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I recently made the clay substrate however I used an extruder to make the clay pieces. There were 2 attachments I used. The first made long flat pieces that were easy to break into pieces about the size of 1/2 of a Hershey bar section. The second attachment made spaghetti like pieces that were easy to break into a range of lengths. My question is... which do you think would be most beneficial? I believe it would be the larger chunks for irregular surface area and cracks/crevices but I attached a few pics to see what you guys think. Thanks!

Large pieces




Spaghetti pieces



Mix

 

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I'd like to try to revive this as I'm thinking about making a batch for a couple of new vivs that I will likely use for obligates. I'm not sure if the main contributors are still active on this forum but I'd love the hear from anyone with knowledge on the subject.

My main question, not being a biochemist: Is it or is it not recommended to mix peat or other organics in with the clay. I notice that it's in the initial recipe but that there are several mentions of organic materials having the effect of binding up the calcium and rendering the clay less useful.

Thanks for any insight.
 

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I'd like to try to revive this as I'm thinking about making a batch for a couple of new vivs that I will likely use for obligates. I'm not sure if the main contributors are still active on this forum but I'd love the hear from anyone with knowledge on the subject.



My main question, not being a biochemist: Is it or is it not recommended to mix peat or other organics in with the clay. I notice that it's in the initial recipe but that there are several mentions of organic materials having the effect of binding up the calcium and rendering the clay less useful.



Thanks for any insight.


The consensus seems to be its fine at low quantities. One of the OG clay guys had posted he keeps it under 5%. From my understanding part of the point of using organics is they will decompose and add more surface area(voids on the exterior creating an uneven surface). I suspect that you could forgo the use of it without any issues, I only just started using substrate so only time will tell.

Also there is another thread that may have your answer.

https://www.dendroboard.com/forum/general-discussion/22990-ultimate-clay-based-substrate-thread.html
 

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I had a question that was only partially answered. So I wanted to post what I discovered making this substrate. The question was what is the stability of the substrate dry(in reference to storing for later use). It is brittle enough to break in your hands with some force but strong enough to be stored in large amounts(I had ten pounds in a box without issues). Wanted to post this for anyone who may read this thread in the future, but maybe alone in that question seeing as I never saw it asked.

Also other notes,

I see most people were using hardware cloth but I found an alternative product that was located directly behind the hardware cloth. Holes seemed to be a hair or two over 1/4”. Comes pre-framed but I would recommend elevating one side with blocks of wood.

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Constru...d-Steel-Flat-Screen-Vent-SCV168-1-8/310198652

Also I would recommend only dry mixing one batch at a time, I did two and had to go back and mix again due too some being unmixed in bottom “corners” of the bucket. Wet mixing I would only do half a batch at a time. This stuff is thicc.




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Discussion Starter · #288 ·
I'd like to try to revive this as I'm thinking about making a batch for a couple of new vivs that I will likely use for obligates. I'm not sure if the main contributors are still active on this forum but I'd love the hear from anyone with knowledge on the subject.

My main question, not being a biochemist: Is it or is it not recommended to mix peat or other organics in with the clay. I notice that it's in the initial recipe but that there are several mentions of organic materials having the effect of binding up the calcium and rendering the clay less useful.

Thanks for any insight.
You can't really revive this. It never died. Calcium Bearing Clay Substrates are alive and well. It's in the back areas of at least 2 zoos in the US. It's being used in Canada, and across the pond. It's latest use in the culturing of springtails and isopods.

Yes, using large amounts of organics will bind up the calcium. Small amounts decompose over time, leaving an internal "honeycomb" structure to the clay. The warning about organics and clay conflicting with one another, come from people misusing clay. It does NOT help ABG or other substrates, to add clay powder or calcium powder to it. See, that is just ruined organics, with clay goop mucking up the place and nullifying ABG's excellent drainage potential. If you want ABG mix, use it as it was designed to be used. I'm pretty sure the developers of ABG mix would be horrified to hear about people mixing clay into it. ABG is all about the drainage. You nullify it if you add clay. Plus, you nullify the clay because it's calcium is now bound to organics.

Putting 2 good things together does not always create Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Sometimes it just makes a nasty mess that nobody wants any part of.
 
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Discussion Starter · #289 ·
I recently made the clay substrate however I used an extruder to make the clay pieces. There were 2 attachments I used. The first made long flat pieces that were easy to break into pieces about the size of 1/2 of a Hershey bar section. The second attachment made spaghetti like pieces that were easy to break into a range of lengths. My question is... which do you think would be most beneficial? I believe it would be the larger chunks for irregular surface area and cracks/crevices but I attached a few pics to see what you guys think. Thanks!

Large pieces




Spaghetti pieces



Mix

I like the mix.
 

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Don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet or has discovered it either as I haven't read through the entire post, which is excellent btw, but calcium bentonite clay is also available through Laguna Clay. I'm going to pick up 400 lbs tomorrow in Orlando. You just have to ask them for calcium bentonite. It's also available in 50 pound bags. Also if you want a cheap source of calcium carbonate you can get that at Laguna as well. It's a whitening agent for clay. And I've also added Plaster of Paris to my mix which is gypsum, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate and crystalline silica. I don't use that much be a little sulfate should be good for plants and a little silica shouldn't hurt anything especially when moist and part of the clay which already contains a lot of silica anyway. Thanks for sharing this great information. If anyone wants to know Lagunas price on calcium bentonite just ask and I'll post it but it was maybe 3 x the price of sodium bentonite. I'm having a hard time finding non-bioactive Aragonite sand. Almost everyone is selling in as bioactive packaged wet/moist in seawater. Don't really want saltwater sand and it's so fine that it's hard to rinse properly without losing sand. Any suggestions or brands that don't have salt? I can't find the Old Castle Aragonite play sand around here. And I've used the vinegar test on some sands that looked like Aragonite but no foaming.
 

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Don't know if anyone has mentioned this yet or has discovered it either as I haven't read through the entire post, which is excellent btw, but calcium bentonite clay is also available through Laguna Clay. I'm going to pick up 400 lbs tomorrow in Orlando. You just have to ask them for calcium bentonite. It's also available in 50 pound bags. Also if you want a cheap source of calcium carbonate you can get that at Laguna as well. It's a whitening agent for clay. And I've also added Plaster of Paris to my mix which is gypsum, calcium sulfate, calcium carbonate and crystalline silica. I don't use that much be a little sulfate should be good for plants and a little silica shouldn't hurt anything especially when moist and part of the clay which already contains a lot of silica anyway. Thanks for sharing this great information. If anyone wants to know Lagunas price on calcium bentonite just ask and I'll post it but it was maybe 3 x the price of sodium bentonite. I'm having a hard time finding non-bioactive Aragonite sand. Almost everyone is selling in as bioactive packaged wet/moist in seawater. Don't really want saltwater sand and it's so fine that it's hard to rinse properly without losing sand. Any suggestions or brands that don't have salt? I can't find the Old Castle Aragonite play sand around here. And I've used the vinegar test on some sands that looked like Aragonite but no foaming.
They are my go to source here in Los Angeles, staff is very helpful as well.
 

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Simply amazing! I haven't been active on the forums for over 10 years but last night I was on the Saurian Enterprise website and noticed Patrick was selling springtails cultured on clay. Naturally that piqued my interest and when Patrick's description pointed me to Doug/Pumilio and the forum, I followed the breadcrumbs back to find this thread still getting action after a decade! Really 13 years if you count the ultimate clay thread that preceded, and well over 15 if you count the old Frognet convos before. LONG before "bio-active" was a term. For those who don't know me (and I doubt many of you do) I'm probably the "OG clay guy" referenced a few posts above. Hilarious. Hats off to Doug for leading the charge here and all of you for continuing to experiment, innovate, and improve. I'm for sure switching my springtails to clay!

Anyway, since this topic is still going, I hadn't thought much about clay substrate in recent years so figured I would post an update on one of the first clay-based vivaria that has now been running with this substrate for 15 years. A bit of background on the viv. I built it in 1999 to house a group of Nicaraguan blue jeans I received in January 2000. It initially had a kitty litter substrate and the usual natural wood furnishings. After swapping out the DIY rain system I built for a more standard misting setup and dialing it in, the frogs started producing offspring. Calcium deficiency was an issue that went away after adding UVB to the setup. By 2006, the organic structures had decomposed into an unaesthetic heap so a renovation was in order. That included adding a fake concrete buttress stump (there is an ancient thread on that somewhere) a PVC pipe supported horizontal branch, replacing the top with Solacryl to allow better ventilation of heat from the lights (they were bare bulb inside the viv before), and, of course, the Redart clay-based substrate. I believe that original recipe is in the ultimate clay thread.

Maintenance in the 15 years since has been minimal since the only things that can decompose in the viv are things I want to decompose. The viv itself hasn't changed much and many of the plants are the same ones planted in 1999. The viv has experience long periods of neglect where I did nothing but toss undusted cultures of ff into the viv and top off the misting reservoir - often after letting it go dry for way too long. The frogs just continued to chug along despite my poor husbandry and produce offspring. By fall of 2020, the 20+ year old frogs were dwindling in number and no longer reproducing so I obtain another group of more recent Nicuraguan imports from Bill at InSitu on incredibly generous terms. They arrived in Sept. 2020 and by Jan. 2021 the first new froglet in several years appeared.

Here's how it looks as of this morning. This is typical of how I like to maintain the leaf litter The base litter is sea grape leaves and I just toss in interesting leaves that drop or are clipped off my other plants.

Plant Terrestrial plant Wood Twig Grass


And when I lifted the carpet to peak underneath, this was the first thing I found, a half pinky nailed-sized froglet. Too bad the camera focused on everything BUT the interesting part.
Hand Plant Terrestrial plant Snake Twig


The second thing I noticed was the writhing movement of microfauna scurrying for cover. There are springtails (hard to see because they take on the color of the substrate rather than the usual white we see), some kind of tiny beetle, an unidentified mite, some kind of nematode (I think) that is about 1.5mm long, and some small skinny earthworms. I haven't seen any isopods. They were probably lost due to my neglecting to keep the leaf litter stocked. A few things to note in this next pic: 1) Surface roughness. there are lots of fissures and lumps from years of microfauna workings. It isn't quite the pseudosand structure I would like, but it drains well. If you poke a finger in it, it's like poking into pottery clay so no stable aggregates have formed, but it has created a nice structure over time. 2) Root network. Notice the roots grow "on", rather than "in" the soil. That's how it works in the tropics too. The action is in that boundary between decomposing detritus and the soil surface. 3) No humus. Over 15 years there has been at least a large lawn bag full of litter dumped on the surface and more likely closer to two bags worth. Yet, NO humus layer has developed. Again, like in much of the wet tropics. Litter decomposes so completely it doesn't leave behind any stable organic layer. The charcoal you see "escaped" from springtail cultures added recently before I realized there was a healthy population still going in the soil. I like the look and will probably add it to the next clay substrate viv I build.

Brown Natural material Wood Terrestrial plant Twig


Not substrate related, but here area a couple shots of the fake buttress after 15 years. Looks better than the day it was installed.

Plant Leaf Botany Terrestrial plant Adaptation


Plant Terrestrial plant Organism Groundcover Flowering plant


And the PVC "branch." That Vriesia is over 20 years old.

Plant Flower Terrestrial plant Groundcover Grass


And a better shot of that little froglet. I probably should pick out that perlite that escaped from a transplant, but that would require work.

Twig Terrestrial plant Wood Plant Trunk


Overall I'm thrilled with how this has performed and how it looks. Doug and the rest of you have improved on this early effort and I look forward reading in more detail what you've all come up with. I'm really intrigued by the idea of Plaster of Paris as an additive John J M mentioned. Can that be used to form stable pseudo sand aggregates? I think the perfect substrate would squeeze tight like clay when moist (not wet), but break apart more like loam when pinched. Has anyone achieve texture Nirvana yet?

Last thing. My original vivs I set up with kitty litter in 1996 are still going. I've moved the frogs out and will be tearing them down soon to make room for a mega-viv, but the substrate seems as good today as when it was new.

I hope somebody enjoys this blast from the past.
 

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@bbrock I don't imagine that plaster of Paris can harden if kept wet, so it shouldn't stabilize. I was using it more for its chemical make up. A lot of additional Ca plus gypsum tends to slightly acidify alkaline soil back to approximately neutral pH, which clay can sometimes cause or if lime stone is contained in it. The sulfate will do that and sulfate is also needed for healthy plant growth. I don't know much about tropical soil but I would assume that it tends to be slightly acidic plus calcium carbonate is a very strong alkaline buffer with pH around 8.4 I believe so I figured that the gypsum would counter some of that and bring the clay back towards neutral and allow organic decomposition acidity the rest of the way. Gypsum is also used to open up clay soils and help with drainage but I doubt that the plaster will help much with that in vivariums nor is drainage much of a problem.
 

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Hey @Scott , how you been buddy?

@John J M Thanks for the explanation. That's pretty much what I expected and it makes sense. What I should have asked is what kind of pore spaces are people seeing with derivatives of @Pumilio 's recipe after they've been in services for a few years with heavy misting? The thinking behind adding sugar and corn starch to the mix was to promote bacterial films and fungal hyphal net formation to promote polymer and glomalin secretions to glue clay particles together to form stable aggregates that would maintain pore spaces through the profile. The cubing, extruding, or drying and crumbling was intended to mechanically create aggregates. I made my mix before the sugar and starch innovation so my aggregates were temporary and broke down after a few years of misting. I dropped out of the discussion before seeing results of the sugar additives so I'm curious how it has worked.

My substrate still drains very well although I admit it is a bit of a mystery why. However, since the aggregates have broken down and pore spaces have collapsed, there is a LOT of lost potential for increased biological activity and sustaining a large refugia of soil microfauna. Of course, there is a lot more going on in our substrates than just providing calcium storage and the macro structure is an important part of it. Anyone have any pics of their substrate profiles that show pore structure after they have "weathered" for awhile?
 

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I've got to confess that I've not been brave enough to use clay as planting substrate. Instead what I've been doing is making some small ponds in my vivariums using small to medium size open cell polyurethane foam, the type that's used as sponge filters for fish and gluing it to the bottom glass of the vivarium to create a wall with a slope to it that's about 3" high. Then using it as a barrier for my LECA pellets drainage layer and cutting my screen around the edge to open the pond area. This way the pond is in communication with the water in the drainage layer should I need to remove excess water. I then coat the foam with the clay leaving out the sugar/starch but including sphagnum and creating a clay bottom of about 1". This clay bottom serves as a substrate for aquatic plants and java moss with a few river stones and some oak leave litter. I find the frogs often soaking in the clay mud banks perhaps absorbing Ca but certainly moisture. And I hope that it becomes a springtail environment. Perhaps even a frog spawning pool when they're old enough. The moss seems to like this clay bottom and does grow up the bank. I'll take some pictures to illustrate.i find plant roots do grow into the foam as well.
Tire Automotive tire Wood Tread Bumper


This picture shows how I place and glue the open cell polyurethane foam to the bottom of the vivarium. The tape is temporary to hold the shape while the silicone glue cures. Notice that the flat side of the foam faces outward so as to retain the LECA pellets to the top edge of the pool. I cut little wedges of foam to remove so the the foam isn't compressed when bent to form the curve. Any spaces created by these wedges are filled with clay and there's a 45 degree angle cut in the last 1 to 2 inches of the top of the foam to create a slope in the bank. I start with a 2" x 4" x 6' strip of foam an mark 1" down on each side and then cut the foam on and angle between these 2 marks which makes 2 strips that are 1" pond side x 3" LECA side x 2" thick from inside to outside so the bank angle is about 60 degrees. The 1" straight vertical bottom side of the pool foam gets filled with at least 1" of clay for the bottom. And the LECA pellet side allows for retention of 3" drainage layer level.

The thumbnail shows the foam in cross section with the space in between 2 ponds that will be filled with LECA to the top roughly 3". The next thumbnail will show a finished pond with 3 out of 5 inhabitants just happened to be enjoying a soak.
 

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does anyone have a Canadian source for calcium bentonite? I checked a local clay supplier, but they do not. The only thing I've found is Koi clay, but all the online suppliers are out.
 

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does anyone have a Canadian source for calcium bentonite? I checked a local clay supplier, but they do not. The only thing I've found is Koi clay, but all the online suppliers are out.
Who do you use currently for your red art clay and did you ask them about calcium bentonite? I believe I read that clumping kitty litter contains 50% calcium bentonite and usually you can get pure calcium bentonite in the cosmetics department of stores but 1 pound will cost about $10 but since it's only 1/9 the total you can make a little over 9 pounds total from on pound.
Drinkware Cup Drink Tin Coffee cup
 
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