Thursday, November 13, 2008

Repotting Orchids

There followed almost five hours of crouching, carrying, washing, spraying, potting and groaning. Anybody who says, "Oh, I stay away from orchids. They're so much work!" will no longer get a breezy dismissal from me. They are a LOT of work, especially when your collecting gene kicks in and you allow your little family to grow to 38 plants, none of which is getting any smaller as the years go by. And I am still on the steep part of the learning curve where orchids are concerned, still trying to figure out which potting medium, from sphagnum to bark to a fabulously expensive medium called Aussie Gold, works best for me. Naturally, it is the fabulously expensive medium called Aussie Gold.

Because, as their web site crows, "You cannot overwater Aussie Gold!"

Well, good. Because I try like hell to overwater my plants and sometimes succeed. Just ask Lazarus.

At the end of four hours, my front yard looked like this:
Everybody's in a pot, everybody's clean and sprayed and, we hope, deciding to grow new roots to replace the rotted ones, and their benevolent overlord has decided to go ahead and spring for Aussie Gold for everybody for the big repotting in two years. Another round for the whole bar!

Bark as a potting medium is comparatively inexpensive, and great if you have all kinds of time to devote to your orchids and you enjoy repotting once a year. But if you have a life that includes a lot of other things besides diddling with your orchids and repotting them at the first sign that their bark medium might be rotting and getting sludgy, Aussie Gold is the way to go. It's soil-free, made of ground-up rocks and diatomaceous earth among other good things, it doesn't deteriorate into oxygen-choking sludge the way bark does, and I noticed that there were NO BUGS in any of my plants potted in Aussie Gold. That was a startling revelation.

Diatomaceous earth, made from microscopic fossil diatoms that once floated in primeval oceans, has sharp silica edges in it and it kills bugs that try to wriggle through it. It's like writhing around in broken glass. That's my Science Chimp theory, and I'm sticking to it. Oddly enough, though the Aussie Gold web site mentions practically everything else about the benefits of diatomite, it omits this key point. It's murder on nematodes and mealybugs and whatever those little white things swarming in the medium might have been. I threw a handful of prophylactic Gold into each pot, and used pure Gold for my most precious plants.

The Psychopsis mendenhall "Hildos" which has been blooming since early June is STILL blooming, on its sixth successive flower, and I took a deep breath and repotted it too. You're not supposed to disturb an orchid in bud or bloom but at that point I had blood in my eye. And I'd heard that a good Psychopsis might throw blossoms off the same stalk for as long as seven years before sending up another one. With all care, I peeled its pot away from its roots, soaked it in rainwater, and gave it fresh medium. Hildos got pure Aussie Gold in its new pot.I'm so glad I did--the plant's pseudobulbs were alarmingly withered, and they've plumped up nicely since repotting. There appears to be no transplanting shock with this medium, since it retains so much water yet allows air in, too. Old Hildos needed help. A week plus later, it's hanging on to its flower and buds and looking better all the time. The happy flamenco lobster dude bobs and smiles. I smile back.

The aftermath--yuccky pots and piles of buggy medium. I cleaned it all up, even though my muscles were weeping by then.
Before carrying the plants back inside, I washed all their humidity trays. Bleh. The fifth hour of labor ticked by.

The whole time, I carried visions in my head of the ultimate reward for the work.
Come April and May, I hope for a shower of blossoms like last year's.
Yes, orchids are a ton of work, but they say thank you so nicely.

And now I leave for Guyana, having spent the last week paring my suitcase down to 34 pounds, my optics backpack to 16. I'm hoping to use the marvels of Mac technology to teleconference with Bill, the kids and Baker at least once while I'm gone. It's like something out of the Jetsons, to open your computer, activate i-Chat, and not only talk to but SEE your husband and babies there on your screen, for free. Cross your fingers for me that we're able to make it work. Bill has to remember to activate iChat every day...I think I'll put Phoebe on that detail.

I've been cooking and storing food like a crazy squirrel in fall: brisket, chicken pot pie, chicken chili, leaving love sealed in Tupperware.

Don't worry. The BlogSquirrel has cooked for you, too.

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