Small Aquaponics setup for Orchid

snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)February 12, 2011

I have always been interested in aquaponics ever since I put a pruned leafy branch of my miniature rose into my fish tank filter and a few weeks later it had rooted and bloomed.

Since then I have put small romaine lettuce hearts in the filter reservoir as well as other veggies and they have all rooted and grown.

I would really like to try a system in this same little 5 gallon tank for a small Miltoniopsis orchid that I recently purchased. Is there any practical way of setting up a small system on top of the tank? I'm not familiar with aquaponics, especially with orchids.

Sorry, but I'm brand new to this. If you prefer to post links to helpful sites instead of delving into the topic, I'd appreciate that as well.



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Hello Snert,
I'm new also and there are some smart experienced guys on here that will help you.
We got started online and the Wholesale Hydroponics Company we use has been very helpful. Also I drove up to Dallas and went to a Hydroponics Shop there. They are a good source and gave me lots of pamplets and books.
Can't hardly beat the hands on to learn, but there are some good Magazines with pictures that helped us to get rolling. We are in aeroponics now and making mistakes buy the handfull. Great Hobby.
"Doing 10 with no Chance of Parole"

    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 8:38AM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Thanks for the response Soyousee. I will look into your suggestions.

When I put my rose cutting in my tank filter I didn't expect it to root and bloom, I was just upset that I pruned a branch off with a bloom by mistake. When the bloom fell off, I forgot about the cutting. A few weeks later, I noticed some new buds starting to bloom out of the filter and when I looked at the cutting, there were roots on it. I repotted it and then had two of the same mini roses! It was awesome.

The other time, I didn't want to keep refrigerated romaine lettuce for my parakeets (they love romaine), so I decided to put the heart with some small tiny leaves in my fish tank filter only to keep it fresh so it wouldn't dry out. To my surprise, the 'heart' started rooting within days and growing new leaves not long afterwards. I've done it experimentally with broccoli, dill, and others and they all rooted. I must say that the substrate I use in my freshwater tank is crushed coral/shell substrate, so there is a lot of calcium in the water and I was hoping that would translate to better nutrition for my birds.

In both the above situations, I thought that those plants would rot in the water if kept in there long enough.
What I didn't expect was that the water itself was moving with very high amounts of oxygen in it, so the roots never had a chance to rot. I was very pleasantly surprised.

I'd really like to try aquaponics with just an orchid for now, but orchids don't like lots of water so I don't know if it would work. I do know that orchid enthusiasts do use hydroponics so I figure why not aquaponics? I just need to devise a tiny system for the orchid itself. If it works, I will graduate to a bigger system.

I know I'll make tons of mistakes along the way, but you know, if we never made mistakes we wouldn't learn, so it's not really a bad thing.


    Bookmark   February 13, 2011 at 10:03AM
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I know of an article that relates to orchards but not aquaponics, but here it is just in case it's of any use to you:

Orchid Culture in Perlite

Also I know you were looking for information on small fish-tank top type of aquaponic setups, but I can't say I know of any right now. Though I do know of a lot of resources for aquaponics related information. I'll post some of them in hopes they help, or at least can point you in the right direction, and,or help to understand aquaponics. Personality, even though I like fish to eat fish, I'm not planing a aquaponics system in the near future. It's a lot easier to control the nutrient concentrations and balance with hydroponics, as well as the possible toxic element levels, and pH requirements (balance) for both fish and plants in order to ensure healthy plants using aquaponics.

BACKYARD AQUAPONICS (first issue in pdf.)
BACKYARD AQUAPONICS (online magazine)
Aquaponic System - Design Manual (for large scale commercial operation, 37 pg pdf., scroll down)
Aquaponics-Integration (28 pg pdf. from "National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service")
Aquaponics-Integration (the non pdf. version, includes lots of resources)
Barrel-ponics (step by step directions on building a aquaponics setup using rain barrels, including lots of color pics. 101 pg pdf.).
Recirculating Aquaculture Tank Production Systems (16 pg pdf. by the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center)
Colorado Aquaponics
On-Farm Food Safety: Aquaponics (8 pg pdf. from the University of Hawaii)

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 2:56AM
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    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 3:19AM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Thanks so much for the links. I'll sift through the info in them and see what I can glean.

My main concern is with pH - I'm not sure how critical it is to orchids (ie - if all other factors are at optimal levels, would pH still be a major factor?). Obviously, my rose and lettuce both did well and the rose did even better in my fish tank water than when potted and pH wasn't a problem in those instances. But I also know that orchids are a bit more sensitive than roses.

I have a lot of experience in keeping fish tanks optimal by diluting/adding elements so I'm not worried about toxicities (unless of course the orchid is toxic to the tank inhabitants or the other way around... but I haven't read any evidence of that so far).

Someone suggested using the fish tank water in semi-hydroponics, but I'm not familiar with s/h.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 6:08AM
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Hi Snert
Just a note, one thing we have learned and believe in is the pH level is the most important thing to keep RIGHT. We check daily, some stages twice daily. A general rule for us is when pH drops on it's own we change nutrients.
"Doing 10 with no Chance of Parole"

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 8:17AM
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Generally speaking, plants prefer a pH of between 5.5 and 6.5, but most fish used for aquaponics (and if used bio filters) do best at a higher pH of something like 7.0 to 8.0. pH in that range causes precipitates (nutrient elements to bond to each other becoming useless to the plants).

Monitoring the elements in the water for just fish alone will be different than in a aquaponic system, but your understanding of doing this for fish alone will be helpful. There's a certain amount of fish needed to provide the nutrition the plants need. So providing what the plants need and not creating an environment that can be unhealthy for the fish can be a balancing act. Not to mention balancing the different pH requirements. But you'll see what I mean as you read through links.

Aquaponics can be considered simple in principal, as well as small scale practices as long as results are not the main focus. But balancing fish environments, plant requirements, as well as the ever changing balance of nutrients in the water due to the organic nature of using fish waist for plant food. Not to mention managing the microorganisms needed to break down the fish waist into usable food for the plants. It's all one big balancing act if you want to focus on results.

I would join, and read through posts on those aquaponics forums to see how other people do things if it were me. Coming from people who have been their and done that, they will probably have a lot of practical advice.

P.S. pH is real important, but with aquaponics you don't change the nutrient solution. That's a continually changing living environment, that breaks down fish waist into the nutrients the plants need.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 10:22PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Thanks to both of you for your advice. You both gave me info that I was looking for. I still have to go through the links - I'll be doing that later this week.

Learning about the balancing act in a fish system itself was exciting and I made a lot of mistakes there as well. However, I do have many many years of experience with fish systems, from fresh to salt water and using fish, inverts and aquatic plants in both types (although in salt water the plants are macro algaes; and I also read about growing mangroves but never tried it due to the obvious size mangroves get). Keeping a salt water tank was more rewarding, but keeping the balance was quite a bit trickier with it, and I had to do a lot of testing and adding things like selenium and other minerals to the water so the inhabitants were in an optimal environment. Of course before I did that I had to make sure the bacterial balance was right. I would imagine that aquaponics is no different, I would just be looking out for different variables.

Using what I know to integrate with 'terrestrial' plants is very new to me. But I think I will enjoy learning despite the setbacks I will encounter. No doubt I will learn to keep my 'microsystem' healthier, but it's going to take some time. One thing I might want to do is start up more of an Amazon type tank. The fish in those systems prefer a more acidic environment - I think like 6.0 to 6.5. I'll have to read more up on it to be sure, but it may be an option for me. And I could also try my existing system with an orchid that prefers a higher pH, but I'd have to find out the preferred pH ranges for the different types. I think someone mentionied paphs like higher pH. Is there a source for finding out which pH species prefer?

Again, thanks for the info and if you remember something you think might be important by all means post it. A little knowledge is never wasted. And yours certainly helped me!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 6:27AM
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Sounds like you have extensive knowledge with raising fish already, that will definitely come in handy for aquaponics. In at least one of those links there was a list of different types of fish generally used for commercial aquaponics, although I don't remember them specifying specific pH requirements for each species (It was months ago I read them). At least one of them also gives fish to plant ratios (but again cant remember which).

I don't know if there's a list of pH ranges that different fish species prefer. But I figured I would do a quick search and so far didn't really find one. I did find these:

Understanding Your Fish Pond Water Analysis Report
Effects of pH Range on Aquatic Species

I don't know if those help you any or not. But I would suggest doing a Google or Yahoo search for different keywords like "pH for fish species", "fish pH", "AQUACULTURE" (farming of fish under controlled conditions). But to make it easy use the search options and refine your search to .edu websites.

Also I have included this pdf. directory because it has a lot of e-mails, websites listed and phone numbers of people to contact as well. Ohio Aquaculture Directory

Also here is a list of e-mail addresses you can contact
University of the Virgin Islands (look for people like "Research Specialist", or "Extension Assistant") The University of the Virgin Islands is where the study Recirculating Aquaculture Tank Production Systems that I posted earlier was done. UVI Search "aquaponics" (third one on the list)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 6:14PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Thanks homehydro, but I think you misunderstood. Actually I probably didn't word it correctly...

I meant the pH requirements of orchids. (Sorry)

I tried Googling it but I couldn't really find much info on the different orchid species/genera and their pH preferences. I know - generally - what types of fish prefer high or low pH. I just need to know the pH requirements of specific orchids so I can try and coordinate the system I want to use. Like I said before (I think) someone told me that paphs like higher pH than other orchids, so maybe I'll try my existing system with a Paphiopedilum or another orchid that will tolerate a higher pH. I just need to find a website or two that gives pH ranges for specific orchid genera or species.

But I'll still take a look at your links, though. I honestly appreciate all of your help.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 7:37PM
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After re-reading that part I would say you worded it fine, I assumed you were referring to fish species, and I didn't (and still don't) know what "paphs" were. But I now guess it's some species of orchid. Anyhow sorry about that. I don't have any info on flowering plants saved, but here is something on orchids that I just looked up.

I will have to quote this one because this forum has blocked links to the growing edge magazine. But Dr. Lynette Morgan is a leading hydroponic researcher, so I trust her information, also take note of the book she recommends by Jack Ross. As well as the statement "Some of the best information on growing orchids comes from the orchid societies from around the world and from specialist suppliers of orchids."

"Dr. Lynette Morgan replies:
Most orchids grow and produce well in hydroponic cultivation as long as some careful attention is paid to the media, watering, and nutrition. The specific recommendations for each genus depend on the requirements of each type, which is just as true for hydroponics as for any other growing system.

Orchids comprise one of the largest plant families on Earth and consist of numerous genera, each with its own preference for environmental conditions, pH, media type, and nutrition. So we can't simply lump all orchids under the same requirements. This may be where some confusion arises. Also, a lot of misinformation is disseminated that after a while, through repetition, becomes "fact."

A very general recommendation as far as media and nutrients go for orchids would be to use a well-drained media with plenty of aeration--one that can drain completely between waterings. Most orchids come from environments where rainfall is heavy for a short time. Most commercial orchid production is carried out in coarse media, such as bark or coconut fiber chips. Hydroponic producers have been known to successfully use rockwool and spaghnum moss for Cymbidium and Phalaenopsis. Some orchid types, such as Paphiopedilum, are very intolerant of wet conditions around the base of the plant, so a coarser media is preferable.

Nutrients in hydroponics can be applied to good effect by adjusting the balance of minerals between summer and winter growth and flowering phases. For example, a nutrient of 0.8-1 EC may be applied with each watering during warm, active growth periods. This formulation may consist of an N:K ratio of 1.3:1. This ratio can be reversed for flowering periods.

The reason orchids are said to have a low tolerance of nutrient solution with a high EC is because the general recommendation is that the media should be allowed to dry partially between waterings. Excessively strong nutrient would cause salt damage to the roots as the media dried. An EC of 1.2 should be the maximum. The recommended pH level will depend to a great extent on the type of orchid being grown and where it originated. This can vary from acidic (pH 5) to alkaline (pH 7.5). Again, this is an advantage of hydroponics in that the pH can easily be customized for the plant type.

Some of the best information on growing orchids comes from the orchid societies from around the world and from specialist suppliers of orchids. Also, Jack Ross recently put out a book on hydroponic orchids called The World of Orchids--A Practical Guide to Cultivating Orchids in Soilless Culture (Casper Publications, Sydney, Australia, 2001) that I haven't yet had the chance to review." End Quote....

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 9:03PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

That was awesome, thank you so much!

Now I have to apologize because I asked similar questions on a few orchid boards; and I keep forgetting this is just a general garden forum specializing in hydroponics, not orchids. This forum is the only one where I have been getting any responses, so now you know why I am so grateful for the responses.

When I say 'paphs' I mean 'Paphiopedilums' and it was interesting that they were one of the types mentioned in your quote.

I forgot that I have some beginners orchid books here, so maybe I can find somewhat more info on the culture of specific kinds so I can integrate that into what I want to achieve. I can also use the quote you just posted to find additional info on Google. And of course peruse the links in this thread.

I do have my work cut out for me for the rest of the week, but because I enjoy learning about this I wouldn't want to do anything else anyway.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2011 at 9:31PM
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scubastan(z8B-9A/20 Los Angeles)


You can always just try it on a test subject. :)

Saw this done on a youtube video and decided to give it a try.

So I went to HomeDepot and bought a small Phal for $8.00 and setup this glass vase with water, a small bit of nutrients, and an airstone. (DWC setup.)

Its been 2weeks now and plant doesn't seem any worse for ware. The water level in the picture is actually an inch lower then it should be. Refilled it after taking the photo.

I use RO/Filtered water only to prevent algae from growing. I do NOT measure PH, or TDS. I give 1/4 strength of 20-20-20 orchid nutrients. And only plan on changing the water every 3-4 weeks.

I've been tinkering with Hydroponics for almost 2 years now. I have found hydroponics is actually pretty forgiving. I think people run into problems when they put way to much Nutrients or try to over complicate things.

For example I had a DWC setup last summer for Basil. The plant growth was amazing. The first 4 months I would dump the res and make a new batch every 2 weeks. After about the 4th month I was sick of basil and just neglected it. I would fill the reservoir with water from the garden hose every week with out adding any additional nutrients.

It continued strong growth for 2 additional months, and had moderate growth for another 2 months. Finally after 4.5 months of not adding any additional nutrients I saw deficiencies and cut the basil plant down.

Never once measured PH.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2011 at 2:07AM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)


My thoughts exactly! I was going to try to buy a neglected orchid from some store. There are so many places that have orchids that just don't take care of them. I figured that if I buy one of those at least I'm giving the poor orchid a chance. If I don't succeed, then I don't feel quite as bad as putting a previously healthy one through all that.

On a separate note, I did happen to find an article on OrchidWeb that suggests Oncidium 'Sharry Baby' does well on municipal water of a pH 7.5 or lower. Oncidiums happen to be my favorite type of orchid, and 'Sharry Baby' is my absolute favorite oncidium because of it's sweet vanilla-like fragrance when in bloom (I know most people say it's chocoloate, but to me it's definitely vanilla). If that is the truly the case, then my current setup would be fine for an oncidium. Now if I could only find a neglected oncidium at a local store...

By the way, I have been wondering about DWC and I suppose that my setup is exactly that, with a few exceptions of course. I simply put the rose branch and the piece of lettuce in the water and they (quite unexpectedly) rooted automatically. I was astounded that that could even happen. I was absolutely certain that there was a lack of oxygen because they were submerged. I didn't realize that the oxygen present in the constantly moving water was enough for the roots while the rest of the plant was exposed to the atmosphere. I am still flabbergasted about this. It is one reason why I am so excited to try an aquaponics system. No doubt I will quickly encounter it's limitations, though.

I am still going to read up on the different methods. I just bought some clay hydroponics medium and some net pots just in case I decide to go that route.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2011 at 12:00PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Okay, here is what I did. I went to get something at Home Depot yesterday and I found a pitiful mini Phal in the orchid section. The flowers and sphagnum were all dried out, but the leaves looked alright. It had about 5 dried up flowers and one totally dried up bud - only one flower looked like it would make it (it's in the photo). The roots were mostly dried with only two and a half that were still plump (but dry). I cut the black and totally dried roots off. The pic shows what I did. The Miltoniopsis in on top of the tank while I put the Phal in the filter's overflow box.

My question is, if the Phal does not like the setup, how long will it take before it starts to show signs of stress?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2011 at 8:06PM
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That depends on what type of stress, and to what degree. There are all kinds of stress, heat, water, water temp, humidity, light, nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, pH. But plants in an hydroponic (and aquaponic) system will show signs earlier than they would in soil, and could be as soon as hours, or as late as weeks later.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2011 at 8:50PM
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dellis326 (Danny)

I don't know that much about aquaponics but on first rays orchid websight there is a lot of info on growing orchid semi-hydro.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2011 at 7:42PM
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Hey guys, I wanted to chime in here. I've owned both an orchid business and a hydro shop. I've done lots of testing with orchids in semi hydro.

What you need to know is that orchids can be grown in almost any water or media. The important thing to understand is that the plant will put out roots in the media that you are growing it in. So yes these phals that you guys are trying to grow in water will do fine. The problem is that most of the roots it has already will die off. The plant will go into shock for a bit and if it is strong enough, it will put out new roots. Roots that will live perfectly fine in it's new environment.

Bottom line is the plant will survive. Just give it some time to put out some new roots and make sure you strip away any of the roots that rot off and die.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2011 at 8:55PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

That's definitely worth knowing, thehydrosource. I'm glad you decided to chime in!

So are you saying just about any orchid should do fine? I have my Miltoniopsis and I want to get some Oncidiums as well, but not until I start up a bit larger tank and get it cycled. Are there any orchids that don't like their roots submerged and won't take kindly to this technique?

I may start up a new tank in the meantime, but I don't want to involve any more orchids until I have a bit more experience with the Phal and know what to watch out for.

What technique would you call what I'm trying to do, DWC or aquaponics? It doesn't really seem to fit in either category completely. Perhaps I should call it 'ultra-small scale ornamental deep water culture aquaponics'. Or USSODWCA for short.

...okay, maybe not.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2011 at 10:17PM
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Aquaponics is basically the practice of using fish to supply the nutrients the plants require, not the delivery system. There are 6 types of hydroponic systems, all hydroponic systems are either one of these 6 types, or a combination of these types (drip, ebb & flow, also known as flood and drain, NFT, water culture, wick, and aeroponic). Aquaponics can be applied to any of these methods and still be a true aquaponics system. The reason being is because of how the nutrients are created that's what makes it an aquaponic system.

That's done by the living environment of the nutrient solution that converts fish waste (etc.) into the usable nutrients for the plants. How this nutrient solution is delivered to the roots of the plants still falls under one or more of the six basic types of hydroponic systems. Therefore all aquaponic systems are both a hybrid aquaponic/hydroponic system, and still considered a true aquaponic system at the same time.

P.S. Just like with hydroponic systems, each design method has it's pro's and con's (especially using aquaponics).

    Bookmark   February 20, 2011 at 2:01AM
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Yes most orchids and I'm sure milts will do fine. So will oncidiums... Just remember they will go into shock for a bit until they make new roots for their new environment. I have some phals in a ebb and flow tray right now and they've bloomed twice this year. I'll try to get some pics of them up for you guys.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 10:02PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Well, my Phal seems to have one of the leaves on the bottom turning yellow very slowly. I'm told it's normal for Phals but I suppose I can expect that if it goes into shock for a while in it's new environment. The flower is still doing well, but to my surprise, two buds, one on the tip and the other just behind it are starting to get fat.

On a separate note, I am thinking about reviving my miniature rose passion as well. Would micro-mini roses do well in a semi hydro situation with hydroton or similar media? I know that the DWC method works wonderfully with mini roses in my fish tank (from my past experience), but what about semi-hydro? I can't really find much on semi hydro and roses by Googling it. I guess I'm wondering if the roses will do well in hydroton?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 1:07PM
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scubastan(z8B-9A/20 Los Angeles)

@ snerticus

Hmm not entirely sure what you mean by semi-hydro. Setting up a Ebb & Flow tray with Hydroton would work with orchids and mini roses as well.

Roots need moisture/water to absorb the nutrients. If there is not sufficient dissolved oxygen in the water the roots will drown.

In the DWC the water is being oxygenated by the air stone or in your case the filter.

In a Ebb & Flow setup, the water floods for a set time period and then recedes. This allows the roots to "breath." The Hydroton also helps to maintain a certain "moisture" level so that the roots don't dry out and die when the water has receded.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 9:53PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

scubastan, I'm not good at describing the s/h method, and I was going to provide a link, but unfortunately it was blocked because it said I was promoting the site. The only thing I'm providing is info, but now I am forced to explain semi-hydro. And since I'm not an expert and find it difficult to explain, I'm almost inevitably going to do a realy lousy job at it.

From what I understand, s/h to me is just like those self-watering pots you see all over. You know, the ones where you put the potting soil in a compartment over a reservoir of water and the soil wicks up the water. Well, semi-hydro is almost exactly the same, only you use hydroponic media like hydroton/LECA. You can make the pots yourself at home by putting a few holes an inch or so above the bottom of any plastic container of the appropriate size for your plant. This provides the reservoir. Then you fill the container with LECA media and when you water thoroughly, any excess will exit the holes while the water in the reservoir wicks up through the media. The only thing you have to do is top off the water when needed so it is filled up to the holes. From what I understand (with orchids, anyway), you only weakly fertilize with this method.

I'm doing something similar with my miltoniopsis. I have it in a net pot filled with hydroton and it is submerged about 1/2 inch to an inch below the surface of my tank. The clay on top shines slightly so I know the water has wicked up into the clay media. I just checked the roots today and noticed a new growth on one of the roots. Thankfully, it's working for me. I've never tried it before.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2011 at 11:56PM
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snerticus(z9 Phnx, AZ)

Sorry, I accidently submitted the above post before I finished it.

But I wanted to say my concern with the micro-mini rose would be that it wasn't getting enough moisture with the semi-hydro method. But perhaps it would. I'm just not experienced with it so I thought I'd ask.

Maybe I should just work with my Milt. orchid a while to see how much moisture the media actually absorbs and makes available to the roots before jumping back into my mini roses. After all, I'm just getting back into orchids after about 10 years and this method is brand-spanking new to me. So I guess I should get some hands-on first.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 12:03AM
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Hi Guys,

Just thought I'd add my couple of cents worth here, even though it is a couple of months into your project. I have a thriving Koi pond. I used to place orchids in their pots around the edge ... one day the wind blew 3 of them into the water ... I was able to retrieve them 3 days later and thought that probably they wouldn't survive the swim. Much to my surprise, all 3 began to bloom within a couple of weeks. Not only bloom, but were really healthy!

I decided that the "fishy" water might really be great for the orchids and began to place several of them in the waterfall ... not totally immersed in the water, but where they received a constant "splash" .. they all did great!

Now, my waterfall is full of orchids and the rest I simply water with water from the pond.

So perhaps in your system you could provide a splashing aspect or even a fill and drain cycle.

I'd be interested to hear how your project is coming along as I am now beginning to use my pond to grow veggies!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 3:51PM
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