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  1. #1
    BPnet Senior Member mainbutter's Avatar
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    Tropical Vivarium DIY - Substrate (ABG Mix)

    I finally found some time to get around to the vivarium build again.

    To summarize: I'm converting 20G high aquariums into front door opening, vertical crested gecko vivariums with bioactive substrate (no monthly substrate changes) and automated misting.

    This installment of the series is about my substrate.

    First things first, I want to give a shout-out to dendroboard.com and vivariumforums.com for having lots of information on this subject available. I'm not a regular poster on either, but have been stalking them for my viv plans for a while now

    I've been using a product from Josh's Frogs called ABG (Atlanta Botanical Gardens) Mix in my hatchling carpet python display cages for over a half year, and am super happy with it. It's a mix of 5 different substrate parts/conditioners. After trying various substrates with herps for years, I've decided that I just plain love this stuff and have no inclination, no desire, and no need to try anything else for a good long while.

    Big pluses for ABG mix:
    - It doesn't break down or decompose itself very fast
    - it harbors beneficial bacteria and microfauna very well
    - it is wonderful for plants of all varieties
    - it holds moisture but still drains nicely and doesn't become waterlogged if you have a drainage layer below it
    - it doesn't compact as much as other substrate choices, and holds air pockets nicely (which plays a part in many of the above benefits)

    Normally this stuff has been suggested as a good substrate for dart frogs, but it's performed very well in less wet conditions as well, so it also is proven in a wide variety of environments.

    You can go ahead and purchase it directly for a reasonable price from Josh's Frogs, but I've decided I like this stuff so much (and I have some future plans using it) that I might as well get some real bulk to have available. I went ahead and purchased the ingredients to mix my own (which IS quite a bit of work FYI), so here's how to do it yourself!

    Most recipes I found online use the same ingredients, with some variation in size of particular ingredients. Here is what I used:
    - 1 part fine tree fern fiber
    - 1 part peat moss (aka peat sphagnum)
    - 1 part untreated, plain hardwood charcoal (Cowboy brand), crushed with a hammer to be various sizes from very fine up to 1'' chunks
    - 2 parts long fiber sphagnum moss (NOT peat), milled in a blender
    - 2 parts fine orchid bark

    I purchased the peat and charcoal locally at a Fleet Farm or Home Depot, and everything else online.

    First I had to mill the long fiber sphagnum. I used a cheap second-hand blender from the local thrift shop, which is good because I correctly predicted I'd start to burn out the motor with the amount of blending I had to do. I basically would blend a handful, and in a few seconds it would be a little more coarse than sawdust, but still surprisingly fine for just being blended.





    Next I laid down a sacrificial bath towel for smashing charcoal. You can use any heavy object, hammers work well, large-headed heavy slegehammers work better and go faster. I started with a mallet and that worked fine, but then my gf found a big heavy closed-ended metal pipe I could stand and pound with. That went really fast. The idea is to break the large chunks down to various sizes, with the largest being smaller than 1''.



    (before and after, from right to left)


    Pics of the other ingredients:

    Peat



    Tree fern fiber


    Orchid bark


    I took all the ingredients in their respective proportions by volume, added them to a round garbage can, and mixed.. both with my hands and by putting on the lid and shaking/rolling/turning.

    Here's the end result!






    I'm going to store it dry, but will put it in a bucket w/water and stir to moisten the soil before adding it to a cage (squeezing out excess water). It helps me make sure that any soil I add has been pre-moistened without being too waterlogged.

    Hope you liked the write-up! Keep an eye out for our next installment where I think we'll go over drainage layers below the main substrate.
    My iHerp Profile

    http://www.ball-pythons.net/forums/s...threadid=97821
    Four posts down: likebull1 - "I will remember you, and in 2 years and send you my first baby" WOOOT!

  2. #2
    BPnet Senior Member mainbutter's Avatar
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    A note on milling long fiber sphagnum and pounding lump hardwood charcoal into smaller pieces:

    WEAR A DUST MASK!

    I didn't, and called it quits for the day after our first batch because we didn't have any available here (left them at the gf's apartment). I thought of it as soon as we started, but decided to go ahead and do one batch for fun without any dust masks. Breathing in the moss dust might be fairly harmless, and there wasn't much of that particular dust, but I've been blowing black snot out of my nose for the past hour from the charcoal. I don't want the lungs of a coal miner.

    Second note on the same topic:

    Wear clothes that you're willing to get dirty. I'm sure it'll clean up fine, but seriously, the charcoal dust gets everywhere. DO IT OUTSIDE OR IN A GARAGE. I called our towel the "sacrifical" towel for a reason, it's seriously charcoal stained now, and I doubt it could ever get clean enough to remove all of the black that it now has.

    Third note:

    Pillowcases work even better for controlled smashing of the charcoal, but we didn't have any extras to sacrifice to the project. Garbage bags don't work, as they tear.
    Last edited by mainbutter; 05-14-2011 at 09:48 PM.
    My iHerp Profile

    http://www.ball-pythons.net/forums/s...threadid=97821
    Four posts down: likebull1 - "I will remember you, and in 2 years and send you my first baby" WOOOT!

  3. #3
    BPnet Senior Member mainbutter's Avatar
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    UPDATE:

    We got our dust masks, pounded some charcoal, and in an afternoon we filled our outdoor garbage can pretty full of ABG! I'd estimate we have 65-75 gallons, maybe even a little more. And the best part is that we haven't even used half of our available ingredients.

    Stay tuned, tomorrow I'm hoping to do a write-up on terrarium janitor fauna
    My iHerp Profile

    http://www.ball-pythons.net/forums/s...threadid=97821
    Four posts down: likebull1 - "I will remember you, and in 2 years and send you my first baby" WOOOT!

  4. #4
    BPnet Veteran qiksilver's Avatar
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    Re: Tropical Vivarium DIY - Substrate (ABG Mix)

    Is this frogboy's formulation? Nice job doing that much, it'll last forever, haha.
    Mike

  5. #5
    BPnet Senior Member mainbutter's Avatar
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    In a sense, yes, he has a very good thread about it over at dendroboard but I wouldn't necessarily call it 'his' as it was developed by the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (and I'm forgetting the name of the specific person over there who came up with it).
    My iHerp Profile

    http://www.ball-pythons.net/forums/s...threadid=97821
    Four posts down: likebull1 - "I will remember you, and in 2 years and send you my first baby" WOOOT!

  6. #6
    BPnet Veteran qiksilver's Avatar
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    Re: Tropical Vivarium DIY - Substrate (ABG Mix)

    I realize this. Just thinking credit should be given for any direction obtained over yonder.
    Mike

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