Big viv upgrade

Here’s a little info on some vivarium work that I’ve (mostly) completed. Starting from the top:

Lighting. I was happy with the job that my 2 x T8 shoplight was doing, but the floor of the vivarium was pretty well shadowed – plants down there were looking leggy. It’s pretty difficult to over-light a viv (heat is a different story); I decided to upgrade to 2 55 watt 6500K power compact lights. The change gives me about 60% more watts – what that translates to in lumens, I don’t know. The significantly better reflectors included in the kit I got from AH Supply make me think that I’m getting way more that a 60% boost in light available to the plants. Aside – AH Supply = HIGHLY recommended. I placed my order and within 20 minutes got a call from them (I’d ordered some extra reflectors for a T5 project) to make sure I understood that the PC kit I’d ordered came with reflectors. After I explained what the extra shiny stuff was going to be used for, the guy I was talking to managed to save me a few bucks by eliminating some mounting hardware I wasn’t going to need. End of aside. I put together a simple enclosure for the fluorescents, wired it up per the instructions, and voilà!

The silver things on the ballast are heat sinks left over from a couple computer projects. I glued them on with Arctic Silver thermal adhesive; if I need to I can put a 40mm fan on the leftmost heatsink for even better cooling. Did I need to do the heatsink thing? Almost certainly not, but it was fun to fiddle a bit.

Cover. I wasn’t getting much air movement in the vivarium – with the large pond that’s in there, I wasn’t too worried about the humidity dropping to nothing, so I called Paul at First Class Aquatics. We talked about what I wanted, I gave him dimensions, and the result is here:

Exactly what I wanted, executed beautifully.

Substrate. A couple years ago when we (the boy and I) set up the vivarium, we used a coco fiber/milled sphagnum/sand mix. Time and water have rendered the mix sludge-like, especially in the center, where things are wettest. I’d been over to another frogger’s place recently – he does a fantastic job on his vivs – and the topic of substrates came up. Coincidentally, I fell over this thread on Dendroboard. Both discussions point in the same direction, namely, that there are a lot of reasons to consider using a clay based substrate. So, off I went in search of Schultz’ Aquatic Plant Soil. I scooped out the goo and carefully re-contoured the area with the clay gravel.

I put a very sparse layer of coco chips on top (to help when it’s time to swap out leaves) and then some leaf litter to finish off. I seeded the area with a mix of dwarf woodlice and springtails, trying to get some microfauna into the gravel.

Plumbing. I was using a Sterilite bin as a sump – effective, but a bit of an eyesore. I moved the vivarium to a new stand (combo wire shelving and a home-made frame) and it seemed like an opportune time to re-plumb. I did some minor tweaking – added a 90 degree elbow and a T fitting, replaced the tubing that feeds the ‘spring’ – and swapped in a 10 gallon aquarium as my new sump.

All I have left to do (within this project’s scope – there are a million projects out there) is to light the shelf underneath the viv. I’d like to get a decent mat of azolla established in the sump and at the other end of the shelf, place a tray of sundews and pings. Lots of light needed at the ends, medium to low light in the middle – hmmmmm. Ideally I’d go for some small LED under-cabinet style pucks, but I’m not sure if they’re even on the market yet. Time for a trip to the local home improvement big-box (bah!); plan B – 2 36watters from AH.


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