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Our Mission is to serve an educational function in providing the general public with botanical and horticultural information on the genus Encyclia and other orchidaceae that have once been classified as Encyclia, in order to promote the cultivation, propagation, conservation, hybridization and exhibition of these orchids both ex and in situ.

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Mike Bechtold's 'Magic Box'

How one EE member grows encyclias

Various 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. 


Location of unit in the house:  The 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  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.


Air movement: 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).


Watering routine: I 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.


Encyclia experience: 

Encyclia tampensis: Best bloom ever after a year in the unit, many new growths 1800 ft. candles.

Encyclia mariae (mounted): No bloom first year, summered out, new growth maturing, now in unit at 900 ft. candles.

Encyclia tampensis x mariae �Mendenhall�: summered out, maturing growth, now in unit at 1000 ft. candles.

Encyclia bractescens (mounted): Summered out, slow developing new growths, now in unit at 900 ft. candles.

Two Encyclia bracteata: one with slow developing new growth at 2000 ft. candles, other with a nearly mature new growth at 700 ft. candles.

Encyclia tripunctata: No bloom first year (went too far on the dry winter rest), two new growths, leaves may drop soon, 1000 ft. candles.

Two 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.

As 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. 

 Hope this helps!

 Mike Bechtold





























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Last modified: August 11, 2004

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