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Discussion Starter #1
Hey all,

Haven't posted progress report since the initial "greetings, this is me, this is what I'm doin' " post, so I figured it might be nice to show the tanks thus far. Progress, unfortunately, has been halting and slow due to wait times for various parts. Aaaaalmost ready for planting now, though! Last holdup is lighting. Long tank is awaiting a four-tube fixture of T5HO to replace the T12s currently above it (if for some reason they're still not bright enough, I'll move them to another shelf and go with LEDs); the tall tank is awaiting something to supplement the LED spots. The way the branches are situated, the spots are best suited to two corners so the base is adequately lit, leaving the topmost trunk and branches inadequately lit. I'm thinking a smallish LED flat fixture will be all it needs, but am unsure of which one. Does anyone have any suggestions?

For anyone curious, the hygrometers have been reading a steady 80-ish percent humidity in each since the rinsed substrate and drainage layers were put in. I have NEHerps' glass top inserts in each that leaves a gap for passive ventilation.

Also for anyone curious, my six-tube T5HO fixture that's residing in the top shelf of a mostly-enclosed plant stand has only raised the ambient temp. a few degrees during the day (same at night), which I'm happy to see. Since the four-tube fixture will generate less heat, and will be on a completely open plant stand, I'm not worried about the tank's temp. being too warm. (Each will be plants only, no animals.)
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Oh - also, in case anyone wants to know - just your basic setup with Josh's Frogs lightweight drainage layer (in the tall tank's tree-trunk base, which you can't see from here, it's Black Jungle's coarse-grade Feather-Lite), screen separator, and NEHerp's orig. substrate mix w/ calcined clay additive. Woods are ghostwood, cypress (I think) and whatever else I've picked up at Josh's Frogs booth at Repticon and other vivarium places. I do also have an access tube tucked in there from which to siphon water out of the drainage layer if need be, though since I'll be hand-misting I don't think it'll be an issue.
 

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I am really enjoying your hardscapes. Filling the cork with ABG is a cool idea, and I'm looking forward to your updates. What plants do you have in mind?
 

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Big fan of the build. One question I have is about the background of the larger exo terra. Did you incorporate egg crate in the background or is that just behind the tank i cant tell haha
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you both!

Plants are a challenge, in that I like a little bit of everything that *might* work. And I realize that the plant mix will probably be a bit different between the two given the greater area of "dry" cork in the tree tank. The pockets of substrate would hopefully be suitable for some dwarf begonias, aroids, ferns (though I do have a few epiphytic ones I plan on trying on the background itself in either tank), gesneriads, Peperomias and who knows what else. I am going to try as many epiphytic things (orchids, moss, bromeliads, ferns, trailing Peperomias...) as I can on the cork itself, but for those things needing a bit more consistent root moisture I think the pockets are best. I'll just have to start experimenting to see what likes it and what doesn't. At least the humidity is still holding high without the addition of moisture since the substrate went in almost a week ago. That said, I probably need to get a fan in there to circulate things before it gets planted too heavily. Still trying to figure out the lighting augmentation first.

Yeah, the egg crate does look like it's part of the tank and I thought it might confuse some people. It's not - it's just an uncut piece being stored against the wall behind the plant stand that the tank is on. I have smaller a black piece of egg crate back there too (great find, that - black egg crate). The background is just foam with silicone and bedding topdress. In hindsight I probably should have siliconed the back glass first, but I didn't and we'll see how it holds up because I can't do anything about it now. So far, so good. I also like the idea people have had to use foam on the egg crate, so maybe in a future build I'll experiment with that.
 

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Could you post a better picture of the positions of the spotlights on the tall tank? I think I can see where they are, but I just want to be sure. Also, I probably missed this, but what's the height of the tall tank.

The Finnex 24/7 has a very slim design. It's a little pricier, ranging from about $70 to $110 for small/medium sized tanks (in terms of width), but it has the added bonus of a day/night cycle timer built in. The Satellite Pro might be that slim as well, but I don't have much experience with it.

Those are the only two lights I know of that might fit between the spotlights diagonally across the tank. More experienced members might know more.
 

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What about a Green Element Evo fixture? One of the cheap ones from ebay. The 18" one runs about 36 bucks shipped, and they're surprisingly powerful for the price.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I'll try to get a pic of the whole setup in the next day or two. Basically they're situated over the front right corner and rear left corner where they penetrate the furthest. Tank is 24" wide x 18" deep x 36" tall. On the advice of NEHerp's lighting articles, I chose the LED spots, which do indeed to light up the tank nicely all the way down to the bottom. Trouble is, though, that since I don't have a way to mount them higher above the tank (and therefore distribute the light a bit better), they're too bright (I think) over the highest cork areas when positioned above them and too dim over the highest cork areas when positioned in the corners, which is where they do the most good lower-down. So I'm thinking a small, less-powerful LED unit for the higher elevations would be useful and sufficient. If it's a linear unit, I think anything in the 12-18" long range is plenty large enough.
 

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That's what I figured was going on. The slimmer fixtures with 0.5W individual lights, such as the finnex, satellite, and it looks like even beamswork now (link below) tend to have less penetration, but do a very good job evenly covering an area down to about 18 to 24 inches. Therefore, I think a slim fixture like one of these would be perfect for supplementing the two spotlights and filling in the lighting for the upper portions of the tank.

https://www.amazon.com/Beamswork-FSPEC-Aquarium-Light-Freshwater/dp/B071DZQ4BD/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1519275417&sr=8-5&keywords=freshwater%2Bled%2Blight&th=1

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U0HN1DG/ref=twister_B00U0WT80G?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

https://www.amazon.com/Current-USA-Satellite-Plus-Light/dp/B00QVGH7CG/ref=sr_1_2?s=pet-supplies&ie=UTF8&qid=1519275684&sr=1-2&keywords=satellite+plus+led+freshwater

Personally, I have only used the finnex 24/7, but it does a fantastic job. I have used the 3W version of the beamswork, which does a really good job, and can penetrate quite far, but it would likely be too wide of a fixture. I don't have any experience with their newer slim 0.5W lights.

I hope this helps
 

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That's actually a wider gap than I thought. You could even fit a 3W LED like a beamswork there if you want some bright lighting.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Better-late-than-never updates on both tanks -

Been planted for about six or seven months. Still working through a few issues, but in general am satisfied as a first experience experiment. Always thinking of things I could have done differently (on everything from construction to plant placement), but...oh well. I know - we learn by doing, and the grass is always greener....

Anyway, just a few pics for now. Both are still works-in-progress as I get held up by troubleshooting, plant availability, and waiting for design inspiration to strike. As a reminder, neither are intended for animals - just terraria. Pardon the messy floor of the tall tank...I am less motivated to clean it up just to make a mess again when I go to add plants. I was originally thinking I could use a nice image of a view down into a tropical forest canopy (like a fish tank background picture, but in this case, looking down, as the setup was meant to mimic being up in the canopy by an epiphyte-laden tree) but haven't found an image to use yet and am not sure that'll look the way I imagine it would. Eh, that's a minor issue for now.
 

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Discussion Starter #14 (Edited)
Close-ups from tall tank -

- Neoregelia 'Domino' (dark red w/ green spots)
- Neoregelia 'Little Faith' (light green w/ pink-red tips)
- Neoregelia 'Red Bird' x pauciflora (bright green w/ fine red spots)
- orchid Leptotes bohnkiana
- fern Nephrolepis 'Fluffy Ruffles' with Pilea glauca and a NOID Begonia (the pups are on the 'Little Faith' Neo)
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Closeups from long tank -

- Begonia elaeagnifolia with Bulbophyllum thiurum
- Begonia vankerckhovenii
- Sinningia 'Lil' Georgie' and Asplenium "thin leaf"
- Gloxinella lindeniana
- orchid Haraella odorata
 

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wow that medium tall looks awesome. Love how you did the initial cork bark, and then you followed it up equally well with the plants.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Thank you all!

Regarding the tall tank (all comments here):
I am severely critiquing it as it matures, but I suppose that's normal and it's always easier to envision a "better way" in hindsight. These two tanks are my first forays into serious terraria (after one years ago that was done poorly). I did a lot of reading, video watching, more reading, and then just go-big-or-go-home dive in. There's been lots of pauses for waiting for inspiration to strike, waiting for supplies, waiting for plants...throw moving in the middle of that and waiting to make sure your landlady isn't going to freak out and think you're going to mess up the place...and you get the idea. What could be a two-week process of setup turned into something like two years, but hey...we're here now, right? :) LOL

Other than changing some construction techniques and minor layout adjustments, the main thing I'd change is giving more thought to plant placement. A bit of it was "hey, this cutting can go in here" mentality and a few things don't have the look I'd prefer now that they've grown in a bit. Eh. <shrug>

Anyway, early-on in this endeavor I loved the idea of the in-the-canopy look, so I borrowed inspiration from other tanks and just kinda made it up as I went along using my existing cork tube stash. The branch placement isn't ideal - if anyone tries this, try to find a way to light it from above as you will when it's done but before you set the hardscape in place, 'cuz I have some spots that aren't well-lit due to shading of one branch over another, and it's aggravating as I wanted lots of surface covered in epiphytes. (I think it's too shady for shade-lovers, but we'll see and I'll find something to stick in there to experiment with. Maybe I'll get lucky.)

Some of the sphagnum used in "topdressing" some of the stumps/open spaces is slowly coming back to life though. I'm amused and going to let it for now until it gets to the point of engulfing something. I need more small- and fine-leaved plants for texture; might add bits of one of my trailing orchids (Trichosalpinx chamaelepanthes) and maybe Peperomia emerginella or something similar if I can get my hands on some. I do have a bit of Peperomia perciliata and Pep. prostrata still growing in and meandering. I have Peperomia 'Coin' (probably serpens if memory serves) that's nice and doing great but a bit coarser in texture than I envisioned. A mix of orchids, ferns, bromeliads (probably just Neos), gesneriads, and a few other assorted mini Begonias or the odd small Philodendron and the like were what I was going for. I stuck a small cutting of my Philo. Wend Imbe (the parent plant of which is ridiculously underpotted by now and is getting pretty stunted because of it) in there and it seems to be doing well mid-level.

I can easily come up with a plant list if anyone's interested.

The lights are mixed 'cuz I was having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to light it well enough (and bright enough). Two corners are 40W Jungle Dawn (one of which crapped out on me for no apparent reason not long after I set the tank up; I had to replace the bulb); the other two are standard Exo hoods (mini or small size...I forget at the moment) with 13W Jungle Dawn LED bars in them. Maybe overkill, I don't know, but the Dischidia ovata under one seems to like it, though it's further from that light than the other things that might be getting a bit blasted. Since I was going for mid-canopy or higher look in my head (anywhere you'd see the bromeliads popping up), I wanted bright. I have an old light meter, but it's not good for LEDs (as far as I know) so it's hard to objectively figure out how much light I'm putting out there.

The hygrometer in there reads around 50-75% most of the time, and as expected, it's often higher at night. I haven't stocked springtails (yet) but should; this tank has produced several notable mushrooms, which I find interesting as it has less substrate overall than the long tank and seems to dry out faster.
 

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Discussion Starter #20 (Edited)
Another overdue update for folks -
By the way, if I should either start a new thread to either post updates only (if not asking question specifically) or if I should start a new thread for one tank (to keep them separate), just let me know.

Long tank got a retrofit of a new drainage layer, in case the prior one was causing (or going to) cause substrate problems in terms of wicking and/or pH. [see this thread - puzzling, persistent substrate dampness] Swapped out Growstone with Matala. Did a lot of planting a few days ago, mostly of cuttings off my own "mother plants" and a few relatively new acquisitions. I realize it may be over-planted somewhat if everything lives and thrives, but at this point I'd rather have that "problem" than not. The impetus for planting now was both the new drainage layer test as well as being able to borrow a PAR meter from a friend to see what the light levels truly are. (I realize that even that meter, an Apogee MQ-100 w/ integrated sensor, may not be perfect, but all I had was an old light meter which probably is even more unreliable for LED light. Units given below are the typical micromol/m^2/s) I know PAR isn't everything, but it helped me to have a comparison of light levels where the plants were growing versus where I thought about planting them in the tank, since eyesight is a poorer judge of brightness. Sure, the spectra of these two light sources (growing shelves vs. tank) weren't identical, but it's the closest thing I've got to a more measured comparison, and that's what I wanted. For anyone who's curious, I'll attach pics of the readings I took. Happy to give a plant list if people are curious, though it may make more sense once they've grown-in and shown themselves a bit more.

Tall tank may need redoing, since I have three issues now:
1) just yesterday the lowest branch has become unattached from glass to which it was siliconed
2) lighting not quite what I was hoping for - too bright in some spots and too dim in most of the rest; see PAR meter samples in photo, with notes below
3) upper branch has sloooowly slid forward off its silicone point of attachment so that it rests on the glass door. So far, not a big problem, but I worry about pressure on the glass over time and if any more weight is added via plants (as it's under-planted so far for my desired aesthetic) and moisture.

Fixing branch positions with renewed silicone may be one thing, but investing in different lighting options isn't ideal at present and I'd prefer to work with what I have. My original vision involved more moss between plants and mini/compact orchids dotting the branches, with perhaps some other epiphytes like ferns, begonias, and bromeliads serving as anchors or accents. So far, while the Neos are doing well as far as I can tell, pupping and maintaining color, I'm over-lighting two orchids and getting what I think is photo-bleaching on some other plants while other spots are way too dim which is causing unattractive lankiness and wasting some of my intended growing space. I've considered adding a low-powered light for the dimmer area(s), but that might look too weird. While I realize the overall scenario may necessitate different plant choices to deal with the lights as-is, I'd prefer to work with what I already have as these projects (as with any good hobby) are money-pits as it is. Next time, I'll need better planning for shadows cast by hardscape. I tried to account for it while the tank was on its back for the foaming-together of cork, but in the future for something like this I need to find a way to keep the tank standing, with light fixtures on top, and construct the hardscape either in-tank or elsewhere with a sufficient mockup of the tank size to make sure it fits how I want it to. Anyway, I'm still getting used to the directionality of LEDs versus the more ambient light of fluorescents, which don't seem to cast such drastic shadows in my plant stand. Here too, though, I thought the shadows might only seem that much darker because of how bright the spotlights are, but the PAR meter shows I was right - definite light caves.

If I re-do the tank to satisfy my imagination, then I'll still be aiming for a similar look, but will have to play with hardscape to see how the light works out. My other main sticking point with the current setup, even if I had none of the other problems, is the maintenance of the side of the tree opposite the doors. I wanted as much of a surround-view as I could get, which is why the tree is anchored to the corner instead of a whole wall. Now I'm learning that trimming, grooming, and planting on the far side is a royal pain. I don't know how folks with setups similar to this (peninsulas or islands, if you will) manage it unless the tanks are much larger and easier to basically get your whole upper body inside. I still like that look and want to try it, but am unsure how to keep it as accessible as possible. Top-down access by removing the lid is maybe doable but definitely not desirable.

Refresher on specs:

Exo Terra "Large Tall" (36"L x 18"D x 24" H)
  • Spectral Designs LED panel; 34"x10" (well, customized to 12" in my case) with a pair of 10W spotlights; at full power since the dimmer, while functional, squeals if I turn it down at all
  • glass inserts for screen top from NEHerp
  • background: black pond foam covered in black silicone, covered in premade background mix from NEHerp (I think it's primarily coco fiber); I got so-so coverage and could have tried a thicker application
  • various pieces of driftwood, a few small pieces of which are ghostwood
  • ground: black Matala filter media, covered in fiberglass window screening, topped in ABG
  • one ~1.75" fan from ACInfinity in the upper corner, aimed towards the doors so it doesn't dry any particular plant out too quickly
  • hand misting only as needed, perhaps 2-3 times daily for now, w/ distilled water and occasional (admittedly too infrequently) spot-watering with higher-N, urea-free orchid fertilizer
  • no animals; could use more springtails than what hitch-hiked in w/ the plants
Exo Terra "Medium X-Tall" (24"L x 18"D x 36"H)
  • two Jungle Dawn 40W spotlights and two Exo Terra hoods with Jungle Dawn bars in them (I think the max I could get that would fit - 13W)
  • glass inserts for screen top from NEHerp
  • one ~1.75" fan from ACInfinity in the upper corner, aimed towards the general center of the tank
  • multiple cork tubes/branches attached to each other with black pond foam (I don't remember if I used silicone...maybe a little of the clear aquarium stuff, especially to attach cork to glass)
  • cork pockets and open portions filled with ABG, with the bottom-most few inches of the tree trunk filled with a material from Black Jungle that's essentially a larger-chunk version of Growstone (like Perlite, but made from recycled glass), and covered in window screening
  • was originally going to try a water layer base with a fogger to emulate cloud-forest-type conditions, but tabled that when I realized that bits of substrate easily dislodge and fall onto the floor; only realized well after the fact that I could probably just cover it with a barrier like fine netting (the way pond netting keeps leaves out in autumn) but haven't gotten around to experimenting with that yet; also intended to use an image of a forest canopy below the glass (like how backgrounds are used on the back glass of fish tanks) to it looks more like a piece of the canopy, but...also tabled for now
  • misting and fert. same as above
  • no animals; also could use more springtails, especially since for some reason this tank has had multiple appearances of Flower Pot Mushroom (those yellow toadstools) with some regularity. It's weird to me, since this tank is drier overall, uses the same substrate from the same source (shipped at the same time), and the two tanks are feet from each other and the other hasn't had a single yellow mushroom to date
PAR for long tank:
ExoTerra large tall PAR.png

PAR for tall tank:
ExoTerra med xtall PAR.png
Harder to read here, and I didn't write down all of the readings, but it was eye-opening to say the least. The Bulbophyllum I'm getting leaf purpling (and then tip dieback) on receives well over 200 units; unsurprising as it just looks over-lit, though it's still pushing new growth well and seems to be ok otherwise. The front-right Neoregelia gets a whopping 380-400 units. About a foot down from the lights (where nothing is in this tank because there's no branch there) it's a laughable 800. Somewhere a few inches beneath the spotlight it's about 2,000...I'll grow tomatoes. :ROFLMAO: Jeez. Meanwhile, the lowest branch's shaded portion is in the single digits. I keep waffling over whether or not I can make this work, because I'm afraid I'll fry plants in the spotlight areas and under-light those everywhere else. I've been trying to think of a type of reflector to better scatter the light, but don't know what to use that'll not waste too much light outside of the tank while still allowing the fixture to breathe (it has its own little integrated fan). I have some flexibility in moving the lights around, as they aren't in any sort of all-encompassing hood or cover, though some day that would look much tidier.

Long tank, after my planting marathon:
tank Exo Terra Large Tall 19.jpg

Enjoy! As always, critiques and advice welcome.
 
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