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Old 01-13-2011, 04:16 AM
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Default Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Alright, this is my first build so be kind

I found an exo-terra 18" cube on craigslist for cheap and went with that. It had been housing a gecko so when I got a chance I cleaned everything out and disinfected it with a 10% bleach solution. Once cleaned I let it air dry for a day and then reinforced the inside corners with silicone. Once that cured and the smell was gone I laid it on its back and got ready to add the background.


I was planning originally on doing a GS background with cork bark chunks in it. Kitty litter clay backgrounds didn't sound that secure and I was worried it would fall off. However, the previous owner of the cube used some clay to build a "floor" for his leopard gecko which I had thought was some type of cement but turned out to be just clay. It was rock hard and not going anywhere until I dumped copious amounts of water on it. Then it softened up and I was able to scoop it out with a spoon. I was impressed with it enough that I changed my mind and decided to try the kitty litter background.

Here's a tip: get a big bucket. Don't try to use one of the little 5 quart mop buckets, go ahead and get one of the big industrial buckets like the orange home depot bucket size. It will make life a lot easier.



I also used some gloves from the dollar store.

After kneading and twisting and soaking and turning for what feels like forever, it finally looks like clay and not litter. It loses its "grittiness" and becomes firm and smooth throughout. At this point I started adding some eco-earth coco fiber (bought a bag of the pre-fluffed kind not a brick. Made it easier for me is all) to the concoction. I couldn't add it all at once to everything so I did about half of the clay at a time. Once added, it was ready to be "installed". I apologize for the sloppy pictures. My camera was struggling, it usually takes clearer shots than this.



I just was grabbing big handfuls and pressing them (and I emphasize the pressing) onto the glass back. Once they're pressed firmly they hold pretty well.

After I had enough added I started to mold and shape it. I didn't have any specific look in mind going into it and just started to shape it.




Once I was content with the background I took handfuls of coco fiber and sprinkled it over the clay. When I had a sufficient amount there to cover everything I began pressing it and squishing it into the clay. This is one of those times when you need to put more on than you think will stick to it. It holds the fiber well and only gets stronger as you press it.





I carved a walking path into the background to go from low to high and the right side I put a tree-trunk/root shape into it. Other than that the corners are rounded out and the front bottom will slope into the substrate.


Now for the drainage. I bought "enough" of the hydroballs to do the false bottom according to the store (Oh why oh why did I trust the store...) which ended up being only half as much as I needed. So I went to a dollar store which was closer and bought some small smooth river rocks to line the outside with and thus increase the depth of my drainage. I separated the hydroballs from the gravel just so that I would keep the good looking rocks on the outside and the "ugly" little pellets on the inside.





I wish that I had just done the egg-crate. I thought this would have been easier, but truthfully it was a pain in the butt. My next viv will have a false-bottom.

Then I covered the whole thing with a doubled-over layer of weed blocker. There's still a little bit of room between the background and the drainage layer but I'll fill that in with substrate later. I ordered ABG mix from Josh's frogs. Anyhow, I figure that that space will at least become a safe-haven for burrowed microfauna. A place the frogs can't get to even if they tried.






Let me know what you guys think. Once again, this is my first build (so be nice...) and for someone who's never worked with clay before I'm happy with the turn out. Plus, since it's clay I can still add to it and mold the background if I need/want to make changes. However, at this point I'm pleased with my work and with how it all turned out. I'm excited to get the dirt in there and start planting.
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Old 01-13-2011, 04:53 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Looks good so far! Save your sculpting for up higher next time...that sculpting on the bottom right is going to be completely covered by your soil mix and leaf litter. You are right about the false bottom, that river rock is going to be heavy! Keep us posted!
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:02 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

That looks awesome...even if it wasnt your first build! You are very talented at sculpting...I all but gave up because mine looked like poo and just did a straight background. Keep up the good work!

P.S. For mixing the clay next time try an electric drill with one of those paint mixing attachments. Works like a charm and you wont have Popeye arms when you finish.
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:12 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

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Originally Posted by Kaity View Post
That looks awesome...even if it wasnt your first build! You are very talented at sculpting...I all but gave up because mine looked like poo and just did a straight background. Keep up the good work!

P.S. For mixing the clay next time try an electric drill with one of those paint mixing attachments. Works like a charm and you wont have Popeye arms when you finish.
Thank you. I didn't have a power drill this time so I had to do it by hand. Plus my wife really likes the popeye arms



Quote:
Originally Posted by Pumilo View Post
Looks good so far! Save your sculpting for up higher next time...that sculpting on the bottom right is going to be completely covered by your soil mix and leaf litter. You are right about the false bottom, that river rock is going to be heavy! Keep us posted!
Doug
Yeah, I thought that I had left enough room when I was making it but it looks like it will be mostly covered up. If there's a little showing it may look cool still though. Might look like the "tree" is actually coming from the ground. I wish though that I had realized before going into this how deep the substrate and drainage combined would be. I'd recommend for anyone reading this for ideas that they use a ruler and measure it out instead of just eyeballing like I did...

I've still got a couple pieces of driftwood to add once the ABG mix gets here which will change the whole look and feel of it I'm sure. I'll update as I get more done on it.

Thanks for the positive feedback everyone!!!
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:14 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

One more point and I can't stress this enough, on your clay background...Don't put Peanut Butter in the mix!
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:33 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Yes, well that is why I wore the gloves :P

Oh and I forgot to mention what kitty litter I used. I went with Dr. Elsey's Precious cat Ultra. It was more expensive than the walmart special kitty but the formula seems more stable. I'd read somewhere that the kitty litter formulas change from time to time so you can never be sure of what one person has that works if that same brand will work for you. Anyhow I got in contact with the company before hand and asked them about that. Here's their reply.

"The Precious Cat Ultra is the litter in the blue bag. It is 100% sodium bentonite clay we do not add any additives to the product - no perfumes or chemicals etc. Dr. Elsey has been getting his clay product from the same mine for many years so it is very consistent."
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:46 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

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Originally Posted by PeanutbuttER View Post

"The Precious Cat Ultra is the litter in the blue bag. It is 100% sodium bentonite clay we do not add any additives to the product - no perfumes or chemicals etc. Dr. Elsey has been getting his clay product from the same mine for many years so it is very consistent."
If your are going to use the kitty litter route that is some good information to have.
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Old 01-13-2011, 05:55 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

I was actually very surprised and impressed when I got that reply. I was expecting to hear about "tolerable variance and limits" instead of "We get it from the same place and have for years...Nothing added."

I used to work in a cookie factory and the cookies were never exactly the same. Sometimes more flower or more butter or whatever got into the mix and they had to be tested to make sure they fell within the "tolerable limits" and could be considered the same product or not.
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Old 01-13-2011, 06:32 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

looks really great to me. you obviously spent a lot more time on your clay sculpting than i did. i just smashed it all in there and made a big ole mess of things until i felt it looked okay ... i'll rely on overgrown plants to hide my handy work in the future.

can't wait to see it all finished.

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Old 01-14-2011, 12:15 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

You could've talked to me and I would've sold you some redart clay to mix in with your kitty litter.

Just out of curiosity, why did you put coco fiber over your clay?
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Old 01-14-2011, 12:27 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

One thing from reading is how are you going to siphon out the water from the bottom? I didn't see a siphon tube......

Clay looks great though....I am thinking of getting a Exo that size....
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Old 01-14-2011, 01:42 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

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Originally Posted by SmackoftheGods View Post
You could've talked to me and I would've sold you some redart clay to mix in with your kitty litter.

Just out of curiosity, why did you put coco fiber over your clay?
The clay was a dark-gray sort of color before. I didn't like the look of it, so I figured I'd try what the GS/silicone guys do to hide the color and plop some coco fiber on it. It actually pressed in pretty easily, but I'm not sure how long it will last that way.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Azurel View Post
One thing from reading is how are you going to siphon out the water from the bottom? I didn't see a siphon tube......

Clay looks great though....I am thinking of getting a Exo that size....


Thanks, it's a nice looking size that should have enough room in it. A tall 18x18x(Something bigger than 18, don't remember what) would have been a bit more fun to work with and probably easier to get my hands in and working on.

It may not show in any of these pictures, but I do have a plan for that. In the front right corner I've pulled the rocks back and it will be a smaller pond? that I can siphon water out of when I need to. When it's all set up I'll be sure to take a pic to show you what I mean. I wanted to avoid drilling for the time being.
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Old 01-19-2011, 02:55 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

I've got some plants in there now and it's coming together. Thanks again for all the help everyone has been.


Before:



Now:





The Plants:








Not sure why that last picture turned out the way it did. That log shown in the last picture has an arch shape to it and a little pathway underneath it. I'll post a better pic of it soon.

Leaf litter is to come. I just need to clean it first is all. As far as plants, this will be for azureus when it's grown in a bit, but let me know if it is still looking too sparce. The plants are all planted in the substrate, so let me know if I need to move any of them or anything like that.
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Old 01-21-2011, 04:12 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Some pictures of the archway.







The mold is starting to grow. The wood is all growing little white "spots" though my camera doesn't seem to be able to take very clean/clear shots so it's not very visible in those pictures.
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Old 01-25-2011, 05:55 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Quick update:

It's really coming along nicely. Leaf litter has been added. Let me know how it looks and whether or not I should add more/less. I still have some left, so any input either way is appreciated. The plant in the backleft has some interesting pink coloring to it that doesn't show up very well (i guess my camera is failing me as far as close-up true-to-life colors and shots).





and a picture of the "pond" on the front right that is for drainage. Looking at it, it looks like the picture didn't come out very clear, but you can still kinda see the water level. I separated it off with a "cliff" on the back side made by that piece of wood which the java moss will hopefully grow on and on the left side by creating a hill or beach using primarily rocks. So far I haven't been misting enough apparently to fill it so the level has only dropped. I can't help but wonder how people are able to fill it when they're not using an automatic mister. When I have my frogs should I be misting enough for the water level to rise?

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Old 01-28-2011, 10:54 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

FF Proofing

I used some silicone to glue noseeum to the removable vent. It turned out pretty good. I trimmed it after it was glued on and had cured for a day, so now it sits flush and you'd never know from looking at from the outside. I've seen others who have meshed off the front vent, but I always thought that flies could get in there and hide. This way though, fruitflies can't really get into the vent at all.




Also, I've noticed that since I've added the leaf litter my humidity has really dropped. Before leaf litter it was easy to keep it up in the 90s, now it seems to hover between 70 and 85. Will humidity resume being up to the 90s once the leaves become saturated?
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Old 02-04-2011, 06:22 AM
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I'm not sure if anyone's really following this thread or not, but I know that it drove me nuts when I was looking at people's viv build threads and they would stop posting half way through. I wanted to see the viv from start to finish. Anyhow, so I'll keep updating this until the point that the frogs go in (next week!)

I added some wandering jew cuttings. I love wandering jew because it's one of the handful of plants that I've actually grown from cuttings before, and had success with. I took a horticulture class and it was one of the plants that our grade depended on . I was excited when I realized I could use it in here because the metallic silver striping on purple leaves is very striking. I'm hoping it eventually fills in the background. I put three cuttings in, and after only a couple days I can already see roots forming out of the nodes and none of them are wilting. I actually got the cuttings for free Just don't tell the laundromat I hacked up their plants when no one was looking :P

That picture doesn't do a good job of showing the real "sparkliness" of the leaves and believe me, they sparkle. Coolest thing ever.


After only a short time the Syngonium is already growing and putting out new leaves and "feelers" looking for a place to root. I've read that it's actually a vine, but if you cut back the feelers when they come out, you'll be able to maintain it as a bushy plant and the leaves will retain their arrow shape.

The new leaves nearest the top have come out really pink. When I bought it it had some pink veining, but you can see that the new growth is pink-all-over. Who needs flowers in a viv? Too bad it's too tall and pretty soon I'll be trimming it down to size. Anyone know how to trim these properly? I'm assuming that just cutting off the taller stems at their base would do the trick.


Already forgot the name of this plant. If anyone knows, thanks in advance for reminding me. The leaves are hairy and look like they're crinkled up on themselves. I'm not sure what this little growth is, but maybe it's flowering? or maybe a seed? I have no idea. Will find out soon though based on how quickly it's growing.



The Java moss is establishing itself. I'm starting to barely see some vertical growth now. The picture makes it look browner than real life, but you can see the new growth on the backside of the log.



And an overall shot to sum up the growth thus far.
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Old 02-04-2011, 01:18 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

I like it PB!! Great job on the wall!
Following along.
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Old 02-04-2011, 02:00 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

looking great! There are for sure followers watching... keep us updated
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Old 02-04-2011, 03:08 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Yep, we are here. Just speechless.. I am interested in how the wandering jew does. Got lots in my crepe myrtles that I keep having to rip out every year.
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Old 02-04-2011, 05:43 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Thanks guys, I was almost sure no one was still reading this thread.

Quote:
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I like it PB!! Great job on the wall!
Following along.
Thank you. The clay is still pliable. I "pulled out" another mini shelf just a few days back to place the wandering jew on.

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looking great! There are for sure followers watching... keep us updated
Will do.

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Yep, we are here. Just speechless.. I am interested in how the wandering jew does. Got lots in my crepe myrtles that I keep having to rip out every year.
So far I can see it rooting. I can visible see at least one root that is nearly an inch long. I planted 3 cuttings in 3 different locations (soil, background w/ lots of light, background w/ filtered light behind another plant) to see if it prefers one spot over another. The background w/ lots of light seems the healthiest, but the background w/filtered light has the longest roots.
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Old 02-04-2011, 06:05 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Thanks PB, I had wondered if the wall stayed "workable" - good to know.
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Old 02-04-2011, 10:36 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Looks very nice!
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Old 02-04-2011, 10:38 PM
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You did a great job! Looks awesome!
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Old 02-08-2011, 06:42 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Last update. The frogs went in on Saturday

Here's one sitting on the moon-valley pilea. They seem to really like it. I've caught them snuggled up beneath one of its leafs. Another perk is that it's a firm enough plant that the frogs can perch on it. It adds cover and different levels for them to explore.



In these next couple pics you can see how the moss is doing. On the front side of the log it's browning a bit (in real life it's not as brown as the picture shows) but on the back of the log it's growing. You can see that it's just starting to establish itself and put up some new vertical growth.




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Old 02-08-2011, 01:18 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Looking nice, good luck with it and the new frogs.
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Old 02-08-2011, 10:54 PM
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Looking nice, good luck with it and the new frogs.
Thanks!

I will actually probably add some pictures later tonight showing how the Moon Valley has flowered in pink. I know I know, i said last update last time, but I guess I was wrong. The flowers are blooming either right now? or they're about to go full bloom. They're pretty small so it's hard for me to tell... Worth showing though.
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Old 02-21-2011, 06:21 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Guess I forgot about posting those flowers...

Here's a pic though, and a link to a movie of it spraying. Very cool.

Valentines037.mp4 video by PeanutbuttER987654321 - Photobucket


Anyhow, I was really bored today, so I decided to take a couple pictures. It's only been about 2 weeks since my last update, so not much has changed. I did however put some riccia in and I wanted to show a time-line of the growth.

Full tank shots just for the sake of the update...

I have no idea why the wandering jew in the middle decided to be so tall. I've only ever seen it creep, but this for some reason has decided to stand up straight. Reminds me a bit of the beanstalks on the original Mario...


And, here's the riccia. It really reminds me a lot of easter grass and looks different than I expected. It's possible that the fish store I got it from didn't know what it was either... But we'll see if it grows anyway. If not, it was not too expensive since I was able to find it locally.


It's placed near the front of the tank, which was an open space. I figure that right there gets direct light with no shading from other plants so that would be the place to grow it. Plus, with it being in the front and center it will be the least obtrusive place for me to water it without bothering the frogs.

You can see the riccia more closely in the bottom right of this pic. Really looks just like easter grass. This is the third day that it has been in the viv. Hope it grows

Last edited by PeanutbuttER; 02-21-2011 at 06:30 AM.
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Old 02-21-2011, 06:38 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

If I were you, I would remove the wondering jew before it get's out of control. It will take over the tank eventually. Other than that, looking good.
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Old 02-27-2011, 05:52 AM
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Alright, turns out that what I thought was riccia (what was sold to me as riccia) wasn't riccia. It's actually a liverwort, monosolenium tenerium pillea. Well, through the process of me figuring out what that was I ended up getting in contact with a local aquarium guy who gave me a TON of riccia in trade for the pillea. So instead of it being a bad thing that I was sold faux-riccia, it turned out really well. I went ahead and put the riccia into the viv today and wanted to do an update of how the tank has turned out thus far. It finally feels done, feels complete.




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Old 02-27-2011, 01:25 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Nice riccia! Java is also growing nicely. Great work!
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Old 02-27-2011, 08:02 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

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Originally Posted by Arpeggio View Post
Nice riccia! Java is also growing nicely. Great work!
Thanks arpeggio! I had enough riccia that I could probably have done several more tanks had I planted it more sparcely and let it fill in, but I had so much that I just got to lay it down like sod (still ended up with some leftover too. Enough I would think to fairly easily do another tank by chunking and letting it fill in). The guy had it floating on top of a tank, so the top was half exposed to the air already. It should transition over to viv life more easily because of that I would think.

The Java is starting to look more and more like it ought to. It's starting to get a little brighter colored and a little spikier overall. I've been carefully spraying it multiple times a day to keep it moist and it's paying off.
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Old 02-28-2011, 03:08 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

That moss is some of the greenest moss I think I have ever seen in addition to those great looking frogs. What kinda of camera and lens are you using?
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Old 02-28-2011, 03:32 AM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

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That moss is some of the greenest moss I think I have ever seen in addition to those great looking frogs. What kinda of camera and lens are you using?
Well thank you, but you'd be surprised. It's just a fujifilm Finepix Z20fd (it's the green one). It's a basic camera, no fancy lenses or photo editing. The riccia and java moss just look really nice under the normal viv lighting (I try not to use a flash generally). I usually take about 40 shots to get a couple that look good enough to post.

Riccia does look really sweet though. When the frogs are walking around on it it really shows off their color
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Old 03-05-2011, 07:12 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

Looks great man! I need to get some riccia soon to have that "finished" look. Is it generally thought that the java does better on wood and the riccia as floor cover? Is that why you went that route with the places you put it?
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Old 03-05-2011, 07:31 PM
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Default Re: Exo 18" cube: 1st build

I remember reading/hearing that somewhere, but don't know if it's true. I know the riccia won't root itself so it would be more difficult to make that work on vertical wood pieces. I have java on 3 different pieces of wood, but the riccia is only on the ground. I bet you could use java though as a groundcover if you still wanted, but it will get tall and may not be the look you're looking for.

However, Java will survive in lower light than riccia so it's not a bad option if light is an issue. The riccia looks really nice though. Lots of color, that's for sure.
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