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ABG Substrate spin-off?

Discussion in 'Tortoise Enclosure Substrate' started by mikels, Sep 7, 2019.

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  1. mikels

    mikels New Member

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    I performed a search of the substrate forum and didn't see any mention of ABG substrate. It stands for Atlanta Botanical Garden, since they created the formula. Mainly, it was developed for growing tropical plants, like epiphytes, that need some moisture retention in the potting soil, but also severe drainage and lots of air around their roots. The substrate mix consists of a specific ratio of orchid (fir) bark, milled sphagnum moss, activated coal (carbon), peat moss, and tree fern (root) fiber.

    I've used ABG for years, and it grows lots of tropicals just fine, quite a few that are terrestrial, too. Anyway, I think that since many torts don't really need a very moisture retentive substrate, and tree fern fiber is similar to pointy little twigs, a few of the ingredients could be deleted and or swapped out to make a tortoise version that offers something more combined than any ingredient can on its own.


    So, I would use ground coconut husk instead of peat. Orchid bark is already commonly in use, so that accounts for ingredient #2. Finally, we have activated carbon/charcoal. It supposedly absorbs some nutrients, and possibly odors, potentially helping keep things fresher, for a while - it can be obtained in similarly sorted sizes as orchid bark - but could lose it's effectiveness overtime. So I think the real benefit in using the ingredient is that it doesn't decay. And it's not like grill charcoal, in case you were wondering.


    My proposed ratio:

    1 part milled coconut husk (coco bedding)
    2 parts orchid bark
    2 parts coal

    This should allow a little moisture retention to help provide humidity, but drain well and keep the surface from being overly wet. It also makes sense that the harder materials would provide a more firm natural resistance for the torts while they move around than using coconut millings alone.

    I'm also interested in not having coco bits on everything. To that effect, the ingredients could be layered, with coco on the bottom, bark on top. Something to think about, unless the species digs a lot. However, a few good rounds of heavy misting may help flush coco bits from the surface and down into void spaces. By the way, I would plan to use this mix with a false bottom, to prevent water from sitting in the substrate and wicking up or causing rot or tort health problems.

    When ordering orchid bark and carbon/coal in the past, I've found Cal-West Orchid Supply to offer decent prices on bulk substrate material. However, they appear to have been converted into Flori-Culture since my last order and they don't seem to carry orchid bark any longer. They still have 'charcoal'; $10 for 1/4 cubic foot, about 30 for an entire cf.

    I'm considering giving this mix idea a try in the indoor enclosure I'm finishing up. Any thoughts? Has anyone tried something similar?

    Thanks,
    Mike
  2. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Why? How does this work better or suit tortoises better than plain orchid bark? What are the effects of incidental ingestion of activated carbon? What happens if they eat it intentionally?

    This is another solution without a problem.
  3. TechnoCheese

    TechnoCheese Well-Known Member

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    In contrast, I’d say that it could potentially benefit the tortoise. This mixture is great for growing plants and housing all sorts of insects for clean up crew, and in large enclosures, makes it possible to have a bioactive enclosure. This means that it is self cleaning and does not need to have its substrate replaced or poop cleaned up, and plants can be available to munch on or provide shelter ;)

    The ingestion questions, however, could definitely be a concern, and something to continue to think on.
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  4. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    Good points. I hadn't given much thought to that because I don't try to grow plants in my substrate.
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  5. mikels

    mikels New Member

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    I can't say for certain that this will work better, as the 'trial' hasn't occurred yet, but I believe a mixture of elements to be better than one alone. Frankly, I think an actual soil would be great, but then there would be sand to deal with, and clay too - I don't think silt on its own is ideal. Maybe a heavy loam could work, since it should compact well if moist, making sand ingestion less of a likelihood. Grain sorting sieves are expensive though. Overall, I like the idea of providing something as close to natural as possible, but that's difficult to achieve in a closed environment.

    As for ingestion, that would also be determined during the trial phase, unless someone can share a firsthand experience. But that really wouldn't be a guarantee that it couldn't happen. The edges of the charcoal are mostly smooth though, so hopefully it would be passable.

    On a side note, I remember hearing of someone who was given a slurry of charcoal to drink when I was in grade school, after they were taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. It's ability to bind toxins could even save a tort that's eaten the wrong weed (and someone knew about it), but it would of course need to be a powdered form, and dosing would be something to figure out. I'm not suggesting anyone try it. Maybe a vet could work the dose part out, if the idea is even sound. I digress.

    But now I can pose the same question: Do tortoise ever eat fir bark? Could it have happened while they weren't being observed? I guess it would show in their excrement, if passable? In any case, I have experenced some splintery orchid bark, so I hope ingestion of it doesn't happen often.

    I think I get where you are coming from. The actual wheel has been reinvented a few times and it still rolls, and it's different now, but that allows it to carry a different load at this point in time. I do appreciate the response and I understand that you have animal welfare in mind.

    I think you can see where this is going. I have experience with vivariums that support tropical plants and amphibians, and have enjoyed the beauty and lower maintenance. I was planning on removing waste regularly, but I'm also interested to see what the little detritivore bugs can do where larger fauna on a veggie diet are present. I'm not sure if this enclosure is large enough to be considered large; it's about 68"x39". And yes, I'm hoping to grow as many sturdy and edible plants as possible.

    Have you tried a similar mix?

    I'd like to add something else to make the overall composition more firm under foot and less likely to give under each step, but can't put my finger on a good candidate. It would need to be fibrous, like spagnum (too moisture retentive), or something smaller. On the other hand, some well-placed flagstone (shale, etc) above the mix would add firmness.

    Mike
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
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  6. mikels

    mikels New Member

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    I have continued searching this sub forum and found some good reads. However, I turned to Google and have come up with a couple nice sources.
    One is a thread on this site, which draws on many individual experiences. https://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/substrate-ideas-requested-towards-a-perfect-mix.69765/

    Another source is external, and fairly comprehensive. Looks like a "must read" for anyone interested in some of the science behind substrate selection with the aim of providing a healthy, and more natural environment. I noticed that designing a substrate able to support biological diversity wasn't mentioned, which is really a secondary objective.
    https://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/substrates.html

    Mike
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  7. mikels

    mikels New Member

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  8. Toddrickfl1

    Toddrickfl1 Well-Known Member Tortoise Club

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    I live outside Atlanta not far from the botanical garden. I looked into Bio active setups a little. In my enclosure for my Hatchling RF I used about 4 inches of potting soil mixed with Sphagnum Moss. I added Earthworms to the soil. Then I put a small layer of Cypress mulch over that, followed by a layer of orchid bark over that. I added isopods to it also and a few live plants. Works great for humidity. It's been a few months and I haven't had to clean it. I just stir up top layer of bark from time to time.
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  9. mikels

    mikels New Member

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    Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you have a really effective combination of methods. I bet ABG is neat. I'd love to visit there one day, maybe the next time we drive to Florida.

    I'm thinking about mixing up a few ingredients, then adding a layer of leaf litter above, so I will probably have to remove most wastes. I've used homemade versions of ABG substrate for over ten years and it definitely makes a good habitat for little bugs, especially with some leaf litter topping. I think I have some that is still running after 10 years, but I don't see any peat or sphagnum in there anymore. It can retain moisture well under very humid conditions, but dries pretty quickly when there is ventilation / lower humidity.
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