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Thread: Building a Terrarium

  1. #1
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    First off, this is a lowlands to intermediate setup. Maybe Nep G can offer some insights to help turn it into a highlands, ultra highlands since he seems to have the most success that I know of.

    If your a kid, please get parental supervision. And obviously, don't do any electrical work with your project plugged in. It could end very bad.

    My tank is a 55 Gallon Acrylic Show Tank. Acrylic has the advantage of having the same clarity rating as water, unlike glass which always has a slight green tinge to it. This is nice, however, I feel glass is still superior for its durability, anti-scratch, and most of all, because you can rub down the interior with no-fod to reduce condensation on the glass. Also remember that if algae takes up residence on an acrylic surface it can damage the acrylic with it's anchoring mechanisms.

    My tank was origionally set up as a planted fresh water aquarium. So I basically used the same setup, minus 50 gallons of water and 5 gallons (About 100 pounds) of iron enriched rock).

    The tank stands about 4 feet off the ground on a wooden stand, and is topped with a wooden canopy, which i bought at my local fish store for about 60 dollars. I had to re-enforce the top to take the weight of the lights.

    The lights are double tube 48" strips I bought from Home Depot for about 20 dollars a fixture. I mounted two of these strips for a total of 4 tubes. I have 2 Home depot 5 dollar plant bulbs, and 2 home depot 7 dollar sun bulbs in the setup, alternated for better spread of the spectrum. I also glued aluminum foil, shiny side out, to some of the inner surfaces of the hood for better reflection. were I doing this today, I would use a shiny mylar.

    To assemble the lights, you must follow the instructions included. I bought two switches which I have i set inn countersunk holes in the back of the tank. I no longer use these as the lights are on a timer. You will need very little wiring skills to get it all setup.

    Home Depot Shopping list:

    •Light fixtures that fit your tank, for me, double tube 48"ers.

    •AC power cables from the electrcal section, along with switches if desired. (skip the switches if you are going to use a timer)

    •You will also need electrical tape, and or wire crimps, make sure they are heavy duty enough to handle the current. You don't need to build a fire hazard.

    •Possibly some extra wire if your going to move the ballasts.

    •Wood screws (short ones)

    OK, when your putting the lights together, make sure you wire through the hole provided, if you forget, you'll have to take it apart and run through it again, trust me. I did this both times cause I don't learn fast. The ballasts for these lights are mounted inside the fixture, which is great for a lowlands setup as they will provide lots of heat, I think for a highlands, you might want to move the ballasts outside the tank. This will require I think, a little more re-wiring. Once you have the lights assembled, without putting the plate on that covers the internal wiring, place the fixture inside your hood/canopy.

    This is easiest if the canopy is turned over on a set of saw horses or hanging off a table. It is important that you not have it ON a nice table, because you are going to be drilling and screwing in things… and your mom/dad/significant other will be very unhappy if you screw your light fixtures to the family table.

    If your adding switches, you will need to drill countersunk holes, first drill a shallow hole that the switch can fit in about 1’2 way through the wood, then do the same on the other side, making sure you don’t punch through either way. Then core what is left so you have a ridge of wood to mount the switch on (The switch will screw together sandwiching the wood layer between two parts and securing it.) Wire the switches to the lights and power cables and this part is done.

    Next, using wood screws, mount the fixtures to the top of the tank. Try and center them as much as possible, and be sure your screws are not so long they will punch through the top of the tank. If you do punch through, leave the screw and file the other end down with a file or dremel. (Make sure you wear eye protection)

    OK, now, you have the fixtures mounted you can put the cover plates on and install the bulbs. If you fele it is necessary, you will need to put a few more wooden chocks in around the others that support the weight of the canopy and hold it on the top of the tank. The lights have added significant poundage, and you need to compensate for that. I did not do this, and a month later my canopy fell onto the tank, scaring my arrowana half to death, and shattering a tube. Not a fun clean up job.

    The hard part is done. Now is the easy. And significantly more fun part!

    Putting together the media. I chose to do my terrarium in a natural style, it is landscaped inside, and there are special considerations for this style of tank that you need to take, you don’t want the media to break down and cause problems with high organic chemical levels and so on. Swamp gas is especially bad smelling.

    So, the supplies you need (I prefer Schultz) are:

    Perlite
    Orchid Bark Mix (Coarser the better)
    Sphagnum Peat Moss
    Long fiber Sphagnum.

    (NOTE: Tony P. has told me he is having GREAT success with coconut fiber chips in his mix, this is hard to break down, holds a lot of water, and keeps the soil nice and airy (from my understanding, tony might want to say more)

    •Put down a layer or orchid bark chips on the bottom, I think 1 to 2 inches is ideal.
    oThis layer makes it so that there are large voids deep in the mix, I think this is very beneficial to the roots, and also offers excess water a place to go so as not to rot roots.
    •Place a thin layer of long fiber sphagnum, or perhaps coconut chips or fiber over the orchid bark to minimize invasion of peat into this bottom layer.
    •Wherever you are planning on putting a Nepenthes, or any other plant that doesn’t like to be as wet, or requires a longer root system, place more orchid bark, in mounds. I did this to much of my tank, but created a shallow area in the front for plants that like a more boggy area.
    •Over all of this, place a mix of Peat moss, Perlite, and if you desire, a little bit of orchid bark and long fiber sphagnum, I personally believe the more variation in the texture of the soil, the better. Layer this over what you have already done.
    •If you have not already, pour water into the tank to moisturize the media. Make sure the media has absorbed water before adding your plants. I would give it at least a day. I added 2 gallons of distilled to my tank when I started it up. The media was totally dry at this point.
    •Add your plants in the appropriate positions
    •Dress the top layer with long fiber sphagnum or living sphagnum.
    oYour chances of developing living long fiber sphagnum from this setup are VERY high, my tank is almost a year old now, and it has several large colonies. The more you get, the faster it grows.
    •Cover the top of your tank with saran wrap, the nice thick kind is best I think, you can also use acrylic plates, or glass, or whatever you have available. Because saran is very thin, and when I tape it’s borders it forms a good seal, I continue to use it when I could use ‘better’ materials. I do not believe it blocks many of the important spectrums, as glass may do.

    Decorating It, and adding Equipment.

    Just because this comes last, does not mean that is where you do it. If you are going to add rocks, wood, and other decorations, it is wise to do it before adding the medium, not only does this offer a more seamless appearance, it provides more stability, and the last thing you want is a tower of rocks falling on your 200 dollar nepenthes.

    Additional Equipment:

    Outside the tank probably the most important things you will want are Switches and Power Strips. I have 4 timers on my tank, one controls the ultra-sonic humidifier (if you can afford to, buy a digital timer for this, because of the digital nature, you will be able to turn the mister on for less than the standard timers 30 minute increments.) 1 timer controls the fan, (which I believe a digital timer would also be good for) and 2 control the lights.

    The lights are set up to turn off and on in 30 minute increments, simulating sunrise and sunset. Don’t know if this helps, but I don’t think it hurts. I know this assists many reef system owners in making their corals spawn, so perhaps it does help here.

    Inside the tank, The only technology I have is one computer fan, and one ultrasonic humidifier.

    The ultrasonic humidifier is hidden in stack of rocks, and the basin is re-charged with a funnel and silicone tube.

    The fan stirs the air in the tank every so often, but is not on for very long. I would ideally like it to run for five minutes, every half hour I think. If I leave it on, I experience growth problems with some of the nepenthes, as I believe it does force a little bit of my humid air out into the open.

    The 5 inch case fan was bought at a computer store. I purchase a 9v power supply from radio shack, skinned the wires on back, and wired it into the fan, the same way I did with the lights. (I am not going into detail on electrical wiring, as it is not my specialty, and there are probably better ways to do it, besides, instructions should come with the light fixtures).

    Decoration:

    I used wood found at local aquarium shops, the wood is usually from African bogs, Louisiana and Florida swamps, and is actually manufactured for the most part now days be ‘farmers’ who throw wood into swamp areas they own, to make it perfect for tanks and setups such as this. It’s a great environmentally friendly way to supply wood to the hobbies. If you want to get the wood on your own, and you don’t have a swamp nearby, find wood that has been sun bleached. (note, swamp or bog wood is VERY acidic, and releases beneficial acidic tannins into the substrate I think) (Not verified)

    Place the wood in aesthetically pleasing fashion, before adding any substrate, this offers stability.

    Rock towers: you will need to find a type of rock that will not leach minerals into your substrate, metamorphic rock is perfect, sedimentary, is an absolute no no, I think igneous and is good as well. You can test your rocks by putting a drop of vinegar on them, if there is a bubbling reaction, don’t use it. If not, if nothing happens, then your most likely good to go.

    For small towers it is ok to just lean and structure the rock against your water basin for the ultrasonic humidifier (I used a 100 count cd-silo cover for mine, with a notch slit down the side that is 1 inch wide for the mist to fall out of.) Cap it with a rock, maybe add some wood to it for texture, and your golden. For larger stacked towers, I recommend using stone/ceramic epoxy or reef epoxy to hold it together, stay away from mortar and cement.

    Photoperiod: 12 hours, staggered by 30 minutes per fixture
    Recharge ultrasonic basin every week and a half: runs for 30 minutes every night. (This is the only water I add to the system, except when I mix a super thrive solution, which I add on the spot with an eye dropper or turkey baster.)


    I realize this is an incomplete account, I hope others can add to it, and perhaps in a few weeks I will compile it into an article for Phil and Jeff to post on their home page.

    As I build my tower up, I will try to document it with pictures, and I will add pictures to the article when I compile it.

    Please, anyone with experience, add to this, ask questions, and as this is completed, and the weak spots are filled out, I will compile it, and post it (with credits of course!) and perhaps everyone will have a terrarium like they want someday.

    Need help with:

    Creating a terrarium with pots, rather than natural style
    Creating Ultra Highlands style,
    Heating, as I have never had to

    (heating and cooling methods are great too, perhaps deserve their own sections)

    Alternative lighting section perhaps as well, using metal halide, high pressure sodium, and so on.

    Post your experiences, and perhaps we can create a definitive guide!

  2. #2
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    Hello all. I would just like to add a small tip that has worked well for heating & humidity in my setup. I put a small terrarium inside of my terrarium (I'll call the smaller one mini-terrarium from now on) and added a little water to the bottom. I purchased a safety hot-water heater from a local pet store. It has two leads on the outside of the heater, so it cuts off if the water level gets too low. Just put the mini-terrarium inside the terrarium, add water and the heater. :-). I set mine to 35C (the terrarium doesn't get much sun), and it works perfect. The humidity in the terrarium is constant (day & night) at a minimum of 80%. It also keeps the temperature at around 30-33C. The lowest I have observed the terrarium at since I implemented this was 29.8C. I have the lights setup on a timer, so my lowland terrarium is almost 100% maintenance free.

    I also put a styrofoam cutout just above the water level in the mini-terrarium to reclaim some of the lost real-estate.

    Just a tip...

    Pat


    (sorry its not very clear, its 2:30am, i'm tired.)

  3. #3

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    Out of curiosity; just how long did it take you to write this? Impressive.
    Buckmaster

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    about 30 minutes! [img]http://www.**********.com/iBhtml/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif[/img] I type fast. (And Word XP corrects all my typos right behind me to.)

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    You must think really fast too!!!

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    hehh... well... maybe. On some things I do.

    My problem is I don't feel like working right now. I already have 35 hours in for the week, and I have not had but about 10 hours of sleep since thursday night. I am running on that last pulse of energy you get before total exhaustion kicks in and knocks you flat on your back.

    it is that time, when you hear every air conditioning vent, the ping in the computer fan around the corner, the world moves really slow and it seems like your mind is going 50 million miles an hour as thoughts zip through your head. like hyper awareness... and no, I have not, or will I ever do any psychotropic substances... this is just that thing that happens when I get super tired.

  7. #7
    N=R* fs fp ne fl fi fc L Pyro's Avatar
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    Sure Ram, we believe you, it is just exaustion


    And that stuff I slipped into your coffee when you wern't looking :biggrin: Drosera extracts and stuff :biggrin:

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    i book marked this :biggrin: i am thinking of getting a 20-25 gallon tank to use as a terrarium, i will place it ontop of my cloths dreser in my room,

    the thing is, i have no clue what cp's to put in it, maybe ill make it a ultra highland like NepG's, so that , if i place low land neps in it they will outgrow it in a year or so, with the highlands they grow slow and i think itl work out for a while to come. i dont know anything else besides Rajah, it gets to 80 F in my room at night and i duno how i will cool it down, i can use his cup with water and frozen bottles, i tried that, went to around 70-75 F, i didnt have a fan in there though, onc ei put a mini fan in the hood like those you use to col ur self off, i put it onm i went to take a shower, and i came back and it was ar around 60-65 F!!!!

    i was like WOW~! if i get a computer fan and blow it on the ice with the water bubbling from the air pump then i am sure itll cool, i am not sure if the tank will be big ebnough though, anyone got ideas on what i can plant in there besides Rajah?

    or any suggestions? Thanks

    Ram im goan print out your post so i can keep it in mind for me, the soil mixture and the ultasonic humidifier and such, i kidna wanna make it look like a rajahs home in borneo where it lives.

    and some other neps or butterworts that can take the temps of a rajah,


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