December 2016: Newsletter 386

 November Day Meeting: Ocean Organics/Agrisea, Paeroa

It was very pleasing to have 20 members meet at Agrisea in Paeroa for a very successful trip through the factory.

Staff provided a special morning tea for our visit and we certainly appreciated the effort they had gone to. After a leisurely morning tea we were spoken to by Jill Bradley, co-owner with her husband Keith. She provided a wonderful insight into the background of the company, explaining the reasons for the formation of Ocean Organics.

While living in Auckland she and her husband became interested in organic growing and decided to travel through New Zealand ‘wwoofing’ (willing workers on organic farms.) This aroused their interest in the use of seaweed as material to improve the health of soil, plants and those who ate the produce. After many years of study, investigation, reading and experimenting at their Auckland home, they finally took the gigantic step of purchasing part of the old Milk Company building in Paeroa, set up their family home in one of the buildings and invested everything in their new company.

Research showed that not all seaweeds contain the full range of minerals and trace elements, but bull kelp contained the best range available. This is gathered from the shoreline after storms but can also be harvested sustainably along the Eastern BOP and Gisborne coastlines.

We were taken for a tour of the factory to see the full process of converting the dry, baled seaweed into soil conditioner and foliar feed. This is a very slow, natural, labour-intensive process that allows the retention of all micro-nutrients. While trying to sell products to farmers they found the word ‘organic’ was not well received, so all horticultural products were renamed Agrisea. This range is now being used in the farming, viticulture, kiwifruit and avocado industries.

After our tour we had the opportunity to visit the factory shop and purchase some of the plant products and some of their beautiful natural soaps.

I took the opportunity to buy a large bucket of seaweed pellets (stock food) that Conrad has been trialling in the bark of his orchids, providing micro nutrients and minerals. I have repackaged this into 500g bags available to club members for $5/bag.

Agrisea has generously provided a box of products we can raffle over the coming months.

Everyone felt the day had been a great success and it was exciting to see a small New Zealand business with all the staff members so dedicated and enthusiastic in producing products of the highest quality. We thanked them for a very enjoyable visit.

Tauranga Garden and ArtFest

Many thanks to the club members who helped out with the roster at our stall, and also for those who kindly offered orchids for display. People were enraptured with the beauty of the orchids, and many plants were sold from our sales table. We talked with countless visitors about growing orchids, handed out plenty of our information sheets and advertised our club and next year’s show.

Sandra Simpson has developed a website for the Tauranga Orchid Society, and if you visit  you will be able to read her write-up of the event and see her photos. Please jot down this website as we will be using it regularly to keep you informed with our activities and information.

Potting Mixes: or ‘But I’ve Seen Them Growing in Dirt’

As spring approaches and with it peak flowering season, we need to think a little beyond the flowers to re-potting. For most orchids the best time to re-pot is when they start growing after flowering. To re-pot before flowering risks damage to or loss of flower spikes which, are after, all the whole point of the exercise.

The next question is what to pot in. Most of us use pine bark in a variety of sizes and with a variety of additives. Some (successfully it seems) grow orchids, usually cymbidiums, in the ground under trees. This always intrigues me as it goes against all cultural advice. I have seen a dendrobium in Nepal growing in clay in a clay pot on a rooftop. It seemed to be surviving. The key word here, though,  is ‘surviving’. I noted with the dendrobium that all the roots were around the inside of the pot and I suspect there were none actually in the clay – I wasn’t cheeky enough to tip it out! I suspect the same applies to those cymbidiums growing ‘in the ground’. Either the soil is very open and porous (sandy, stony) or most of the roots are in the mulch on top of the ground. Even if a plant is surviving in soil, it will do so much better in a more porous mix, but bear in mind watering practices are vastly different for the two mediums.

To quote the respected Jim James: “Orchids require a supporting medium which provides water and nutrition without damaging the roots.” This ‘damage’ includes suffocation, as epiphytic orchid roots must have air to survive. Jim goes on to say: “It must be a material to which roots like being attached and its capacity to contain air must be high.” Pine bark fits the bill well and is readily available in New Zealand – an important issue – although good clean grades of nuggets can be locally scarce (eg. Marlborough). Jim James gives instructions for preparing a very good mix, or else you can buy a ready prepared mix from a commercial grower.

There are several “orchid” potting mixes available from garden centres which can be successfully used if it suits your growing conditions. These often contain a high proportion of fine bark and pumice along with a cocktail of fertilisers. If you are to use this material I would recommend infrequent watering and warm growing conditions, as the mix must not be allowed to remain water-logged or you will exclude all the air and suffocate the roots. Generally New Zealand conditions don’t suit this type of medium unless perhaps you live in the Far North. If you must use this material most growers recommend sieving out the fines, which in some cases can be 70-80% of the bulk – not very economical.

For more refer to The New Zealand Orchid Grower by  I.D. James, available in our library.

Merry Christmas

It has certainly been a very busy season and I wish to thank you all for you involvement and enthusiasm in all our activities through the year. I want to express my gratitude to our Committee for their support and passion for our club through all our meetings and shows with wonderful ideas and commitment.

Finally, a very special word of thanks to Natalie, who has been the cornerstone of our committee for ‘ever’. We send you our love and support in this difficult time and wish you and Brian a relaxed and peaceful Christmas. To those who cannot join us for the Christmas BBQ, I wish you a very happy Christmas and we’ll see you in February 2017.

– Barry Curtis, President