So my ten gallon aquarium has a spider plant, Nep. alata, two Dro. capensis, and a Sar. flava ornata under two two-foot bulbs. I've got Darlingtonia sprouting soon (knock on wood,) some other seedlings coming by mail, and Cephalotus seeds to think about - and those are just my carnivores. So, it's time for me to upgrade.
I've chosen a 6' x 4' x 1.5' modular wire rack (I think it's the same one mentioned in 'How To: Build a Plant Shelf' by Darcie) for my 'chassis' of sorts. I'll be using the upper four feet for my actual growing space, and the rest for storage/germination space. On to this, I plan to mount plexiglass panes with aquarium backing on the sides and back, and unbacked panes on the front and top. If I find it necessary to increase light dramatically, I might place a reflector beneath the drip trays, but I'm not worrying about super-efficient operation right now (not sure it would help much either, beneath all the pots and such.)
For lights, I'm thinking two or three four-foot two-bulb fixtures (not concerned about what bulbs at the moment.) I'm open to compacts or high-output fluorescents as well - I hear they're good for enclosures where the bulbs aren't very close to the plants - but I don't know to much about them. I want to use some plastic storage bins for a large drip tray, with smaller trays within it to accomodate different water needs. I'll be using some fans - probably computer fans or somesuch - for ventilation, and likely cut some holes as needed to allow heat and humidity to escape. I have not yet found much information on humidfiers, heaters, irrigators, or climate control computers - any references would be appreciated.
I'd like to have two shelves within the growing space - one for the high-light specimines, and another beneath it where seedlings and shade-tolerant tropicals can go. If light penetration proves to be an issue (and I suspect it will) I might just hang my Nepenthes and some trailers around the margins of the rack and maybe work out some sort of terracing on the shelves to save space.
Now, for the questions...
First, has anyone attempted something like this before? What did you do? How did it work out? What did you keep with it? Do you have pictures?
Do I need to remount the ballasts on the outside of my fluorescent fixtures, as described here on Barry Rice's CP FAQ? I'm going to have about 18" between the light and my plants, as well as some plexiglass between them and a fan blowing over the lights, so I don't think that heat will be a huge issue (especially given the volume of the chamber.) I'm uncomfortable modifying the lights myself - not because I don't know how to do electrical stuff, but because these will be on when I'm not around the house.
Will the size of this setup necessitate three fixtures (six bulbs?) By my research, two fixtures would provide about 5400 lumens with most bulbs (1350 a bulb,) but I know this number is measured only a few inches from the light source. What kind of lumen loss am I looking at from 1.5 feet? Three feet?
I'm planning to mount the plexiglass to the rack using nuts and bolts. I wasn't planning on joining the plexiglass sections. Will gaps (I'm thinking no wider than 1/4") create too much air circulation for maintaining constant humidity? I was thinking about eventually putting something (maybe that foam pipe insulate) in the gaps to keep the light from escaping, anyways. Generally speaking, how good is humidity at escaping its confines? (It's usually fairly humid in my apartment, about 55-60%, if that helps.)
Does anyone know if I can get rolls of two-foot wide aquarium backing, or rolls longer than four feet? I've found a lot of small, odd sizes (30" x 19.5"?) but nothing like 2' x 4', which are the dimensions of the plexiglass I'll likely be using. Also, I can't seem to find it for very cheap. That 30" x 19.5" one is like $11! I'm seriously thinking tin foil or mylar, despite the tacky factor/reduced output.
Will I be able to grow high-light species like Sarracenia and Darlingtonia in this type of setup? I hear that seedlings take well to indoor cultivation until they're tall enough to expect direct sun. I have my Sarracenia indoors right now (I didn't know what to do with it until recently,) but it's going outside for the winter very soon. I don't mind raising them outdoors, but the temperates like Dionaea, Sar., and Dar. are so impressive - I really want some indoors to look at, at least in the growing season when they don't need cold. If anyone has tried this summer-indoors/winter-outdoors method, I'd be very interested in hearing about your technique and experiences.
How difficult will it be to maintain temperature and humidity in this environment? Will it be too wet to grow drier species? Do I really need an automated system, or can I just use a humidifier and heater with manual controls? I was thinking of just using an aquarium heater in a narrow glass vase and an air pump in there for a simple, comprehensive climate control. I love to fiddle with my plants, so turning fans and heaters on and off would probably be better than always picking my plants up and turning them around and fretting about who needs pruning. Not having to spend a small fortune would be nice, too. If anyone has built their own climate controller, I'd be very interested in hearing about it - I know some electronics and I think I could save a wad of cash the do-it-yourself way.
Does anybody have any good ideas for a propogation setup I could use in the extra space beneath all the rest? I don't know too much about propogating plants - the only things I can clone successfully are easy things like ivy and kalanchoe and other things that you just chop and stick in dirt or water - but I want to learn to propogate CPs for trading and gifts and such.
Finally, what's your favorite indoor CP? I've got quite a few plants to think about already, but I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't looking for more. I'm particularly interested in plants that will take well to being indoors (color well, grow healthy traps, etc.) but not necessarily explode with growth in response to favorible conditions.
Any advice, ideas, references, etc., would be greatly appreciated.