Cool vivarium – some fine tuning and upgrades

Cool vivarium todayFor the past few weeks I have been working on a few  long awaited upgrades for the cool vivarium. Well, long awaited for me, I am not a very patient person… Now they are finally all done and I am very pleased with the results. So here is an updated photo of the viv today along with an account of all I have been working on.

First, the rain system…

I realized pretty soon after deployment that the original 6 nozzles I had planned for the rain system was not going to be enough to keep my huge case properly watered. I have since added two more nozzles and a drip irrigation systemthe latter mostly as an attempt to cater to the requirements of the moss to be honest – but I have still had some problems with dry areas. On top of that, fixing one thing usually leads to new issues with this project as it really is like a very sensitive ecosystem in there… so after having installed some stronger fans a few weeks ago the drying problems were intensified (more on the fans later).

So this weekend I installed 6 more rain nozzles, bringing the total up to 14. I had noticed that the potted orchids in the front row was not getting watered hardly at all and have watered them daily by hand for weeks, but no more of that. In order to properly water all the pots on the floor I installed three new nozzles down low in the front of the case just below the sliding glass doors. I just attached the nozzles to the aluminum ledge I had already installed for this very purpose in the beginning but had decided against using, until now. Problem solved. Next I placed an additional nozzle on the front edge of the side wall on the wet side of the vivarium (the right side) to help keep that side…. well, wetter. Finally I placed two nozzles in the very middle of the back wall about one meter down, where the top nozzles does not quite reach. I ran the new water line along the tube for the drip system along the back wall and then down, hidden in the seam between the two EpiWeb back plates. I point the heads up towards the wall pointing in opposite directions and it works beyond expectation actually.

But… since my original pump is only rated for up to 10 nozzles, which is more than plenty for an average size vivarium but not a monster like mine, I had to install a new pump as well. The new pump is not only more powerful (rated for up to 35 nozzles), but it is also runs almost completely silent!! What a nice bonus! Just remember to tack down the high pressure water line or it will rattle and make a lot of noise. The added power is immediately evident in the new system. Despite pushing water to 6 additional nozzles and through about 3 extra meters of hose, the whole vivarium is filled with a cloud of mist as the system runs and you can totally see how much more water it delivers – 1,7 liters per minute compared to 0,7 liters per minute for the old pump. Well worth the upgrade I’d say. Some fine adjustments are bound to follow, but I think I am close to nailing this now.

Next, the humidity system…

As I said before, there is a bit of a domino effect, just like in nature, when you change things in this little Swedish cloud forest… so the new fans naturally lead to a problem with the fog… I was blowing fog in from a hole at the top of the right side wall, but the new fans are so powerful that they completely suck in all the beautiful fog and thrashes it to smithereens before the orchids get to enjoy much of the benefits. So, I devised a plan to get around this problem and it looks much nicer too, much more dreamy and natural. I attached more PVC pipe to the intake where I was originally blowing in the fog and redirected it into the corner and about a meter down the wall. Now the fog gently rises towards the fans, lovingly caressing the orchids in the wet corner on the way. To disguise the lovely white PVC piping I covered it in EpiWeb and now it blends in nicely and hopefully it will be covered in moss too eventually. One nice feature of EpiWeb is that you can shape it with the use of heat. I just tied the EpiWeb panels to the pipes and heated it up with a hair dryer for a few minutes, easy and effective.

While I was at it I also decided to install a humidistat, the same brand and concept as my thermostat, with two circuits making it possible to have different settings for day and night. I set mine for 75% during the day and 85% at night with a 5% differential, which means that the humidifier will start up as soon as the measured humidity drops 5% below the desired setting. This is a nice gadget to have now, but is going to be even nicer in the summer when it is harder to keep RH up due to all the dry air blowing in to keep it cool (especially when i use the AC unit).

Finally, the new fans…

Aahh yes, the fabled fans… I installed these new fans several weeks ago actually (well, dear husband helped as he is so good with electricity…) and they a growers dream. Thanks to a newly designed impeller they not only move a large volume of air, they do so very quietly too. I have been concerned about not getting enough air movement though out the viv, especially all the way down on the bottom of the vivarium with all the new plants in place. So I did a “blow test” a while back placing a stick of smoking incense on the bottom of the vivarium, but I was chocked to see that the air movement did not even register with the four Fractal 80 mm case fans I had originally installed… No need to show you that video, but please do check out the video below on the three new fans I put in… they are awesome! You can clearly see the smoke vigorously moving down there, and that is approximately 150 cm below the fans. I am extremely impressed with the performance and it is not hard to understand why the manufacturer is having difficulties delivering these fans… I had to wait nearly a month for mine and they are still sold out everywhere.

Alright, here are some of the specs for you technology freaks (like me) out there…

  • Pump: E.N.T. Power Pump, 24 volt, 15 watt, 9 bar, 1,7 liters per minute.
  • Fans: Scythe Gentle Typhoon, 120 mm, 1850 rpm: 0.083 A, 28 dBA, 98 m³/h.
  • Humidistat: Lucky Reptile Humidity Control II, digital, two circuits (day and night), built in minute timer, switch between humdifying and de-humidifying, maximum load 1000W.

Rainsystem upgrades:

Rainsystem upgrade projectRainsystem upgrade - old and new pumpRainsystem upgrade - the new pumpRainsystem upgrade - high pressure line controlRainsystem upgrade - water hose weightRainsystem upgrade - lower level nozzlesRainsystem upgrade - wet side extra nozzleRainsystem upgrade - mid-wall nozzlesRainsystem upgrade for the cool vivariumRainsystem upgrade for the cool vivarium

Humidity system upgrades:

Fog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationFog flow modificationNew humidistat for the cool viv

Fan upgrades:

Fan upgrade - old fansFan upgrade - taking the old 80 mm fans downFan upgrade - old vs. new fan

Video log (1. rainsystem) (2. rain + dripsystem) (3. fog) (4. fan smoke test):

About the Author:

Karma is an environmentalist, hiking zealot and orchid nerd from Sweden. She is also a designer/art director and a blogger. She has been the editor for the Swedish Orchid Society magazine, published internationally and held lectures on orchid culture. At the moment Karma is a digital nomad, intent on discovering the world one trail at a time.

25 Comments

  1. Marius December 1, 2010 at 23:07 - Reply

    Absolutely awesome work! Hm, is the Swedish rainforest growing out of its cabinet? Time for one more? 😉

  2. Karma December 1, 2010 at 23:16 - Reply

    Thanks a lot!! …one more… ooohhhh don’t say it so loud dear husband might hear you. 😉 No, honestly I am quite satisfied at the moment. I still have lots of space – for minis at least!

  3. Ron Hanko December 2, 2010 at 16:46 - Reply

    Very interesting post, Karma. I like the idea of an automatic system for when we are away (right now son Edward is my automatic watering system), but otherwise I actually enjoy the daily watering. My only regret is that I did not make my case about a foot deeper.

  4. Karma December 2, 2010 at 17:45 - Reply

    Thanks Ron! I can see about you wanting a bit more depth, had I made the case itself from scratch I would have opted for a deeper case too. I also really enjoy the daily watering routines, and I still go there every day looking, poking, sniffing… you know…. But the automatic watering really is invaluable so you can be away from it for a few days – worry free. Especially since I do not have an Edward watering model (nor do I plan to make one) and the Mom watering model went on strike after the number of orchids surpassed 50… 😉

  5. Clare December 2, 2010 at 20:42 - Reply

    Karma-
    Incredibly inspiring! I love the automation you’ve set up – really valuable for consistent conditions. Thank you for providing such detail and great visuals about this project. A novice question: What lighting are you using?
    I’ve only dabbled in growing a handful of orchids (some Paphs and Phals), but I’m wanting to grow more. Can’t wait to explore your site more thoroughly!

  6. Karma December 3, 2010 at 09:52 - Reply

    Thank you Clare! It is always nice to hear that you find my blog helpful. 🙂 You can find all the posts on this build under the cool vivarium build category. As far as lights go, I am a big fan of low-energy (CFL) lights. I think that they are a better choice than T5’s and certainly much better than HID’s for a hobby grower indoors. For the cool viv. I am using four Dulux 80W CFL’s (6000 lumen at 4000K per tube). Really nice thing about these lights are that they run fairly cool and penetrate deep, which in my case is about 160 cm requirement. Hard to find fixtures for these relatively new stronger watt CFL’s though so I had to build my own… For my small warm vivarium and also in my growing window I am using Nebula Hobby fixtures with two 55W PLL CFL tubes in each (4500 lumen at 6500K per tube x2 per fixture). The three main manufacturers (in Europe) call them by differnt names, but it is the same technology: Dulux L (Osram), Lynx L (Sylvania), or PL-L (Philips). I can really recommend any of the Nebula fixtures for you as a first light, with these tubes Philips PL-L 55W/950/4P, which are full spectrum lights at 5300K. When you see the results in your orchids after adding proper light to your growing space you will ask yourself why you did not do it sooner… I have written a lot more about light here. Welcome to my blog, and good luck with your orchids!

  7. Tony December 4, 2010 at 01:32 - Reply

    I’m amazed at how much effort you’ve put into getting this just right. And I think you nailed it. Can’t wait to see it completely green inside. Have you considered adding anything else besides orchids, say ferns or bromeliads?

  8. Clare December 4, 2010 at 06:26 - Reply

    Thanks so much for the detailed light info, Karma!

  9. Karma December 4, 2010 at 12:43 - Reply

    You are very welcome Clare. Thanks Tony. 🙂 I am a little bit of an over achiever at times… but for me these kind of projects are part of the fun of growing orchids. As an added bonus, all this technology stuff has actually gotten dear husband a lot more interested in my hobby as well.

    I actually have a few “non orchids” in the viv already. A couple of ferns that came in on some orchid mount and eventually tried to overtake it so they neede to go separate ways – they are now placed in the back of the viv towards the bottom. The least favorable positions in the viv, but they live so it must be enough. I also have a few Tillandisia that also came with orchids and were allowed to stay, these came on my Restrepia muscifera for example… I also have four Drosera aliciae, that are supposed to catch little gnats and I might get a few more carnivorous plants for this purpose as I kind of like them too… but the focus will always be orchids.

  10. […] of mailing snafus I finally received the humidistat that I had ordered to solve this problem. I installed it about three weeks ago and it actually seems to have done the […]

  11. Justin Tungate January 2, 2011 at 20:52 - Reply

    Great vivarium. Thanks for the detail in your posts; It’s been fun to follow.

  12. Karma January 2, 2011 at 20:57 - Reply

    Thanks Justin. Nice to hear that you like the viv. and enjoy the build as well. 🙂

  13. Tim Price March 27, 2011 at 23:34 - Reply

    WOW!!!!!
    Very impressed with you’re efforts….. Fantastic stuff…
    I’m off to get me a vivarium and epiweb now….
    May i ask what lighting cycles you use?
    Also may i ask how many orchids you own?
    Regards-from the u.k….
    Tim

  14. Tim Price March 28, 2011 at 00:00 - Reply

    Hi there again Karma……
    just another quick question for you…. what happens about drainage of the the warm and cool vivariums? What is the distance from the bottom of the viv to the bottom of the pot/epiweb? do you siphon the remainder or do you just ignore the residual? Is there a hole in the bottom? Is there much in the bottom? What quantity do you do you ‘rain’ a day? hope this isn’t too many questions!!!!
    i hope i’m not being too ignorant!!! I really do appreciate you’re expertees…..
    Big thanks Karma…
    Regards-Tim

  15. Karma March 28, 2011 at 08:53 - Reply

    Thanks a lot Tim! Very nice to hear. 🙂 I keep my lights on 12 hours a day year round as most of what I grow comes from areas where there is little change in light during the seasons. I have about 350 orchids now, most of which are unique species (and some primary hybrids – mainly among Paphiopedilum), I do not have doubles of much… Good luck with your vivarium build!

  16. Karma March 28, 2011 at 09:24 - Reply

    Oh… one more. 😉 Drainage for the warm viv I siphon out once in a while, not much cpollects there as I water that viv by hand. For the cool viv I have a drain in the bottom emptying out into a 25 liter jug. The EpiWeb covers 3 walls in the wiv, and I have it almost all the way down to the floor – I keep a subfloor about 2 cm off the bottom to better facilitate drainage. But since the EpiWeb does not wick water it does not matter if it rests on the floor or not. Since I run the drip system along with the rain system, this is where I keep the pump for the drip. That system requires large volumes of water so it is a closed system (recycles the water). The rain system require perfectly clean water so the nozzles do not clog, so I pipe that in for a separate source with pure RO water. The rain pump adds 1,7 liters per minute, and right now I have it set to 4 intervals or 2 min, 30 sec, 2 min, 30 sec. However, I plan to take the drip system out as soon as my order for more rain nozzles arrives, then I will most likely have to adjust the intervals again to compensate. About half of the water I pump in with the rain system drains out again, the rest is absorbed. Hope this answered your questions?

  17. Tim Price March 28, 2011 at 15:23 - Reply

    Hi Karma….
    Thanks for the advice and you’re swift response…. much appreciated…really love you’re dedication…just shows how far you can push the boundries of growing indoors….
    I have another quick question for you,
    Is you’re area made from Plexiglass(Acrylic)? or regular glass?
    Big respect Karma…
    Regards from the u.k-
    Tim

  18. Karma March 28, 2011 at 16:39 - Reply

    Thanks again. The frame is light weight aluminium with 4 mm glass on the top (split in two halves), on the sides, and finally for the two front sliding doors. The whole back is one large piece of double walled polycarbonate (often used for greenhouses), at the top of each side there is also a 20 cm piece of plexy with airholes drilled. This used to be a large terrarium that someone built for his snake, so even though I did not specify the case itself, I am very happy with the build. The fact that the whole gigantic thing is not all glass made it much lighter, less fragile, and also more flexible. I could drill holes in the back to attach the EpiWeb, and I could pipe in all the air, water and fog from holes in the plexi panel in the side for example. If you look under the category cool vivarium build you can see all the posts I have made on the build and it will probably answer many of your questions. 🙂

  19. Bryan April 12, 2011 at 22:39 - Reply

    That is the most amazing set up I have ever seen a person make! I am in awe.

    • Karma April 12, 2011 at 22:50 - Reply

      Thank you very much! Very nice compliment. 🙂

  20. Mad-Milk October 3, 2011 at 08:04 - Reply

    Hi karma!
    I love your project, and it has been a pleasure to read through!
    I have same kind of project. Smaller, but similar. I wonder where did you buy the upgraded rain pump?
    I don’t trust in Lucy Reptiles products and that super rain is one noisy bastard! I’ve seen that kind of pump that you use in Dusk Tropic, but it’s only for 10 nozzles? Where did you find a monster pump like that????? My mossmix and dart frogs would love that noiseless moisture! (if I ever get to that point that I have either of those)

    -Arttu

    • Karma October 3, 2011 at 08:40 - Reply

      Thank you! Nice to hear you enjoyed the read and perhaps picked up a few tips along the way. My pump is an ENT powerpump, think it is German made, but I bought it from Dartfrog in the UK. They have a good selection for the vivaria keeper and always been good with service. They are away from time to time for shows, but check the website it usually says if deliveries will be delayed. I can whole heartedly recommend this pump! You hear the water dripping – not the motor!! Just be sure to fix/attach the water hoses leading in, or they may rattle making noise.

  21. Yoyo February 28, 2012 at 11:02 - Reply

    Dear Karma!
    I used to wonder to look at the your pictures, and if I’m feeling bad, we always sit down in front of the computer, and delight in the orchids. This keeps the soul in me, that one day I too will one of these buildings. 🙂
    Currently, I would like to experiment with Epiweb products, and my question was that it remained above the Mossmix the panel? System is not washed off by rain? How fast the moss rose? Hasnonló a product I’ve tried granules, but did not grow in the moss. You have heard from others experiences that grew with them? Highly sticky moss?
    Sorry for starting a lot of questions.
    Best regards. Yoyo.

  22. Karma March 2, 2012 at 17:34 - Reply

    Thanks Yoyo! I am very pleased to hear that my orchids make you happy! 🙂 EpiWeb is good in many ways, and problematic in others… I have actually taken much of mine out. I will write up a big post on it soon, just have been way too busy lately… The moss mix do kind of sit on the surface, but the rain system produce a fine mist more like fog so it does not wash it away. The moss is tricky to establish, it can never dry out and need a lot of good water and good light. In perfect conditions it can grow pretty fast, but for nice solid coverage you need even application and patience, about 3-4 weeks for it to start looking green, maybe 6 months for good coverage. It all depends on your conditions too. Good luck with your project!

  23. Yoyo March 4, 2012 at 20:09 - Reply

    Dear Karma!
    Thanks for the information. I wish you continued success and perseverance of the development. I look forward to the new post.
    Best regards. Yoyo

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