By Millard Hennessee

As all of us are prone to do, we leave our orchids unattended for several days to several weeks. If we are lucky, we have a friend or family member conversant enough in orchids to keep them alive until our return. What about the 95% of us that don’t have that dedicated person? Well, we just hope for the best. We turn down the temperature, reduce the lighting, and pray to the Orchid Gods. Forget about keeping mounted orchids alive. Hide them in the potted plants and place them in saucers of water with gravel and hope for the best. NOT!

I decided that if I was to grow mounted orchids under lights, I would not depend on my son driving 90 minutes to keep the mounted orchids alive. I put them in trays partially filled with water, reduced the light intensity and duration and kept the room at its lowest temperature…64 F. Didn’t work and I have too many mounted plants to move. I came home to dead mounted orchids. I then engineered and constructed a misting system with ½” PVC piping and greenhouse misters attached to a 1/8hp sump pump. I submersed this in a 40-gallon trashcan filled with RO water. Drip, drip, drip is what I saw from the misting system. Enough to keep the humidity elevated so only a few mounted orchids died. Then, thinking that 1/8hp must be too small, 1/2hp must be right, Back to Home Depot and $89 later…a little faster drip, drip, drip; almost a little stream. But you know the scenario; the ones you loved succumbed and the plants you were okay with semi-survived. Until the next ‘intermission’. ENOUGH!!

The original PVC and sump pump misting system (notice the die back from the Lycaste)

First of all was research. I know there have been foggers in the market for years, but I wanted more of a watering system for the mounted orchids rather than a general increase in humidity in the room. I stopped by a couple of greenhouses that had solved this problem. What I left with was a design using this huge pump with an air storage tank capable of running a pneumatic air wrench and all the car lifts in the neighborhood gas stations. I would have lost 10% of my growing space to fit this into my 20’ x 8’ grow room. And forget about carrying on a conversation at the other end of the top floor of the house when the pump was on. Must have been 2,000,000 decibels. Finally, in desperation, I called a greenhouse supply store and explained my problem. Fortunately, the salesman I spoke with grew orchids. I described my growing conditions, and he said he thought he knew what I needed but that their store didn’t sell the type of pump I was looking for. Great. But, he said that he would try to help. (You get that often when you call a company for help!) Over

the course of the next 10 minutes, he researched his ideas on line and sent me 3 links to potential solutions. These were pumps that increased the line pressure from the house to force water out of the misting nozzles. Think misting systems on the vegetables at the local market or cool misting going into a sporting event in summer. Sounded good, so I did the Amazon thing on one of his suggestions and 2 days later with Prime (more like 5) and $230 later, I received a package containing not only the pump, but inlet and outlet hoses, an inlet filter, 8 misting T’s and screw-in nozzles. I replaced my ‘old’ system with the new, using my water storage tank and low and behold, no mist from the nozzles. Then, reading the

Mounted orchids with pump and misting system temporarily installed

The pump is 8 in x 4 in x 4 in

questions posed by potential buyers, I discovered that you should not use the filter on the inlet. Would have been nice knowing this from the company literature. I disconnected the filter and it kinda worked. Reading the answers to more questions, I discovered that my inlet hose was too long. No problem. Take the hose out of the connection to the pump and shorten it. No can do. I discovered too late that you need a special tool to disconnect the hose from the fitting. If you pull too hard, the plastic fitting breaks. Oh. And did I tell you, I was leaving for vacation in 3 days? Back to Amazon and 2 days later, a new fitting arrived free of charge. Miracles!!! I hooked the system up and test drove it for 5 minutes. It works!! Off to vacation.

Now, since it was put up so willy-nilly, when I got back (PLANTS ARE ALIVE), I put the line and nozzles where they would do the most good. Great, but how long do you leave them on for? I have a 15-minute interval mechanical timer (old fart) and found that there was just too much moisture at the roots and they didn’t dry before nightfall. So, back to Amazon with a digital outdoor timer that was set for 7 minutes at 6am and 3 minutes at 2pm. That took a while to determine, but it was well worth the effort. Now they are dry by 5pm and lights out at 7pm. Two days later, the plants were dry when they were supposed to be wet. The pump worked but no water came out of the misters. Being the Mr. Gadget of the Orchid World I immediately called the manufacturing company for help. After 5 days of emailing their suggestions and the results of my ‘repairs’, it turns out that an air bubble was getting into this self-priming pump at the input fitting. A new fitting came 4 days later from the company free of charge; I like that. I found out you could mock up the required tool and the replacement was complete, Voila, MIST!

Now that I knew the system worked, it was time for permanent placement. I temporarily set up the position of the tubing and nozzles and did several tests. Make sure you don’t mind getting wet because this thing throws a lot of water out in a short period of time. I’ve had to reposition the nozzles on a couple of occasions as the placement of the new or remounted orchids on the mounting racks changes. Also, I am discovering placement of the plants based on light requirements. What I did not expect was the amount of water the fans blow around the room. Sure, this increases humidity, but I have had to move other plants in the room based on a dry winter rest (think Catasetums and some Dendrobiums). The bottom line is that ‘This Is a Game Changer’ for me. I no longer have to go down to the grow room every day to water the mounted orchids. Now, I go every day to see if I can find any new blooms or pesty things. If I leave for a few days or weeks, I know the mounted plants will do fine. Thank goodness I still have my son who, for the right price, will come down to water plants once a week and check to make sure the water tank is full. But I come home to green, not yellow or brown. Ahhhha.

Now, what can I do to maximize the amount of PAR each plant is receiving……..