Requesting advice for orchid terrarium rebuild
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  #1  
Old 05-31-2020, 11:23 PM
OrchidFan1 OrchidFan1 is offline
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Requesting advice for orchid terrarium rebuild
Default Requesting advice for orchid terrarium rebuild

Hello Orchid Board

I've been growing orchids for 6-7 years now with good success (simple grocery store orchids in my living room) and decided to take the plunge into terrariums with miniature orchids.

I finished construction of my first orchid terrarium three weeks ago following instructions online. My goal is to make a fully automated, natural-style planted terrarium. It's been a ton of fun, though I've continued researching since then and realized I made a number of mistakes.

First, details on my current setup:

I live in Boston, MA. My terrarium is indoors, aside a southeast facing window (not in front of it, since my desk is there). Measuring with a lux sensor only registers about 1000 lux at noon, much less than I initially expected.

I have a UNS 60U tank (20 gallons, ~24x14x14") with a glass top covering just over 3/4 of it. The base layer is 1" of volcanic gravel covered by a plastic mesh screen, then a 3/4" layer of activated charcoal, topped by a 2" layer of rePotme Phalaenopsis Monterey Dark Imperial Orchid Mix. The orchids are either mounted in sphagnum moss on rocks or cork bark, or planted in the substrate. There is an AC Infinity USB fan constantly circulating air internally.

I have the following plants:
  • Cattleya dormaniana
  • Ceratostylis philippinensis
  • Dendrobium trantuanii
  • Dendrobium unicum
  • Schoenorchis fragrans
  • Haraella retrocalla (Gastrochilus retrocallus)
  • Bulbophyllum barbigerum
I made a culture spreadsheet here: Orchids - Google Sheets

And here are current images of it: Imgur: The magic of the Internet

As I mentioned, my goal is to create a natural looking planted terrarium, automate as much of it as possible, and require as little manual maintenance as possible. I'd like to leave for 1-2 weeks at a time and not have to worry about it. I'm building an automation setup using a Raspberry Pi which is currently monitoring temperature, humidity, and light over the day, and can automatically flip on a Repti Fogger and any other accessory as needed.

So far I've identified these problems:
  • I fell into the trap of ordering orchids I liked and not orchids that were appropriate for the environment. Some have wildly different requirements.
  • The 3/4 cover is not adequate to contain humidity. I can only keep it at 50-60% but is dependent on the weather. When I seal the openings with saran wrap I can easily maintain 80-95%.
  • The tank is not getting nearly enough sun. According to the culture sheets all of the plants require 10,000+ lux and some much higher.
  • My natural-style tank seems ill-suited to handle and drain as much water as the culture sheets require, especially when it's sealed. Also, I'm nervous to water that much after years and years of conditioning to only sparingly water orchids.
  • The terrarium honestly seems a bit dull at the moment, and I'd like to make it more interesting.
I've decided to rebuild it, and if I'm doing that I might as well rebuild it right. I've come up with the following changes to make:
  • Rebuild the tank with a custom background to make it more interesting Custom Background Kits For Live Vivariums, Bioactive Terrariums, and Basic Enclosures | NEHERP - Your One Stop Vivarium Shop!
  • Only purchase appropriate orchids for the environment going forward
  • Mount a light on top to supplement sunlight. The lighting articles at firstrays.com have been insightful.
  • Order a custom cut acrylic top to seal the tank but still pass through accessories to maintain humidity. And include an external fan to bring in fresh air as needed.
  • The biggest question is how to handle watering. A misting system like the MistKing seems ideal for the plants' requirements, but I don't know how to drain it, especially if it's constantly, frequently adding water to the system.
I'd appreciate any guidance on how to address these issues, especially the watering part, and criticisms of my plans.

I was additionally wondering if it's possible to seal (or nearly seal) an orchid terrarium like this so it acts like a traditional terrarium: that is, simulating the water cycle so it requires little/no manual watering. Is it possible to adequately meet the plants' needs doing that without keeping them persistently damp?

Also, I'd like to clarify my understanding of the culture requirements for 10,000+ lux. Holding my phone flashlight directly up to my light meter registers 10,000 lux, and that seems awfully bright as a minimum. Is this correct, or am I misinterpreting it?

Thank you!

Last edited by OrchidFan1; 05-31-2020 at 11:27 PM..
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  #2  
Old 06-01-2020, 10:42 PM
ColoradoBirddog's Avatar
ColoradoBirddog ColoradoBirddog is offline
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Requesting advice for orchid terrarium rebuild Male
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I wish I had more to offer, other than I think the setup looks good. Yes, needs more light. Is it possible at all to kove it in front of the window?

My setup is much more hands on, but i thought I'd mention that I use a reptile fogger for mine. And I hand mist on occasion.

Now, from my experience, it is possible to get positive results from mixing orchids of different types in one environment. Ideal? Likely not. But I grow a number of catt types high various phal types. As well as a Dyakia, and a Neofinetia...though it's not bloomed...yet.

Now, I'll sit back and look for more sage advice.
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  #3  
Old 06-02-2020, 07:25 AM
james j james j is offline
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Requesting advice for orchid terrarium rebuild Male
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Iíve been working on my set up for a little over a year and am still making adjustments.
I use a Mist King, 2 nozzles run once a day for only a few seconds. My top is sealed with 1/4Ē plexiglass, the doors have built in vent slots and I have a PC fan running 24/7. So far I have never had to drain water out, in fact I need to add water occasionally.
My set up is in the basement with 100% artificial light. I use a LED grow light I picked up at Home Depot. I plan to switch it out to a COB grow light that I read about here in the growing under lights section. The light I have puts out a lot of heat, I had to put a fan on it because it was heating up the tank too much.
Most of the orchids in there (12) were from Andyís. His site lets you do a search by miniatures and vivarium which is helpful.
I also have 3 dart frogs in there and picked up some other plants from frog vendors to fill in the background for texture. All of the moss hitchhiked in on the orchid mounts and spread on its own. I need to pull it out to keep it in control.
I would suggest raising the tank higher so itís at eye level, itís more enjoyable if you donít need to bend down to look at it. Itís also easier to hide all of the wires and tubing on top.
Maintenance is simple, I have a 2 gallon bucket for the Mist King that lasts for 3 weeks. Front access tank is good because algae will grow on the glass, it will be harder to clean reaching in from the top.

I just picked up a second tank and plan on doing a slightly dryer environment.
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  #4  
Old 06-02-2020, 01:21 PM
OrchidFan1 OrchidFan1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ColoradoBirddog View Post
I wish I had more to offer, other than I think the setup looks good. Yes, needs more light. Is it possible at all to kove it in front of the window?

My setup is much more hands on, but i thought I'd mention that I use a reptile fogger for mine. And I hand mist on occasion.

Now, from my experience, it is possible to get positive results from mixing orchids of different types in one environment. Ideal? Likely not. But I grow a number of catt types high various phal types. As well as a Dyakia, and a Neofinetia...though it's not bloomed...yet.

Now, I'll sit back and look for more sage advice.
Thanks for the kind words. I could move it 6-10" closer to the window, which would get a bit more sun to it. It's encouraging you're able to get some degree of success mixing types at least.

Quote:
Originally Posted by james j View Post
Iíve been working on my set up for a little over a year and am still making adjustments.
I use a Mist King, 2 nozzles run once a day for only a few seconds. My top is sealed with 1/4Ē plexiglass, the doors have built in vent slots and I have a PC fan running 24/7. So far I have never had to drain water out, in fact I need to add water occasionally.
My set up is in the basement with 100% artificial light. I use a LED grow light I picked up at Home Depot. I plan to switch it out to a COB grow light that I read about here in the growing under lights section. The light I have puts out a lot of heat, I had to put a fan on it because it was heating up the tank too much.
Most of the orchids in there (12) were from Andyís. His site lets you do a search by miniatures and vivarium which is helpful.
I also have 3 dart frogs in there and picked up some other plants from frog vendors to fill in the background for texture. All of the moss hitchhiked in on the orchid mounts and spread on its own. I need to pull it out to keep it in control.
I would suggest raising the tank higher so itís at eye level, itís more enjoyable if you donít need to bend down to look at it. Itís also easier to hide all of the wires and tubing on top.
Maintenance is simple, I have a 2 gallon bucket for the Mist King that lasts for 3 weeks. Front access tank is good because algae will grow on the glass, it will be harder to clean reaching in from the top.

I just picked up a second tank and plan on doing a slightly dryer environment.
This is helpful, thank you! That's interesting you haven't needed to drain. The permanent vents with constant circulation are probably vital. And I'm glad you're having success with the moss. The moss in mine isn't receiving nearly enough water currently.

My current plan is to rebuild with a misting system that will run for a few seconds daily. I'm hesitant to install permanent vents since it already makes my office smell somewhat of wet forest when it's not sealed. Instead, I'm planning to use large river stones for the base layer and install a small peristaltic pump to remove collected water as necessary (controlled by the Raspberry Pi). This pump type doesn't need to be primed and is better suited for dirty water, and a small one should be fairly quiet. I'll build a small hidden column in the background to run the pipe up with enough space to remove/replace/clean it if necessary, and will drain into an enclosed bucket behind it. All the wires currently out are just for prototyping, so once I finalize the setup I'll solder everything and clean up/hide it all.
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  #5  
Old 06-02-2020, 02:44 PM
hypostatic hypostatic is offline
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Some thoughts:

Quote:
Originally Posted by OrchidFan1 View Post
Only purchase appropriate orchids for the environment going forward
Yeah, as I'm sure you're noticing, a 20G can be tight for some of the orchids in there currently -- some will soon outgrow the comfortable space. Andy's Orchids has a power search tool, where you can look for miniature orchids that do well in a terrarium.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OrchidFan1 View Post
Order a custom cut acrylic top to seal the tank but still pass through accessories to maintain humidity. And include an external fan to bring in fresh air as needed.
Pass on the acrylic top. Acrylic tends to warp when there's a humidity differential, which is something you'll want to avoid.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OrchidFan1 View Post
The biggest question is how to handle watering. A misting system like the MistKing seems ideal for the plants' requirements, but I don't know how to drain it, especially if it's constantly, frequently adding water to the system.
Yes, this is the biggest dilemma, especially if you have orchids with very different requirements. In general, you'll want high humidity, but low moisture, if that makes sense. Standing water (even as droplets) can lead to mold growth.
The easiest solution to this is a glass top to keep in the humidity; internal fan(s) to minimize the standing water; and spot-spraying by hand areas the need more water.
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  #6  
Old 06-02-2020, 06:41 PM
OrchidFan1 OrchidFan1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hypostatic View Post
Some thoughts:


Yeah, as I'm sure you're noticing, a 20G can be tight for some of the orchids in there currently -- some will soon outgrow the comfortable space. Andy's Orchids has a power search tool, where you can look for miniature orchids that do well in a terrarium.


Pass on the acrylic top. Acrylic tends to warp when there's a humidity differential, which is something you'll want to avoid.


Yes, this is the biggest dilemma, especially if you have orchids with very different requirements. In general, you'll want high humidity, but low moisture, if that makes sense. Standing water (even as droplets) can lead to mold growth.
The easiest solution to this is a glass top to keep in the humidity; internal fan(s) to minimize the standing water; and spot-spraying by hand areas the need more water.
This is all good advice, thank you. I think the hardware store nearby does glass cutting as well. It's unfortunate the glass top that comes with the tank isn't full-sized since it's meant for aquariums. It may be practical to covertly run individual drip lines to each plant instead of misting altogether, which would allow for individual watering schedules while avoiding stagnant droplets on the plants.
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  #7  
Old 06-03-2020, 03:02 PM
hypostatic hypostatic is offline
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oh, something else you could do to keep the humidity up, and still allow for airflow, is to get a glass top, and drill some ventilation holes with a diamond drill bit. This will allow your orchids to dry out a bit more like they would in nature, without having the humidity drop substantially.
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  #8  
Old 06-03-2020, 07:02 PM
DrDawn DrDawn is offline
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Welcome! I'm glad that others with more experience have been able to help you out more, but I also wanted to mention since I saw that you're in Boston like me that there's the Mass Orchid Society that meets monthly. Next meeting is this weekend and will be held virtually. Others there might be able to give you some local advice?
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  #9  
Old 06-03-2020, 10:25 PM
OrchidFan1 OrchidFan1 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hypostatic View Post
oh, something else you could do to keep the humidity up, and still allow for airflow, is to get a glass top, and drill some ventilation holes with a diamond drill bit. This will allow your orchids to dry out a bit more like they would in nature, without having the humidity drop substantially.
That would certainly help, thanks for the suggestion. The terrarium is right next to my desk in a small office, so I'm trying to avoid having any smells emanate from it, but if moisture becomes a problem I'll see about doing that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DrDawn View Post
Welcome! I'm glad that others with more experience have been able to help you out more, but I also wanted to mention since I saw that you're in Boston like me that there's the Mass Orchid Society that meets monthly. Next meeting is this weekend and will be held virtually. Others there might be able to give you some local advice?
Great to know, thanks!
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