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Vivarium Substrate Question

Posted by Cdfortin GA ( on
Wed, Jul 27, 05 at 22:04

As some of you may know, I'm in the process of building a large vivarium. Floor space is 5ft x3ft. It is going to have a false bottom/sump setup, and the substrate will vary from 3-10 inches deep.

In the past I've always used CoCo bedding (ground coconut fiber). However, this vivarium will have a pretty extensive water feature and I need something that will drain better. That's why I was excited to find out that black jungle has a new product called Dendro Bedding (see link ). It supposedly has superior drainage ability.

Then I started thinking. First of all, this stuff has absolutely no nutrients. My vivarium will be big enough so that the waste from its tiny inhabitants just won't add enough natural fertilizer to support blooming plants. Also, I really want a soil that is biologically active. By this, I mean soil that has an active cultures/organisms that will break down dead crickets, plants, ect. I just don't think this stuff is "complex" enough to facilitate such activity.

So, now I am in the dilemma of not knowing what substrate setup I should use. In summary, I am looking for something that:

-has superior drainage

-can easily support biological activities

-will last a long time

-won't leach mud or silt

Any ideas/past experiences that you can share? Thanks in advance for all your great advice.


Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I'm no expert but I bought dendro bedding from BJ and honestly Its the same thing as coco it will turn your water brown
there is a product out there called eco complete plant substract its used for aquatic plants its made of gravel so I know that it has good drainage but I'm not sure if you can use it on just dry land mayby you can mix it here is what they claim

"Contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur plus over 25 other elements to nourish your aquatic plants.
Iron rich Eco-Complete eliminates the need for laterite
Nitrate and carbonate free will not increase pH or carbonate hardness
No artificial dyes, paints or chemical coatings
Natural black substrate encourages the most vibrant coloration in fishes and reduces fish stress
Spherical grains for optimum diffusion performance
Supplies Calcium without raising pH
Lead free
Contains live heterotrophic bacteria to rapidly convert fish waste into natural food for your aquatic plants
Creates a natural biological balance which makes cycling a new aquarium faster and safer
Packed in Liquid Amazon buffered 'Black Water' solution for immediate organic water conditioning
Unsurpassed macro-porosity for healthy roots and bacterial efficiency."

Mayby your local pet store carries it or they can order it for you I bought the last bag at my pet store and I'm waiting for a new shipment to arive I need about 3 more for my tank
tell me what you think
This site is the cheapest one that I found but you have to pay a lot for shipping

Here is a link that might be useful: eco complete

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I don't really care if it turns my water brown--it's actually good for the plants because it softens the water and makes it acidic.

I use eco complete in my dutch aquarium and it's great. But, if you use it it has to be completely wet. Otherwise the the grains practicly fuse together as they dry. I'm definatly using eco complete in the underwater sections of the viv.

Is the dendro bedding really the same as the normal stuff?? Brown water is a given, but are you sure that the drainage qualities are the the same?


RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I think that dendro is slightly better. But not as good as they claim. they both hold water but the dendro doesnt turn as mushy as the coco. Also if you read about their coco bedding their claim is pretty much the same. Since they sell the dendro for less I guess its worth the try good luck

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I personally loved my shredded cedar mulch substrate. I did learn that cedar leaches out some chemical that is bad for frogs and other viv critters, so when I do things over (when I get a new tank), I'll use cypress mulch instead. It will, of course, break down over time, but all organic substrates will do this, and bark mulches will do it much more slowly than coir! I don't know for sure how 'alive' of a substrate it is, but since almost the only processing it's had is to be shredded into bits, it's probably got a lot more micro-organisms in it than coir, which has to have a lot done to it. I did find that pre-soaking the bark is neccessary for it to remain moist at first, and some areas that were high-up (closer to the lights) kept on drying out anyways, but this could be used to advantage to grow plants that need slightly drier roots than they can normally get in a vivarium. Oh, and I didn't even get splinters from the mulch, not even once, in all my digging around in it! And I'm one of the most splinter-prone people on the planet, so that means something. =)

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

Here's what I decided to do:

I purchased 12 blocks of dendro bedding from blackjungle (50 bucks-what a rip off!!).

I'm going to mix the dendro bedding with some leaves and worm castings. The worm casting are supposadly non-toxic to animals, harbor beneficial bacteria, and contain tons of nutrients. Hopefully that will get a nice "living substrate" going.

I'm going to put a layer of lava rocks over the false bottom (but under the dirt) and seperate it with fiberglass screen to increase drainage.

The big viv is coming on great!! I'm now in the process of building the 2 1/2 foot waterfall out of stone and cypress driftwood.

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

eco complete
Isn't it amazing how much they can write about these products yet never actually tell you what it;s composed of.?? lol. Even "magic" ingredients have names.

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

perlite is cheap, light and sterile. It does, however, float. Vermiculite doesn't, but tends to hold lots of water.

I use 50/50 and have no trouble growing things. A bit of seaweed emulsion and fish fertiliser probably helps too. It does look a little weird, but you get to see the roots forming and as it doesn't weigh much you can move it with two people.

You might also consider plastic coated aquarium pebbles and ceramic/clay based cat litter.

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I used lava rock on the false bottom on my third viv, pvc crate,lava rock,fiberglass screen,coco fiber,sheet moss(in that order) it works very well as long as you keep the water level in the false bottom at least 1/4" below the pvc crate, if it gets any higher it wicks up through the lava rock into the coco and the coco fiber become wet not just slightly moist, and we all know thats "bad" for some plants, when I first set it up the plants werent doing to well, but I added some live earthworms and bam! in a couple of weeks the plants took off! was it the earth worms? I dont know, but I didnt do/add anything else! =)

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

Whatever tunneling the earthworms were able to do before they died probably helped aerate the substrate, and then their dead bodies probably provided some fertilizer for your plants. For the record, earthworms should NOT be added to terrariums, because they require highly extensive tunnels at cool temps in order to survive. So just leave them outside. Vermicomposting worms (red wigglers) enjoy warmer temps, but they can reproduce prolifically, and would quickly process all of the organic matter in a terrarium (including the live plants), and you would then have to replace most of your substrate (it would be nothing but worm castings, too acidic to be used alone) and start over.

Plants also tend to suffer 'transplant shock' when moved, so it's quite normal for them to just sit there for a few weeks (growing new roots into the new substrate), and then suddenly take off.

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I decided to go with coco fiber, but I am going to amend it with earthworm castings.

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

Died? no, their still in there, every once in a while Ill see one slithering around, a frog usually gobbles it up, but they are in there, the plants were replaced but only because they were taking over the viv, so I switched to lower growing less evasive plants, when I removed the pothos, wondering jew and some sheet moss that had browned a little, I did see a few worms in the roots but nothing more than maybe five all together, thats including the ones I saw under the sheet moss, but the soil/coco mix looked good, and this viv has been set up for some time, (going on about a year and three months?) the worms I see are smaller than what was placed in the viv originally but they are there, I added Espoma "Plant-Tone" all natural and organic plant food under the moss, to give the new plants a boost! =) Remember, I am just a humble newbie compared to you guys so maybe just beginers luck? I appreciate all of your comments and take them all VERY seriously into consideration, Ill be sure not to add worms in any future set ups. =) Thanks sahoyaref =)

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

While taking apart the old terrarium/plant stand i was amazed at the soil that had been created from cypress and pine much over the years. Black as night and was just crawling with earthworms. How they got in there i have no idea as the setup was 18 inches above ground. Never put anything in there except mulch just to keep the pots upright. Moved the stuff out to the veggie area but some of it is so dense will form a ball in your hand and actually drip water..!! Guess my terrarium turned into a compost bin over the years. lol.
I think when I reset this up I'm not going to use any media at all. Everything will be epi or lithophytic. I've noted that when the humidity stays over 80 percent many terrestrial plants will adapt. In fact many are growing better than in media. For the water area I'm going to use leca on top maybe with some neutral sand..I'll just monitor the water column for nutrients.I'm hoping this will have a much longer lifespan than organic media.
the thing I most want to grow in it is Madagascar lace plant in a terrestrial form. I'm hoping that being submerged will satisfy the dormant requirement.??

RE: Vivarium Substrate Question

I've seen worms climbing up to the top of my greenhouse. They're remarkably agile, for a worm ...

Make your own

It sounds like you've bought the Black Jungle product but in future you could always make your own substrate. A mixture of top soil (bought from a garden center - look for ones without manure or additives), mixed with peat moss and an aerating component like fir bark or shredded hardwood mulch. Supposedly adding something in like unfired clay (unscented cat litter) will also help with beneficial bacterial colonization. The idea is that you combine all these components and eventually over time you get a living soil mix that will break down all but the largest amounts of waste. In the case of animals like snakes or larger lizards you would need to spot clean out the feces then stir the substrate around to mix in any waste residue so the soil bacteria can break it down. The key is having a deep enough substrate (minimum 2") and keeping it regularly moistened by periodic watering.

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