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self watering terrarium

Discussion in 'Terrariums, Paludariums and Vivariums' started by jbradt, Nov 9, 2011.

  1. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    hey all,

    working off a thread on terraforums.com i decided to make a self watering terrarium. this is basically a flood and drain design that's automated with a fountain pump on a timer. The drain is a syphon that forms as the water fills up the tank.

    Here's a couple of really poor quality pics:
    6329099855_d94e060a93_b.jpg

    6330211732_78fa58c8aa_b.jpg

    So, the five gallon bucket below the tank is the resevoir. Inside is a 75gph fountain pump with a tube going into the tank (the tube on the left). The two tubes on the right are for drainage. As the water fills the tank, it pushes into the drain tube, then back down into the bucket; automatically starting the siphon. As the water level builds up to the second tube, the second siphon starts which creates an equilibrium with the incoming water, effectually holding the water level stable (in this case, at a depth of 2"). As long as the pump continues to run, the water level will stay at this level. Obviously, when the pump shuts down, the pump tube will also become a drain as the water pushes back down, and the tank empties relatively quickly.

    i thought there might be some cool applications for all the terrarium guru's over here, so i thought i'd post this up.

    as always, criticisms/comments/advice are always welcome!
     
  2. CerenaDaft

    CerenaDaft AC Members

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    Looks awesome! Is the pump loud tho?
    I wish I had something cool like this... Great for vacations!
     
  3. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    Actually I was expecting it to be loud, but it's nearly silent. The loudest part of the whole thing is the sucking sound made by the drain tubes when the water level gets really low. It's really cheap and relatively easy to do...
     
  4. CerenaDaft

    CerenaDaft AC Members

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    I'm just about to get a large tank so this is out of my reach! :(
    But I just got a tutoring job so maybe soon!
     
  5. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    automation is fun.

    I would like to suggest bulkheads. Someday you'll be happy you did.
     
  6. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    oh, but I was also going to say, from having several paludariums now, I think the best self watering terrarium set up would be a misthead on a timer, with a bottom drilled floor drain into a bucket for collection. Mist is a lot nicer than drip in the long run.
     
  7. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    I keep thinking about going that way. Just haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm still in the experimental phase. Do they make bulkheads this small?

    I've also thought about going this route. I guess I'm a little skeptical that for my application it would be very efficient at watering individual plant pots. It's also a little more pricey due to having to buy the misters and all. It's definitely a thought for the future though.
     
  8. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    Well, I got the top cut and fitted today. I'm still trying to figure out whether I'd be better off going with an opening on one side, or holes throughout the top for air exchange. If anyone has any thoughts on this I'd be most appreciative. Hopefully monday I'll be able to get the fan(s) and substrate in and get into the final stage of testing this bad boy. If all goes well, I should have my junior helis in it this week!!!
     
  9. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    Bump, hoping for some thoughts on ventilation... =)
     
  10. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    For vents, you can do a few things. you can lift one edge of the glass, creating a gap on one end, or you could drill holes and then block them off when you want to close it, or have 2 pieces of glass. it really depends on how much fresh air you want to let in, and your ideal humidity level. I can't give you a specific way to go without knowing your plans, but can tell you what I'm doing now...

    I have a 10g terrarium going right now, where I mist a few times a week and the only venting is basically where the versatop has leaks, near the plastic strips. The front glass is usually 70% covered in condensation, and I don't find a need to vent very often. When I clean the front glass for viewing, it usually takes a day or two before it has condensation again, unless I mist heavily.

    My 45g paludarium is another story. I've had huge problems keeping the glass clear. I've tried venting by lifting the cover, added fans inside, even an airline bringing in dry air. Nothing was keeping the glass clear. I decided my heated pond was the issue, and dropped the temperature by 1.5ยบ to around 74.5 and still have the airline, and fans running on the lowest setting. The front glass has been clear for 2 days now. I think the issue really was the pond temp vs. ambient temp... but I do like using the airpump to push dry air into the canopy. I have the hose end positioned right behind the fans, which are basically in the center pointing at the glass. So, the fresh air is blown at the glass and down, creating a constant flow. Air flow is often more important than venting.

    Also, you were talking about watering multiple pots... if you're most concerned with automated watering of potted plants, the way to go is to get a threaded drip manifold, and thread that onto your bulkhead inside the tank, and then use drip hoses. (yes, bulkeads are available for almost any size pipe or tube, check places like USplastics) you can get them at hydroponics sites and garden centers. Most manifolds give you 8 or 10 hoses from one 1/2" line, and they're super cheap. then you can just run soft hoses to the pot sites.

    I still think a floor drain is superior for what you want to do, and that misting is less troublesome than drips, but if you're doing something like african violets that only want water at their roots, I see why misting isn't the option.
     
  11. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    I guess it would probably have helped to describe the overall goal... lol.

    Basically I'm wanting to use this for small heliamphora and potentially germination purposes. So I'll need humidity pretty stable in the 90-95% range, but without frequent misting. Especially in terrariums, these plants are pretty prone to fungal growth when misted very often. So, the reason I want the flooding is to root water the plants, as well as providing oxygen exchange in the root zone when the water drains out.

    Actually your mention of african violets is pretty close to dead on. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm going for: high humidity while keeping the plants themselves dry. Really, in the end, I'm hoping to rarely have to open the top of the terrarium except for feeding/filling the pitchers from time to time.

    I'm thinking that if I use a substrate of clay pellets, that will allow me to place the pots at different levels based on watering needs vs. size of pot. The pellets along with a fan should help keep humidity up. The last thing is really to figure out how to introduce fresh air without killing the humidity level. Hence the "slot on one (or both) side(s)" vs. "series of holes" quandry. I'm still pretty new at the terrarium thing, so it's hard for me to predict the pros vs. cons of both.
     
  12. dundadundun

    dundadundun ;sup' dog? ;woof and a wwwoof!

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    http://www.hydrogalaxy.com/hydropon...fill-drain-fitting-kit-fitting-kit-w-adapter/
    http://www.mistking.com/3-4-Drain-Bulkhead-Slip-Kit.html

    just a couple examples of smaller bulkheads.

    ideal ventilation would be an inlet near the substrate layer in the front of the setup and an exit in the top/lid at or near the rear of the setup. this will tend to draw the air in and up along the front glass to keep it from fogging up/condensing and allow hot air to be released out the back minimally reducing any drying that may be caused from air exchange and heat accumulation from your lighting/etc. that can sway tank parameters.

    do you know what environmental parameters you're shooting for and what your inhabitants (flora and/or fauna) will be? "european style" viv ventilation will necessitate modification in an aquarium based palu. no matter what your ventilation may be it may best to be able to adjust the amount of ventilation you have to control your environment. once you have it in place, you may want some way of variably plugging those holes as necessary to achieve your desired rh.

    depending on your plan for circulation and your desired rh, you likely could get away with controlling rh via your circulation fans or air stones place in the water column inside the terra. this route will make viewing through the front pane more difficult, especially if your need for increasing rh is significant since you than have to focus your circulation for humidity sake instead of for keeping the front glass clean.

    another thing you may want to consider is a drip irrigation manifold... http://www.blackjungleterrariumsupply.com/8-Outlet-Dripper-Manifold_p_925.html

    all in all... looking at your current progress and thinking minimalistically, it might be best for you to put any ventilation in your top glass in the front of the terra to help with keeping the front glass clear.

    but enough of me rambling on and thinking out loud... what do you have to work with? what are your goals? what's your budget? what's your level of DIYness? tell me a little about yourself, lol...
     
  13. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    Let's see: budget... pretty much nil atm. But I know enough people that I can get basic materials if need be. On hand I have some glass, and bits of tubing, fans and electrical components. As far as DIY goes... I haven't had an idea yet that I haven't been able to put into action with a little bit of ingenuity and my dremmel. =) Goals are really pretty simple: 90-95% humidity, good air exchange, as little human interference inside the terrarium as possible. I guess I should state too that the terrarium will be for potted heli's. No critters, no planted substrate, etc.

    Your first paragraph made a lot of sense, Dun; and it's almost exactly like the advice I got on TF. So what I'm thinking is probably 4 holes about halfway up one side with the fan mounted inside that and pointed slightly down to blow across the substrate of expanded clay pellets. I figure they should hold/wick enough water to keep the humidity up. Then another series of 4 holes in the top, back corner of the other side. If I put the fan in the front of the terrarium like you recommended and the outlet holes in the back, that seems like it should do the trick.

    What do you guys think?

    This way, I could just make a solid top. That would make that part of it a bit easier. Thanks again for the help, guys. It's totally appreciated.
     
  14. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    ugh. I just typed a long reply and got a server error!

    basically what I said was, http://www.zoomed.com/db/products/EntryDetail.php?EntryID=260&DatabaseID=2&SearchID=1 you could use 2 of these to run 2 airpumps, 1 that pushes air through the water column to raise humidity, the other to just pump fresh air into the viv to lower.

    I'd used stepped eggcrate for your floor, and place plants on the different height steps. Under the eggcrate I'd install a float to actuate refill when the waterline drops, or I'd use a floor drain with a stand pipe to the waterline, and have a pump on a timer that pushes freshwater from a reserve into the tank every day, and flushes old water out through the stand pipe into a waste bucket.
     
  15. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    That's an awesome little unit, Mellow! I'm going to have to keep that in mind.

    I think I haven't been clear about something. I don't really want to have a "water column" per se. Really what I'm going for is to only have water in the terrarium for a little while every day. Basically enough to water the plants and soak the substrate. Then it will drain and the terrarium will essentially be dry. This way, I can avoid (as much as possible) the risk of fungal growth, etc as well as avoiding root rot.

    I do like the idea of stepped eggcrate a lot, and have thought of doing something like that with some long fiber sphagnum moss to keep in the humidity. I may have to play around with both substrate theories to see what works best.

    Dang, you guys have great ideas. Mellow, you just gave me an idea for another terrarium set up for pygmy sundews!
     
  16. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    well, the only challenge in what you're looking for is expense really. you could have it fill and drain daily, but you'd need an electronically controlled valve for the drain, so that you could close while filling. something like this might work http://www.google.com/products/cata...obcOuLW0QGl16DgBA&ved=0CIEBEPMCMAA#ps-sellers

    so basically, you'd have a timed pump to fill, with a timed valve to open and close at the appropriate time, and you'd probably still want a stand pipe to floor drain so that you never run the risk of over filling.
     
  17. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    But I have that part of it covered with the pump and return lines. The pump fills the tank until the water gets up to the level of the return line and gravity takes care of the rest. I've got the pump hooked up to a timer so I can set it to run for as low as 15 minutes depending on what's appropriate for watering the pots properly. It's not as elegant as what you're describing, but it's functional for now.
     
  18. dundadundun

    dundadundun ;sup' dog? ;woof and a wwwoof!

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    i like your drilled holes plan for a budget setup, personally. you may find your front glass doesn't clear up perfectly along the whole length... especially with a tank to room temp differential that favors a warm tank. which is highly likely. i suspect it won't be a huge issue, though. for super cheap and adjustable, you could use the plugs you cut out of the glass as guide rails for a vent cover cut out of a thin strip of lexan. a couple dabs of silicone should hold the plugs in place. stagger a second plug on the first on to make a rail, let dry and you're done. then again... the same can be done with scotch tape, lol.

    if you're going with leca, i'm going to suggest putting pots in and maybe adhering them lightly to the floor for you to put your plant pots into. this way you can use whatever you want to control the height of each individual pot and if you ever feel the need to remove any of them for any reason, putting them back exactly as they were is as simple as dropping them back into the pots they were in. if you don't go hog crazy with glue, pulling your stationary holder pots should be fairly easy as well. maybe a dab of silicone squished through a hole on one corner. on the other hand, if you're going to jam pack the tank with pots, that'll make things tough to get to the leca should you ever want to clean things up a bit.

    i totally agree with bills point on the waste and reservoir buckets, but you certainly could change the water in the bucket weekly and that should suffice. i would aerate it and consider an opaque cover should it ever get algae.
     
  19. jbradt

    jbradt this is bat country

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    My plan is to do periodic water changes when the ppm of the water in the reservoir gets too high. That water will likely go to watering the neps in the other rack since they can handle a little less purity. I hadn't thought about algae in the resevoir. The opaque bucket idea is definitely going to happen. I've also been thinking about adding an airstone for aeration in the reservoir. That totally validates that thought.

    Dang, I'm getting excited about this!
     
  20. mellowvision

    mellowvision Seafood Lover

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    you might consider putting a heater in the bucket too, so that when you flood the tank it's not with cold water.
     

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