Posts Tagged ‘Greenhouse’

The orchids, especially the Catts, are budding up and blooming. Since leaving the greenhouse this spring, they’ve shed the doldrums of confinement and become lush and vigorous – well, at least most of them have. Even the ones that aren’t actually in bloom have developed numerous sheaths, harbingers of beauty for the fall and winter.

Several of the current bloomers are pictured on the Photos page:


C. maxima

Cattleya maxima is a particular favorite. I bought it several years ago on the final day of the OSGKC show when the vendors were breaking down their booths. A desiccated, bare-root C. maxima had been tossed in a heap with some other plants by the Ecuagenera salesman. The plant had a withered flower so I was hopeful that, despite my lack of experience with bare-root purchases, this plant was a viable bloomer – which it has been, every year since I bought it. I grow it in a shallow, clay pot with a medium bark, charcoal and inorganic pellets mix

The Catasetum ochraceum is also a reliable and fragrant bloomer. This year it produced a record number (for me) of inflorescences . In addition this is the first year that I’ve had a female flower on this multi-sex plant. (That’s the flower pictured on the Photos page.] (more…)

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Enc. bractescens

Several plants continue blooming, including Encyclia bractescens. [On right. See larger image on Photo page.] While 95% of my greenhouse plants are orchids, a few other plants, which enjoy similar greenhouse conditions, serve as great companions. Photos of these plants (red and pink anthuriums; a Meyer lemon tree and bromeliads) are also on the Photo page.

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Winter took its toll last week.

Kansas City’s temperatures hit the single digits, with wind chills in the minus range. Snow fall approached blizzard conditions. When the greenhouse’s night temp dipped to 49 degrees, I opted to turn on the auxiliary heater, a Kenwood Electric Oil Filled Heater, with programmable clock timer and thermostat (Model # TRN0812TK), purchased at Home Depot about two years ago. (As it turns out, the Eskabe might have managed without the extra help. I thought that I’d turned the non-electric furnace to its highest setting (5), but discovered on Friday that the temperature gauge also has a “High” setting.)

Actually, a worse problem is snow drifts and ice around the door. In order to unfreeze the door latch, I thump it with a hammer. (I’ve tried hot water, which only exacerbates the problem in the long run.) Ice and snow also build up along the threshold and have to be chiseled and swept away. Small ice chunks and snow drifts around the door frame consistently prevent the door from closing properly. Consequently, I keep a 1×2 inch board wedged between the ground and the door handle.

These are all problems on the outside, created in large part by the temperature difference between the warm greenhouse and the frigid world of Zone 5. But problems can also occur on the inside: On two wintry occasions, I’ve tried to walk out of the greenhouse, after working in it for several hours, only to discover that the door had re-frozen and sealed me inside.

In one way, the steep dip in night temperatures is an advantage. Some of my orchids thrive in this type of temp differential. Lc Drumbeat ‘Heritage’ HCC/AOS, one of the bloomers from this week (see Photos), has six giant blossoms and more coming on. Howara Lava Burst ‘Puanari’ is also in full bloom.

Even so, I fear that the 40 degree drop may have taken its toll on at least one of my Phalaenopses. Several buds on the little Phal. lobbii have turned yellow.

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The heating problem is solved.

The new furnace is an Eskabe, a non-electric, gas-powered heater, with a thermostat and an outside vent, manufactured in Argentina and distributed through several vendors in the U.S.

Two of my orchid-growing friends who live in a small lake community outside Lawrence, Kansas, recommended the furnace. Their problem with winter electric blackouts occurs considerably more often than mine in KC. They have two non-electric furnaces, one in the orchid room and an older one in an artist’s large studio. On more than one occasion, the two heaters have provided the only reliable heat source for the couple’s two-story house.

The Eskabe comes in three sizes based on the generated BTUs:

  • 17,000 BTUs for 425 sq. ft.
  • 11,000 BTUs for 275 sq. ft.
  • 8,000 BTUs for 200 sq. ft. [This smallest size does not have an automatic thermostat.]

I bought the middle sized unit. Although the square footage of my greenhouse is less than 275, I calculated that the Lexan and glass walls are significantly less insulated than most rooms in a house. I also wanted the auto-thermostat.

Installing the new heater was just one step in winterizing the greenhouse against the oncoming Missouri winter. I also covered the louvered windows and glass door with a product called “Shrink & Seal”® by M-D Building Products. It’s the plastic sheeting that is taped along the window/door frame and then shrunk to fit using a hair dryer.  The “Shrink & Seal” product works great once it’s installed, but it is a labor intensive process in a greenhouse because installation must wait until the metal framework is bone dry before the tape will stick.

phal (fred auction)

View of greenhouse's frame

Prior to installation, I shut off the misting system temporarily. Luckily last weekend the condensation that normally builds up in the greenhouse on cool nights abated when the temperatures outside and inside the greenhouse reached an equilibrium. After fitting and shrinking the plastic on the frame, I reinforced the M-D tape, which isn’t substantial enough to withstand any moisture, with FarmTek’s “Greenhouse Premium Repair Tape.” Although the Repair Tape must also be applied while the frame is dry, it is much better than the M-D tape at resisting the inevitable build up of moisture during the winter.

With the greenhouse now sealed and the little Eskabe humming away in the corner, my tropical-paradise bubble can now hunker down for those negative-Fahrenheit nights in Zone 5.

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A Dead Furnace

My greenhouse, given to me about four years ago, is a used 8-foot x 16-foot Lord and Burnham attached to the house. The frame sits on a knee wall and has four large louvered windows, each separated by a panel of double-walled Lexan, running the length of the east side. The south wall is also Lexan, as is the pitched ceiling except for its 16-foot-long glass vent.

The building, which was originally owned by St. Louis growers, is probably more than 20 years old. The gas furnace is also vintage…well, WAS vintage. It finally conked out when I tried to start it this fall.

I’ve no doubt that in its salad days the small Dynavent furnace was a dynamo – the reliable little engine that could. Even last winter, the Dynavent was a toasty powerhouse, as long as it kept running without interruption.

Unfortunately, two years ago, the furnace became increasingly temperamental. It had a hard time starting on its own when the thermostat told the “flame sensing probe” to fire up. A call to the manufacturer proved fruitless – parts for the old furnace were long ago discontinued.


South end of greenhouse, location of old furnace

Unreliability in a furnace can lead to sleepless nights. Fortunately, the greenhouse’s temperature-sensing alarm was reliable — it went off two or three times each winter, usually in the middle of the night.

Unreliability can also keep you very close to home during those long, frigid winter months – no vacations, no out-of-town weekends. 

But then, I can’t blame everything on the little furnace. Actually, Kansas City winters often bring ice and snow storms that can snap giant tree branches and sever electric and telephone power lines. Hardly a winter goes by that the power isn’t shut down for at least a few hours – and often for longer. In fact, during the last decade, we’ve had three power outages that lasted for days. 

Next step…find a furnace that can stand up to Missouri winters.

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The Challenge

I raise orchids in Kansas City, Missouri – located in Zone 5 on the Hardiness Map. The challenge of this addictive hobby is not that orchids aren’t native to the Midwest. Almost every region on Earth, including Iceland, can boast of its native orchids. Missouri is home to several types of orchids, including the exquisite little Cypripedium calceolus.

The challenge is that I don’t raise Cypripedium calceolus or other Missouri orchids.

I prefer the big, flashy varieties – the cattleyas, cycnoches and vandas. True, my 115+ – plant collection has some diminutive bloomers – a mexipedium, a few miniature phalaenopsis and mounted pleurothallis – but the majority of my orchids is comprised of in-your-face divas that seem to unfurl their blossoms to a sassy chorus of “I’m an ORCHID and you’re NOT.” These bold-colored beauties call places like Belize, Brazil and Borneo home.

lc drumbeat

Laeliacattleya Drumbeat 'Heritage' HCC/AOS

So that’s the challenge. How to make a small pocket of Zone 5 into a tropical Eden for a bunch of sun- and humidity-loving orchids.

Through the coming months, I’ll write about what’s going on in my collection, report on the vagaries of weather and conditions inside and outside the greenhouse. I’ll brag about the successes and lament the failures. I’ll include culture tips, plant recommendations, helpful links and resources.

Most orchids really aren’t a challenge to raise. They are surprisingly vigorous plants – although not always reliable bloomers. The challenge for Zone 5 and parts north is providing and maintaining the proper balance of environmental elements – temperature, light, atmosphere, fertilizer and growing medium – to create an orchid paradise.

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