Open Top 200l Paludarium, Diy Build

Florian Pellet

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About a year ago, I had the grand delusion of building an open top paludarium with all the fixings. Here's what it ended up looking like:
IMG_20180423_213819.jpg


Building the pallet stand
I wanted to build the stand out of pine pallets to match the rest of my apartment. But the stand also needs to reliably withstand the weight of the tank, so I got some european equivalent of 2x4s. And here's a quick timelapse of me putting it together (this shows most of the hard work, but the cool part where it all comes together is missing because the camera ran out of battery...):

And here's the result:
IMG_20171004_144914.jpg


I then went on to collect tons of pallet wood, disassembling, cleaning... All inside my small apartment! And it looked crowded for a bit:
IMG_20171011_220820.jpg


And of course, since I have no space, no flat surface, and only basic tools, a lot of it came out crooked and misaligned...:
IMG_20171016_131502.jpg


But I still like the result:
IMG_20171016_180942.jpg


You can see I used pallet wood to dress up the stand, but the real weight is only on the 2x4s. I also finished the stand with 2 coats of some type of oil, because it will have to fight against a lot of water ! (But this is not visible on this last picture, this is still raw pallet wood).

Putting together the electronics
I wanted to automate as much as I could, without actually spending for fancy dedicated centralized control panel... So I had fun ;-) I started with the main electrical panel. It's basically just outlets, but some (half) are behind a relay (with a display right next to the outlet). In the following photo, you can see:
  • on the left, 2 outlets controlled by "delay" relays: I can control how long it stays off, and how long it stays on (e.g.: OFF for 1 hour, then ON for 15 minutes, and start over, forever);
  • in the middle, 5 regular outlets,
  • and on the right, 3 outlets controlled by "timer" relays: I can control at which time it turns on and at which time it turns off (e.g.: ON from 8am to 8pm, OFF at night)
IMG_20171125_170007.jpg


I also made an array of small fans to regularly blow air along the wall and prevent the drywall from accumulating too much moisture. 6 months in, and the walls are still completely dry. You can see the array in question on this picture, before assembly (as well as the main electrical panel shown above) (also for some reason I only have this picture in B&W...):
IMG_20171122_143239 (1).jpg


The electronics section of this build should probably also include the lights. I custom made fixtures from threaded M10 stainless steel rods, lampshades, and the-things-you-put-light-sockets-in. In the two center ones, I actually put sockets, wire, and awesome LED bulbs (see below), the two external ones will serve for the misting nozzles. Here's the result:
IMG_20171022_175450.jpg


The last bit of electronics I should mention is the auto top-off system: I'm lucky enough that water in Paris has zero chloramine, and very little chlorine. So I can plug the cold water line directly to my tank, controlled by a solenoid valve, itself controlled by the last piece of electronics: a water level controller. Here's what it looks like, with a picture from the site of the seller (below). The two sensors are attached to a pipe on the back of the tank, reflecting the water level of the tank through the principle of connected vessels.
Plein-automatique.jpg


[End of 1st message]
In the next message, I'll detail the equipment, the hardscape, the planting and the stock.
 
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Florian Pellet

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[Continuing... 2nd message]

Equipment

First of all, I need to point out that a lot of the equipment is controlled by electronics, as detailed in the 1st message of this thread. So you won't see anything relating to controls here. Here's the list:
  • Lights: 2x 30w LED bulbs (SpectraBULB by GreenVisuaLED), these are high CRI lights (>97%) meaning that you get to see all the variations of color, and a natural white color temperature meaning that you see the colors as you'd see them in daylight. To put it simply, CRI is "how many colors you can see under this light" and color temperature is "how close to the colors you'd see outside".
  • Filter & media: Eheim 2217 canister filter with Seachem Matrix and coarse sponges. I'm also using a Lily outlet glass pipe.
  • Heater: 500W inline external heater (chinese off brand)
  • Pressure pump & misting nozzles: 15 bars silent pressure pump, a bunch of misting nozzles (as tight as my 15 bars pump can handle), and a whole lot of pressure fittings.
  • Powerhead: Sunsun JVP101 6W 3000L/h
  • Ultrasonic foggers: two of them, they automatically turn off then the water level is too low, which is very nice since the other one I had died trying to function without water.
  • CO2: not installed for now, but I did grab an old CO2 fire extinguisher from a building about to be taken down, and I fitted it with a chinese regulator (2 gauges, check valve, bubble counter...)

Hardscape and plants
I went with a combination of Grey Rocks (also known as Elephant Skin) and Mangrove/River Wood. I first started trying out layouts on my floor (on a piece of acrylic the size of my tank):
IMG_20171124_123408.jpg


There were months between the picture above and the ones below. In the meantime I had acquired two big and beautiful pieces of driftwood, and I had let the tannins leech out in the unused tank, all the while using I was propagating plants in this tank too, which is why one piece of wood already appears covered in moss.

It was now time to scape the tank!!!!!!!!!!
IMG_20180112_152938.jpg


And to try and replicate what I had tried to create in the first picture (mind you, all I had to replicate it from at this point was this exact picture!).
IMG_20180112_203555.jpg


I used tons of black corrugated plastic to hold the slopes together, as well as help with the stone "cliffs". But apart from that, this scape is made of nothing but all natural materials, no silicone, no glue, no stainless steel screws, no acrylic rods... What you can't see here are the eggcrate underneath all that, and the lava rocks to make up the bulk of the "substrate".

As much as possible, the pipes are all in the back (water level connected vessel, misting intake, filter intake). But because the back is almost 100% substrate, I used grey PVC pipes (as used in regular household plumbing) to create "sleeves" in which all of these intakes can rest, and they all connect to the front, on the right, through PVC pipes. The result, as you can see, is very discreet, and yet allows to function without any issue.

One last thing to mention, at this point I decided to add a sheet of acrylic in the back to protect the drywall.

And finally, a lot of planting, some plants I bought, some I collected outside, and some I clipped from my other tanks (I just have sooooooooo much anubia by now!).
IMG_20180126_180730.jpg


The list of plants will be in the "Stocking" section of this post. In this "Scaping" section, I just want to say that I tried doing things in reverse in this layout: putting the smallest plants in the background, and the bigger ones in the foreground. Using anubia Petite in the front and anubia 'mini mini' in the back, using Bucephalandra 'mini catherinae' in the back, and Bucephalandra sp. Red in the front. And same for the rocks: finer details in the back. That way, I hope to enhance the impression of depth.

Stocking plants and critters
Here's a list, from memory, and limited to what I could actually identify, of the plants in this tank:
  • under water
    • anubia pangolino
    • anubia petite
    • anubia nana mini mini
    • bucephalandra sp. red
    • bucephalandra mini catherinae
    • bolbitis heudelotii
    • hygrophilia pintifada
    • hygrophilia corymbosa compact
    • lobelia cardinalis mini
    • java moss
  • above water
    • hydrocotyle verticillata
    • fittonia
    • peperomia water pearl
    • selaginella uncinata
    • nepenthes bloody mary
    • cephalotus follicularis
    • ficus pumila variegated
    • alocasia amazonica
    • some orchids
    • some bromeliads
    • some ferns
    • some mosses
    • some other plants I collected
I should point out that the Nepenthes might not like this environment, but I haven't figured out yet whether it's the constant misting or the hardness of the water. Similarly, I'm not 100% the cephalotus will like this long term, but for now it's doing amazing. If either fail, I plan on replacing them with either bonsai ficus, or ginseng ficus. I'm open to suggestions though!

Now for the critters. Nothing much to say. I welcome all comments. Here's the list:
  • Ember Tetras (11 of them, planning on adding more maybe in the near future)
  • German Blue Ram
  • Nanochromis transverstitus
  • Apistogramma cacatuoides orange
  • Apistogramma macmasteri red mask
  • Apistogramma sp. viejeta
  • Cherry shrimps
  • 4x Geosesarma sp. vampire purple
All cichlids are male. Shrimps survive by hiding a lot and going up in the "branches" (bolbitis). Geosesarmas are nowhere to be seen since they've been added... Water temp is 25°C, parameters are pristine and identical to all my other tanks (all my tanks are plugged into the main cold water line and have some form of drip system).

Bonus pics
Now, just a few pictures I like. Starting with this great portrait of the Nanochromis cichlid :)
IMG_20180424_160515 satd.jpg


One of the bromeliads flowering already, just next to the Nepenthes doing well (the "pots" of the nepenthes aren't all doing well, but they are on this side).
IMG_20180413_194745.jpg


Great moss growth on one of the Elephant Skin rocks. Requires regular trimming but definitely worth it. You can also see that I'm trying to grow a background on hygrolon.
IMG_20180425_184043.jpg


So much diversity! Bromeliad, orchid, mosses, cephalotus, fittonia, succulents...
IMG_20180425_184156.jpg

 

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Incredible!! And a nice dog, too!

The mosses and the small & fine-leaved plants are my favourite part - it makes it look like a big jungle. Hold on, I need to scroll back up and admire those mosses on the rocks again...
 
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