Step 4: Screening the Top
This was the part I was most unsure about. I tried a couple of different ways to do this but the easiest and most effective is as follows, though I was still cracking the wood.
Step 5: Heat and Lighting Automation
Three enclosures require quite a few electronics to keep temps and UVB correct for each species. First, I secured a pretty industrial surge protector to the top of the enclosure to provide a central power source.
For each enclosure, I use a dual smart plug for the LED and UVB lights so that these can be timed. I also use a simple on/off thermostat and heating element (I like deep heat projectors).
Cords are going to be an issue, as is keeping fixtures off the screen, so I'm still working out a stand made out of PVC that can elevate the fixtures and contain the cords.
Step 6: Humidity Automation
I opted to use a MistKing for this build and I am so glad that I did. You will need to get your own reservoir for this. The most common is a 5 gallon bucket but any hard plastic container can be used to fit your space so long as a hole can be drilled in it.
First, I cut a space in the shelf in the lower portion of the cabinet to fit the bucket. I drilled two holes in the back of the cabinet: one for the tubing, and another for the wiring. I screwed the pump unit onto the wood next to the bucket, and hooked everything up. MistKing has a ton of tutorials, so I won't get redundant here with those.
To attach nozzles, I cut pieces of 1/4" thick 1 1/5" wide pine and bored a 5/8:" hole in the middle. I attached this to a front corner of the screens of each enclosure, ensuing that the hole was not obstructed by any other structures. I screwed these pieces into place, then cut a hole in the screen that lined up with the 5/8" hole. I then pushed the nozzle up through the screen, into the hole in the wood, and secured it with its nut.
I then attached all the tubing and was good to go!
I will note that when I first turned the mister on, it leaked like hell. This was because the tubing was not pushed in all the way, and this is a very common problem. Pushing the tubing further will fix the problem.
Step 7: Bioactivity!
This is where it gets fun!
I used a LOT of substrate for this build because I wanted to use plants that matched the height of the enclosure. USE SAFETY GLASSES AND A MASK HERE - I was sneezing and tearing dirt for days!!
I dumped the bags of substrate into the enclosures, then added water to get it to a texture consistent with that which you'd find in a forest. The substrate should stay formed when pressed but should not drip water.
Once the substrate was in, I added my springtails and isopods. These guys are the bread and butter of bioactivity and often referred to as the cleanup crew. Basically, they eat poop and other rotting materials (plants and uneaten food) in the enclosure, minimizing any cleanup a human would normally do. They help to create a really active and successful ecosystem. You can just dump the cultures right in if you're buying them new, or take portions of larger cultures already established independently. For most of my builds, I only use tropical springtails and dwarf white isopods, but I added a few powder orange isopods to the big enclosure too. I also added some of these guys to my elevated pots.
Last but not least - Plants!!! Really make sure than you research your plants. Many everyday houseplants will thrive in tropical vivariums - pothos, spiderplants, snake plants, etc - but some are really harmful to your animals. the ASPCA has a good list of toxic plants but it is geared towards mammals. Some reptiles have funky immunity to certain things (prehensile-tailed skinks eat pothos, which is mildly toxic to most animals) and others have funky sensitivities.
Also, source your plants from somewhere trustworthy, and wash the roots the best that you can no matter where they come from. Home Depot uses pretty harsh pesticides, but I have excellent luck at Lowe's and local plant nurseries - though they all can still harbor pests no matter the source.
It's a good idea to let your enclosures cycle for a month or so to make sure that everything is settled and there aren't any harmful hithchikers (predatory slugs - I just had to tear out a dart frog enclosure because of these stupid things!)
When introducing your animals, do it on their time. Offer food but don't sweat it if they don't eat right away - they're adjusting to their new space. They'll come around and be super happy in their new homes!!!!