A year has passed since I set up my first BiOrbAir, an automated, specialised terrarium, designed by Barry Reynolds from Reef One. I have loved and appreciated this special terrarium every day, and will continue to do so.
Now, thanks to a wonderful and very generous, special gift, from my family and friends, who all enjoy seeing my first BiOrbAir terrarium,and have appreciated watching the plants inside develop and grow. I am lucky enough to have another, second BiOrbAirterrarium to plant up and enjoy. I will share my experiences of this, my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir terrarium, which I planted up with miniature orchids and mosses in August 2015, with you in this review.
Apart from your plants, everything else you need to plant up your terrarium is included when you buy your BiOrbAir – it all arrives together in one wonderful, ginormous box! Terrarium plants are also available on the BiOrbAir website, and you can even purchase a pre-planted BiOrbAir from their website, if it’s being delivered to the UK – pre-planted terrariums can’t be shipped overseas.
Naturally, I will regularly top up the base reservoir of my BiOrbAir with rain water as required. The rain water in the base reservoir will be absorbed by the capillary matting, which is fitted to the support tray. The support tray sits above the base reservoir, the strips of capillary matting hang down into the rain water in the base reservoir below. The capillary matting absorbs the rain water, which in turn will moisten the compost above. The absorption of water through the capillary matting will keep the coir compost moist, and as a result, any plants growing in the coir compost will be watered automatically.
Terrarium misting unit
I will regularly top up the ultrasonic mister unit with Humidimist, a pure bottled water, low in electrolytes. Humidimist is available from Reef One, and is included as part of the package when you purchase a BiOrbAir. The Humidimist is the only type of water recommended for use in the ultrasonic misting unit of the BiOrbAir, and it is the only product I will use.
Misting and feeding miniature orchids
I will regularly mist my miniature orchids. I don’t have set days to mist the orchids, but I will endeavour to mist the plants several times a week.
To feed my miniature orchids, I will use Orchid Focus Grow and Orchid Focus Bloom, I purchased both of these fertilisers from the shop at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I feed my orchids only sparingly, following the instructions on the pack. Epiphytic miniature orchids wouldn’t receive an abundance of nutrients in their natural environment, here the only nutrients they receive arrive on the moisture in the air, rainfall, and any debris that has accumulated over time where they are growing. Over feeding can be detrimental to your plants, causing further problems.
I decided to plant this new terrarium with miniature orchids, mounted onto cork bark, and surrounded by a bed of pillow moss. I will review my new BiOrbAir terrarium and update this page each month with information of how the miniature orchids are growing inside my BiOrbAir. I will detail any maintenance or indoor gardening work I undertake to either my BiOrbAir terrarium, and any of the plants inside.
I hope this review will help you if you’re looking to start up a terrarium of your own, or would like to learn more about growing miniature orchids. Through this trial and review I hope to identify miniature orchids that will thrive inside the BiOrbAir .
Terrarium compost – peat free coir compost
I used the peat-free, coir compost that was included with my BiOrbAir as the growing media for this terrarium. I followed the straight-forward instructions to pre-soak the compost before adding it to my terrarium. This was the only compost I used when planting this terrarium, I didn’t add any other growing media or fertiliser, I used only the coir compost provided with the BiOrbAir.
Any fertilisers I use, and any care and maintenance of either the plants or terrarium I undertake, I will detail here in my review – I hope this will help you if you’re looking to start a terrarium, or if you’re interested in growing miniature orchids. Through reading this trial of growing miniature orchids inside a BiOrbAir you have the opportunity to learn from my mistakes, and fingers crossed, to learn from my successes too!
Moss for terrariums
I have been looking for ethical moss growers in the UK for quite a while. I sent out a number of emails and enquiries to try to find out more about UK moss growers, sadly so far without success. Then I found Triangle Nursery – although Triangle Nursery don’t grow their moss in the UK – their moss is grown in Holland, none of their pillow moss is taken from the wild, it’s all grown on their nurseries. Following the company’s guarantee that the moss wasn’t removed from its natural environment, I went ahead and purchased a punnet of pillow moss online from Triangle Nursery. My new pillow moss is a beautiful verdant green, the moss really adds to the planting inside this BiOrbAir, enhancing the beauty of this terrarium.
Epiphytic, miniature orchids
All of the orchids that I have chosen for this trial are epiphytic – they grow naturally on other plants, often trees, which provide support, and a place for the orchid to grow. Epiphytic plants are not the same as parasitic plants like mistletoe, they don’t take any sustenance from their host plant – epiphytic orchids don’t usually cause any harm to the host plant they are growing on. Epiphytic plants simply use another plant as a support, taking all their water and nutrients from the air, the rain, and any accumulated debris that has collected in the branches of their host tree.
Mounting orchids onto cork bark
All of the epiphytic miniature orchids featured in this trial have been mounted on to cork bark, the orchids have been secured in place onto the cork using fishing line. Fishing line is a clear material, that won’t detract from the beauty of the orchids. I did have a concern that the fishing line might slice into the roots of the orchids, so I have tried counteract this risk by positioning moss in front of the fishing line to protect the orchid roots.
I carried out all kinds of sterilising techniques to the cork before introducing it to my BiOrbAir – this cork has been boiled, baked in the oven, and microwaved – hopefully the cork was free from insects beforehand – now it certainly is!
Cork is such an amazing and interesting, fascinating natural material, obtained from the bark of Quercus suber, (commonly known as the Cork Oak). Cork has many uses. The cork industry is regarded as sustainable, as the Quercus suber trees are not required to be cut down to harvest the bark, and harvesting the bark does not harm the tree – the Quercus suber trees continue to grow after their bark is harvested, and their bark also re-grows. The trees go on provide future harvests at regular intervals every 9 years or so. I purchased my cork bark online from the Jelinek Cork Group.
Terrarium planting list
I decided to plant a number of different varieties of miniature epiphytic orchids, which originate from different countries and climates in my BiOrbAir Trial to make this trial more interesting.
I am keen to observe each miniature orchid variety, and see how the plants grow in the constant conditions provided by the BiOrbAir – many orchids require dryer periods, needing periods of rest and distinct changes between the seasons to grow well. Often changes in the growing conditions are required to encourage and induce flowering in orchids, as is true of many plants. Some orchids just won’t grow under artificial light, they need natural light to succeed, whereas other orchids thrive when grown in a terrarium, growing far better than they would outside of this contained, controlled environment. Let’s hope that some of the miniature orchids I have chosen to grow for this trial will succeed when grown inside my BiOrbAir terrarium!
I decided to include the following orchids in my Miniature Orchid BiOrbAir:
You can see photographs and read a little more information about each of the miniature orchids I am trialling in this BiOrbAir, together with information about other miniature orchids I am growing inside my first BiOrbAir, in my planting list of miniature orchids for terrariums.
19th September 2015
I am so enjoying having this second BiOrAir terrarium, I am thrilled to be trialling miniature orchids, to find out which varieties of miniature orchids will grow best in the constant conditions provided by the specialised, automated, BiOrbAir terrarium. I feel so grateful to have been given such a generous gift of the terrarium, moss, cork and orchids – everything inside the terrarium and the terrarium itself, is a special present from my family and friends. Therefore I do also have quite a few feelings of anxiety and responsibility around the success of the orchids, and the success of the terrarium as a whole. This terrarium and the orchids mean just so much to me, I hope so much that they will all grow well inside the BiOrbAir.
When the orchids for this terrarium arrived in the post on the 25th August 2015, the four potted orchids – Aerangis fastuosa, Aerangis punctata, Angraecum equitans, and Masdevallia decumana – had got entangled in their own packaging. Each of the potted orchids had packing material, held in place with sticky tape, around the top of each of the pots, just under the plant’s leaves. Unfortunately most of the surface area of the sticky tape had not been throughly stuck down before posting, and as a consequence four of the orchids, all of them in pots, had all become stuck to each other. The sticky tape from one pot had attached itself to the leaves of another orchid, and so on, with the weight of each attached pot, pulling at the leaves and plant they had become stuck to, for their entire journey to me.
This mistake with the sticky tape becoming attached to the orchids, resulted in my Angraecum equitans being damaged in transit and consequently uprooted from its pot. This error could have been entirely avoided had the orchids after being wrapped with a protective covering, then been wrapped individually with newspaper to cover the entire plant, ensuring that the whole plant was packaged with protective wrap to protect from any bumps on the journey, but also ensuring that the orchids would not damage each other in transit or stick together.
I mounted this Angraecum equitans orchid, along with the other orchids in this terrarium, onto cork bark, on the 26th August 2015. I placed the pieces of cork complete with the mounted orchids inside my Miniature Orchid BiOrbAir straight after mounting.
Masdevallia decumana problems
On the 2nd September 2015 I noticed that the leaves of my Masdevallia decumana looked a little off colour, and I could see some spotting and marking of the leaves. This quickly progressed, and by the morning the leaves looked to be in a much worse condition.
I am a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, a UK gardening charity who offer a free plant advisory service to all their members. I decided that this would be the perfect time to receive some advice about my new orchids, so I sterilised my tools and removed all of the affected leaves from my Masdevallia decumana, sterilising again in between each cut and leaf removal. I parcelled the Masdevallia decumana leaves, together with a leaf that I had removed from my Aerangis fastuosa – the Aerangis fastuosa had different, but still concerning markings on its leaf, which had been present since its arrival in the post. I posted these samples to The Advisory Service at RHS Garden Wisley on 4th September 2015 and awaited a reply.
In the meantime I ensured that all of the infected plant material was removed from my orchids. I allowed the orchids to dry out more than usual, leaving the lid of my BiOrbAir open for a little while the same evening to achieve this. I then closed the BiOrbAir lid and left the terrarium to its automatic mistings, knowing that the humidity would be 75% RH inside the BiOrbAir, thanks to the automatic settings in this terrarium. If I could have opted to have reduced the humidity in this instance I would have done so, but this isn’t possible with the pre-set automatic settings of the BiOrbAir.
On the 11th September 2015, the RHS replied to my letter, having analysed the orchid leaves and samples I sent in. Here’s a summary of their reply and analysis:
The Aerangis fastuosa leaf sample enclosed had black marks present. There are depression and streaks, which leads me to suspect that this is likely to be due to a virus. There are several viruses that can affect orchid plants, they have similar symptoms, but we do not have the facilities to be able to identify them. The best thing to do would be to remove the affected plant tissue and hope that it has not spread throughout the plant. With no fungicides that can be used, the only control would be to prevent the virus from being moved about which could be via insects or sap on your hand and tools. I am guessing that there is unlikely to be any insects present, so cleaning tools is the best action.
With regards to the Masdevallia decumana leaves enclosed, these were found to have a fungal leaf spot present. The spotting looked typical for Colletotrichum leaf spot which is one of the more common fungal problems that affects orchids. There are no fungicides specifically labelled for use on orchids, but many can be used on ornamental plants and may have some incidental control of this disease. Fungicides will not give a 100% control and therefore I’d recommend to remove the affected plant tissue. With fungal leaf spot my normal advice would be to improve the general growing conditions around the plant, eg watering and feeding. Also making sure they have good spacing and airflow around will help reduce leaf diseases in general. I can see that the last few points might be a bit difficult in a terrarium.
I was very happy with the advice I received from the Royal Horticultural Society, it confirmed my own thoughts and suspicions. Since the removal of the infected leaves, my Masdevallia decumana looks a lot better, it has two, new healthy looking leaves growing.
After what has happened I will be keeping a close eye on this orchid and the other orchids growing inside this terrarium.
7th October 2015
Miniature orchids recovering?
I have been keeping a close eye on my orchids in my Miniature Orchid Trial. At the moment, things are looking much better inside this terrarium, and so far I’ve not seen any new signs of disease on my miniature orchids. I still have some real concerns for my orchid plants, but I am glad to see that for the moment, things have stabilised inside this terrarium, with no new signs of disease appearing as yet. Of course this could change quickly, so I am keeping a close eye on all of the miniature orchids inside this terrarium.
Currently inside my other BiOrbAir terrarium, I have an Ornithophora radicans in flower, you can see photographs of this interesting miniature orchid in flower in my long-term review of my BiOrbAir (part two). So it’s exciting to see, what are quite possibly, the very earliest signs of a flower being produced by the Domingoa purpurea, inside this – my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium.
I’ve been really pleased with the colour and appearance of the moss inside my Miniature Orchid BiOrbAir terrarium. The moss complements my orchids beautifully.
Today I noticed a dark spot on one of the leaves of the Masdevallia decumana. I quickly removed the leaf using my long handled terrarium scissors and tweezers. I did this in two stages, first the leaf was removed, then I removed the remainder of the stem, cutting it right back to the base of the plant. I ensured that I sterilised my tools before, and after use.
My long handled Gardening Toolset from Reef One is so useful. These long handled tools makes terrarium gardening so much easier. You can read my review of using these specially designed, long handled tools here.
21st October 2015
I noticed another leaf on my Masdevallia decumana today was also showing very obvious signs of leaf spot – the leaf was progressively yellowing and another dark brown leaf spot was clearly present. I removed the infected leaf promptly, sterilising my tools before and after use. You can see photographs of this leaf below.
29th October 2015
Another day, and another orchid needs attention. Today it’s my Aerangis punctata, as you can see in the photographs below, this orchid isn’t looking very healthy.
6th November 2015
You can see a photograph I have just taken of my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir terrarium below. All is looking OK inside this terrarium today…….but only because I have been busy removing more diseased leaves from my miniature orchids……….
Sadly, my Aerangis fastuosa has been showing signs of the virus that it’s infected with again.
Thankfully it’s not entirely bad news – there is some new growth appearing on the miniature orchids in this terrarium, below you can see the very start of some new leaf growth on my Masdevallia decumana.
8th November 2015
Can you leave the BiOrbAir terrarium for three weeks without attention?
Yesterday I received a very good question from a reader, Justin, who asked if you could leave the BiOrbAir for about three weeks without needing to add water to the terrarium. I have previously left my BiOrbAir terrariums for this length of time without attention, but it’s always good to demonstrate the experience. So, I topped up the base reservoirs in both my BiOrbAir terrariums with rainwater on the 6th November 2015. At the same time I topped up the Humidimist in the reservoir for the ultrasonic mister. I will report back and let you know when they both need topping up again.
26th November 2015
I topped up the reservoirs for my ultra-sonic misting units in both my BiOrbAir terrariums at the same time, so that I could monitor how often the reservoir for the misting unit needed to be topped up with Humidimist. After a week, I noted that both my BiOrbAir misting unit reservoirs were 2/3 full – at this time it was 7 days from when I last topped them up. Two weeks later, the misting unit reservoirs were about 1/3 full. Three weeks later, the reservoir for my BiOrbAir misting unit had only a couple of mm of Humidimist left. The lights started to flash on both BiOrbAir terrariums, to alert me that they had run out of Humidimist, on Sunday 29th November 2015 – 23 days after I topped them up. So from monitoring my BiOrbAir terrariums over this period of time, I would advise that the Humidimist will need topping up every three weeks to maintain the constant humidity levels within the terrarium.
24th December 2015
It’s now seven weeks since I last topped the base reservoir of both my BiOrbAir terrariums – I topped up both of my BiOrbAir terrariums with rain water at the same time, and I have been monitoring them since then. I realise that in my photographs above, in the second photograph of the water-level indicator, it looks as if the terrarium has had a top up – it hasn’t! I am unsure if the angle I was at when I took the photographs has made the water level look higher/lower in the photographs, or if somehow the rainwater I poured in and over the cork and moss takes longer than I have anticipated to drain through into the base reservoir, and as a consequence this reading and the amount of rainwater inside the terrarium wasn’t fully recorded in the first photograph.
Anyway, as you can see, the rainwater in the base reservoir in my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium has been sufficient to last this BiOrbAir terrarium, planted with moss, and miniature orchids mounted on bark, for seven weeks. The water level in the base water reservoir inside my other BiOrbAir terrarium registered as lower than the reading for this Miniature Orchid BiOrbAir terrarium after the same period of time had passed. My other BiOrbAir terrarium has been planted with ferns, miniature orchids, mosses and other terrarium plants, as opposed to the BiOrbAir featured in this trial, which is planted with mosses and miniature orchids which are mounted on bark. Naturally the plants featured in my other terrarium require more water. The water level indicator for my other BiOrbAir terrarium registered as about 10% full after seven weeks.
I would feel confident to leave either of my BiOrbAir terrariums unattended for a period of 3 weeks, provided I had topped up the Humidimist in the ultra-sonic misting unit and topped up the base reservoir with rain water just prior to leaving, and topped both up again on my return.
Following this experiment, I would estimate that you might only need to top up your base reservoir with water every five weeks, depending of course on the planting within your BiOrbAir terrarium. Why am I not recommending that you leave your BiOrbAir for six weeks, or seven, as I have clearly done so myself without a problem? Well because the capillary matting within the BiOrbAir, works by drawing up water from the base reservoir below, the capillary matting has longer sections, like tails, that are permanently submerged within the rainwater, these longer tail sections draw the water up from the base reservoir, and moisten the coir compost above. Naturally the tails, or longer sections of capillary matting, require sufficient water to cover them to enable an efficient capillary watering system, it’s not worth leaving your terrarium for as long as possible, unless of course you’re on holiday, or in an emergency situation, as you don’t want to take a risk that your plants might not have sufficient water. It takes only a moment to check the water level in your base reservoir, and just a few moments more to top up the rain water. Keeping your BiOrbAir terrarium watered is so simple and easy to do, it’s better to monitor your terrarium regularly, and in doing so provide your plants with everything they require for healthy growth. I’ve now topped up both my BiOrbAir terrariums’ base reservoirs with rainwater.
10th December 2015
I’ve been so disappointed with the condition of my Aerangis punctata since it arrived in the post – this miniature Orchid has never looked very healthy or strong. The Aerangis punctata has continued to decline since I included it in my BiOrbAir terrarium, as you can see in the following photographs………..
The Springtail, or Collembola, pictured above was alive as I photographed it. It was quite amazing that I was able to take this photograph, as Springtails, hence their common name, have an appendage to their abdomen, known as a furcula, which enables the Springtail to jump remarkable distances.
My Masdevallia decumana has been growing well, producing new leaves and roots, as you can see in the two photographs above and below.
On the 24th November 2015, I noticed that my Domingoa purpurea was in the earliest stages of producing a second flower. There’s a very long way to go yet before this miniature Orchid flowers, but it’s very exciting all the same!
I noticed the tiny toadstool you see pictured here, inside my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium on the 4th December 2015. As I noticed the toadstool, I only had a brief moment to take a couple of photographs, which I expected to be blurred, so I left the toadstool as it was, and planned to photograph the toadstool again, as soon as I was able. My next opportunity was on the 6th December 2015, but as I was interrupted whilst taking my first photograph, I again left the toadstool until 7th December 2015. This time I took a few more photographs, and then I removed the toadstool!
28th December 2015
Masdevallia decumana recovering
Happily I can report that my Masdevallia decumana seems to now be thriving within my BiOrbAir terrarium, here’s a photograph below that I took a couple of days ago.
1st January 2016
Happy new year! Here are some photographs I took today of the miniature orchids growing inside my Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium:
10th January 2016
I’ve just recently replanted my other BiOrbAir terrarium – I now have five miniature orchids, each mounted on cork bark, growing inside this terrarium. If you’re interested to have a look at this terrarium and see the orchids, please click here.
15th January 2016
It’s very exciting to have a Restrepia sanguinea in flower inside my other BiOrbAir terrarium! But this Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium is proving just as exciting!
Up until now, I have only included orchids purchased from one supplier inside each of my BiOrbAir terrariums – all of the miniature orchids inside this Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium were purchased at Orchids-shop.euand the miniature orchids growing inside my other BiOrbAir terrarium were all purchased from Burnham Nurseries. This was intentional, as some of the miniature orchids I purchased from Orchids-shop.eu were suffering from fungal problems, and at least one virus. So I purposely kept these orchids separate from the orchids I purchased from Burnham Nurseries, which were all in excellent health when I purchased them, as I wanted to avoid any risk of transmitting any viruses or fungal problems to my healthy orchids.
It’s always a good idea to quarantine any new plants, so that you can be certain that your new plants are in good health, before introducing them to your collection. This way you can avoid introducing pests and disease to your plants. Wherever you can, keep plants with health problems separate, and always sterilise your tools before and after each use, and before tending to another plant.
I have such affection for Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’, a very cute miniature orchid, that has grown so well, and is just coming into flower inside my other BiOrbAir terrarium, that I decided to purchase another plant from Burnham Nurseries. When my Lepanthopsis arrived in the post I noticed it had two leaves with black marks at their tips, so I photographed the plants, and then removed these damaged leaves.
This Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’ has now been mounted on cork bark and placed inside this Miniature Orchid Trial BiOrbAir. This is such a super little orchid to grow, it is very small in size, so doesn’t take up much space inside your terrarium. Once it reaches flowering size Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’ flowers frequently, this is a super miniature orchid to include as part of your collection, however small or large your collection is.
21st January 2016
Masdevallia decumana flower buds
26th January 2016
Masdevallia decumana flowering
The first flower on my Masdevallia decumana opened this morning! It’s so wonderful to see this beautiful miniature orchid in flower inside my BiOrbAir terrarium.
28th January 2016
Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’ flowering
The first flower on my Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’ opened this morning! I only very recently purchased this miniature orchid online from Burnham Nurseries, a super UK orchid nursery based in South Devon. I have another ‘Stalky’ that I also purchased from Burnham Nurseries in 2015, which is coming into flower inside another of my BiOrbAir terrariums, you can see this terrarium by clicking here. I am so fond of this miniature orchid, I am so happy to see the first of its flowers this morning.
If you plan to grow Lepanthopsis astrophora ‘Stalky’, avoid the temptation to remove the older flower stalks, as these stems will continue to produce flowers, sometimes randomly after a gap in flowering, when you could have mistakenly believed the stem to be dead.
To read the second part of my Miniature Orchid Trial – Growing Miniature Orchids in the BiOrbAir (part two), please click here.
Other articles and links that may interest you……….
To see the first part of my White Orchid Trial BiOrbAir Terrarium, please click here.