February 2016: Newsletter 376

Christmas Barbecue

Our Christmas barbecue was held at Jocelyn and Bob’s home. Although it’s near a shopping centre, as we walked down the driveway and round behind the house we entered a serene garden encircled by tall native trees and shrubs that muffled all sounds and sights of the bustling pre-Christmas rush. What an amazing transformation in this quiet oasis, with gardens so tidy, tables and chairs ready, gazebos and shelters for extra shade.

As our members arrived, they explored the gardens to find wonderful little areas in among the mature trees planted by Bob and Jocelyn. Bob loves the native bush and he has been collecting and planting for many years and his knowledge is extensive. There are orchids throughout the gardens and Jocelyn has just become the owner of a small glass house and signs of the ‘orchid-collecting-disease’ are appearing.

After a great deal of talking and mixing, Bob started up the barbecue and shortly after we shared the wonderful range that everyone had brought along. Thank you for your delicious efforts ladies, we certainly did not go hungry. That was followed by our ‘lucky dip presents’ with some very interesting and original ideas. Bob was very kindly handing out a bonus gift of Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow seedlings (Brunfelsias) to anyone who wanted a plant.

Culture notes for January & February

This January has been so kind on our outside gardens, with the regular rainfall soaking deep into the ground. But don’t forget to keep up with your orchid house watering as even the evening temperatures are staying high, quickly drying out those orchid pots. Keeping up humidity, and good ventilation is so important. If the bark dries out due to lack of watering, it is very difficult to rehydrate. One way is to soak the pot in a bucket of water for a couple of hours. Another is to add a small amount of dish-wash liquid to your bucket when watering. If plants are allowed to dry out under these conditions they will be put under a great deal of stress and the break in the uptake of nutrients will cause a check that will knock them for a long time.

If you are catching up on some repotting it is very important to pre-soak your bark for several days, as this will allow the bark to hold extra moisture for this hot weather. If you haven’t done this, it is a good idea to group your ‘repots’ together so you can give them a little extra care and attention while the roots are settling in.

Plants will greatly benefit from two additional nutrient feeds at this time of the year:

  • Feed with a solution of Epsom Salts, a teaspoon to 9 litres of water, to brighten up leaf condition
  • Make a ‘tea’ by soaking 2 tablespoons of dried blood (tied in a section of pantyhose) in a 20-litre bucket of water for 2 days. Squeeze out the bag and water all your orchids.

Homemade Orchid Fertilisers

Find these recipes and others at Care for your Orchids.com.

Homemade orchid fertilisers (or commercial orchid fertilisers) is essential for your orchid’s growth. They provide the nutrients needed to promote flowering, healthy stems, shoots, foliage and roots. There are a number of homemade orchid fertilisers you can make easily, although commercial fertilisers are the best source of balanced nutrition for your orchids.

Some of the most popular homemade orchid fertilisers contain:

  • Milk
  • Tea
  • Eggshells
  • Crushed, dried chicken bones
  • Molasses
  • Potatoes
  • Water that rice has been boiled in.

Orchids thrive when they are fed the proper balance of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K), preferably given in a water-soluble formula. These 3 nutrients are known as macro-nutrients (N-P-K):

  • Nitrogen is for foliage, stem and shoot growth
  • Phosphorous aids healthy root growth
  • Potassium promotes flowering.

Milk (contains nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium): Milk contains nitrogen-building protein that your orchids require. Feed the plants by mixing one part of milk to four parts of water. Use every two weeks.

Tea (contains nitrogen): Used tea bags, which are high in nitrogen, are especially good for orchids. Tea bags contain organic matter that is non-toxic and does not smell. To use the tea bag, open it and empty the contents into the orchid pot. Apply once monthly in the spring and summer months.

Notes about nitrogen levels: One thing to remember when making homemade orchid fertilisers is that orchids need a fertiliser higher in nitrogen than ordinary household plants. This is because an orchid’s potting medium usually consists of tree bark. The bark is home to bacteria that consume a lot of nitrogen, leaving very little for the orchid itself, so your orchid fertiliser needs to compensate for this.

Also note – nitrogen should not be obtained from urea. Fertilisers containing urea are okay plants with their roots in soil because the urea is slowly broken down by bacteria in the soil, releasing nitrogen for the plants. As orchids are not grown in soil the urea is not broken down and thus the nitrogen from urea remains unavailable for the orchid.

Potato (contains potassium and trace phosphorous): Chop or grate the potatoes into small pieces, including the skin, and boil for a few minutes. You can add chopped fresh bananas and sugar to this mix during boiling. This will add even more nutrients and will help the ingredients to bind together. Any extra fertiliser produced can be stored in jars.

Molasses (contains potassium): Use a teaspoon of molasses diluted in the water used as part of your usual watering routine. Some homemade orchid fertilsers contain traces of other chemicals (micro-elements) such as calcium, which also provide your orchid with nutrition.

Crushed, Dried Chicken Bones (contain potassium and calcium): Sprinkle over the potting medium.

Egg Shells (contain calcium): Saving eggshells and using them as orchid fertiliser is the cheapest and most efficient way to get calcium to your orchids. Crush the egg shells into pieces as small as possible or use a pestle and mortar to grind them to a powder. Sprinkle it on the bark in the pot. A more labour-intensive way is to boil 10 eggshells in 1.9 litres of water and let them steep for eight hours. Strain out the eggshells, store in a covered container and use weekly.

Water that rice has been boiled in: Brown rice is better as the brown rice shell contains niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid – many of these nutrients are lost during the process of turning brown rice into white rice. Today’s rice manufacturing methods often fortify white rice with other nutrients such as calcium. Whatever rice you use, make sure you let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into your orchid pot!

Precautions: If you are unsure that your orchids will thrive on homemade orchid fertilisers, try using them on the least favourite in your collection as a trial run! Remember to flush your orchid pot through once a month, with plenty of water, to wash out any build up of fertiliser salts that may have occurred.

Watch for over-fertilising. Signs include: Whitish crusts on the potting medium,  blackened roots, leaves dying at the tips.