Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuberolabium kotoense in flower 11/18/08

Tuberolabium (used to be classified as Saccolabium) kotoense grows in trees on the Island of Taiwan. It is very difficult to bloom in captivity because of it's extreme cultural requirements. It needs to be very humid (almost constantly) yet the hanging roots need to dry off soon after watering. It needs to be warm and not too bright (say 1800 foot-candles light). It really needs a constant breeze, like a small fan blowing directly on it 24/7. These conditions cannot be met anywhere except on Taiwan :) or in a large wardian case, such as the one I described near the start of this blog. The flower spikes can take over 4 months to develop. Once the flower buds start to swell, however, it is less than a week till the lower ones (the first to develop) emerge. These spikes took approx 4 days from first buds to the state you see in these photos.
Culture for this plant in my tank: 90-95% humidity year round and 24 hours per day. Misting for 5 seconds every 4 hours. Temperatures range from summer range of low 70s at night to 80s during day and in winter (now) low 60s at night to high 70s day temps. In addition the plant is soaked in a solution of fertilizer water mixed to 125ppm nitrogen by volume every-other-day. This is year round (no winter rest). It is mounted on a slab or Port-Orford Cedar and it occasionally is sprayed for algae and gnats.
Tuberolabium kotoense is slightly fragrant - not the "heady - sweet fragrance of, say Cischweinfia sheehanae - but a mild fragrance difficult to describe. Not sure if nocturnally, it is stronger. Some of my plants are, but I'm not normally a night person to check on them.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's happining in the "Tank" now

A few orchids still in bloom:

Haraella odorata
Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta
Dendrobium oligophyllum
Cischweinfia sheenanae
Maxillaria variabilis
Pleurothallis tribuloides

In spike or budding are:

Aerangis citrata
Aerangis fastuosa
Angraecum monticola
Angraecum didieri
Ceratocentron fesselii
Dendrobium moniliforme Hakuunryu
Tuberolabium (Saccolabium) kotoense

In addition, several of the Jewell Orchids are in multiple spike.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lighting Issues

I am often asked about how I choose lighting and how I apply lighting both in the tank (well outside, but aimed into) and in a grow space in a south-facing window.

First: a few issues that need to be delt with. Artificial lighting is not the same as natural lighting (duh!) in that, outside (or in a greenhouse), under natural light provided by the sun, the sun comes up in the morning - weak and dim. Then it progressively gets brighter as the day goes on (even if it's a cloudy day) until it peaks maybe a bit past mid day. Then as the sun starts to go down, the light dims until darkness arrives at sundown. Get the picture? It's a bell-shaped curve. The only way to tell how many average foot-candles (for us North Americans ;)) is to take repetitive measurements over the day. And then also over the whole year, since day length varies over the year.

With indoor plant lights (of any design) we use timers to turn on and off the lights at a set schedule. Depending on the type of light, full brightness is achieved in a relatively short time (seconds). Phototropic processes begin within seconds to minutes of the full brightness. In other words, flowers emitting fragrance at night, stop emitting the fragrance. Flowers emitting fragrance in day periods, begin emitting, etc. Photosynthesis begins. Growth renews. Day length depends on a timer setting.

Once the lights turn off, the reverse processes occur. Night time fragrance begins. Photosynthesis stops and plant maintenace processes begin. I have personally witnessed Angraecum didieri (night time fragrant species) start it's fragrance within a couple minutes of lights out. This is full fragrance, like fill the room with it fragrance.

Now having described these processes, the next point is that, if an orchid (the subject plant here) is described as wanting high light in the order of 3500 FCs (sorry European readers - thats' approx 35,000 Lux) then, that is being described as a typical day at full brightness. Not really maximum sun, but similar to it. Sort of like: "If you can provide this level of light most days for the peak of the day, that's what it wants." Now with indoor lighting, we have a different scenario as begun above: it's been pretty much demonstrated that a lower level of light (say 1800 FCs / 18,000 Lux) over a steady length of time will equal or approximate this same light regime. For instance, I once placed a Brassavola nodosa (which is notorious as demanding really high levels up to full sun) directly under a bank of t5 florescent lights where I had previously measured a bit over 1800 FCs. The leaves turned red over a period of a couple days. They then progressed back to light green as they got used to the light. I bloom high light Dendrobiums under 1800+ FCs as well. The point here is that, as a grower under artificial lighting, you control: the strength of light being provided, the length of day/night, to a large degree humidity, and you control the plants' access to moisture and nutrients. As "Pot" growers have figured out long ago, super plants are a result of controlling all these factors.

Styles of lighting:

Without trying to start a debate on type of lighting, these are the most common (sorry if I leave out your favorite.)

Regular flourescent bulbs. These are commonly available in just about any store in sizes from 24" to 8-foot. They are referred to as "t12" flourescents (or shop lights) based on the diameter of the tube. They are the fattest bulbs and most common. Their light output per watt of energy consumed is dismal. Some folks still use these, but I suspect they use large numbers of bulbs and plants are located very close to the tubes.

t8 Flourescent tubes. These are the more modern thin tubes seen in many newer kitchens and other flourescent installations. They aren't that bad for plants. There are lots of "colors" available. You can get "daylight", "cool white", "warm", etc. These are very useful for orchid growing with the caveate that they do require close spacing to the tubes. They are way more efficient than t12's and consume much lower amounts of energy per foot candle output.

t5 Flourescent tubes. These are the hottest (pun intended) things around right now in flourescent technology. There are some off-shoots called t6 that are still really t5 in all practical terms. These are really skinny tubes that operate at 95 degrees F (that's the tube surface). Much warmer (or even hotter) than either t12 or t8. The tubes are available in many Kelvin ratings. This is simply a measure of the color of light. For orchids, a range of 5000K to 6500K is ideal. Warmer temperatures (lower numbers) are aimed at triggering flower growth (great for Pot producers, but not necessary for us legal orchid growers).

T5 technology is available in straight tubes (currently 24", 36" (rare) and 48" lengths.) These are nominal lengths. Actual lengths are somewhat shorter. Fixtures tend to be near the stated length of the tubes. They are also available in the "coily tube" bulbs most people might be familiar with. These are commonly referred to as Compact Flourescent or CF bulbs. There are pluses and minuses.

Compact Flourescents:

Pluses: You can locate one just about anywhere. It's not much bigger than a lightbulb (depending on output) and can be literally hung from a lamp cord if need be. Can't do that with a straight tube fixture most of the time.

Handy. As well as being able to screw one into a light socket (thus their popularity in low wattage sizes) they are easily replaced when the light gets dimmer.

Negatives: The ballast is built into the base of the bulb. This means if the bulb needs replacing, so does the ballast. They tend to be more expensive than equivilent straight tube fixture bulbs.

They are available all the way up to hundreds of watts, but commonly will be coiled, folded, or otherwise not a straight florescent tube. 2 and 3 bulb fixtures are commonly available that blast light down to even the most demanding plant.

Just remember, every light bulb replacement requires replacing the ballast as well. A much higher cost.

HID (or High Intensity Discharge) lamps.

These have been the mainstay of indoor gardening since, well, forever. They are great. They come in two versions: High Pressure Sodium (warm light) meant for flowering, and Metal Halide (cooler) meant for growth. These lamps run hot - plain and simple. The biggest drawback to these fixtures (if there is a drawback) is their operating temperature. Most indoor grow rooms with these lights are either air conditioned or they are temperature controlled in some way. Also they concentrate the light. That is a plus when you want to light an area some distance from the light source, but can be a problem when trying to grow low light species like Paphs and Phals. Folks that use these fixtures typically employ "light movers" or automated tracks that slowly move the lights back and forth across the plants.

That's pretty much it. There is some experimentation with LED lights, but nothing conclusive, or at least popular.

I am sure I will update this discussion in the future if new technology or observations occur.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dendrobium moniliforme Matsushima

Culture: Transplanted from pure sphagnum to a fine bark mix in a clear, slotted pot. Plant is in my orchidarium and usually kept at 1800+ foot-candles for 12-16 hours a day. 90% humidity for the light-on cycle. Down to approx 75% at night. Moved plant to a lower position while in bloom since tops of canes were against top of tank. Water/fertilizer every second day by application with hand held sprayer till the solution runs out the bottom of pot. Sprayed from time to time with either Thiomyl or Physan 20 for different reasons. Auto misting system runs for 5 seconds every 4-4.5 hours from lights on till lights off. Inside tank is fan running 24/7. A through-wall fan runs for 3-4 hours at night after lights out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Angraecum didieri October 8, 2008

Blossoms 4 and 5 since moving to the tank. The fragrance at night is overpowering. The through-wall fan kicks on approx 12PM and runs for 3-4 hours. This fills the basement with a strong flowery fragrance, very nice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bug Plants

Over the past couple years there have been some discussion threads regarding control of flying insects in Orchidariums (tanks). I thought I'd describe how I am contolling lots of fungus gnats and shore flies without resorting to ugly yellow fly traps. I have done this, and (to be honest) those things work for trapping the adults and eventually controlling the populations, but they are ugly and distract from the work we have done to set up an esthetic tank, even if not a true vivarium or terrarium.I have been growing Butterworts, Round-leaved Sundews and Venus Fly Traps in my tank for this last summer with varying results. I am concerned the fly traps will require winter rest in a refridge to make it, so they probably aren't all that viable. The Sundews look extremely viable and do their job very well, but tend to overpopulate a pot very quickly. I won't give up on this guy, but still am reserved as to how good he will be at doing the job he's hired to do.Now as for Pinguicula (the Butterworts). These guys are nothing but fantastic at earning their keep. They thrive in relatively low light (but will do better in as much as 1800 FCs) and need only RO water for moisture (great when you mist with RO or distilled water). When I first placed three plants in the tank, the plants were small and in their own pots. The flies flocked to them overnight. The next morning they were covered. As the plants grew, they outgrew the net pots I had placed them in. So I decided on a flat planter that barely made it into the tank. I use NZ sphagnum with some siftings from my Paph mix (it has shell and other small stuff that these guys seem to like) as a topping. Here's the results as of last night.

The plant on the left is P. 'Weser' ( a Mexican hybrid) and the one to the right with two blossoms is P. 'Gina' (also a Mexican hybrid). There is one more that has not bloomed yet that I will introduce in the future when it graces me with it's fragrant bloom.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Angraecum didieri September 2008

Angraecum didieri has now bloomed for the forth time since being placed in the tank. It appears to be on a regular schedule - as soon as the old blossom dies, a new bud forms at another joint. It is still adding new leaves as well. It is on a steady diet of Greencare MSU formula fertilizer mixed specifically for RO water. I mix to 125ppm Nitrogen. All the Angraecoides get this mix every other day.
In this photo (above) you can see blossom number 5 just growing. It should be ready to pop out about the time that number 4 blossom is dieing.
Here's blossom number four. Very well formed. I think I already said that this is fragrant at night.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aerangis luteo-alba status Aug 29, 2008

Here is luteo-alba on August 29. Two spikes almost full out and three about to emerge. One has temporarily stalled but will be along in due time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Aerangis luteo-alba prgress

This is the progress as of Aug 17, 2008. Nearly all the spikes have active bud development.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dendro moniliforme Hakuunrya in blossom

Here it is in full blossom after 3-4 weeks of waiting. For reference, the pot size is 2.5" dia.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Open this morning

Angraecum didieri is finally open with second blossom since I moved it to the tank in March, 2008.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Update July 26, 2008

Dendrobium moniliforme Hakuunrya (a true miniature Dendrobium) in bud. First time for me. Entire plant is less than 8cm tall.

Angraecum didieri with developing blossom - second blossom in two months. This plant went for nearly two years (blooming size) without a single attempt at a bud until I moved it into the tank under high light (1800+ foot-candles, for 12-14 hours.) Humidity is 90% minimum. Temps range up to upper 80s F. The pot is 7cm x 7cm (for comparison.) The nectary is longer than the plant is tall!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tank update July 20, 2008

Here is Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta in spike as of July 20, 2008:

The yellow arrow points at the last two spikes, six in total. Hope they all mature.

Here is last December when I got the orchid:

This is the plant when it finalized its bloom. Just two spikes. Picture this with 6 spikes and many more leaves and roots!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tank Update July 18, 2008

Aerangis citrata has three spikes now! Officially passing last year's growth spurt by one spike.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tank Update

Well, Aerangis citrata now has a second spike. Pretty nice since the first one has stalled. This tends to be pretty common. It will eventually complete it's development, but the second one may overtake the first (also pretty common.) This is what happened last year as well.

The new Amesiella monticola (the replacement) now is starting to spike! More later.

Ceratocentron fesselii appears to have two new spikes developing, a first for this one.

Tuberolabium kotoense is also starting to spike. A first for this one as well.

The spike on Angraecum didieri continues to elongate. It usually speeds up development at this stage.

I made cuttings of several Jewell Orchids and set them in the same pots to increase the growing shoots.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Changes in the Tank

I recently replaced one of the Angraecum monticola. I have learned that plants that blast flower buds will never develop a good flower bud, so out it goes! The new one may have a developing flower bud. Time will tell.

Angraecum didieri is working on it's second flower bud since it's move to the tank. Appears it really covets high humidity and good light. I was providing the light, but too low humidity.

Added two more Dracula. Dracula posadarum (Columbia) and Dracula velutina Var. xanthina (Columbia). Based on my success with D. lotax, I assume these will bloom when the temperatures drop in the winter.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Update June 28, 2008

Just returned from Syracuse NY where we had a Memorial Service for Dottie's mother (Ruth) who died back in January. The tank was taken care of while I was gone and is in fine condition.

The moniliforme Dendrobiums are wanting to grow mostly vegetative growths. All of the flower buds have dried up.

The two Aerangis that are in spike are developing nicely. A. luteo-alba will have 4 spikes for certain this year. Citrata will have only one spike.

Gastochilus somai has started showing color as the buds open. The flower mass of the two spikes is at least twice that of last year (see photo in previous post.)

I added a Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula to the tank today. By all rights, the tank environment should suit it very well. It also may help ridding the tank of those pesky Shore Flies. These things do no real harm to the plants (they consume algae and diatoms) but are a nuisance.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Stop the presses!

Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta has at least 5 spikes, not three. This makes it a way more robust than last year! I am sure there are other developing changes as well.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Where are we at today? (June 19, 2008)

Here is the update for today:

Angraecum didieri continues to set the second successful flower spike since I moved it into the "tank". It never did a thing except new growths while upstairs in grow window. Now it is doing it's thing. I am guessing two weeks before blossom.

Aerangis citrata has at least one strong spike developing. There might be second following. It's still a ways off till bloom.

Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta has at least three discernible spikes. This should be at least as big a display as last year!

Gastochilus somai has two very strong spikes (lots of buds) like last year. Still a ways off before bloom.

Dyakia hendersonianium has only one long spike this year (compared to two last year.) Still a ways off.

Ceratocentron fesselii has what looks to be a first spike. It always could be a root, but the structure looks different. If so, this will be my first bloom for this little guy!

The moniliforme Dendrobiums continue to amaze me with their very weird behavior. I still haven't figured these guys out. There is lots of growth, but why do some buds go to keiki and others not? Why do keikis, when cut off the parent plant, start forming a flower bud? That's weird!

The Haraellas continue to put out blossoms as they always do. Wish the fragrance would develope.

Aerangis hyaloids finally bit-the-dust do to over abundance of blossoms (it bloomed itself to death.) Might try this again in the future, but not right now.

I am planning a new purchase in next couple weeks. Will post what I finally aquire when that happens.

Some of my successes

Gastrochilus somai

Bulbophyllum psychoon

Angraecum didieri

Aerangis hyaloids

Aerangis fastuosa

Aerangis citrata

Pleurothallis tribuloides

Dracula lotax

Dracula lotax

Dendrobium aberrans

Dendrobium aberrans

Cischweinfia sheehanae

Cischweinfia sheehanae

Cischweinfia horichii (parva)

Aerangis luteo-alba var. rhodosticta

Haraella odorata

Haraella odorata

Setting up a custom Wardian Case

This Article documents the thought process involved in designing and setting up a large custom Orchidarium. After following a lot of threads on various internet boards, I decided to construct my own custom tank (or, as it turned out, having it constructed for me.)

Objectives for the new Orchidarium

Need a tank large enough to house an expanding collection of, mainly, miniature species orchids. These will be low-light, high humidity/moisture species.

Most of the plants will be mounted and hanging, as in stick or cork mounts.
Need an environment that allows low maintenance for the plants. This means I want to be able to ignore plants for at least a week at a time. Occasional fertilizing is understood, but daily is not going to make it.
Must have an environment where excess moisture drains away by itself, misting is taken care of regularly, light is not a problem, there will be places for lower wetness plants and higher wetness plants, and air movement is controlled over 24 hour period.

I desire to use 48” T5 fixtures as the only source of light. Lights will be timer-controlled.

Locating tank in basement where ambient temps are approx. 62 degrees F at night and 67 degrees F day during winter months will moderate temperature. Temperatures during summer months will be approx 65-70 degrees F at night and 75-80’s during the day. Cool to Intermediate growers are the best choices. A few spp on the edge of being warm-growers are also a possibility.

Tank should be easy to care for by non-orchid grower for periods of up to a month or more. My caretaker, while I am away, is not an orchid specialist.
Esthetics is NOT the primary issue – casual visitors will not see this tank. The tank is for hobby purposes and function is more important than esthetics. Quality of construction is important in order to eliminate future problems such as warping, separating of seams, etc.

Easy access to plants for watering/fertilizing (as infrequent as that might be) is a must.

After consideration of the objectives, I planned, re-planned and re-designed the tank. I decided to go with Paul at http://www.firstclassaquatics.com/ for fabrication. He was patient with me as I experimented with my retrofit aquarium http://www.orchidboard.com/community/terrarium-gardening/2299-retrofit-aquarium-update.html and fine-tuned the misting and other requirements.

Retrofit Aquarium as test subject

I retrofitted a large aquarium by adding an acrylic riser, 8” high, siliconed onto the top of the aquarium. This is where all the fittings and holes were made. I settled on a Mist King misting system driven by their hi-end pump and with 3 deluxe nozzles. I am using a 5-gallon drywall compound bucket as a reservoir, where I have R.O. water stored. The system uses a 24-hour timer to set “day” and “night” and an interval timer plugged into the 24-hour timer. Through experimentation I have settled on 5 seconds of misting, every 3 hours during day cycles, and no misting during night cycles. The 12 volt 3” fan inside the tank runs 24/7 and disperses the mist during the day, directing most of the mist towards the moisture loving plants, and then serves to dry off the plants at night. A second fan is mounted outside the tank to blow away some of the heat generated by the T5 light bank. The top of the tank is simply a glass storm window, which helps absorb some of the excess heat from the lights. Access to the tank is by raising the light bank, disconnecting the outside fan, and removing the glass top. As moisture collects below the raise grating in the bottom, I have been removing it manually with a turkey baster. The stick-mounted plants have responded tremendously to this environment. The Cischweinfia, which I had previously not been able to keep growing well, have also responded.

Setting up the new Orchidarium

To control air circulation, and heat, I am using 2 fans – one inside the case circulating inside air. The second is mounted outside the case on the T5 light bank to help lower heat loading. The inside fan runs 24 hours a day and 7 days a week (24/7). The fan on the T5 light bank runs only when the lights are on to dispel heat. I experimented with a through-wall fan running at night but opted to not run that fan at all because it wasn’t necessary. The inside fan does the job, after the misters quit running, to dry off the plants sufficiently to deter mold.

To control watering and humidity, I am running the same Mist King system, keeping the same 5 seconds on - 3 hours off cycle from the retrofit aquarium. The through-wall drain runs excess water/fertilizer down to a storage tank below the Orchidarium. From here, it can be re-used outside during summer months, or discarded in winter. But it automatically drains excess fluids. I have found that with this tank, the humidity stays much higher than the retrofit tank did. I suspect this is because it is sealed better. I rarely got humidity readings above 88% right after the misters had run in the retrofit aquarium. I now get constant 90 degrees + readings with same instruments even hours after misting. I suspect I can go 4-5 hours between mistings and still maintain same readings.

I mounted two thermometer/hygrometers inside the tank – one near top and one near bottom to see if there was any difference. I got higher temps on the upper gauge (as you might suspect – it was closer to the lights) yet I got lower humidity readings. Typical readings during a normal day will be 70-71F/91% top gauge and 69-70F/96% lower gauge. This is to be expected. With relative humidity, as temps go down-moisture holding goes down, so relative percent goes up.

The shelf over the door on the left side provides a bit more light than is available elsewhere in the tank, probably in the neighborhood of 1000-1500 foot-candles. Also it tends to be lower wetness (same humidity, but no direct misting) and is meant for those plants in baskets of sphagnum, or in pots, that also need a bit more light than the mounted plants and don’t like wet roots.

Physically removing each plant and dunking in fertilizer solution handles the weekly fertilizing. While labor-intensive, this keeps solutions off acrylic walls and the tank walls stay cleaner. It also gives me a chance to inspect each plant for signs of mold or rot. These maladies are handled with Physan 20 spray, or Thiomyl, as they occur.

Setting up the tank – construction steps

After unpacking the tank, the first step was to locate holes for fan mounting screws and mount the thru-wall fan. I used stainless steel screws and nylon nuts for this task. In the end I opted to not use this fan (at least right now.)

Next was to assemble the small upper shelf from “egg crate” material meant for fluorescent lighting fixtures. I used aluminum channel siliconed to the long edges to stiffen the shelf.

Next was to cut and fit the bottom shelf, also made from egg crate. I am resting the shelf on a series of 2 ½” high plastic pots. This creates a reservoir for excess spray water. The Mist King bulkhead fitting at bottom of tank will assure water never accumulates deeper than about ¾” before running down to an outside reservoir.

Next step was to cut a sheet of cocoa fiber matting to fit most of the back of the tank. This serves to hold some of the mist water during the day as well as provide a more esthetic background surface. In addition a few mounts may be hung from the matt. The matt was attached to back using RV grade silicone (waterproof).

I dry tested the tank with a wet sponge and found out it held humidity very well. Even though I had originally planned to run a “drying” fan at night, I decided to eliminate this step for now. I moved the tank into it’s final resting place, under the existing T5 bank, and fired everything up. Here are the final (as of 5/1/07) specs for the tank:

Size: 36”Lx20”Wx30”H (91 cm L x 51 cm W x 76 cm H)
Construction: mix of clear and black acrylic
Day temps (Winter): 69-72F (20-22C)
Night temps (Winter): 59-62F (15-16C)
Relative Humidity: 90-97%

Sources of components

Misting system and interval timer http://www.mistking.com/
Fiberglass rods for hanging www.mgs4u.com/index.html
T5 light bank (Sunlight Supply, Sun Blaze) http://www.sunlightsupply.com/products.cfm?sid=1E39E7A5E0815D553402DB1068C5333B&c=54&sw=1
Fans http://www.aquatichobbyaquariumsupply.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=ES53070
24-hour timers – Home Depot
Heat absorbing glass under T5 light bank – local glass store
Hygrometers - http://www.theweatherstore.com/caldighyg.html