DIY Orchid Cart
I had been dreaming of creating a new orchid space for a few years before I actually pulled the financial trigger for one. The place in my home was picked out: our back entry room, with shaded natural light from the southeast and west. My orchid space needed to share room with play space and kid toys, winter boots, our washer/dryer, and a few other things, so it also needed to be vertical. Since it would be up against a window, I also wanted my orchid condo to be on wheels, so I could easily clean the wood floor, and more importantly, tend to the orchids at the back of the shelves.
Now, I must admit that I have another orchid condo. I DIY'd it almost a decade ago to serve as a seed-starting palace, but the orchids soon colonized it. I bought the shelving unit at a big box store in town. It was cheap, flimsy, had no wheels, and the shelves were hard to adjust, but it did the job. At the same time, I bought four T12 shop lights with adjustable chains at a local hardware store. I had a few seedling heat mats that did double-duty for hot-growing orchids. Here's my old set up:
My previous DIY orchid condo was 72" high x 36" wide x 15.5" deep. It did the job for a while, especially for low-light orchids like phalaenopsis and some paphiopedilums. If I lowered the lights to be just two inches above the orchids, I could also keep medium-light orchids on it for the winter months, but this meant that I couldn't grow any orchids taller than about 8" on it. I kept the orchid shelving unit in my small office upstairs. The downside to this orchid apartment is that it wasn't mobile (I had to remove orchids at the front to get to orchids at the back), it wasn't very pretty, and it was small.
Purchased in 2009, my original orchid cart was done on the cheap. It cost a total of $260:
Five-tier shelving "system" (plywood & steel): $34
Four 48-inch T12 shop lights: $60
Eight Agrosun 48" grow light T12 florescent tubes: $143 (I found out later I didn't really need these, but they sure made the plants look pretty and green! When the bulbs wore out, I replaced them with one "warm" bulb, one "cool" bulb in each fixture.)
Timer, extension cord, do-dads: $23
(Optional: seedling heat mats, varying in price, $20-$40. I later acquired a standing columnar oscillating fan as well, $30.)
For the past few years, as I have been growing more serious in my orchid habit, the T12 lights are simply not strong enough, nor energy-efficient enough, for my liking. After almost 10 years, the plywood had begun to break down (even though I covered it in clear plastic), and the thin steel frame didn't seem solid enough. I realized that if I was going to get serious about my orchid habit (more specifically, serious about blooming my orchids), I needed to bulk up my set-up. (A detailed American Orchid Society webinar was extremely useful in walking me through the technicalities of successfully Growing Under Lights.)
Enter the Orchid Muse Orchid Cart 9000, a really sweet ride:
So, I began to explore my options. There are a few nice orchid cart kits out there; the one I liked the most was the Floracart Stand. But in 2018 at $866 for the cart and T8 lights, plus $30 for the humidity cover, plus $130 for shipping, I was looking at over $1,000 for a new home for my orchids. Yikes. In truth, having a full-time job and a young kiddo, I was almost sucked in by the ease of ordering a fully-operational system. But once I realized that I really wanted (needed?) T5-HO lights, not T8s--not an option on any of the carts I found--my decision was made. It was time to DIY this badboy. Start your engines!
After scoping out the two small hardware stores and one big-box store in my tiny rural town, I was sad to realize that almost everything I needed could only be bought online. (Ah well: all the better for blog readers to have links, I guess.)
My hot new mobile orchid condo cost a total of $660 (in early 2018), and is outfitted with two 4-tube T5-HO lights, and one 4-tube white LED light. I feel like bought a Ferrari! (Maybe I should spray paint it red?) Here's the breakdown:
Four-shelf heavy-duty chrome cart on wheels (72" tall x 48" wide x 18" deep): $112
Two T5-HO 4-tube fixtures: $133 each (I bought two, not three, because I wanted one shelf to be for lower-light orchids. I'll use the old T12 fixture on the cart until it dies, then I'll buy a LED florescent shoplight (which I can buy in town, thankfully.)
Light pulleys/grow rope hangers: $8-10 each
Six black heavy-duty standard garden trays (to hold orchids so they don't slip off the cart when I'm moving it, and to catch any spilled water): $49
Humidity tent (crucial for my dry climate in winter): $40 (I could have DIY'd a humidity tent, but I found a thick, high-quality one with zippers and ties and the $40 seemed worth it.)
I bought two small fans to move the air: $17 each
I love my new Agrobrite Hydrofarm T5-HOs. So do my orchids! At 18" from the tubes, the light measures at 28,000 lux (2,600 foot candles)--great for medium-light lovers like angraecum, brassavola, bulbophyllum, cattleya, coelogyne, dendrobium, leptotes, maxillaria, neofinetia, and oncidium. At 12" from the tubes, the output is 50k lux (4,645 fc), or medium-high light. And at 6" from the tubes, my ultra high-light lovers get 79k lux (7,300 fc). Bring on the blooms!
Later, I realized that many of my plants we receiving too much light. This was an easy fix: pop out one or two T5 bulbs, and hey presto, problem solved. I might eventually dedicate one full shelf of the cart to high-light loving carnivorous plants like nepenthes, sundews (drosera), and pinguiculas. Everyone loves T5s!
Truthfully, the moment I set up my new ride, I was thrilled. Even my husband asked "How is it that that you ever got along without this thing?!" I wish I hadn't waited. But I'm also glad I took my time, weighed the options, and knew exactly what I needed before I bought anything. Because this sports car is going to be vvvrooming around for a long time.
Links to products mentioned above:
(Floracart) Humidity Tent