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  #1  
Old 08-02-2020, 08:26 PM
Draikan Draikan is offline
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Terrarium growing experiments
Default Terrarium growing experiments

Update: Here is the current dashboard link to live environmental conditions from the orchid terrarium!

IO - Adafruit

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Hey everyone!

I've been growing orchids in Terrariums for about 2 1/2 years now. Have had some success and some failure. I wanted to start keeping track of the things I'm trying in a place where other people can see it, so that's what this thread is for. I'm going to start be describing what I've done over the last few years, then post about present projects.

My methods aren't perfect, and I'm still changing a lot. It takes a long time and a lot of consistency to start getting results, but I'm getting there. The last year has given some particularly great growth.

I have kept freshwater aquariums for probably 15 years on and off. After graduating from college I started keeping dart frogs. That was my introduction to terrariums, but I quickly became WAY more hooked on plants (there are so many kinds!). Orchids in particular have really caught my interest.

It was roughly the beginning of 2018 when I started to focus more on growing the healthiest plants I could, rather than just letting things grow in my frog tank. I had various clippings and divisions from the display tank growing in domed 10x20 trays. My first Orchids came from Andy's orchids, and they spent about a month in these small trays while I worked on a terrarium for them.

---------- Post added at 05:26 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:10 PM ----------

The tank I built for the orchids is roughly 20x20x44". It is a PVC pipe frame wrapped in clear plastic sheet. Egg crate is hung up on the walls for hanging mounts from. The whole thing sits in a black plastic tray. the resulting tank was cheap, lightweight, and roughly 70 gallons.

This tank sits on one shelf of a 48x18x82" wire rack. I don't have too many older pictures.




The 10x20 nursery tray of moss was a big help in keeping humidity up while there were so few plants.

I also used a medium sized computer fan to help keep the air mixed. You can see it on the left side of the tank. Nothing special here, it was always on.



The whole thing is lit by 48" LED strips. The lights are not fancy at all, but they were extremely cheap for the amount of light produced. They fit the rack perfectly.

Products used:
Plastic tray - Robot Check
Plastic sheet - Robot Check
Fan - Amazon.com
Lights - Robot Check

Last edited by Draikan; 03-24-2021 at 02:32 AM..
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  #2  
Old 08-02-2020, 08:34 PM
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DirtyCoconuts DirtyCoconuts is offline
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Looking forward to this thread!
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Old 08-02-2020, 09:17 PM
MJG MJG is offline
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Me too! Thanks for sharing!!
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  #4  
Old 08-02-2020, 09:42 PM
Draikan Draikan is offline
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At this point everything was mounted in sphagnum, on either cork or other small wood blocks. I was watering with RO water and very dilute dyna-grow foliage pro. I had the foliage pro from some outdoor plants I had been growing, so I just kept using that. I watered by hand mister, about every two days. The day after spraying, the plants were still too wet to be watered again, and by three days they were usually too dry.

Most of the orchids were growing decently. I did lose a Taeniophyllum obtusum, and an Ornithocephalus dolabratus. Both of these were mounted with no sphagnum, and I was never able to get the balance of moisture and airflow right. They were always either drying out or getting too wet, and they both eventually declined completely. It was frustrating because they were both established and would try to put out new growth, but they just couldn't keep up with loss to either dessication or rot.

Taeniophyllum obtusum:


Ornithocephalus dolabratus:


I also tried making divisions for the first time. I broke a large Stelis species from brazil (noid) into about 50 smaller plants and mounted them all up. In hindsight I made a few mistakes:
1) Divisions were too small, most only had 3 or 4 leaves.
2) I put aerial roots under sphagnum on the new mounts, probably was really rough for plants that had few roots to begin with.
3) I used fresh mounts. I suspect using mounts that had aged a bit and grown some moss might be easier for the divisions than something so sterile as recently hydrated sphagnum.

Pre-division Stelis:



I eventually switched my manual watering to a mistking (still with the 2-day-ish schedule), and changed my ventilation. The original fan (30CFM flowrate) didn't provide as much circulation as I wanted, but also dried out some areas of the tank very quickly. Areas near the fan or directly in the airflow dried fast. Certain plants needed supplemental hand misting, and would become too dry if left alone. I switched to a fan that was about 2x as powerful at 70CFM, but ran it on a cycle timer. It was on for 5 minutes and off for 15. This was a huge improvement to the health of all the plants.

Here is the tank with the new fan and misters, and all the Stelis division: (This is actually a slightly newer shot of the tank, but it's the oldest I have with the new fan and misters)



You can see all the divisions!

Many of the plants were very healthy, including this Pleurothallis alenii. This has always been one of my best growers!


---------- Post added at 06:42 PM ---------- Previous post was at 06:18 PM ----------

Changing to the fan on a cycle timer is probably one of the single greatest improvements I have made. Every time I have found a way to provide more ventilation without drying the plants out, I think I have seen improvements in growth and health.

The new fan is this one: Robot Check
And this is the timer: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

The balance of airflow and moisture was improved but still not perfect. I still had to hand mist certain plants regularly, and I was always messing with the timer on the mistking. This tank also had no drain, so I had to be careful not to water too heavily or the tray would start to fill, and the tank would stay wet for too long. These were significant issues, but I started to see very good growth from the initial plants.

Initially I was growing:
Dendrobium abberrans


Masdevalia minuta


Stelis species


Podochilus muricatus


Pleurothallis allenii


Taeniophyllum obtusum

You can see both fresh roots and older dried out sections here.

Ornithocephalus dolabratus



I expanded the collection a bit with an order from a fellow forum member, picking up a number of new species including:

bulbophyllum pardalotum


scaphosepalum microdactylum


platystele stenostachya


platystele erectoglossa


platystele umbellata


pleurothallis picta


pleurothallis eumecocaulon


masdevallia nidifica


dryadella elata


leptotes bohnkiana


This guy was nice enough to include an unidentified (as far as I know) Peperomia species. I received it as Peperomia species 'Shingler'. This is an amazing miniature vine, with beautiful foliage. I started a single tiny cutting of it in a tray on sphagnum:
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  #5  
Old 08-03-2020, 01:36 AM
Draikan Draikan is offline
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The new fan points directly up at the top of the tank, and is 140x140mm (compared to 60x60mm of the old fan). This means that the airspeed is lower, even though there is more total air being moved. This creates a much gentler airflow through the whole tank. I think that the larger fan combined with pointing it up helped to fix some of my wet/dry spots.

I divided up the Pleurothallis alenii (not too small divisions this time):


And I transplanted some moss from the pleurothallis alenii to propogate for future mounts. It eventually grew to this:


I partially credit this moss with the health of the P. alenii. I've observed on a few mounts that if they start to grow algae on the sphagnum it seems to set the plants back. I think the algae gums up the sphagnum and prevents it from breathing, which might smother the roots a bit. Most of my mounts with moss don't seem to grow algae, and they dry out much more easily (in a good way, not holding on to water and smothering the roots). I think gas exchange is better on mounts with live moss, but it can be hard to find a moss that won't overwhelm some of these tiny orchid species. the moss from the P. alenii is extremely low growing, it's orchid friendly!

I'm trying to grow most of my newer divisions with moss now, if I have enough on hand. I want to experiment with using established mounts with a healthy moss colony for new divisions, but I haven't had a chance to try this yet.

Around this time (early 2019) I was getting regular blooms from many of the plants, which I took to be a sign of good health.

Platystele orectoglossa:


Pleurothallis eumecocalon:


I also mounted keikis of Podochilus muricatus:

You can see I added some moss to the mount, but the moss has to get established too, so it doesn't start growing right away either.

and platystele umbellata:


I think I should probably have left these on the mother plants longer, but they did both survive!

The Peperomia sp. 'Shingler' also took off like crazy! it filled the whole tray.









I think this vine would look great on mounts with mini orchids growing out of it! Haven't had a chance yet but it is on my list of things to try.

---------- Post added at 10:07 PM ---------- Previous post was at 08:43 PM ----------

In 2018 I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica, where I got to do a bit of hiking and see some orchids in their natural habitat. I spent time in both lowland (by the beach, hot) and highland (monteverde, cool) environments. I was there at the beginning of the wet season, and what I saw really changed the way I think about orchid culture.

I also got to visit an outdoor miniature orchid garden: Santa Elena Monteverde Tour | Monteverde Orchid Garden
All the orchids here are grown mounted on native trees. I was able to speak with some of the staff who told me they never fertilize or water the plants, they seemed to think it was a kind of strange question .

The epiphytes I saw got WAY MORE water, and WAY MORE airflow than what I was providing in the terrarium. It poured rain and completely soaked everything almost everyday. But the plants didn't rot or suffocate. They had no sphagnum packed around the roots, instead they just sat up in the breeze. They could dry off in a few hours from all the airflow they were getting (Monteverde stayed a bit wetter than the coast though). The plants didn't dry out either though, the air was humid enough that even without sphagnum they could sit in the breeze after drying off and not dessicate.

I had also been doing a lot of reading on various forums and other sources. Ray's website in particular helped me put some of these pieces together and understand why some of the stuff I was doing was or wasn't working.

After this I was determined to get my plants more humidity (so they don't dry out), more airflow (to keep them fresh and get water off of them), and more water (to flush out the mounts and keep the leaves clean).

I started working on a second tank in the beginning of 2019.

---------- Post added at 10:36 PM ---------- Previous post was at 10:07 PM ----------

In the new tank I wanted to improve on a few things:
  1. Hard to soak the plants without getting the tank too wet
  2. The fan could only be on or off, creating a delicate balance
  3. Hard to provide enough airflow without eventually dropping humidity and drying out plants
  4. Hard to take a reliable humidity measurement
  5. Terrarium conditions are temperamental, and vary with indoor conditions

#1 is easy, I would add a drain to the new tank. This should let me water significantly more heavily. I was already watering almost to saturation of the mounts, but I couldn't water more or the tank would stay too wet. This meant that the mounts weren't really getting flushed out. I wanted to be able to water heavily, let it soak, then water again a few minutes later to rinse the mounts out and really keep them fresh.

#2 was a bit trickier. The fan and cycle timer on my first tank were mostly working, but I had some issues with the 5 minutes on, 15 minutes off cycle. There was no air movement at all during those 15 minutes off, and the airflow during the 5 minutes on couldn't be too strong or the tank would dry out. I wanted to be able to, for example: always run the fan at very low speed to keep the air barely moving, step up to medium speed every 15ish minutes, and give a larger gust of wind once every few hours to wiggle the leaves and maybe shake off some water droplets. My thinking was that the constant low level airflow would be generally beneficial, and the rare gusts would provide some mechanical stimulation that was completely absent in terrarium conditions. I wasn't able to find a way to control fan speed on a timer that I liked. So I planned to use one low flow fan and one high flow fan on different timers to come close.

#3,4, and 5 are the hardest. I wanted to experiment with a humidistat and humidifier to keep humidity from dropping too low after the water from misting had evaporated. The hope was that I could run a LOT more airflow than I used to, standing water would evaporate more quickly than it did in my first tank, and then the humidifier would kick in to hold up humidity until the next mist cycle. I had used an ultrasonic humidifier for projects before, but taking reliable humidity measurements to use to control the humidifier was new.

I want to move toward using less sphagnum (maybe even none) on the mounts, and I think that more airflow, more humidity, and more frequent watering are all steps in the right direction.
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Old 08-03-2020, 10:09 AM
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DirtyCoconuts DirtyCoconuts is offline
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This is awesome. You’re a saint for sharing all the moves, good and bad, super helpful

I love love moss for substrate...I am using that and rock for my terrarium and I am excited about it for the reasons you mentioned

Please keep it going.
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  #7  
Old 08-03-2020, 02:05 PM
MJG MJG is offline
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Your information is all just mind candy. I am just starting to build my first terrarium, so I am lapping this up. You're sharing such great info on your process and all of the nuances along the way. This is super helpful and just downright fascinating!

The living moss as opposed to spagnum is very cool. Do you have any idea what variety it is? I inferred from your post that slow-growing moss is ideal.
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Old 08-04-2020, 12:51 AM
Draikan Draikan is offline
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Glad it's helpful!

I have no idea what that moss is. Fast growing moss might actually be better if you are making a lot of divisions. I really just like how low this one stays. It can't cover over an orchid. Almost all of my plants are mounted in sphagnum, with live moss growing over the top.

Something like java moss would be bad, since it can grow such a thick mat.

---------- Post added at 09:36 PM ---------- Previous post was at 09:12 PM ----------

So I built a slightly improved second tank in early 2019. Before I could put anything in it the company I was working at laid off about 70% of its staff, including me. Wife and I decided we wanted to move to a new state (flee California).

So this whole project, plants included, got packed up and moved to my parents house. The plan was to leave it there while we moved, then go get it in a few months once we were settled into new jobs. Unfortunately, Covid happened and we haven't had a chance to finish moving. The orchid tank has been setup at my parents house ever since. My mom is keeping the misting reservoir full and occasionally adjusting the misting times if things are getting too wet or too dry (thanks Mom).

Most of the plants did just fine in the move. All the tiny Stelis divisions had a really hard time though. There were a few days when the tank was much more dry than normal, and most of the divisions died. I think probably about 10% of them survived. On the more mature plants I had some leaf drop, and some dried up roots. It took a few months for everything to recover but it did all get growing again.

I haven't seen these plants in person for over a year, but I get pictures occasionally.

Plants as of roughly January 2020, mostly recovered and healthy:
































The timed lights, fan, and misting have been lifesavers. I don't think this collection could have survived otherwise. I haven't been able to tinker with this setup for over a year, it is mostly running on autopilot and mostly showing good results.

---------- Post added at 09:51 PM ---------- Previous post was at 09:36 PM ----------

And here is another set of pictures taken just a few days ago. There has actually been a ton of growth since the beginning of the year. Many of the established plants in particular have put out a lot of foliage, and some of the divisions are blooming size, or even larger than the mother plants were when I originally acquired them.

Bonus fern!






This one bromeliad has become massive. It's actually not great to have it in the orchid tank. It blocks airflow and reduces circulation, which makes the orchids stay wet longer. For now there is nowhere else to put it...






You can see a lot of really good growth in this next picture. Look at all those bright green new leaves. A lot of these plants are really starting to grow out of their mounts too. I think I have seen some of my plants really take off once they are no longer under sphagnum. I think it's the extra airflow to the roots (but this is only good if the air is humid enough).




Another good example of growing out of the sphagnum. The plant in the top middle is one of the most succesful Stelis divisions.



Last edited by Draikan; 08-04-2020 at 12:40 AM..
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Old 08-04-2020, 06:13 PM
KennyS KennyS is offline
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You have a realy nice setup! What is your misting schedule at the moment? It is allways difficult to find the right settings due to the year round environmental changes. But your plants seems to grow pretty well.
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Old 08-04-2020, 07:41 PM
Draikan Draikan is offline
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It's set for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning a few hours after the lights come on, for about 2 minutes.

Over time, misting every two days makes the tank too wet. Every third day makes it too dry. I settled on misting every two days twice in a row, then giving it an extra day without misting to "reset" the amount of water in the tank. This isn't perfect, and the mist duration has to be adjusted every couple months. The 2/2/3 schedule works well for now though.

I'm working toward never having to mess with the timing. I'm not there yet but I think the drain will help. The orchids like being watered every two days, but it's the bottom that fills up and the potted plants start to get soggy.
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