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Terraced Substrates

I suppose that there are many ways of building a terraced substrate - here
is what worked for me. I wanted something that would be stable and stay in
place as well as look good. I determined where in the tank I wanted raised
beds, figured out how long and deep each should be. I then visited a glass
shop and had pieces of 1/4" plate glass cut to size.While I was there, I
asked them to cut me about a dozen smaller pieces of 1/4"  plate, each piece
2" square. On my way home, I dropped into a hardware store and bought a tube
of aquarium safe silicone sealant.

I first of all eased all of the sharp edges of the glass pieces with a piece
of sandpaper, washed and dried them. Next, I rooted around in the kitchen
cupboards for a bunch of canned goods (I don't think it matters which
brand). Using a straight edge, I placed a number of the small glass squares
flat on the floor, evenly spaced out - I intended to silicone an edge of the
long sheets of glass to these small squares of glass. they would act as a
sort of foundation for the glass sheet. To maximize the contact area on each
glass square, I placed a bead of silicone sealant along the diagonal of one
side of each square. Once all of the squares had been prepared and
positioned, I carefully lowered the long edge of one of the glass panels
into the sealant. I used the canned goods as supports on each side to prop
up the glass while the silicone cured. The next day, I reinforced each glass
to glass joint with more silicone and left it for 24 hours to cure. I did
this 4 times to make 4 "walls" (I wanted two terraced areas, each of a
different depth).

What I ended up with was a set of little glass "walls" which were held
upright quite securely by the square pieces of glass which were siliconed to
one edge. I guess I could have put them into use as it, but I didn't relish
the idea of being able to see the glass panes sticking up through the
substrate. So, back to the hardware store..... where I bought a couple of
packages of plain old everyday cork tiles meant for bulletin boards. Each
tile is about a foot square, 1/4" thick and natural dark brown. I cut stips
of the cork the same size as the glass panels and used dabs of silicone to
glue the cork to the glass on one side. To make a better looking top edge, I
cut thin strips of cork and using the same silicone, I covered the
cork/glass edge.

The next day, after the silicone cured, I pulled out my trusty Dremel
Moto-Tool, and put on a medium sized grinding stone into the chuck. I eased
over all of the sharp cut edges on the cork sheets to make it look "old and
weathered" (do this outside - cork gets dusty). A quick rinse to remove the
cork dust, and the finished panels were ready to go into the tank.

Once I installed them (and before I poured in the gravel), I realized that
the joint where two panels would meet was going to be visible as a straight
vertical line. So, out came the cork and the silicone again, and I cut small
strips of cork and siliconed them in place, on one of each pair of "sides" -
when butted up against another wall, the little flap hides the joint. A
little more work with the Dremel, and it looked good enough. If I had to do
it over again, I might use small pieces of driftwood, it might look more

But the bottom line is that it was not expensive, not difficult, didn't take
long to do, and it looks great and has kept the gravel in the terraced areas
where I want it. The cork has not deteriorated in the time it has been in
place and I also covered the back wall of the tank in the same cork tiles.
It makes a great support of Anubias, Java Ferns, and Java Moss - I just use
a snipped off piece of paper clip to pin plants to the cork. Tannins did
leach out of the cork for a few months, but thats not a problem with me or
my fish (or my plants). The tannin leakage has pretty much stopped now (a
year later).

James Purchase