DIY "Wood" and "Rocks"
Driftwood and vines covered in mosses and orchids are always a good addition to a vivarium to add that touch of jungle realism. People have also started using rocks that fit the type of environment they're creating just to add that little extra touch as you know there are rock dwelling mosses and plants too.
So Wood and rocks are heavy to ship but there is an answer to project oriented folks, make your own! So that's what we'll be doing tonight:
-Colored sand called "Scenic Sand" You'll find this at the craft store in the school projects area for diorama building. I bought Black, white and reddish brown. Used together or separately these three colors can be used to simulate many different rock types.
-Great Stuff urethane spray insulation foam. Get the "big gap filler" version sold in the BLACK can (red shown here) it expands more!
-Orchid bark (also need coir or peat and LFS)
-Box cutter with an extendable blade.
-Black Aquarium Silicone (you'll need a caulking gun to use it if it's packaged like this)
-Plastic drop cloth
-Cheap paintbrushes. these were $0.50 each at the craft shop
Spray out some foam shapes on the drop cloth, long pieces for "wood" and blobs for rocks. Don't make your shapes too THICK or they won't cure properly stay under 2" height. I put things like tee shirts and orchid bark bag under the drop cloth to make the "wood" pieces cure (harden) bent and shaped more like real vines than completely flat. It doesn't smell too bad at all but open a window and put a fan in it anyway for an hour or two and then shapes will be firmed up and no longer smelly.
Let the shapes cure for 24 hours on their plastic
Now you can pull the wood pieces off and spray the other side of the wood to make the shapes "3D". You can also add more thickness to your rock pieces, at this time by just spraying more foam on it. Let the new foam additions cure for 24 hours again.
Now you can start carving with your extendable work blade. Try to find the "flow" to the wood pieces look at pics of jungle lianas online while you do it to get some idea of what shape things are supposed to be.
Rocks on the other hand you will generally cut at sharp planes. Look at pics online to make sure you are creating the kind of rocks you want. The rocks I'm doing will be used in a montane HL vivarium so I want them to look somewhat "volcanic" like a giant lava rock.
Using sandpaper take a bit of the sharpness off the flat edges you cut on the rock so it doesn't look "cut out" or "tooled".
For covering the rock I will be trying out natural colored Gorilla Glue and a cheapo paintbrush. if you buy Gorilla Glue look for this one and not the one which says "Dries white" cos if you miss any spots you don't want white poking through.
Squeeze the Gorilla Glue onto the "rock" and smear it around with the brush working into all the nooks and crannies. You'll have to work in areas if you are making a large stone like this piece of lava rock.
This is why you use a cheap brush, throw it away no saving this!
Now over a clean sterilite bin dump handfulls of colored sand on your rock, use a liberal amount, let it sit a while then shake the excess off and put it back in your colored sand bag. I didn't do much for this rock, I only used black and I didn't work very hard to get the surface smooth. I wanted it to look like a chunk of Lava rock or roughly weathered mountain rock and I think it's pretty close. Other types of rock aren't as pocked as this, jungle rocks are often smoother due to being washed over by streams, lighter in color and may have mineral striations and so on which could be added while the glue is still wet. I'll show some examples of those kinds later on cos this was fun!
The whole apx 12" x 10" x 6" stone weighs about 1 lb, maybe less. It's totally waterproof and chemically inert but things can easily grip onto the sandy surface and grow on the foam rock as it's rough and not smooth.
To coat the "mossy wood" pieces we'll be using Coir, Long Fibered sphagnum and orchid bark, this is a bit bigger bark than I wanted but oh well. Blend these all together in your sterilite bin.
Put on a pair of disposable plastic gloves and smear some silicone on the "wood", now with your gloved fingers work it into all the nooks and crannies.
Lay the siliconed "branch" in the sterilite bin and press handfuls of the Coir, LFS/Bark mixture firmly on all surfaces and let it dry. It should come out similar to this
In time this "wood" being exposed to light and humidity will be covered in live mosses. Orchids, ferns, neps and other epiphytes should have a good time rooting in the live surface of this "wood".
I hope you enjoyed this project!