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A few substrate construction questions
#1
Hi I'm Dillon Wascher, I will be ordering supplies for my first dart viv in the next couple days, setting it up next week, and getting the frogs from a reptile show on July 31. I have keep several types of tropical tree frogs, but have never had much success growing plants. The only ones I have managed to keep alive long term are Alocasia "polly" (can't imagine what it would take to kill this plant, LOL) and another one with little round, fat, thick leaves that I don't know the name of. Needless to say, I'm not really a plant guy! Supplementing with artificial plants worked for the tree frogs, but for darts, I'd like to go with all real plants. Besides paying attention to the lighting requirements of the plants (before I just walked into Stein's like an idiot and bought a bunch of pretty tropical plants), I need to use the proper substrate.

I have used the "search" feature on this site, and come with the following general consensus: 1. Everyone uses a subterranean layer of hydroton (or LECA) 2. Some people construct a false bottom under the hydroton, some have the hydroton as the bottom layer. 3. Just about everyone recommends a layer of leaf litter as the top layer. 4. There seems to be the most differing opinions about the layer between the leaf litter and the hydroton. Some people use some sort of homemade clay (as in pottery clay) mixture, some use sphagnum moss or a mixture containing sphagnum, and others use ABG. I would like to use ABG because, in my opinion, it is by far the most natural looking.

My questions are as follows: 1. Do you recommend using a false bottom under the hydroton, or using the hydroton as the drainage layer? I know a ton of people recommend false bottoms, but, like I said, many others don't use them. I am wondering which is better or if there is a difference in plant health. 2. How deep do I plant the plants? 3. Can I replace the hydroton with regular lava rock? 4. Assuming I go with ABG, how thick of a layer do I need? Other "custom" suggestions will also be appreciated, as I've tried to stay inside the general construction realm. Many thanks for reading, and good luck with your frogs!
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#2
Dillon Wascher Wrote:My questions are as follows: 1. Do you recommend using a false bottom under the hydroton, or using the hydroton as the drainage layer? I know a ton of people recommend false bottoms, but, like I said, many others don't use them. I am wondering which is better or if there is a difference in plant health. 2. How deep do I plant the plants? 3. Can I replace the hydroton with regular lava rock? 4. Assuming I go with ABG, how thick of a layer do I need? Other "custom" suggestions will also be appreciated, as I've tried to stay inside the general construction realm. Many thanks for reading, and good luck with your frogs!

Hi Dillon,

Welcome to Dart Den. Everyone I know uses Hydroton in lieu of a false bottom or vice versa. They are two different animals entirely.

Plant growth is different with both as well. Leca wicks water upwards and some plants do better that way, and then again...some plants do better in a true egg crate false bottom. Impossible to comment as there are 50 or more variables involved - depth of substrate, amount of misting, level or incline, species of plant, light, ect, ect.

ABG is generally good to use for plants and is a great "first substrate". I use anywhere from an inch in the front of the viv, to triple that in the back of the viv -as an incline, for instance.

Yes...some people use lava rock or "featherweight" rock instead of Leca (Hydroton). I've not heard any drawbacks to either. Some people even use Styrofoam packing peanuts as filler for a false bottom.
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#3
I have been using a traditional false bottom, with Hydroton as the drainage layer for 10+ years. The reason I do this is so the substrate will drain through, and the Hydroton will establish a bacteria colony much like bio-balls in an aquatic filtration system. Ideally the false bottom will have at least a quarter of an inch air gap between the surface of the water and the bottom of the egg crate.

Somewhere along the line, it became an either or situation, false bottom, or Hydroton. I have always used the combination.

I know around the turn of the century (boy does that sound weird!) there was a company that blasted onto the scene and touted the use of Styrofoam peanuts as a drainage layer in their vivariums. I was able to see some of their setups up close and personal. While they were in existence (approx 6 months) the vivariums looked 'nice'. I often wonder what they would look like today.

I have a couple of issue with their method, first being they are no longer in existence (to the best of my knowledge). Second, correct me if I'm wrong, Styrofoam is an oil derivative. I would have a hard time placing something in a semi closed system that was an oil based product, for long term use. Do we know of anyone that has used the packing peanuts for more than 5 years as a drainage layer?
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#4
Not sure if I would be concerned about the Styrofoam being petroleum based considering Silicone, Great Stuff, plastic and just about every other product we use in today's society is oil based (thank you for supporting my industry by the way Wink )

But I would imagine that it would be rather unsightly. I personally prefer hydroton as well. I was lucky and found it for rather cheap at a local hydroponics shop. Like $25 for a 55 lb bag or maybe less. Has been a while.
"He that is slow to believe anything and everything is of great understanding, for belief in one false principle is the beginning of all unwisdom" LaVey
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#5
D3monic Wrote:Not sure if I would be concerned about the Styrofoam being petroleum based considering Silicone, Great Stuff, plastic and just about every other product we use in todays society is oil based (thank you for supporting my industry)
That's true, however I use food grade silcone, and when I use the waterfall safe foam sealant it is a polymeric isocyanate pre-polymer which is inert once cured, and safe for fish and plants. The PVC while it is polyvinyl chloride, it is used in drinking water systems. The egg crate is styrene if I'm not mistaken. I just don't see the peanuts as being something I would want long term in a vivarium.
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#6
Thanks everyone! I think I'll stay away frog the Styrofoam, at least for right now. It's Interesting that different plants prefer different drainage layers, I never knew that.
For my first frogs, it is now looking like I will be able to purchase a complete setup at the show, so I won't need to build one right away, but I definitely will be building more vivs in the future and I look forward to using the tips you gave me. I think I like Cindy's idea the best; even though it takes up more height I might be able to "customize" the drainage layer so that certain areas accommodated certain plants (i.e. Some places have clay on top of the false bottom and others have just the pure false bottom). It might provide an interesting effect, both in plant diversity and in the topography of the surface soil level. Anyway, you have put some interesting ideas in my head, and thanks for responding. Big Grin
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#7
Dillion...you may want to put a location in your profile. You are probably near some froggers here and could benefit from meeting some locals. That's the BEST way to acquire both supplies as well as frogs.
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"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".
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#8
Thanks. By the way the show I will be going to is the Sewerfest. And no, I have no idea why it's called that lol. :roll:
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#9
Perfect....good show from what I hear. Get ahold of Gabe and pick his big froggy brain for info. He's good people.
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"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".
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#10
I'm already in touch with Gabe; he's the one I will be buying the setup and frogs, and probably more supplies from. I will be sure to talk frogs with him as well. Thanks.
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