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Thread: Living Clay background test

  1. #1
    swords's Avatar
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    Living Clay background test

    Well I've been reading about this and finally decided to try it. This involves using Calcium Bentonite powder (from brickyards) or Sodium Bentonite (all natural kitty litter) mixed with water and sphagnum peat moss to make a thick mud spackle that goes on the tank wall and is kept wet. Plant's root in it, moss grows on it and it wicks water up from the bottom of the tank soil helping keep the whole tank humid.

    That's the theory anyway. I have seen wonderful photo evidence of this being awesome so I thought I'd like to try it as I'm tired of the spray foam and silicone which is very hard to keep wet enough for moss growth without an automatic misting system. This method is WAY cheaper than foam and silicone and is all organic and that's a plus, so here we go...


    I looked at Home Depot, they don't have Calcium Bentonite powder, you can get it at brick yards and pool places but I didn't have time to find one today. However, Sodium bentonite used in all natural clay kitty litter is almost the same according to those who have gone this way before me. I am using the $2.26 unscented/natural bag from Wal Mart. Some have even mixed some reptocal powder into the kitty litter to give it a bit of calcium.




    Here is the back of the bag. I think the scented stuff is in a blue bag IIRC.


    Boil a gallon of water and dump 3/4 of it into 3 quarts of clay and wait a while for it to soak up the hot water and soften. Then using a Jiffy Mixer on your power drill ($9 at Home depot in the cement dept) mix it up until it becomes smooth and then keep beating it until it becomes like cake frosting. You may have to add more water.


    Now dump in 3 quarts of sphagnum peat moss and the last quart of water and mix again.


    You're done when you can grab a wad of it and open your hand upside down and it won't fall, if it's too wet add another handful of peatmoss and mix again. You can do all the mixing of clay and water and peat by hand, it's just so easy to use a jiffy mixer that if you have a drill no sense wearing yourself out.



    Now you just take that thick mud and squish it onto the back glass and make sure it's packed tight, you can sculpt planter bowls and ledges in it. It sticks as long as it stays moist it cracks and falls off if you let it dry out so no good for desert setups. Use that Floor Patch product and sand I showed a while back for dry setups that won't crumble when dry.



    If you want to add driftwood just poke it in and pack some mud on it and smooth it down This will easily hold a dart frog, insect, or small lizard (anole, small gecko sp.) but not snakes or iguanas! LOL






    The water portion is Flourite clay gravel, the drainage layer on the swampy land portion is Hydroton clay balls (Petsmart sells it now but for a whole lot of money)


    I used peat & cypress mulch for the planted portion, some people even use the clay background mud as a soil but I'm not so sure about that yet, I'll try it on a small nano tank scale first


    I've embedded java moss all over the background and made a little riccia patch across the water line. The tank will be misted 1 - 2 times a day along with the others so we'll see how it goes.


    I will be adding more plants of course but I've slashed my leg open on a pile of glass I cut for my 6 nano vivariums so I'm done for the moment keeping my leg elevated hoping I won't need stitches! LOL

  2. #2
    Charlatan lizasaur's Avatar
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    Wow..that is amazing, lol.
    Hope your leg heals up!

  3. #3
    Let's positive thinking! seedjar's Avatar
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    Ack, casualties of war!
    Do you think that this could work as a finish on top of a sturdier material like concrete and sand?
    ~Joe
    o//~ Livin' like a bug ain't easy / My old clothes don't seem to fit me /
    I got little tiny bug feet / I don't really know what bugs eat /
    Don't want no one steppin' on me / Now I'm sympathizin' with fleas /
    Livin' like a bug ain't easy / Livin' like a bug ain't easy... o//~

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    swords's Avatar
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    I'm sure you could do it over top CURED concrete and sand but with the wet mud if you ever want to remove it you just pull it out. Apparently it gets knitted together with the moss and plant roots as things grow in.

    I stopped the blood flow so I had to get busy here's a few more pics planting not totally done yet.





    I'm not sure why "Marimo moss balls" are popular or what they're supposed to do, but I got handful of them with a few cups of java moss I ordered so I put them in here. They remind me of Tribbles from Star Trek. I got a bag of live wild sphagnum (a very short stiff stem variety) I have poked some of it in between the rocks.



    This is a "bonfire begonia" and it gets enormous (leaves get no bigger) but it creates lots of offshoots and is a very prolific bloomer I've had a 10" pot on my front step in full bloom all spring/summer. This tiny piece I cut off tonight I'm going to try it in here.

    There is "English Baby's Tears" on the left and epiphytically mounted Dendrobium princetei on the right


    I may plant a few more little things here and there but mostly now it's just the waiting game to see how things progress. I'll post some photo updates in a month or two after things have settled in. The wood stuck in the mud is already soaking up water and partly saturated so it should be nice to keep the mounted epiphytes and mosses moist.
    Last edited by swords; 07-03-2010 at 12:54 AM.

  5. #5
    Let's positive thinking! seedjar's Avatar
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    Marimo are described in Japan as a "national treasure." I guess they're just kind of weird and inexplicable to the casual observer. Apparently you need to roll them over occasionally to help them keep their shape - the agitation of the small waves in their native lakes normally keeps them moving so that they grow spherically. At the souvenir shops in places where you can go see marimo they have little baby ones inside keychains and paperweights and stuff.
    Looks great! When I have time for projects again we should trade terrarium plants. I think I may have found a few things you'd enjoy.
    ~Joe
    o//~ Livin' like a bug ain't easy / My old clothes don't seem to fit me /
    I got little tiny bug feet / I don't really know what bugs eat /
    Don't want no one steppin' on me / Now I'm sympathizin' with fleas /
    Livin' like a bug ain't easy / Livin' like a bug ain't easy... o//~

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    Dodge's Avatar
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    WOW, that is an amazing setup !!!!

    Nice work

    Think I may have to borrow some of your ideas soon

  7. #7
    fish30's Avatar
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    Very nice! It would also be a good house for a tarantula with that wall to climb!

    Hope your leg gets better soon!
    Call me Hayden

  8. #8
    ellisonk001's Avatar
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    Great DIY post, thanks for sharing!

    Hope your leg is ok...

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