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Bioactive Hedgehog Enclosure, Part 2: Substrate

Handful of play sand Handful of top soil Handful of coco fiber

If you search online, you'll find countless opinions on the "ideal" ratio of substrate components for an arid / semiarid bioactive enclosure. Thankfully, it doesn't need to be super complicated, and you can always add things as you go! Remember that it's a lot of trial and error, and the substrate composition that works for you may be different than what works for someone else!

I decided that for the sake of providing an affordable/accessible example, making a simple mix with costs provided would be best.

Two large tubs with bags of play sand, top soil, cypress mulch, coco fiber, and vermiculite.

We're splitting our bags of substrate over two bins - but if you have one enclosure, you can hold onto your extra substrate for when you need to refresh in the future! 

Here's a cost breakdown:

  • $30, 50gal Brightroom Tub from Target (40x21.5x18" tall)
  • $3, bag of top soil (40lbs)
  • $4, bag of play sand (0.5 cu ft)
  • $3.50, bag of cypress mulch (2 cu ft)
  • $12, bag of vermiculite (8qt)
  • $4-8, compressed 1.4lb brick of coco coir
    • we used a giant 5kg brick that cost $16, but you can use a normal "brick" sized brick if you don't want leftovers.
  • $7, bag of peat moss (8qt)
  • $? hedgie-safe leaf litter, sticks, and bark pieces

Except for the cypress mulch, you'll only use half of each bag, and save the other half for later. You only need about a quarter (if that) of the cypress bag!

Where to Buy

Your best bet for cost-effective top soil, play sand, cypress mulch, and peat moss are garden centers like Home Depot or Lowe's (for those of you in the US).

You can also get coco coir/fiber and vermiculite at garden centers, but I prefer to buy from a locally owned grow shop (Paradigm Gardens) for better quality, selection, and prices! I recommend taking a peek around your area to see what options you have. You can order online from Paradigm Gardens, too!

Mixing the Substrate

PS: The tub is gonna be heavy once all this is added. Make sure you have someone to help if you need to move it afterward.

Here's everything except the peat moss and leaf litter, added after:

Tub with pre portioned substrate components

And here it is mixed! On top are the handful of sticks and bark that I added to provide some "structure" for our cleanup crew to burrow around. At this stage, make sure you have at least 4-5" of substrate across the bin. If you don't have enough, I recommend adding more cypress mulch. 

Tub with mixed substrate, sticks, and bark pieces

The leaf litter is super important for supporting your cleanup crew, and adds texture/variety for your hedgie to forage through. I recommend mixing leaf litter into the substrate, adding a healthy layer on top, and then routinely adding leaf litter on top as it gets broken down. (we usually add more every few weeks)

Tub with substrate and a box of leaf litter

Next Steps

Before adding my cleanup crew and plants, I like to get a feel for the layout of the enclosure. I choose the planters that I want to bury (this helps keep the plants in place) and think about where the wheel will go, the hiding place, etc.

For this tub, I added a piece of flagstone which will hold food/water dishes up so they stay a bit cleaner. I added some planters, a faux birch "log" hide, and a few rocks. Once these are placed, I'll add our cleanup crew and plants so they can get established before hedgie moves in!

Bioactive tub setup with substrate, planters, and a hide.

Other Options

Here are some other components you might consider adding:

  • Coco chips (like the coir/fiber, but a nice chunky texture)
  • Lump charcoal (crush to smaller pieces before use)
  • Calcined clay (you can get this at auto shops by the bag for oil cleanup!)
  • Organic potting soil (I love Purple Cow brand, and it doesn't have perlite in it, so it looks more natural)

Head to another Hedgehog Bioactive section:

1. Overview
2. Substrate (this page)
3. Cleanup Crew (CUC)
4. Heating and Lighting
5. Plants and Accessories