Poul is one of the most experienced orchid growers on the Island. He has been the inspiration for a number of the members who have gone on to grow Grand Champions of their own. My visit in late May was timed perfectly. Poul had enough plants in flower to put on an Orchid show, all on his own.
(All pictures can be clicked for a larger view)
Poul started growing orchids 35 years ago after a trip to Hawaii. It is amazing how things come around. Over the years Poul has been active hybridizing and trying to continually improve his collection. This has meant many variations and years of flasking. Poul had good success and his plants became well know, years ago. A friend in Portland acquired some of Poul's plants and he worked with them. Then a friend in Hawaii of the Portland fellow acquired some of those new and improved plants and worked with them further. Recently Poul visited Hawaii again and returned with a number of flasks which had plants descended from his original hybrids. (Now he is getting a second chance to see if he can get it right this time.)
It is always interesting to talk with some Orchid devotees who have traveled the world checking into their plants' history and native environment. But, I have never met anyone else, who's plants did the traveling and returned home, years later, improved and better than ever and now still to be improved some more.
Planning a Greenhouse
The one warning that rings loudly in the interviews I have done for this series, is how addicting orchids can become. Contrary to rumour that orchids are hard to grow, it seems many members start with two orchids and then another and soon they have more and more. Poul has gone through four greenhouses and there is no room left in this one. The first one was 9'*12 which lasted only a few years before a larger one was required. He does emphasize to pay the extra for an aluminum frame instead of wood. Aluminum will last longer.
Air flow is a major factor to consider. A center aisle facilitates air movement the length of the space. Whatever size of space you have, use enough fans to move the air. This will reduce stale spots that can heat up quickly when the sun is intense. Consider how to keep enough humidity in the air. Poul has a system that when the temperature hits 78F the swamp coolers come on and the vents open to let hot air be pushed out. An exhaust fan is not required as the Swamp cooler forces the fresh air in, which pushes the existing hot air out.
Then there are two squirrel cage fans to move the air down those center aisles. In front of the squirrel cage fans are misters made from oil burner nozzles. The water is supplied from tanks in the greenhouse which warm the water to room temperature. (Make sure you do not harm your plants by watering or misting with cold tap water. Depending on how much water you use at a time, either have an aquarium heater in your water reservoir, a low wattage heater in a hot-water tank, hot water plumbed in to mix with cold or as Poul does, have enough tank capacity, that the water can heat up to room temperature.)
Below you can see the water being sprayed in front of the squirrel cage fan.
Fertilizer and Water
Poul says "Fertilizer works!". Poul uses Technigrow 15-0-15 and alternates with 17-5-24. (Note the low Phosphorous number). Ensure if you are on city water, your fertilizer has Calcium and Magnesium (and the micro-nutrients). Some well systems have lots of calcium already but some of the city water supplies are very "clean".
Poul uses a Syphonex to mix the fertilizer to 500 ppm. He will alternate every third watering with just water to leach any excess fertilizer from the medium. (i.e. Fertilize two times then water only).
Poul would seem to be one of those who tend to over-water, never watering less than every three days. He can get away with this as he cheats, with the medium in the pots. He fills at least half of the pot with Styrofoam peanuts and only has maybe two inches of medium. This ensures fast drainage. As a side benefit it also makes it easy to remove the medium when it comes time to repot. This is also one of his secrets to success. He repots everything, every year.
Temperature / Humidity / Lights
The swamp coolers come on at 78 F in the warm side and 70 F in the cool side, (which is lower than someone growing Cattleya or Dendrobiums would want). During the winter, nights are held to 60 F in the warm section and 55 F in the cool section. Poul believes in backup protection when it comes to heating in the winter. The primary heat system is a hot water rad heated by electricity. If the power goes out there is an oil heater backup. Also he has a wood furnace to back that up.
Poul has three 400 watt HPS lights. This is really only to provide supplemental light for a greenhouse of this size.
Poul makes a mix of approximately 3 parts fine bark and 1 part of each of sponge rock, charcoal and moss.
Poul suggests an inexpensive way of buying bark is to buy large bags of Western Fir Bark and using a garbage pail, soak the bark for 48 hours (pushing the bark down regularly). The bark will sort itself into parts that become soggy and sink (discard this part on your garden) and the floating parts (which are useable). The saved floating chips are then soaked again for 48 hours (again pushing the bark down regularly). This double wash should remove any salts and other foreign matter.
The part you save needs to be dry. Poul uses two old screen doors to sandwich a thin layer of the bark pieces to dry in the sun.
Here are some more "proof of the pudding" pictures.
Use 2H pencils to mark your tags. Most felt pens will fade over time.
Be careful using rubbing alcohol around computer printed labels as the ink on some labels may evaporate on you.
Don't start with someone else's problems. If they can not bloom a plant, pass on it and get a robust plant.
Buy cheap scissors with a metal pin at the grocery store, not expensive shears. If you break the handles or they rust up, you can throw them away and buy another cheap pair. (ALWAYS sterilize your cutters between plants. A butane torch does the trick quickly.)
When repotting Miltonia and Oncidium leave about two fingers width all around the plant. I.E. plant in the middle of the pot, unlike a rhizome plant like cattleyas where you would place the old end of the rhizome at the edge of the pot.
Do not overpot Miltonias. Repotting every year will give Miltonias a boost.
Use a 24 volt system for switching solenoids on the water/misting system as there will be less risk in the case of a malfunction than a 110 volt system.
Do not use a coiled hose on a Syphonex system. You will not get the proper suction and thus not the expected fertilizer mixture.
Safers Endall is an effective contact killer.
Make your own pot hangers from fence wire.