Boundary Conditions

Once I had decided to grow and bloom orchids, I needed a system to care for them.  My “boundary conditions” were considerable:

  • We live in Davis California, in the central valley.  The temperatures can get very high in the summer, and the humidity very low.  This can be a negative factor in growing and blooming orchids, and I need to establish an environment where the orchids can thrive.
  • We live about 19 miles from the upper reaches of the San Francisco Bay.  This means that we frequently get a “delta breeze”, which cools the temperatures at night.  Only for five nights (or so) per year will it be above 70 degrees.  This is probably a positive thing are most orchids need a difference between max and min temperatures during the day.
  • We let the temperatures in our house float.  We live in a 1980s “solar community”, which means that energy considerations were a prime factor in designing the houses.  We have never turned on the air conditioner (it is a hunk of rust), and rarely used the furnace.  We heat in the winter with a wood stove.  Thus, the temperatures vary in the house daily, frequently varying by 15 degrees.  Again, a positive…
  • I travel a lot.  That means that I cannot water or mist plants daily.  I need a system that where I don’t have to water daily, and the plants can exist by themselves for a time.  Also, where a granddaughter can water them…
  • We live in a 1980s well-designed solar community, and very little light gets into the “breakfast room” where the orchids must be.  This may be a problem.
  • I cannot have a greenhouse on this property.  It will take up too much space.  The orchids must be kept primarily in the “breakfast room”, which hasn’t been used much since the kids left.


After some research online, I found the website of Ray Barkalow, and the method of semi-hydrophonics.  This method, which uses an inert medium (LECA clay pebbles), and has a small reservoir of water in the bottom of a transparent pot, seemed right for me. The website has a considerable amount of information, and when I started to read through it, I discovered the pictures that people posted of their orchids in semi-hydro.  About 80% of the photos were from one individual, and the username was “crjsci1” — which had to be Chris Johnson from the University of Utah — and I was going to Chris’ house for dinner in two weeks.

Chris started his orchid hobby with a Wardian Cage in 2010, and has now built a greenhouse that houses over 800 orchids — all using semi-hydrophonics.  After seeing his greenhouse, (and the fact that we both have similar schedules), it convinced me that this was the right media for me.

So I decided to try this semi-hydrophonics method with my orchid collection.  It has worked well so far.

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