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Discussion Starter #1
I really like the potential for this method and hope to try it out soon (probably on a tank I'm going to have to re-do due to hardscape structural issues with foamed cork). I'm wondering if there's any practical way to build this outside of the tank (to avoid the fun task of hefting that thing around to lay on its back and then re-set up) and then attaching that whole kit'n'kaboodle to the tank back when finished. I was originally considering using the pressed-cork panels (like they use for bulletin boards or whatnot, so not too thick) to adhere the cork pieces to as a stand-in for the glass, and then just adhering them to the glass, but then had a "duh" moment of realization that I think I've read such forms of processed cork deteriorate much faster than intact cork and thus may create their own structural integrity crisis if it fails in whole or in part in the future. I envision such failure being due to aging from humidity/moisture from the overall enclosure, plus sphagnum in the cracks being kept barely moist to somewhat wet, and possibly even plant roots working their way back there. On the other hand, the pressed-cork chucks my various orchids are mounted on have lasted years; the flip side to that argument is they aren't as damp for as long or as widespread as this might be.

So...is it just best (easiest in the long run, and/or safest) to wrangle the tank onto the ground and do this directly onto the glass, or is there an out-of-body construction method I can use to avoid that? (This is a 36" high, 24" wide Exo, so a bit of a bear for us two somewhat out-of-shape apartment dwellers to deal with. Granted, we managed to get it down from our loft level and onto its stand a year ago when I first planted it, but that was an experience I'd like to not repeat if I don't have to.) From what I recall of the main post or two on DB regarding this technique, the pieces of cork were simply siliconed onto the glass itself. I'll assume that's the best way, but am curious as to other opinions and experiences.
 

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Yeah, bad news...I can't think of a single way to avoid the wrangling*. The way I do it is to put the tank on its back, and silicone broken pieces of bark to the back glass with roughly 1ish inch gaps between. That is the foundation for the background so it really has to be anchored ahead of time. Then, you ram wet, dead sphagnum into the cracks with your fingers as hard as you can. If you do it hard enough, it should last a really long time (I have tanks pushing 6 or 7 years with no issues). The great thing is that even if you have to redo things due to roots tearing out sphagnum when you pull a plant out or something along those lines, you can just ram more sphagnum in. Just look for light shining through from the front every now and then to give it a touch-up. Because the sphagnum doesn't stay super wet (in my tanks, anyway), the decay is minimal over long periods of time. The entire background is available for plant growth, too. It is just a great technique.

*Writing this has made me think of one possibility. Working from the top with the doors closes and locked, you could work with the tank where it is, upright, if you silicone the cracked cork pieces to the back glass then wedge them up there against the front glass with a series of sticks until it dries. It might be more of a hassle than putting the tank on its back, but it is a potential option.

Mark
 

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Yeah, bad news...I can't think of a single way to avoid the wrangling*. The way I do it is to put the tank on its back, and silicone broken pieces of bark to the back glass with roughly 1ish inch gaps between. That is the foundation for the background so it really has to be anchored ahead of time. Then, you ram wet, dead sphagnum into the cracks with your fingers as hard as you can. If you do it hard enough, it should last a really long time (I have tanks pushing 6 or 7 years with no issues). The great thing is that even if you have to redo things due to roots tearing out sphagnum when you pull a plant out or something along those lines, you can just ram more sphagnum in. Just look for light shining through from the front every now and then to give it a touch-up. Because the sphagnum doesn't stay super wet (in my tanks, anyway), the decay is minimal over long periods of time. The entire background is available for plant growth, too. It is just a great technique.

*Writing this has made me think of one possibility. Working from the top with the doors closes and locked, you could work with the tank where it is, upright, if you silicone the cracked cork pieces to the back glass then wedge them up there against the front glass with a series of sticks until it dries. It might be more of a hassle than putting the tank on its back, but it is a potential option.

Mark
I've used your second method. It works but it's a pain in the you know where... I ended up just wrangling my 36x18x24" tanks from side the side and back (on my own and I'm not an overly strong man) instead of using the "brace the wood in place" method. It was that much of a pain
 

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You could just buy or cut a sheet of glass - it could be quite thin - and do all your layout and adhering there. Then basically laminate that assembly onto the inside rear of the viv. Measure twice, with foresight. The cork etc will make the assembly thicker, which will cause trouble getting it in, if you aren't careful. If your piece of glass is too wide.
 

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My pair of 36x18x36 Exos have a combination of cracked-cork and epoxied foam backgrounds. The foam rocks were made outside the viv. I adhered them, and then the cork, to the viv interior just as you describe - by wrangling the beasts onto their backs, next to a wall so I could have one door propped open and work by reaching in / across from the top or bottom side. You have to be careful to not break the doors - it would be very easy to do. You could easily fabricate a quick and dirty "pen", ideally about 55" wide and with say 30" tall uprights on each side, to set such a viv into and thereby have both doors open, with the thing on its back.

The good thing about doing it this way, just like with the idea I gave earlier ("false back"), is you can do all the silicone work in one go. If you were trying to adhere in the upright, you'd draw the process out bigtime, using masking take and wire and who knows what all to try (w/ variable success, probably) to keep the cork pieces in place while the cure goes off.

Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Thank you all. I had the thought after I posted this of "wait a second, why does the back material have to be organic?" (i.e., cork)...started remembering that foam board stuff that people use in setups (I see it a lot on some videos from Japan for their open-air waterfall constructions to corral the water zones; I've never seen a piece in person, though, or know where to get one that size) or even egg crate, though this would eat-up a bit more depth of course. Just now, I'm realizing that getting that single panel into the tank (over the bottom front glass, plus between the doors which I may not feel at ease popping off) will be challenging at best. So, yeah...off the stand it is, then, I think. It'll also probably be way simpler to figure out the 3D aspect (branches emerging from the background, if I go that route) and brace them while curing into place by having the tank on its back. The trick is to somehow get my lighting right while doing this, as one issue I had with the tank that's getting redone is that the branch placement casts too much shade on lower structures/planting zones, even though I tried to preview this by using a light source aimed into the tank from the lid end while it was laying down. Encyclia, your suggestion of stick-propping makes me worried I'd be putting too much localized pressure on the glass, though I thought of this too. I do have copious quantities of various-sized pieces of foam blocks for terrarium setup work (like propping-up wood while playing with designs) but I don't know if that would put enough pressure on the background, even if really wedged in there, without just falling down instead.

On a related note, I'm wondering...does anyone have suggestions/experience on how to secure any such branches on/between the cork pieces on the background? I'd like some reaching-out into the tank more than just a planting pocket fragment of cork tube, but am concerned about the load on what otherwise would be a single attachment point at the back. I am thinking about drilling in a long support screw into the branch from behind, through (maybe?) the cork slab or any material being used against the tank's back. I'm wary of foam anchoring branches given my experiences with it thus far. Hmm...maybe do something akin to what they do with oddly-balanced driftwood in aquaria, which is to screw it onto a piece of slate? (In this case, screwing it to a flat, relatively thin piece of sturdy wood that is then siliconed to the glass the same way the cork is? If thin enough, the lumpy cork and/or sphagnum can just run-over the wooden platform's sides, helping to hide it. It would give more surface area for support, I imagine, though I realize using a second point of adherence would be wise regardless.

As far as wood goes, I'm thinking ghostwood, though it might be just more cork or the lighter-weight pieces of assorted driftwood (perhaps Malaysian...hmm, Manzanita?) that I have a stash of.

Anyone who happens to have hardscape pics of this sort of thing is encouraged to share to show me what works, what doesn't (or needs improving), or just to help get my creative juices flowing.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Aha...I see I may be partially answering my own branch-support question after reading the latest Q&A in this thread.
 

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In this case, screwing it to a flat, relatively thin piece of sturdy wood that is then siliconed to the glass the same way the cork is
Yes. A single point of attachment is very weak, you need some glue & screw action.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Tangential follow-up: also liking the potential for good plant growth on tree fern / Xaxim panels, as they are more moisture-retentive than cork. (Maybe this tank, maybe not...probably a different one in the future as I experiment going forward since I don't want to over-complicate things in one enclosure since I'm new to both backgrounds.) Has anyone used chunks of tree fern panel in place of the cork to form the mosaic, with LFS in between? Or is that a bit redundant, since the tree fern holds enough moisture as-is and the LFS is not needed for this purpose?

jgragg: yeah, I've gotta find some suitable supports for the wood, then...maybe some relatively thin but sturdy wood (or composite wood) so I can hide it with the mosaic without making things too lumpy. Any pointers/suggestions from materials you've used yourself?

I think someone else used sheet metal but I'd much rather go for wood, esp. since that's what my current hand-me-down drill bits can work with. Should the support panel be "painted" with a thin layer of silicone all-around so it is more rot-resistant, or don't worry about it? (If I can find cedar or something, that would work as-is, I imagine. Hmmm...maybe I should poke around a hobby store.)
 

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Has anyone used chunks of tree fern panel in place of the cork to form the mosaic, with LFS in between? Or is that a bit redundant, since the tree fern holds enough moisture as-is and the LFS is not needed for this purpose?
I've never used Xazim panels, for anything. But - and this may sound weird - I have used some Matala scraps to replace some of my cork pieces in a cracked-cork mosaic. The Matala of course holds no moisture at all. But it allows fantastic root penetration / plant mounting, especially for plants that want drier "feet" but maybe not to the degree of dryness you get out on the surface of cork. You can also shove a little LFS in there in (the Matala), sort of here and there, which reduces how far a root needs to go to hit a chance at a little water. The size and shape of the Matala pieces can also influence that, or course.

jgragg: yeah, I've gotta find some suitable supports for the wood, then...maybe some relatively thin but sturdy wood (or composite wood) so I can hide it with the mosaic without making things too lumpy. Any pointers/suggestions from materials you've used yourself?
I forget who all I've talked with about this. Anyway, not long ago someone was asking about mounting branches, and I brought up the use of Forstner bits. You could drill into actual cork - bore a partial-depth hole into the cork, to seat your branch into. Glue and screw the union of the 2 woods. A semi-janky alternative I suppose could be to take a stainless screw to fasten your branch to a piece of cork - using the cork below the branch, to allow the branch to bear on the cork. But not slip off. Screw these together first, then silicone the assembly onto your glass.

What does not work well, is to just use silicone to try and adhere a single-attachment branch to glass. If it's a really short, quite thing piece, like a cypress knee, it can work. But for a longer, skinnier branch it has always failed for me. Sooner or later.

good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Actually not so weird, or at least I hope not, 'cuz I've had similar thoughts, actually - using an inorganic matrix to mix-in a bit of moisture-holding material into as a longer-lasting mount. As far as I've read (since I haven't actually used any yet), EpiWeb wouldn't be too far off from that Matala use, in that it's non-absorptive and probably doesn't even hold onto much moisture adhesion-wise. I've seen images of nice mounts (with moss) on EpiWeb, so this puzzles me...I guess those folks are watering way more than I would be (automated?) to achieve those results. One of these days I'll just pick a branch or panel I have in my stored supplies and play with it. The only Matala I have first-hand experience with so far is the black coarsest version, as it's a drainage layer.

Anyway, yeah, something between the dampness of the LFS and the relative dryness of the cork is what I was going for with something like Xaxim. Then again, since I intend this tank to hold a proportionately high number of orchids (vs. other plants), drier-between-waterings cork might be a desirable thing, if I can keep the humidity up. I do a lot of Pleurothallids, though, so maybe moss pads (live or LFS) on the cork would be enough, or just restricting those species to other wood branches (like Ghostwood or some of the others that stay surface-moist for longer) is the best solution outside of using planter pockets.
I'm just thinking out loud at this point.


I've never used Xazim panels, for anything. But - and this may sound weird - I have used some Matala scraps to replace some of my cork pieces in a cracked-cork mosaic. The Matala of course holds no moisture at all. But it allows fantastic root penetration / plant mounting, especially for plants that want drier "feet" but maybe not to the degree of dryness you get out on the surface of cork. You can also shove a little LFS in there in (the Matala), sort of here and there, which reduces how far a root needs to go to hit a chance at a little water. The size and shape of the Matala pieces can also influence that, or course.
 
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