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Disquiet's Noobtastic Vertical Build
#1
Hello everyone!

Over the holidays I was gifted a 29 (actually 28 and change--unless my math is messed up) gallon aquarium: 30 long, 18 high, 12 deep. My original intent was a Holothele incei (terrestrial pygmy tarantula) colony, but I knew when I flipped the tank on its side that I would need to make an arboreal tank out of it instead--there's just something about tall tanks! This, combined with my love for frogs and slices of jungle, led me to PDFs. A few weeks later, after obsessive research, I started the "dirty work" of repurposing the tank. Here are some pics from the first few weeks of my build. I will continue to post as the project progresses, and am open to any and all constructive comments. Thanks for reading!
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I used the usual GS + Silicone + Coir 3D background technique, but with a twist. Being a "multi-purpose" kinda gal, I knew I wanted the background to be fully removable in the future. I didn't want to use egg crate and didn't have a styrofoam backing board on hand, so I used the "bag method" and lined the part of the tank the background would be situated in with plastic bags. I then figured out the placement for my manzanita driftwood and suspended it in place with tape, wrapping areas that would be embedded in the foam--again, making each piece totally modular. Then it was only a matter of emptying two cans of GS into the tank.
Lessons learned this step: Thin layers of GS work best! Although I didn't attempt to build it up too much, I did run into issues with the backside. Because it was unable to expand back into the glass, I ended up having to pull it out of the tank after a few hours and slowly work the bag back while misting water to help the curing process. Ultimately, it worked just fine--and yes, it cured all the way through and separated from the bag nicely--but it did take some extra work and time. The back was also not perfectly square once I pulled it and allowed it to expand and thus, it needed to be trimmed.
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Next I siliconed my substrates onto the fully cured GS. I chose to mix Eco Earth (fine coir) and coconut chips for a more rugged look. I went in stages and went over each section multiple times to ensure even coverage.
Lessons learned this step: All those cool little nooks and crannies I made with the GS? Yeah, they got covered pretty well. Also, thick beads of silicone will not necessarily spread and join one another, DO use a gloved hand to spread it around in an even layer to eliminate the need for touch-ups--I figured this out by the third section or so. Also, every single tutorial says it takes a lot of silicone, and I was no exception! Wink
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Now comes the hard part: waiting. I let everything sit for quite some time between steps. The silicone + coir step took a few days and I let it sit for a few more before moving on.

I siliconed the substrate dam in place using aquarium silicone--I used 3/32" glass from Lowe's that the kindly gent in the glass department cut for me (not pictured). I also siliconed around the inner rim of what used to be the tank top. The side door will be a 17 incher with a silicone hinge at the bottom; the top 5 inches will be screened for ventilation--my experience with DIY tarantula enclosures has taught me that it is infinitely easier to add water than remove it, so I always err on the side of too much ventilation.

Once the background had cured, I trimmed as necessary with a sharp knife. I found that the combination of shrinkage and expansion from the back meant I had to cut it square again so it would fit nicely against what was now my back wall. I cleaned any extra coir from the back so it wouldn't be trapped against the glass and cause a mold problem, then laid down a relatively thick bead of silicone all the way around the edge of the coated portion of the background, making sure I got a seal between the glass and the foam. Now, in the event I want to remove the background, all I need to do is run a razor around the edge and pull it out. I went ahead and pressed some coir into this silicone as well. I left the tank in a horizontal position with weight on the background, and let it sit overnight and through the next day. When I flipped it right side up, it was solid as a rock. I then cleaned up the edges with a razor but didn't stress too hard, knowing that plants would obscure most imperfections.
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After another few days, I installed my drainage layer, substrate mix, and wood. I moved the tank to its final location--but still need a base for it, argh!--before completing this step, as I am using gravel rather than LECA or Hydroton. I installed a double-folded nylon mesh substrate barrier and several inches of my own ABG mix: coir, peat moss, coconut chips, and sphagnum. The plants seem to really enjoy it and a near-death Peperomia (sp. Cupid?) has perked up since being planted in it. Lastly, I installed the wood by wedging the pieces into the background and against each other. The pieces that had been used during the GS step fit nicely into their "pockets" as intended and are pretty bulletproof.
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Now the fun part: planting! This is the only pic I have of the planted tank, and I've since rearranged quite a bit. I need bromeliads, more Peperomia, and I'm on the hunt for some decent and varied ground cover as well *hint, hint* Wink
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I still need to add leaf litter (in the freezer atm) and seed with springtails, and, as I said, I may tear out the plants in favor of something more biotopic, but I'm pleased with the overall results. More tweaking will most certainly take place, but I don't intend on adding frogs for another few months at least.

Miscellaneous build notes:
Wood is local manzanita that has been baked at 300 degrees (F) for one hour and allowed to sit in the oven while it cools. On that note, leaf litter is also manzanita that was sorted, trimmed, boiled for a few minutes, and frozen for a few days.
Rocks were soaked in a 10% bleach solution and rinsed several times with hot running water.
Plants were processed per the generally accepted bleach dunk and cool water rinse.
Lighting will be a single 6500K CFL in a dome fixture that directs all light down into the terrarium--I may also add a fan to cool things down as necessary.
Misting will be done by hand for the time being.
Current inhabitants: Philodendron pothos, Peperomia sp. Cupid, English ivy--the stalk variety, and a Seleirolia cultivar.
Intended vertebrate inhabitants: Ranitomeya ventrimaculata trio, with the intent of allowing in-vivarium breeding and tad rearing.

Like I said, any constructive comments are welcome!
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#2
Great first build ! The gap at the bottom is puzzling though, heh.

Pothos IS used in the hobby -more of a utility type plant for temp tanks and shipping containers but not much so in vivs as it easily 'overgrows' it's neighbors and takes over.

Good stuff.
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#3
Thanks for the input Phil. I'm moderately pleased with the results thus far. Thanks for the tips on pothos; I do plan to leave at least one of the more robust vines in for now.

The gap at the bottom was intentional. I was concerned re: moisture wicking and didn't want to risk coir breakdown either. It will likely not be visible once the plants have become established--there is more leaf litter and substrate to be added as well as some "deadfall" type hardscaping that I've been working on.

I'll update this thread as I move forward, thanks again!
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#4
I like the wood work that you did! If you would like to down play the gap, black shelf paper works nicely to quickly change the look of the viv. IME it's faster and less messy than paint. I use it to partially black out the sides of the viv as well - it seems to give the frogs more confidence.

If you are looking for plant ideas, I like Perperomia trinervula, orb, and caperata - they hold up to my poor plant husbandry Smile Pilea involucrata 'friendship' is another I like. All these plants are relatively small in stature and somewhat slow growing so you don't have to prune too often. They are easily propagated when you do prune. Anyhow nice stuff! Looking forward to seeing the build progress.
Jim from Austin --- Lorenzo keepers PM me about a US breeding program
lorenzo | nominant fants | highlands | summersi | bakhuis | azureus

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#5
Thank you, sir! The plant recommendations are much appreciated--I like the idea of propagating and pruning at the same time, as well as the hardy nature of the plants you described. I, too, have a brown thumb at times Wink

I do, however, have some artistic ability so I may in fact use paint (on the outside of course) to further hide the gap and possibly enhance the left side (non-door side) of the terrarium. Thanks for the suggestions there too!
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#6
Replanted the tank with an African violet, Calathea cultivar, and Ficus repens along the back wall. Kept the Peperomia, Soleirolia, and ivy. Added the leaf litter too. There's a tiny Tillandsia wedged in the upper branches, and I have plans to get some bromeliad pups and springtails from a local frogger later this week. Painted the gap and a little along the left wall.
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Hoping this will fill in before Frog Day in May! Misting twice a day now with a 12 hour light cycle (with the aforementioned 6500K CFL).
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#7
Careful of your heat if you have a bulb and silver dome reflector (looks possible from the pics). Can get hot if right on top o' da glazz
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"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".
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#8
Update: added three bromeliads and have a springtail culture "brewing" for splitting and seeding the vivarium. Plants seem to be doing well with a few mistings a day and 12 hours of light. Will be investing in a min/max hygrometer and thermometer soon so I can track conditions more accurately.
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#9
Here's one of the best hum/temp gauges that I've found to date...

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"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".
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#10
Thanks, Phil!
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#11
Lookin' pretty good so far! I can attest to the fact that the top glass will get pretty warm if the CFLs are too close. It will also create a very obvious temperature increase/gradient in the viv. I also have a 29g vert. and I ended up upgrading the lighting from 2x23w CFLs since I wasn't getting very good growth from anything other than my philodendron. The top of the viv. was also staying very warm and dry even with the lights suspended 3-4" above the glass. The CFLs just don't seem to penetrate very deep without an insane amount of wattage which is just a ton of heat. You might end up with good growth but my bromeliads just looked bad. If you end up needing it, I found some LED spotlights on EBay for like $20 that turned out to be pretty great.
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