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Curing my own fir bark?

This is a discussion on Curing my own fir bark? within the Semi Hydro / Lights / Greenhouses / Accessories forums, part of the Orchid Culture category; I spent last week at a camp in NW Montana that has its own small ...

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    Question Curing my own fir bark?

    I spent last week at a camp in NW Montana that has its own small lumber mill that they use for cabin framing & siding and as a small income source. They took us on a tour of their lumber operation and on the ground all around me were large beautiful slabs of douglas fir bark. I was so distracted by the possibilities, that I could hardly pay attention to the rest of the tour.

    They let me have a large box of fir bark, but now I don't know exactly what to do with it. I had been using Better-gro bark because it was the best I could get locally. This looks like it has the potential to be much better quality, if I get it treated right. I tried to pick up stuff that was relatively dry and insect free. Should I bake it all in the oven? Hose it? Give up and use it in the fire pit?

    I also wonder if I could use some of the more interesting slabs as mounts. Once again, I have no idea how to treat it properly.

    I have tried searching for answers, but the only terms I can think of are far too generic to come up with meaningful results.

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    Kassie--

    I have tried curing a hardwood branch to mount orchids on. I soaked it in water overnight, and then baked it dry (I think I did 250* until it quite emitting steam). No idea if this was a good or bad plan though...however, I am pretty sure it would have killed any bugs.

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    I have never done it, but it seems to me that you would want to make sure and kill any bugs. Soaking it to get rid of any other chemicals wouldn't hurt either. Looking forward to other responses and to seeing how you use the slabs as orchid mounts if you go in that direction.

    Cheers,
    BD

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    Trish, isn't it funny how we can't get orchids out of our mind no matter where we go? When I drive past trees, I find myself thinking how much I'd like that particular branch to mount an orchid...

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    Trish I recommend that you give it a soak overnight and drain out the water, the water will be dark red to brown. Repeat the soaking and draining two or three times until the water is lighter coloured like a dilute tea. Then you must let it compost, for that just heap all the wet soaked bark together, water it and let it remain moist but not wet. Turn it a couple of times a week, and in about 3 weeks to a month it should be ready to be dried and used.

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    I would be leary of the 'staying power' of Douglas fir bark. I am not aware of the pH of Douglas fir nor how long the bark will hold up. It might be fun to experiment but I would not repot everything into it until I knew how the plant(s) fared.

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    Amey--Part of my annoyance with the bigbox bark I've been using is that it is still full of resins (tannins?). I think I could use the water I soak it in as a fabric dye or wood stain. So I will definitely soak my souvenir bark, but do you mean compost it as in try to get it to break down like people do with grass clippings and vegetable scraps? I'm a little afraid to just leave it in a damp heap outside as we are in the depths of earwig season.

    Don--most of the bigwig internet supplier orchid fir bark is douglas. The way a lot of them advertise, it seems like they are just resellers for Rexius which is douglas fir that is put through some sort of heat treatment. I know I need some bark in my mixes as I'm a little too heavy handed with the water to do straight CHC (and I'm not ready to switch all the way to SH). So I think if I can get it treated properly, my new bark should be just as good as everything else in my price range.

    Can I just keep soaking til I get to an appropriate ph? I remembered reading this about mounts here. There was a discussion of a combo ph/TDS meter. (Ugg. I feel myself wading deep into scientific concepts again :headexplodes: )

    When I first started searching for mounts, I remember seeing some type of bark that had been stabilized with plaster in the back. Some of these pieces are quite cool looking, but seem fairly fragile and might be hard to hang and will probably break down too quickly.

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    By composting I do not mean breaking it down, but it may break down a little in the process, you will just have to get rid of all the small crumby mix either by washing or sieving it. The science behind it LOL: Bark is made up of complex polysaccharides and lignin. The polysaccharides are a mix of cellulose and other starch like compounds. The cellulose is slow to decompose but these other simpler starch like compounds are food for bacteria and are decomposed rapidly. When you wet the bark and let it rest for a couple of weeks the bacteria finish off their work of decomposing these simpler polysaccharides leaving behind the lignin and slow degrading cellulose. The decomposition process may generate a lot of heat and nasty compounds like alcohols ketones and acids all potentially threatening for orchid roots which are already stressed due to the potting up. Also the count of these microorganisms is high which may cause anaerobic conditions and root rot. So just soaking and letting the bark sit for some time makes all this process happen, once the food is over the bacteria and fungi will die off and will be washed away in the subsequent washes.
    You do not have to add any additives to this bark like conventional composting, just soak it give it a couple of washes and let it sit then moist and warm for 2 to 3 weeks. If it is good quality bark it will hold up and will smell earthy if it has too much of simple polysaccharides and less of cellulose and lignin it will be moldy and powdery.
    I hope I have not exploded your brain LOL, but I think understanding the basic behind what you do is very important and helps you a long way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kassie View Post
    Amey--Part of my annoyance with the bigbox bark I've been using is that it is still full of resins (tannins?). I think I could use the water I soak it in as a fabric dye or wood stain. So I will definitely soak my souvenir bark, but do you mean compost it as in try to get it to break down like people do with grass clippings and vegetable scraps? I'm a little afraid to just leave it in a damp heap outside as we are in the depths of earwig season.

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    What I always do is cut the barks or fern roots(cycad) into smaller pieces (about 30cm long), put them in a big pail of water and boil them for one to two hours. That will destroy all those unwanted things which may be harmful to my orchids. Normally barks, or hardwood branches can last for a few years only, whereas fern roots can last for a very long time, more than 10 years.

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    I don't how useful this is but when I made handmade paper using natural plant materials I had to cook the lignon out of the plant fibers to access the cellulose. This was done by simmering the plant materials in water with either soda ash or Arm and Hammer washing soda, 1 tablespoon per quart of water used in a stainless steel pot for about 2 hours. This was a very smelling process so I did it outdoors on a hotplate. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear. The bark pieces will still be in solid pieces.

    If sterilizing the bark is the objective then oven drying it is acceptable but I would be careful of doing it in the oven for fear of it heating to the point of combustion. Does anyone know what the combustion point of Douglas fir is? Once you know that put it in the oven cold and bring the oven to 200 or 250 and then let it "cure" for the appropriate amount of time. This should kill all insects and bacterial. I'm also wondering if the resins will ignite before the wood so I think the short composting system might be the safest way to proceed.

    martha

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