The world of producing orchids is a beautiful one. It allows us to culture hard-to-find species and share these natural spectacles with hobbyists around the country and the world, however, as with any mission, this one is not without its challenges along the way. This past summer of 2021 made that more clear than ever before. June was the opening scene to our summer adventure and each cast member was accounted for. These of course being the obstacles of drought, supply shortages, efforts to be more sustainable, and a grand endeavor to repot a majority of the orchids in our collection. Fortunately, none of that has turned us sour! The days of sweltering heat and eyebrows furrowed in frustration were always outnumbered by the smiles shared amidst progress and success. This is a recap of a summer gone by at Orchids Limited.
Recalling the weather conditions in the country, June and July rocked the nation with record low rainfalls in a wide expanse of states, including Minnesota. Having constructed the greenhouses to capture a surplus of water based on rainfall typically expected year round, we were at a tipping point when our water tanks began to run on empty for the first time in 40 years. With no forecast of rain in sight, we called every water supply company near the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. The news was alarming: a two week backorder because of pools being filled for the summer. In our wait for the water trucks to arrive, we mixed the water remaining in our tanks with pumped in well-water, however, that meant waiting three days for the heavy metals to settle to the bottom of the tank, in order to avoid poisoning our orchids. To further preserve our water, we limited the use of cooling pads and began to rely more on our greenhouse fans. As the temperature projections led us to anticipate days over 100°F, we replaced our fan belts as an added precaution. Amidst these intense conditions, orders still had to be shipped out! At this point, we made yet another change and brought in ice packs to use in our shipments. This was the only other way to protect our orchids from undergoing heat stress while being shipped in scorching hot weather. And to think, the summer season was just getting started!
An empty water tank makes for a concerned greenhouse worker.
In the midst of ordering water supplies every two weeks, we soon came to realize that our supplies orders were just as scarce as the rains. A backlog in the freight shipping industry meant that our orders of Orchiata bark and New Zealand sphagnum moss were going to be delayed by three months. Anticipating that our supplies would begin to run low in that time, we began several small-batch experiments to see what kinds of alternative mixes we could create using supplies that could readily be sourced from within the United States. Maintaining an adaptive mindset led us to view chunks of coco husk as a more aerated version of Orchiata bark. While coco husk must be soaked to remove any salts leftover from processing, it has the added benefit of lasting a few years longer than Orchiata bark. This summer, we've seen incredible success utilizing coco husk in potting mixes for our Stanhopeinae! Another successful experiment of ours was using peat moss aerated with perlite to grow Peristeria elata. To conserve moss while culturing seedlings and wet-growing orchids, we amended a primarily perlite-based media with milled sphagnum. In the end, when faced with the possibility of our traditional supplies no longer being available, we found new recipes for media that would ensure our continued success with orchid culture into the future!
From left: A Paphiopedilum in perlite mixed with milled sphagnum moss, a Peristeria elata root system growing exceptionally well in our peat moss mix, and a Stanhopea tigrina blooming a few months after being repotted into our coco husk mix.
Despite these challenges, we did not let ourselves pass on opportunities to improve our efforts in becoming a more sustainable business. In an effort to reduce waste and become more eco-friendly, we made the decision to wash and reuse plastic pots in our production line. Instead of throwing used pots away and purchasing new plastics, this method requires us to scrub or power wash debris out of pots before soaking large batches in barrels of Prontech. This chemical decontaminates any existing orchid viruses, fungi or bacteria. While this is less cost effective than purchasing new pots, we believe this to be one of the largest moves to eliminate excess plastic waste in our business. That is a sacrifice we are proud to make!
Power washing expedites the process of removing debris from our pots prior to soaking them in Prontech.
We remained motivated to improve our business in several other areas as well. One of these included learning from our very own orchid community! In August, we sent out a newsletter survey, thanks to which we were able to fine-tune which categories are most in demand, which services are most appreciated, and which areas our customers wished to see improvements. Our orchids also saw more attention during these summer months than ever before. Throughout this season, we employed a summer repotting crew of four individuals who helped refresh the media of orchids in each of our greenhouses over the course of 10 weeks. These staff members were crucial in enabling us to offer a wider variety of orchids, both now and in the next few years.
As with any season, the summer of 2021 came and went. Having managed through the challenges and achieved many of our planned goals with success, we look back on those months with smiles and sighs of relief. With the onset of fall, we are now enjoying cooler temperatures, frequent rains, a fresh shipment of supplies and continued support from our community as orders pour in each week. To those of you who continue to show your support for us - thank you! We could not have done it without you, and we cannot wait to show you what's in store in the season ahead.