First Terrarium - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-02-2013, 06:12 PM Thread Starter
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First Terrarium

I got a 35 gal hex tank from a guy who lied through his teeth. I expected a small leak or two (glass hex tanks seem to have one or two every time you move them) but this tank leaks like a sieve. It will never hold water. It is a beautiful tank, the glass has minimal scratching and it's all in the bottom couple of inches. The glass (after some vinegar) is crystal clear. I have decided to make the best of a crappy situation and turn it into a planted terrarium. I'd like to do tropical plants. I want to do this right so I don't have a "hot mess" on my hands when I'm done. Problem is I'm having trouble finding info on building a good terrarium from the very beginning. I've been to blackjungle but they are updating their "learning" section so there isn't much info there. Can someone point me in the right direction? Books, websites, anything. Also any tips you guys have got would be great.

I guess my biggest question is substrate. I've heard gravel with activated charcoal, then a screen of moss, then soil... but I've also heard the coconut husk stuff... I've heard you don't really need the charcoal...use expanded clay pellets... I find bits and pieces of info but that's about it.
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-02-2013, 07:01 PM
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I always keep mine simple... A layer of clay balls to keep soil from getting soggy, a piece of weedproof landscaping fabric (to keep soil out of the drainage layer), and then a mixture of potting soil, topsoil, and shredded coconut husk (for drainage).
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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-02-2013, 07:26 PM
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I like to use lava rock for the drainage layer, then window bugscreen to keep the soil from entering the drainage layer and topped with regular potting soil.

I also like to set a piece of pipe in there that allows me to add water straight to the drainage layer. This allows me to water from below because the lava rocks do a great job of wicking water up to the soil. Since I do all of the watering from below, I don't wash the soil down through the bugscreen. I have several open top planters around my house built out of rubbermade totes (I set the totes inside of a homemade pine box for appearances) and they each have around six inches of lavarock in them. I fill the tote with water up to near the top of the rocks and I don't have to water it again for a month or two. My planters are relatively large (10 gallon and up totes) so I have a lot of space and this allows me to use a 3" pipe to fill the drainage layer. So whenever I do an aquarium waterchange I can simply dump the five gallon pail directly into the bottom of the planter, which can hold more than a single tanks water change any day of the week.

Of course I am talking about self watering planter boxes and not a true terrarium but the mechanics are the same.
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post #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-03-2013, 12:01 AM Thread Starter
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So no activated charcoal then? I've heard it's to inhibit mold but I know that it has a limited life span so wouldn't you need to keep adding more for it to work in that capacity? Mixing the soil with the coconut fiber is a great idea. I thought just the soil alone would be to dense. Does anyone mix sand in as well or is that not for tropical plant terrariums?

Also on backgrounds, my tank has 6 sides but I think I'm just going to make a background for one side. I want to be able to view it from as many angles as possible but I also want some height to the design since the tank is 24" high and only 18" wide. Is the spray foam coved in silicone and substrate the best way to go? I'm not planning on adding any animals at any point. I also want to make the background removable so I don't want to just spray foam on the glass. would a board work or a piece of styrofoam?
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-04-2013, 01:27 AM
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Take a look over on dendroboard if you haven't already:

It's quite a bit smaller then this board, and can move pretty slowly, but there are lot of people over there with a lot of experience, and a pretty good knowledge base, and all kinds of beautiful setups.

I think one of the more popular terrarium/vivarium substrates is known as Atlanta Botanic Gardens Mix (ABG Mix). I can't remember what it is off hand, but a quick google (or just poking around dendroboard) will net you all kinds of info on making and using it.

I've done a couple removable backgrounds for paludariums. it's a bit trickier then just up and building in-tank, but it's a lot more flexible if you ever change your mind, and it's a hell of a lot easier to move.

I think I usually just used a solid styrofoam (white bead kind) background covered in an epoxy/sand mix. I haven't used the polyurethane foam myself (yet), but it's pretty popular, and there are some great looking vivs and backdrops made from it. You wouldn't need anything really strong to attach it to, as once it's cured, the foam will give you all the structural stability you need.

You might even be able to get away with something like putting saran wrap on the inside of your tank (be careful with the corners/joints/overlaps), and just go ahead as if you were building in-tank. Let it cure, and remove the foam, and trim/remove the saran-wrap. I haven't tried this, so there may be some major problems I'm ignorant of.

Sorry to hear you got screwed, but glad that you realize there are other things to be done with the tank. Good luck, and please post pics.
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 12-05-2013, 12:45 AM
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you can also check out josh's frogs. they have a lot of good info. I blend my own soil mix with organic potting soil, activated carbon, and coco fiber and it works great.
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