Many people write to me asking about how I grow my orchids. Unfortunately most of them are from the US, Canada and Europe and I live in Caracas, in the tropics, where it is much simpler and easier to grow orchids. But here is my version of how I grow orchids for those that may be interested.
Caracas is at 3,000 feet above sea level, so that temperatures are not that hot and it actually is not very humid either. Temperatures in my home go from about 14 C (57 F) to about 30 C (86 F). Curiously, last night was the second coldest night where I live since about ten years ago, the temperature almost touched 14 C. Humidity is typically around 60%, but it can get down to 30% in the dry season. Orchids like to be above 40% humidity. I live in an apartment building in the North of Caracas near the spectacular Avila mountain (Photo on the left above). Even in the dry season it is rare for the Avila not to have clouds around it, so the mountain besides providing a humid environment (it is humid tropical forest up there), and also provides a cloud cover that cuts the brightness of the sun. On the right above, you have a view of my “greenhouse” which is actually an open metallic structure, very light which sits in my terrace. The picture above is facing East and as you can see there is no protection for the plants on that side, the sun hits them directly up to around 11 AM. I tend to place on the edge the plants that like sun. A lot of orchid growing for a small collector like me, is placing the plants in their optimum place within the greenhouse, according to how much light they like and what tempeature they prefer.
Above two more views, one from the back facing West, the sun hits this side in the afternoon, so you can see the green shades that I mostly have down to protect the plants from direct sunlight. On the right you can see a walkway from the East, tables on both sides and you can see I use all available space and on the left I have lots of hanging plants. That wall is my “shady” wall, where I keep plants that like shade and lower temperatures.
On the left above is the North side, which is a wire mesh from which I can hang more plants. On the right is my roof, it is made of a light metallic structure and on top of it is opaque, sort o “milky” glass which has chicken wire inside it. This helps me actually bring the temperature up near the top of the greenhouse where I place some Brazilian species that like warmth,
On the left is part of my water filtration system, which is home made. It consists of a reverse osmosis system for aquariums (see it in the back). The water that goes thru this system goes into the tank in the front, where it is stored for use. It is pumped out by a little pump behind that wall behind the tank. Notice that I have a drain from the roof that goes into the tank to save water, as the reverse osmosis system wastes a lot of water. Caracas water out of the faucet has about 145 parts per million of impurities, unacceptable for orchid plants, thus it is good to purify the water like this as plants grow healthier and don’t deteriorate in time. The reverse osmosis system actually cleans the water too much, the output has only about 15 parts per million, so I regularly fill the tank with regular water up to the middle and let the pure water fill the rest so that plants get their minerals and nutrients. On the right, a walkway as the misting system (barely visible on the roof) sprays plants when the humidity drops too much.
I fertilize my plants once a week with a plain 20-20-20 fertilizer mixed with Ammonium Hydroxide, 4 parts of fertilizer for each of the hydroxide to obtain something close to the Michigan State Fertilizer formula which is Nitrogen rich. You will not find that hydroxide readily available in the US or Canada as you can make powerful explosives from it like those used in Oklahoma.
The gadget above on the left is key, it is called a Humidistat. It is an electrical switch that turns on whenever the humidity drops below the manual set point. I place it on 45%. This turns on the pump and the misting system. On the right a view of my “baby” plants looking very healthy. They come from community pots and flasks.
On the left above a view of the plants hanging in the middle of the grenhouse. On the right, the area where I keep the mature palnts, which look quite healthy. I spent the weekend and today cleaning and repotting. I repot when a plant needs it, but every two years I do a repotting of ALL orchids in the greenhouse.
I keep most of my plants in pots with a mixture of fir bark chips and charcoal like the pot above left, which is a cut from a larger plant. On the right, many of my Brazilian plants I keep hanging on cork slabs, where they grow much better, such as Cattleya Walkeriana, Aclandiae and Loddiggesi.
I rarely use fern root, as it is hard to find it these days , but some species like Catlleya Schilleriana, grow better in it as seen above. I am also experimenting with Alifor, a clay mixture fired up to high temperatures and which is made in Venezuela and actually succefully exported to the US for use in orchids plants.