partition with some drainage for it. I then added the tree fern, which may be superfluous, but who cares. The last step was the coco husk in bonder. It worked great and went fast. I started with the ACE binder, which is the consistency and appearance of Elmer’s glue. I diluted it to buttermilk with other acrylic bonding agent I had, and added coco husk until it seemed right. It was then simple to press it into place. It dried rock hard in about 5 days with only a few cracks, the biggest of which I filled in. I also did some old-school coco-on-black-silicone in some strategic areas, including the polystyrene that was visible below the log.
I purchased ¼ glass to fill in the bottom opening to make the aquarium portion. The first time I ordered it too big, but they were nice at the glass shop and ground off the edge enough so it would fit. Through research, I knew to use a super-strong silicone called RTS 6100 to put the bottom glass in. I followed instructions by taping up the glass first. The edge had a few air bubbles in it, but it was water-tight, so that was the only test I cared about.
I wanted to use bottom bulkheads for the filtration, so I cut the holes with a bit from EBay. The initially drilling went fine, but they were just a hair to small for the threaded bulkhead. When I was trying to enlarge them with the drill, I took a big chip of glass out. About this time, I started getting divorced, so I put the whole project aside for a year.
Eventually that process ran its course.
When I returned to construction, my first idea was to jus fill in the chip with silicone and hope that it didn't leak, and that the chip would not affect the strength enough for the whole bottom to fail. But then I got the idea to use a glass gasket, and it worked great! Since the only glass I had sitting around was single-strength float, I used a 1/4 inch thick mirror: I stripped the backing with citrus stripper, then took off the silver (actually probably either Al or Sn) with 600 grit sandpaper. I successfully cut it into a 6 inch disk and then cut the hole in the center without chips, and siliconed it into place. (I think I also found an answer to a question sometimes asked on the construction forum: You cannot use cheaply available mirror glass to make a viv. It just doesn’t look good.)
Truthfully, it took 3 tries for everything to be water tight. But, hey, I rinsed the rock background 3 times to help neutralize it.
VI Face/ Doors
I really debated between using a swinging glass door vs. sliding doors. I ultimately went with the sliding doors because I was concerned about the stress on a living hinge, and thought it might seal better without a rim. I searched a lot for channel to slide the doors in, and the best I could find was for ¼ inch glass. I ordered it anyway, and ended up deciding that they slid fine with a better seal when both pieces of glass were in one channel. So I ripped the channel with a sawz-all. I didn’t feel like paying for a tiny strip of Teflon to put into the channel to make the doors slide well, so I cut a piece of polyethylene from a cutting board to fit. I then drilled a hole in the top so I could put a lock pin in so the doors couldn’t be opened easily by a 3 and 4 year-old.
I used stainless steel mesh for “Euro-style” ventilation. I could have used a piece all across the top, but instead did mesh-glass-mesh, just to be fancy. A 4-inch computer fan can fit in behind the top mesh if I end up needing it for better air circulation. I even remembered to leave a space for wiring it!
The stand is made of maple plywood with solid maple trim, and the style of the trim matches the maple furniture in the room. I did no engineering calculations whatsoever, but 3/4" plywood is pretty strong stuff, and there will only be 20 or so gallons of H20 in there, plus the weight of the viv. The outer carcass is made with just a rabbeted edge. In hindsight I wish I did it with mitered edges, because I can still see a little plywood edge. There is a dado that accepts the top and bottom, and a cross support in a mortise.
The trim is mitered, and made from solid maple. It has a ¼ roundover.
To cut out the door, I just used a circular saw that I plunged in for each cut, and finished the corner cuts with a hand saw. It would have been easy to screw it up. I have a 3-year old, so there is the lock.
The finish is about 4 coats of tung oil and about 3 of wipe-on poly. It gives great depth and beauty, and is supposed to be water proof. I think I did 4 coats before deciding that it was taking too long to build up, so I did 2 or 3 more coats with wipe-on poly. I am really pleased with the finish. Hoppy says an oil finish like that is supposed to be one of the best ways to make the chatoyance in maple stand out.
The canopy is just a simple 4-sided box with a support board in the middle that the lights are attached to. There is also a box for the back lights, which is attached to the base by some sticks. The canopy also uses egg crate for its intended purpose, since the viv is over 6 feet tall and the lights are thus overhead for many.
I spent HOURS on the damn interior light and switch. I had low-voltage halogen lights left over from a previous project. Installing a light, the transformer and plug only took a half hour or so. But then I wanted to install a switch so it turned on automatically when the door was open. So I got a push button switch, figured out a way to mount it, hooked everything up, and discovered I had a off-ON switch rather than a on-OFF switch. So the light was on as long as the door was closed, but when you opened the door, darkness. Back to Menards. It was great to discover that the switch I needed was $12, whereas every other switch was about $4. Why? The new switch needed a new way of mounting, which took longer to rig. But now it works great.
My goal was to have everything inline and hidden. Currently I have a Eheim 2113 canister filter, 200w inline heater, misting pump that is a booster pump for a soda machine I got from eBay, and misting nozzles from Mist King. The pump is a bit too powerful for 4 nozzles, and has an auto-shut off when a certain pressure is reached, so I had to add a bypass loop with a valve so it wouldn’t run in 1-second cycles.
Lighting is a 2x 36watt and a 36watt kits from AH Supply, plus a polished aluminum reflector that AH Supply gave me a great deal on. I put in cheap blue LED Moon lights. There are several timers involved.
I have a peristaltic dosing pump I haven’t hooked up yet. I left space to put in a interior circulating fan discreetly, and it looks like I will need it. I got a yeast CO2 reactor that works better than I anticipated, so once I get a check valve, I will hook it up inline with everything else.
For the water, I used about 1-2 inches mineralized top soil, under 1-2 inches Oil-Dri clay, covered with another inch of aquarium gravel. For features I used rocks that serendipitously looked almost exactly like the artificial rocks I had made.
For the upper substrate, I put first put some egg crate down so everything wouldn’t slide down as easily, then added some of the clay—not enough to fill the egg crate though. (Oil-Dri is lightly fired, so it does not hydrate fully into a mass like bentonite does. ) Then I used orchid bark and coco mix, and dressed the top with long-fiber sphagnum. I’ll consider leaf litter in a small area.
The aquarium portion is now fully planted. Perhaps over planted. I put in an order to Robert at Aqua Botanic, but it was delayed, and meanwhile a Craigslist deal came up that I couldn’t pass up: for $30, someone was selling a 20g fully planted and thriving aquarium with lots of extras. She was super nice about it. I divided up the plants and fish between this paludarium and a 10g aquarium I had, which will be my needed quarantine tank. I canceled my order with Robert, but there was confusion on his end, and he mailed it anyway. When I called him about it, he offered to refund all my money and said I could keep the plants. We ended up going 50/50 on it, and I tried to cram them in, but will need to give some away, I think. I can try to put together a plant list, but I’m still working on identifying everything.
This was calculated as a low-tech set up that would not need
CO2, but the plants pearl really nicely-- very cool and satisfying to see, so think adding CO2, one way or another, will be good.
The dry portion is still only partially planted, using plants I already had. Well, the broms I had purchased a year ago, to use in a viv, and never got around to it. I had some pilea and creeping ivy cuttings, and I could cover the thing in moss if I wanted to. I took some bulbophyllum orchids, a jewel orchid and a small epiphytic orchid from my other vivs, and added a cheap small orchid that probably will find a viv too damp. I still need put in an order for more plants.
Fish: Bushynose pleco, an oto “Arnold,” 4 rosy barbs, 2 mosquito rasbora (I’d like about 4 more, but can’t find them).
I will eventually get some frogs, I think several galactonotus. The whole thing will essentially need to be in quarantine for 2 months before I feel safe adding any frogs anyway.
• 75g aquarium (source: LFS)
• ¼ inch thick glass for bottom, 2 pieces of 1/8th for the sliding doors ( local glass shop)
• RTS 6100 silicone adhesive (Drillspot.com)
• Track for doors (McMaster- Carr)
• Perforated stainless steel for screen (McMaster- Carr)
• ½ inch Bulkheads ( Drs Foster and Smith)
• Plumbing parts (local hardware stores)
• Eheim 2113 canister filter (EBay)
• 200w inline heater (Ebay)
• Lights: 2x 36watt and a 36watt kits (AH Supply)
• Reflector (AH Supply)
• Bulbs (Planetbulbstore)
• Egg crate –actually using as a light diffuser! (had)
• Aquarium Substrate: Oil-Dri and “mineralized” top soil (Local ACE hardware store)
• Extruded Polystyrene foam insulation boards (had)
• Black Silicone
• Floor patch cement
• Brown pigment
• Acrylic paint (Hobby Lobby)
• Base: Made from ¾ Maple veneer plywood, hinges, knob, no plans
• Canopy: same
• Misting pump (Ebay)
• Misting nozzles (Mist King)
• Cork—(absolutely awesome deal on EBay)
• Cypress log—(not so awesome deal on EBay)
• ACE bonding
• other concrete additive used to dilute ACE
• Lotsa other stuff.
Thanks for reading!
I also posted this on Dendroboard, another forum I frequent.