Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Vanilla Drama

Vanilla orchids are probably at the top of my favourites list.
I want to grow great big vines that ramble all over with shiny leaves and clusters of pods, and their oh so brief trumpet shaped blooms peeking through.
The reality is - its not going to happen anytime soon!
I need a heated greenhouse or at least to heat my current greenhouse....

I did have four spieces of Vanilla, I'm now down to two and a half.

Ill start with the one that didn't make it : Vanilla polylepis.
 I acquired my vanilla's from Germany, the polylepis was not in good shape and it was the one I was really desperate to find.
It comes from Kenya and tends to grow in or alongside dry riverbeds, it has very thick stems and a beautiful flower in the typical vanilla shape but with a pinky, maroon lip.
I received a cutting about a foot long, no leaves and one very weak looking root. It also had bruising either from being handled badly at the source or from transit - the packaging was not great.
I cut off the bruised part and dusted with cinnamon, then potted up in a mix of bark, African Violet compost, perlite and gravel to make an open, fast draining medium.

Vanilla grow both terrestrially and epiphytically so they need to have their roots in a rich, but fast draining medium that replicates the forest floor while their aerial roots like to cling to a support or they will just hang in mid air if they do not make contact with anything.
Vanilla will often rot off at the base but as long as their aerial roots are receiving enough humidity and nutrients they will continue to grow purely epiphytically. Most often though a portion of the vine will collapse and any part that brushes the ground will root thus strengthening the plant and perpetuating its growth.

The story of this plant is that it did nothing for two and half years - NOTHING!
Actually I lie, it did do something - it rotted periodically at the base so I kept cutting off the bottom until I was left with a piece with two internodes and an arial root at the bottom.
Eventually I gave up trying to re root it after scouring my various books.
One of the methods used to root Vanilla cuttings is to lay it on damp sphagnum moss.
So I laid a bed of spag on the top of the pot, wrapped one of the supports and tied the cutting to this.
It stopped rotting and lived as a green stick like this for over a

Then last summer with all that delicious hot weather we had it grew an aerial root!!!
I was so happy!
I have cried over this plant, it has caused me anguish to a degree no plant should!
It would only grow if the temperature stayed at over 25/26 C.
Once the temperature dropped which it did as live in an old cottage with terrible heating, it just stopped growing and sat there looking all smug at me again with its one little aerial root.
"How's the green stick"? My husband took great delight in asking.

I stupidly killed my green stick.
I removed it from the sphagnum and decided to 'spag and bag' it and put it above the boiler where it is nice and warm.
If you need heat, Ill give you heat I thought.
Well it obviously likes lots of air movement and to be nice and warm. The green stick turned black very quickly, so I resigned myself that it was over, and I shall wait before trying this one again. When I have a nice warm greenhouse...

Among my Vanillas are a planifolia 'Variegata'  which grew               
very well initially and added about a foot to its length.
We then moved to this house, it got very cold the first winter
so I stopped watering it.
It went dormant and stayed that way for about
ten months. Even in the hot summer because I was so
worried about the polylepis and its rotting problems
I just didn't water any of them enough.
I've since read that Vanilla will go dormant for extended
periods if water is withheld too much, and it can take
a long time for them to resume growth.

One of the branches of the vine started to die, so I unwound
the living part and laid a bed of sphagnum moss over the
surface of the pot, then I buried parts of the vine at the nodes
under some of the moss.
I have kept the spag damp and a new shoot has begun to grow.
Underneath there are long roots growing down into the medium,
I'm hoping it continues to do well and so far it has grown
over the winter slowly despite not being very warm.
It is in a south facing window in a room that averages about
16 C.   

Vanilla crenulata  has grown almost continuously, when it
 is warmer is grows fast! It has fits and starts depending on
temperature. Some days I can almost see it grow.
There would be no stopping it if I could keep it warmer.
The coir covered support is a meter tall and it has grown
up one side and then I have wrapped it around and down
the other side.
I wait till it has grown a few inches then gently tie it into
position with garden twine.
It is always trying to grow upwards, and now it has nearly
reached the bottom I am allowing it to make its own way
back up. The aerial roots do not like to be sprayed, they
shrivel and die but this may be due to the fact that my tap
water is very hard or that it is not warm enough when I
have sprayed so the plant has been cold and not dried
in time.
I no longer spray but this is an old house with damp so the
humidity is always around the low to high 50's. I also keep
them on trays of damp clay pellets.
The aerial roots that make contact with the coir dig in and hold
the plant, it certainly wants to climb.
Again I keep this as a houseplant it sits in an alcove by a
south facing window next to the chimney breast. It is out
of drafts here and next to a fishtank and so far it seems happy.
I try to wait so it is almost dry, before watering. I stick my
finger into the medium to feel, its hard to describe but I wait
until its on the verge of dryness with just a hint of moisture
still present.
I alternate between very dilute Tomato feed and Lorbex orchid fertilizer, with straight tap water inbetween. Again there is a layer of spag on the top to aid


Vanilla imperialis.
Another Kenya/Tanzania orchid, this arrived in good condition it had a good root and seemed a strong cutting.
I potted it up as the others, it started to grow after a couple of
months and it suddenly started to grow fast. It grew a good 5 inches or so, until again we moved house.
It must have got a cold draught in the winter, because it developed black area that looked like a bruise which started to rot so I cut it off.
The bottom half rotted away leaving me with a cutting with one aerial root.

I have had it lying on damp spag for a few months with nothing happening, so I put it in a smoothie pot with a lid that has the hole for a straw. I put some clay pellets in the bottom and then some damp spag making sure the root is buried in it.
It has been in this pot for about four months on the shelf above our central heating boiler in the window so it gets light.
Not much changed.

I moved it about a week ago to the warmest spot on the shelf and in much more subdued light.

I checked it today and there is a nub!
I'm sure it is growing a new aerial root...
The spot it is in averages at about 20 C. I have taken a
photo so will leave well alone for a week to compare.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Spider Mites = BATH TIME!

I've been looking at my Africana ansellia's for a few weeks (months) thinking they were not looking very happy...
Today I took a closer look and some of the leaves are looking very bad!
Brownish patches on the under sides of the leaves and a silvering, greyish tinge on the tops...
I looked for any fine web - none.
So I did the tissue test.
Take a damp tissue and wipe the underside of the leaves, if you get a red, brownish or orange residue.. you most very probably have the dreaded Spider mite.
I do!

Red Spider Mites if you look closely
Underside showing brown/red patches
Top of the leaf
Spider Mite info thanks to Wikipedia;
Spider mites are members of the Acari (mite) family Tetranychidae, which includes about 1,200 species. They generally live on the undersides of leaves of plants, where they may spin protective silk webs, and they cause damage by puncturing the plant cells to feed.
Spider mites are less than 1 millimetre (0.04 in) in size and vary in colour. They lay small, spherical, initially transparent eggs and many species spin silk webbing to help protect the colony from predators; they get the "spider" part of their common name from this webbing.
Hot, dry conditions are often associated with population build-up of spider mites. Under optimal conditions (approximately 80 °F or 27 °C), the red also know as the two-spotted spider mite can hatch in as little as 3 days, and become sexually mature in as little as 5 days. One female can lay up to 20 eggs per day and can live for 2 to 4 weeks, laying hundreds of eggs. A single mature female can spawn a population of a million mites in a month or less. This accelerated reproductive rate allows spider mite populations to adapt quickly to resist pesticides, so chemical control methods can become somewhat ineffectual when the same pesticide is used over a prolonged period.

Spider mites, like hymenopterans and some homopterous insects, are arrhenotochous: females are diploid and males are haploid. When mated, females avoid the fecundation of some eggs to produce males. Fertilized eggs produce diploid females. Unmated, unfertilized females still lay eggs, that originate exclusively haploid males.

After my initial  panic I took action.
I went to the shed.
No spray.
Another panic..
So after a coffee during which I contemplated dashing to the nearest shops, but then decided that I would go down the 'cheaper' home made remedy route.

I filled the kitchen sink with tepid water and added a few drops of washing up liquid. I then dunked the affected plants and using a sponge gently wiped the lengths of the leaves and the pseudobulbs. Also making sure to pour the weak soapy solution through the pots, to get any little critters that may be hiding inside the pots among the bark.

Each plant that has been in the windowsill with the affected plants (only my Ansellia's so far I think) received this treatment in fresh solution.

The treatment was repeated again, and then rinsed thoroughly in fresh tepid water to get rid of the soap.

Soapy bath.

Rinse time.
Possible reason for the outbreak is that the plants are in a south facing windowsill which sits over a radiator. The atmosphere is very dry as I keep the plants a lot dryer over winter.
I have put hydoleca balls in the saucers under the plants, which I am keeping damp to hopefully raise the humidity to discourage the mites.

There are various treatments available for Spider Mites including a non chemical option by predatory mite that feeds on the eggs and active stages of Spider Mite.
Oil based sprays are an option as well as systemic. Again a home made spray using  a few drops of vegetable oil (not olive which is too heavy) in a soap solution, shaken vigorously to emulsify can be used. I have avoided this as plants sprayed with oil are susceptible  to sun burn.
My plants sit in a sunny windowsill so I prefer to avoid this method at this time.
I will need to retreat using the soap method every 4 - 7 days for a further 2 weeks. If after this I still have a problem I will be using a systemic chemical spray.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Mad As A March Hare

My most recent painting finished this morning. I've been inspired to paint hares recently, there are many in the countryside around our village. In the spring they lose their shyness and can be seen all day on the chalk hillsides, cavorting and leaping or standing on their hind legs and boxing. True mad March hares.
Gouache on canvas board.

Lepus europaeus

Until recently it was thought that the 'boxing' was between the males, either in territorial disputes or competeing for females. In truth the larger more robust animal proves to be the doe, and the sparring matches to be her fighting of unwanted attention. When she is receptive she instigates the bucks to chase her, in a test of fitness and endurance.
Painted in gouache, a medium I have not used much but I am pleased with the results. It is more robust than watercolour but still retains some opacity. I always try to use a limited palette and mix my colours. I think I will be painting more hares ...

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Painting Ceologyne fimbriata

A quick painting of Ceologyne fimbriata this morning as a thank you card for the lovely orchids given to me.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

New Orchid Friends & Celogyne fimbriata

A few weeks ago as my husband was snoozing on the sofa, he was awakened by two people talking outside the window. Our house is right on the road through the village.
He could tell they were having a discussion about the orchids in the window and there was much debate on which they were.
Following this there was a knock on the door and the two gentlemen  apologised for the intrusion and proceded to question my half asleep husband  as to who grew the orchids, what they were ...
Anyway to cut a long story short I recived a delightful note through the door from one of the gentlemen, introducing himself and explaining his interest as he himself grows orchids.
Over 600 no less!!!
He invited me to visit and talk orchids with him and the best bit is he only lives at the end of our road!
I took him up on his offer and I spent three hours in orchid heaven yesterday. Greenhouses, grow houses, conservatories, shade houses, windowsills...
A very knowledgeable and lovely man, I will be picking his brains a lot.
I was very lucky to be given some surplus plants, This is  Cylogyne fimbriata. It is currently in flower and is reputed to go through the growth and flowering cycle up to two times a year so I will see how it grows for me.
Supposedly one of the easiest to grow it is a bit of a rambler and can get quite big. It is also easy to take cuttings from. Just cut of a lead with several pseudobulbs on and tie it down over some bark. Keep it evenly moist and voila! You can see in the photo at the bottom, the wire used to tie this one down when it was first started.
A brilliant website for information on Ceologyne is here
 I will post about the other orchids I got in due course. I will also post some more close up photos of the flowers.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Chysis laevis


This plant flowered at the beginning of the summer 2013. A surprise as I didn't expect it to flower for at least another year. Only two buds, but large beautiful flowers with a very thick waxy texture. Also a lovely scent.
The colour is true in the photographs. I expected the flowers to last longer but it self pollinated I presume when I moved the pot. The large flowers nod and bounce on their stems at any disturbance and as it was indoors I did not see any insects which could have pollinated it?
It set two seed pods one of which died but the other is still ripening. I am shortly going to remove it as I wish the plant to put all its energy into the new growth and hopefully more flowers.
In the winter I keep it in my kitchen near a bright east window. As close to intermediate as I can, dryer in Winter. Can take a lot of light. Next summer it will go in the green house under shading. From spring to autumn I fertilise every other week with very weak tomorite or seaweed.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

White Doves on the Greenhouse

 Now that it is mid-winter I have been looking through my photos to remind myself what the garden was like in summer. I found these of my doves exploring the roof of the greenhouse.



Here is Charles, he is my favourite.

Mademoiselle nest building.

Charles showing off.

Charles sunbathing after a bath in the food dish.