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My Overkill Terrarium with Custom Rock Face & Waterfall

First off, here is the almost finished waterfall:

And the back side (ignore my dog):

To highlight the basics, this is going into a 75 gal terrarium with a mix of CP's ranging from a N. glabrata to D. falconeri. Yes I realize two very different environments but just wait :)

The base of the rock wall is hollow and houses the 720 gph waterfall pump, the 260 gph pump/filter assembly, the UV filter, a quickly crafted fogger, and all of the piping. There are three pots built into the wall. The one underneath the waterfall is an undrained standard pot that will house a smaller Utric. The other two are in the cliff face and have been designed for smaller highland nepenthes. Both pots have two 1/8" PEX pipes ran through them that are attached to a main coolant line. Water is circulated in a closed loop through these two pots, through the back half of the "grow area," and out of the terrarium into a reservoir housed inside a mini-fridge.

To get a small idea, this slightly dated schematic shows most of the action. The original 300 gph pump was not strong enough so that was re-purposed to the coolant loop. A Fluval U4 Pump/Filter took it's place. The UV filter is attached to it's output & further behind it (or left on the schematic) is the 720 gph waterfall pump running freely.

I have just finished sealing everything and made a few tweaks (like capping off the stream reservoir so water doesn't go everywhere). I am in the process of washing sand, black lava rock, and waiting for my extra pound of Besgrow NZ Sphag to get here. The current plan is about 2" of sand, 2-4" of black lava rock, and sphagnum to bring all the pots together. Here's another Google SketchUp image to illustrate this (again, slightly dated, I've boosted the total number of pots quite substantially).

Depending on my temps, I have found a waterproof heat rope over at Big Apple Herp that I can wrap around plants that need the heat in the front half of the grow area. The rock wall pots average about a 10 F delta but I have no idea what that is going to do inside the main area.

Feel free to ask all the question you want. I know I have left out a ton of stuff but this was kind of an impromptu decision to post this tonight. I plan on videoing the rest of the assembly so people can have a better idea how it is assembled. For more pictures just click on the Photobucket link in my signature.

Oh and because videos are always better. This was taken about a week ago. Since then I capped the stream reservoir with acrylic so the water actually goes INTO the stream and have cleaned up the waterfalls just a bit to make them flow better. Cheers!

It looks amazing already, and I'm sure it will be even more so once it is all set up. Have you thought of growing plants in the water? Or would they just get sucked into the filtration system?
That was actually the main reason I went with the 4" water height. It seemed to be the best compromise to still allow something like U. inflata or U. purpurea to grow without having to create a 20" high soil line for my mexican pings or cephalotus.

Surprisingly the water flow isn't that strong in the pool. Check out the bubbles made from the waterfall. They hardly move considering almost 1,000 gph is being sucked in right behind them lol.
Hmm, I apparently didn't capture the bubbles very well in the video. Still, they were stagnant enough that I even became slightly paranoid that my filtration system wont be strong enough haha.
It seems like you might even be able to grow lithophytes if you are able to keep them from being swept off. I guess I would be worried about the water agitating the substrate in the water too much if the flow was too strong and the water too shallow. I can't wait to see how this turns out.
I appreciate it! It's been nearly 6 months building this thing so I am equally excited and fed-up with the project haha. The aquatics will be the last thing I add since I am still not 100% sure it will work. However, I am going to grow a P. moctezumae on the rockwall. If you look in that first photo I built a spot out right in between the two pots to try and hang one or two. It is right above the big shadow.

A little down the line I am going to build a rock spire/arch that goes from the second pot to the far right, front corner of the pool. This will hopefully give my glabrata something to climb. If any of you are Halo fans, think Beaver Creek/Battle Creek/Battle Canyon depending on the version. I was even debating buying a small rocket launcher to set on top of it haha.
You are really putting some thought into this. I am sure it is going to be absolutely stunning when finished. I am dying to see how this will turn out!
can't wait to see the end product, this is AMAZING! awesome job! :)
I've been meaning to try the water-pumped-from-a-mini-fridge approach. I'd like to see how that works out.
  • #10
Looks awesome! Keep us updated!
  • #11
Nice design, but isn't a 75 going to be a bit small for Neps?
  • #12
Thanks for all the praise guys!

@Sub - Yes and no. Since I have only been growing plants for a little under a year, none of my nepenthes have made it to the stage where they require a larger setup. This tank (since it is my first) had to at least look cool, but still allowed me to test out some designs features that could be used in a larger environment later. I made sure to do a potted landscape design so I could grow a larger variety of plants and also remove/swap plants as they out grew their conditions. Think of the terrarium as the "show room floor" while the grow racks and cloning chambers in my closet and garage are the "back of house/warehouse" of the operation.

And don't worry, my bicalcarata is already clawing its way out of its 6" pot haha.
  • #13
@Carbonetc - My biggest fear with the coolant line is simply not knowing how much the plant uses its roots for temperature control. There is a lot higher thermal coefficient using the water and soil versus just blasting in cold air so that will do something but nepenthes roots are not all that massive as far as I have seen. I am shooting for an average air temperature in the intermediate nepenthes range. Soil wise I should be able to reach mid 50's in the cool zone while keeping low to mid 70's in the warm zone. I just got to hope the small amount of plastic insulation I have between the two zones will be enough to separate the two.
  • #14
So this is bloody annoying. I finally get my tank moved back into position and am ready to actually start setting things up and I notice a hole in the bottom conduit. For some reason I am having a hard time getting the silicone to adhere to the surface of the "rock." It adheres to itself just fine so it has created a barrier, except any minute holes in the silicone the water finds and slowly seeps throughout. Here's a picture where I had to peel back a lot of the loose silicone. Looks like I will be sitting back for a couple more days to let this new batch of silicone dry. Any of you guys have suggestions on using silicone?

  • #15
Bummer. On the plus side, as you intended, this build will bring to light the possible issues you would face with a future larger build.

I don't know if it would help the silicone to adhere if the plastic surfaces of the conduit were scuffed first with sandpaper.
  • #16
Man I love that set up! Nice work!
  • #17
Nice progress! Can't wait to see the final setup.
  • #18
Quick progress update and change of plans.

Still having issues with silicone. I am kind of damned if I do, damned if I don't at the moment as attempting to pull off the silicone almost always rips the paint layers off as well. I have purchased more aquarium grade silicone and just patch things up as they arise. Silicone onto silicone isn't the best option but it's better than nothing. If anyone has any suggestions let me know!

Got a whole new problem but a decent idea to solve. My waterfall pump is too powerful for my desired water level. I got it to work in my initial test runs but I had to hit around a 5" water level instead of my prefered 4" (4 1/2" is my max). I was also running into circulation issues as very little water was being moved from the planted side back over to the filter.

To solve this I first added a small false bottom out of plastic egg crate. The only thing this did was really show me how stagnant my water is haha. So I tried redirecting the output of my filter pump to the opposite side of the tank to "push" the water through. This helped to a degree but only exacerbated my waterfall pump air problems.

Here is the idea I have come up with to hopefully solve both of those problems but I wanted to run it across you guys first to see if you had any input. I did another annotated picture like I have above to explain the flow and my thought process. In the picture the long black rectangle is the Fluval filter, the smaller circular rectangle above it is the UV filter, and the smaller rectangle in the back is the waterfall pump. Everything is color coded so Brown = Step 1, Blue = Step 2, Black = Step 3, and Purple = Step 4. The substrate may change but that is how it is currently setup. I am going to try and start building the bigger false bottom and piping tomorrow. I made this rather quickly in Photoshop so it's not the most professional of photos but meh.

Thanks guys!!!
  • #19
It's a little difficult to read on here but if you click on the picture and then click on the original size it is much easier.
  • #20
Breathtaking. Been itching hardcore to build a terrarium, and man oh man is this inspiring.
Any updates? I'm very interested to see how it'll turn out!