Mike Bechtold's 'Magic Box'
How one EE member grows encyclias
ways to set up the Orchidarium: I
bought a Grand Cayman Orchidarium because I have poor sun exposures for
the windows in my house, to help me put predictability and science into my
orchid growing as well as hoping to reduce the frequency of watering.
Well, two out of three�s not bad.
My watering schedule is predictable but not necessarily reduced.
Perhaps in units with only one or two lights there is less heat build-up
and therefore more time between watering and easier to maintain higher
humidity levels. As with any
advice, what I describe below is based on conditions in my 40-year old
northern Virginia house and should be used only as a point of departure or
of comparison � your own experience will certainly be different.
I want to share the lessons I�ve learned in the hope of make your
growing experience as positive as possible � like our friend Ron
Greisbeck did for me when I bought my unit.
But experimentation and thinking creatively is the key to making
these orchidariums work for your conditions and then filling them with
plants that thrive in the conditions you end up with.
of unit in the house:
hardest thing for new orchidarium owners is to not run out and fill it
with plants immediately. Take
your time and record high and low temperatures, humidity levels throughout
the year so that you make good plant selections based on your conditions.
Use a light meter to place your plants in the unit.
If you are focused on warm-growers, perhaps locate the unit on the
south or west side of the house. If
you are growing intermediate plants, then the north or east side of the
house. If you are going to
grow plants requiring high-light, consider locating the unit in front of a
window to take advantage of �real� sunlight.
Unfortunately, I don�t have any east, west or south windows that
I can use with my orchidarium. My unit is on the north wall of the house in the dining room
where the constant glare of the light for 12-16 hours per day doesn�t
bother anyone during the day and it is a room that is not frequently used
late in the evening so that any plants that might need undisturbed
darkness are not affected by the dining room light being turned on. Many folks put them is a spare bedroom or in the basement
where light and dark hours can be controlled without regard to the
�human element�, these folks use window air conditioners, humidifiers
or even just using an open window to ensure a nice 10 degree Fahrenheit
difference between day and night temperatures.
One common way to minimize the heat build-up in the orchidarium is
to clip a fan to the top of the unit blowing across the lights as you see
above. I run it normally at
night to get closer to a 10 degree day/night temperature drop.
Notice also that you need to buy a base or something to place your
orchidarium on, it doesn�t come with the base shown above.
Light: I have the three-light unit for the most biaxial light possible.
At the top of the unit light intensity is about 3000-ft. candles;
even at the very bottom of the unit there is about300-400 ft. candles.
My thought was that this would allow me to use the entire unit�
my 4 square foot box of jungle J. I plugged the lights into a timer (two are supplied with the
GC). I have been using Ed
Merkle�s light schedule: 16 hours from March 1st to November
1st and 12 hours from November through February.
I do not recommend using the dust cover that comes with the unit;
the additional heat build-up inside the unit is not worth the dusting
necessary every six months without it (also believe it may overheat the
ballasts). For the dusting
chore, I have found that Pledge �Grab-it� wipes work very well at
quickly picking up the dust and small insects from the top of the unit
without scratching the plastic or leaving any residue behind.
Humidity: The orchidarium comes with side by side rubber bottom liners and
two air stones with an air pump normally used with aquariums.
Instructions call for a couple of inches of water to be kept in the
bottom of the orchidarium and the bubble stones to be run for humidity.
I tried them for a couple of months and found that I had to pull
all my plants out every couple of months and pull the egg crate up from
the bottom of the unit to clean out the gunk that was growing in the
water. I even tried Physan 20
in the water in the bottom of the GC to reduce the nasty stuff but ended
up with lots of foamy white bubbles for my troubles � cute but not
exactly what I was hoping for. Finally
I took out the air stones, cleaned and dried out the base and took Ron
Griesbeck�s advice to bought a plastic container and plunked in an
ultrasonic water fogger from Mainlandmart.com.
I bought the one for shallow containers to make the most of the
water in the container � the unit can continue to operate about a half
inch lower with the shallow model which equals a day or two more before
refilling the basin with water. I
use only distilled water in the fogger and have had very long life before
replacing disks. I know
others have suggested that distilled water corrodes the disk faster.
I see no evidence of that in my experience (my first disk lasted a
year). However, you do need
to clean out the plastic basin and the fogger with soap and water about
once a month to keep the bacteria to a minimum.
My fogger is on a timer as well.
The setting of the timer depends on the season.
Naturally in the winter, I run the fogger longer but never
continuously. I use a timer
that allows 30-minute intervals and currently run it and the fans
simultaneously for thirty minutes on and then thirty minutes off.
Consider running the fogger longer when the lights are on to
compensate for evaporation due to the heat from the lamps. Also, buy the three-position switch that allows you to adjust
from low, medium and high mist output.
I open one door (the opposite side from where the fogger/basin are
located) to allow for optimal air circulation, air exchange and some
cooling but you have to watch that you don�t adversely affect your
humidity level. Experimentation
and observation are the key to success.
Inside, the orchidarium has two square fans on opposite sides of
the unit suspended from the plastic top. One fan is pointed up and the
other pointed down in order to provide proper air circulation.
My experience with the original set-up was that the downward
blowing fan dried plants out on that side excessively even with my fogger
running nearly continuously. I
eventually put my fans on timers because running them 24 hours per day
seven days per week was drying the plants out too fast for the time I had
to devote to watering (doors open or closed).
Another way I compensate for the down-side airflow drying out
plants too fast is to unscrew the down-facing fan and flip it over and
reinstall it blowing upward. With
both fans blowing up and the fogger in one corner, all controlled by
timers, I have had no difficulty with humidity and my plants don�t dry
out so fast anymore. For a time, I did take this to the extreme by only
running one fan (blowing upward) with the fogger and basin on the same
side and had decent humidity throughout the unit, but I found that the
plants on the opposite side of the unit didn�t get enough air movement
and had problems with bacterial rot, etc. Another way to assist in
maintaining higher humidity levels is to use clay pots to put your plants
on and clay saucers around in the bottom of the unit and spray them with
water when your humidity is particularly low (for me it is mid-week and
the day before watering day when the pots are drying out).
started out watering all the plants in-place inside the Orchidarium with
my 2-gallon sprayer � just hosing them down!
But I found after a few months that mealy bugs and other problems
were occurring and invariably infestations were taking place on the side
of the plant that I couldn�t see! I
also discovered that while spraying mounted plants hung from the wire
mesh, somehow water would run down the glass and migrate along the seam
between the glass side wall and the metal base and trickle into the
plastic piece that the glass doors slide back and forth.
That collected water corrodes the sliding door wheels and makes it
more difficult to open and close the doors.
Even when I used tape as a way to guide overspray water from the
glass sides, over the metal base seam and into the rubber bottom liners,
it still found its way into the front glass door slider, rusting the
wheels. So I am now in the practice of pulling all of my plants out
and watering them as you see to the right.
I have my 5-gallon pail with a plastic egg crate on top.
Plants are pulled out, inspected for bugs (treated as necessary),
watered, allowed to drain for a bit and placed back into the unit.
This also allows me to re-use the water on my other houseplants
(although some folks would not recommend re-using the water to prevent
transfer of any diseases or bugs to healthy plants).
I still try not to get water in the crown of the orchids or on
leaves unless I know it will dry by nightfall, this minimizes the
possibility for bacterial infections.
As for the rusty wheels on the sliding doors, I finally sprayed
WD-40 on the plastic sliders because the wheels were scraping the plastic
off slowly every time I opened and closed them. You can see some of the
rust residue in the picture below.
tampensis: Best bloom ever after a year in the unit, many new growths 1800
mariae (mounted): No bloom first year, summered out, new growth maturing,
now in unit at 900 ft. candles.
tampensis x mariae �Mendenhall�: summered out, maturing growth, now in
unit at 1000 ft. candles.
bractescens (mounted): Summered out, slow developing new growths, now in
unit at 900 ft. candles.
Encyclia bracteata: one with slow developing new growth at 2000 ft.
candles, other with a nearly mature new growth at 700 ft. candles.
tripunctata: No bloom first year (went too far on the dry winter rest),
two new growths, leaves may drop soon, 1000 ft. candles.
Epi. Lee Ward: (adenacaula/nemorale
x tampensis), one in the unit with a nicely developing growth at 1700 ft.
candles, the other summered out with a slowly developing new growth, now
in unit at 1000 ft. candles.
you all know, this has been a terrible year to summer plants out.
Except for my tampie all the plants above have yet to spend a full
season in the orchidarium. I�ll keep you posted on successes and failures.