How to do the Bioactive goodness
Enclosure size/type and lighting based on 3 adult Thamnophis s. infernalis.
Enclosure dimensions for bioactive success: 4x2x2, have at least ½ the top ventilated screen if custom built or if pvc.
Dam/Substrate depth of 4” minimum.
Sunblaster T5 + LED (T5 bulb replacement with Arcadia UVB)
Basic indoor/outdoor halogen flood on a dimmer for basking (optional, not required)
So let’s say you have your enclosure and fixtures set and ready to go!
Time for substrate. This can be a wide variety mixture. I aim for loamy soil.
I start a fresh batch with the following mix: 60:20:20/ soil:sand:etc
Etc is the following: peat/coco fibre, mosses, orchid bark, etc. it can be a mix of all or one
I personally add a little at a time. ¼ amount, mix, then repeat so mixing isn’t overly tedious and heavy. As you are doing this, add in mycorrhiza fungi spores and rhizobacterias if you can. This is very important for the nitrogen cycle. Without it, negative effects will not be noticed for a couple years, but it will ultimately have a bad impact on your environment, and crash it.
Just like a fish tank, our soil needs a nitrogen cycle. Ammonia from urine or missed foods needs to get broken down by bacteria, which then converts it to nitrite. Further into that, bacteria will then convert nitrite into nitrates(safe form) in which the plants will then feed off of and grow.
The mycorrhizal fungus will attach and grow into the roots of plants and expand into the soil. This type of fungus then absorbs water and nutrients from the soil and conducts them back to the root system of the plants. So with the bacteria and fungi symbiotic relationship, the cycle is complete.
Once it is thoroughly mixed together, time for decor! We won’t touch ground decor just yet, but instead the main structures. Garters do love to climb, so give them ample opportunities. Here is a sample of one of my garter enclosures:
In this case, I chose to use cork branches, cork rounds and cork flats for my main structure. However you can use branches or drift woods found outside. No need to “Sanitize” either, just give them a good hose down, check for ants or termites. If nothing, throw it in! Use your imagination.
Once you have the wood layout, plant time!
When it comes to snakes, you do not need to worry so much about “toxic” plants to herbivorous species as they simply won’t get eaten. Common outdoor flowers, or annuals often will not survive the “stale” air within a house, so tropical “indoor” plants are the best route to go.
As you plant, gently pound the soil down, and add more as needed, and pound down again to make the ground more firm. This will allow the moisture to stay within the soil longer, and also have a stronger base for the plants to root and grow.
Once this is done, now we focus on the ground. Leaf litter and bark! At this point, you are basically mimicking a forest floor. Whole leaves, crumples leaves, scattered everywhere in a thin layer. Throw some twigs down, tree bark, even rotting wood from outside (again, watch for ants!). Rotting wood offers excellent nutrients for the soil, and isopods love it too. After this, apply a little bit more leaf litter on top. Personally, I prefer oak as it is long lasting, and surprisingly, an odor reducer!
Congrats..you’re done! Now we just have to apply maintenance. Good rule of thumb is sticking your finger 2” into the soil. Is it damp? Or is it dry? If it is dry, it means it is time to water! The top layer can look somewhat dry, but underneath should always have that rich, darker color while not being wet. This will take some trial and error to get used too. Honestly, probably the most “difficult” part of all of this, which really, isn’t all that difficult. If you are unsure, it is better to under-water instead of over-water as over watering will lead to bad bacteria build up and problems for both plants and animals involved.
From here, we can add isopods and springtails. Other great clean up crews that people forget about are also millipedes and mealworms! (NOT centipedes). These are also fantastic little cleaners for rotting materials. Isopods and springtails will work on both fecal matter, any hidden foods and rotting organics. I usually err away from mealworms just because I find them a little ugly, but they work within some degree. Just not as well as the others.
I would personally suggest not having any inhabitants (snakes or lizards) for a good 3 weeks or so, to allow the plants to root in place so they do not get dug up.
Hope you enjoy!