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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Helo, just joined. It has been interesting reading all the information you all have come up with for the natural aquarium. I keep poison dart frogs and clay based substrates I beleive are the next innovation in the hobby. They will allow microfauna to uptake nutrients which in turn will be passed on to the frogs. I am a real fan of a natural aquarium or vivarium.

I have some questions for all you natural substrate dabblers. Most of the frogs we keep come from South and Centeral America. There has been some talk trying to replicate the clay soil found in these areas and here are a few recipies. These are not mine, but pulled off

Flourite and other fired clays will not work because they will not allow microfauna to up take nutrients.

kaolinite (EPK) 1100 [58%]
Bentonite (kitty litter) 550 [29%]
Fe Oxide red 70 [4%]
Fe Oxide Yellow 70 [4%]
Al oxide 60 [3%]
sugar 9 [.5%]
cornstarch 9 [.5%]
gelatin 10 [.25%]
soy protein 10 [.25%]
CaCO3 20 [1%]

This recipe is just based on the soil composition from my study site in Panama. Other recipes will work, that mimic other soils.

Mix it all together with enough water boiling water to make it like yogurt. Mix very well (egg beater, potato masher, etc) Heat it up in the oven to lightly boiling/bubbling
(be careful it bubbles ans it burns when one pops and lands on you)
you will have a soil type smell in your kitchen from this
mix it up one more time, allow to cool, then allow it to dry.

It should be dry enough to crumble apart with some force but not hard enough to to require a hammer or make dust.

Pass it through a fine screen (usual reptile screen ~1 mm).
Take your soil and put it in a container so you can compact it again (yes I know this seems redundant)
At this point you are now compacting all the small pieces into larger pieces that are loosely bound together. You can use a lot of force, like your foot or your body.
Take the soil out and it should still com apart fairly easily (if your soil was too wet when you started it may just be a big clay lump at this point)
break it apart again and pass it through a larger screen ~2-3 mm.

These small soil balls should now be ready for a frog tank. For variety you could skip the fine screen for some of the soil and just go to the large screen. It would just give you larger tight clay aggregates (harder for roots to penetrate, but still hold water and nutrients at their surface)
and another

Mix 2-3 parts Redart clay with 1 part local soil (I collect mine from under conifers to get a good mycorrhizal inoculation) [edit: beware of chytrid! Use sterile topsoil if in doubt]. Add just enough sharp sand to be able to tell it is there. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup hydrated lime to 2 gallons of soil mix. Mix it all up. A cement mixer would be ideal but I use a paint mixer attached to a drill. Slowly add water while stirring until the mix is evenly damp and clumps up into pea sized and smaller aggregates. Spread the mix out in the sun on a piece of burlap or similar and let it dry. Dilute some acrylic mortar fortifier about 10:1 with water (so it is really thin and diluted). Spray down the dried mix with the solution to thoroughly dampen it. Let it dry and repeat the spraying. Let it dry again. Sprinkle a little more lime over the mix and stir it in. It is ready to use. If you want to get really picky, sieve the mix through a 1/4" mesh. I didn't and just broke up the largest chunks by pinching them.
The problem is that these substrates must maintain some shape and rigidity and not completely turn to mush. Any ideas how to better bind these together?

I was thinking of adding flourite or eco-complete or this...

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Hi Jason. I've been watching your interesting idea thread hoping someone with first-hand experience would chime in- I don't have it, But here is my best shot:
Maybe you meant this implicitly; but are you keeping any rooted plants in the substrate? If so I think the experiment becomes will plants do well in the substrate you think is best for your frogs. Am I on the right track here? If so, my suggestion would be to not sterilize the soil by cooking it. If the sugar/cornstarch/rest of the concoction need to be cooked, add the soil last, after you cook what is needed. The soil bacteria will be making all of the chemistry happen for the plant roots &, for your targeted micro-fauna. You may need to give the soil 4-6 weeks to settle without your frogs in it, though, while the soil adjusts to being submerged. I guess that depends on how sensitive they are. Most of us look at fish behavior and test for ammonia in a new soil set up.
From your post it looks like there may be a sterilizing situation specific to frogs' substrate. And maybe you don't use rooted plants in all of your substrate. If that is the case, then I'd say the soil will eventually become anaerobic where it doesn't have good plant roots. Not the microfauna you are working towards, I'm sure.
This made me wonder if what you are looking to culture, micro-fauna or bacteria and fungii, are very specific and would come from the plants and soils (or first generation frogs) collected in their wild environment. Or is it less specific and only needs a proper medium, like the clay with some sugar/cornstarch?
I'm not sure this was helpful. Maybe DWalstad will be on this site and give you a better answer. I personally love new experiments in NPTs, so please let us know what happens. Good Luck!

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hey, thanks for the reply!!!!

The clay would not be just for plants, although some would be rooted, but most plants used above water would be epiphytic in nature (can grow in air, when mounted) like bromeliads and orchids.

I believe the cornstarch and sugars are used for binding the clay together.

The soil used must be sterilized to avoid parasites and fungus that can harm and even kill frogs. It is not necessary, but one I would like to do. The microfauna I am talking about are small insects like springtails and woodlice which would be added later.

My main question is how to better bind the clay so it acts more like a well draining substrate rather than a pile of muck. In the land portion of the paludarium the substrate would be elevated using eggcrate and screen so it does not sit in water, but will be sprayed daily and sit in 70% to 90% humidity and slope into the water feature.

Also, just wanted some comments on the clay recipe, things to add things to subtract maybe, to make it more like Amazonian clays.

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Hi Jason, check out "El natural with a twist" here:
AaronT uses a mineralized soil/clay mix and I can't wait to try it out! Pretty sure it could be used in a vivarium to. With his process you don't need any binders, but you would want to keep the substrate from drying out and becoming hard as rock.

The good thing is you wouldn't need a false bottom at all, lots of dart keepers use soil substrates and plant them with emmersed cryptocorynes. The substrate stays wet down under so plants to be used must tolerate wet feet.

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I'd say more clay and sand for binding and more rigidity.
Clay is a natural binder yes? And let it dry up a little before molding it. You can throw it in the oven I imagine. And you can use your feet to mix things together (this is how potters mix clay). The more clay, the harder it is to mix.

I think the sugar and cornstarch provide some rudimentary carbohydrate for bacteria and plants.
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