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I watched the sun peak up on the horizon and all the cars commuting to work. All the while Rita’s tiny body lay limp in my arms and the rest of the world went on oblivious to the fact it had lost such an angelic being. Her passing was as good as one could hope. I had woken early to make her special soup. I took her outside to go to the bathroom. She seemed to be recovering, but suddenly she collapsed and started twitching. I picked her up and she died in my arms.
It is funny how what you complained about when someone was alive is what you end up missing the most. Of course I miss her sweetness, her smell, her weight when I held her, the divot on the bridge on her nose, and the cute grunting noises she would make. But I also miss her stubbornness and how she always found a way to get what she wanted. Until the end she would find a way to steal the cat food or run away from the vet. My mom asked this morning, “How can something so little leave such a big space when she is gone?”
I don’t want to forget these things. I don’t want to forget how it felt to hold her or the details of her little face. I won’t see her when I wake up in the morning tomorrow, nor will she be there to greet me when I get home. I also know that the pain doesn’t go away, I will just become accustomed to it.
You always wish you had more time. She was my constant companion. She went through my masters and doctoral programs, treated patients with me at the clinic, and traveled to my talks and on trips. She was with me for all my ups and downs and knows me better than most people ever will. She gave me so much. I hope I was good to her too.
notes recorded by Lia Andrews from Martin Motes’ video:
There are seemingly endless varieties of orchids. In fact, one in 10 flowers in the world is an orchid. Florida orchid growing is unique and requires special considerations for culture. It has a seasonal monsoon climate and is ideal for orchids native to mid-low elevation in the tropics.
Al conditions that make orchids grow are the same conditions that support their pests. To survive orchids evolved into a type of specialized cactus. They like to be fully wet, then dry out completely before wet again. This strategy works against the mortal enemy of orchids: fungus. Fungus requires constant wetness and do not survive the drying out periods. How much do orchids need to dry out?:
Proper watering is the key to success with orchids, especially in Florida. (We discussed water quality in a previous blog post). Never water orchids unless they need it. It is better to err on the side of being too dry than too wet. Over-watered orchids are very prone to diseases. Unfortunately, there is no absolute rule. You must become a keen observer of weather, seasonal changes, and microclimates within your growing space. You must also get to know each orchid in your collection.
For potted orchids, Motes recommends lifting your orchids daily to get a feel for the weight of a wet versus dry plant. When the pot becomes as light as possible, water it. Remember that media that is very dry repels water, and this also happens to the orchid’s roots. Once the orchid has dried out you will need to fully saturate it with water to get it properly hydrated. Motes recommends watering twice. Begin at one end of your collection, watering until you see runoff. When you reach the end, start over at the beginning of your collection and re-water until you see runoff.
Fertilizer is applied exactly the same way as you water; twice, saturating the roots/media each time. Time release fertilizers offer low maintenance but you need to be careful to get one that withstands the relentless summer rains of Florida. Time release fertilizer are only as good as the polymers holding it in. Motes recommends Dynamite from Home Depot or a low phosphorus one marketed for avocados and citrus from Lowes.
Common consensus has moved away from 20-20-20 fertilizer for orchids; though you can use this a little in the spring. Studies at Michigan State* show that orchids grow and flower best with fertilizers low in phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. On the other hand, orchids need more calcium (naturally high in Florida water) and magnesium. (American fertilizers do not list these minerals, while in Europe magnesium is the 4th number listed.)
You can use Peter’s Excell 15-5-15, or one of the many orchid fertilizers based on the Michigan State studies, like this one from RePotMe.com. Avoid bloom boosters which are high in phosphorus.
When temperatures drop to the 60°s F and below, we often observe the leaves get red spots due to cold exposure. This is in fact the plant experiencing magnesium deficiency symptoms. If you see these red spots, you can use 1 tbsp. of Epsom salts per 1 gallon of water every week until the leaves regain their normal color.
Besides the extra consideration for dryness, orchids are a unique plant in another way. In most plants, the bigger the pot, the happier the plant. Because orchids need to fully dry out, you want to pot them in the smallest pot possible, then repot them every 1-2 years in the next pot size up. Keep in mind that a 6″ pot is actually seven times the volume of a 3″ pot. (Society VP, Gary Murza, recommends repotting yearly in Florida due to the inevitable salt buildup that occurs here).
Whether you buy your orchids from big commercial grower like Home Depot or a boutique grower, if it is in a plastic pot repot it in a clay pot immediately. Orchids are now being mass produced creating vertical competition. Big commercial growers will grow their orchids in a 4″ pot then repot them in a 6″ right before putting them out for sale. It is good for marketing, but bad for the orchid.
The depth of the pot is also important. In a standard pot, height = width. In a bulb or azalea pot, ½ height = width; which is much better for the orchids. Fancy orchid pots are also an option, just remember that every once in a while you need to smash a pot in order to safely remove the orchid. (Perhaps save your fancy pots for bonsai).
A solid clay pot is better than a slotted clay pot because it sweats better. Also, many times when you buy an orchid it will have extra stuff like Styrofoam at the bottom for “drainage” and to make a regular pot function more like a bulb pot. This actually impedes drainage and is very bad for the orchid. Repot in a shallow pot like a bulb pot.
Growers who move to Florida from other areas quickly learn that media requirements are different here. The gold standard in Southwest Florida used to be tree fern. It lasts 4-5 years, but it is harvested from an endangered species. Motes uses a mixture of 50% charcoal and 50% coconut husk. Other choices are Aliflor (holds more water), solite, and charcoal. (I personally like the these 2 mixes from Broward Orchid Supply).
Many orchids we purchase are potted in sphagnum moss. This is the surest way to kill an orchid in Florida. Sphagnum moss only lasts about 1 year here until it begins to decompose, flattening and packing in water with no air, rotting the orchids’ roots. The moss is often 1 year old or more by the time the orchid is sold. Fern rock and bark, favorites up north, is also certain death in South Florida. (Special bark that can survive our weather is available locally).
Another solution is simply to mount orchids on wood, trees, rock, pots, or to hang them freely.
The video continues on to discuss light and air movement, two additional important considerations.
*The study found that 13-3-15 (for rainwater or reverse osmosis) and 19-4-23 (for well water) gave the best results. Read the full article in Orchids Magazine here.
BLOOD IN CHINESE MEDICINE?
Blood (血 xuè) encompass the Western concept of the word and much more. Blood and Qi are as inseparable and interconnected as Yin and Yang. Qi moves and directs the flow of Blood, while Blood provides substance through which Qi can move and nourishes the organs that produce Qi.
Functions of Blood in TCM:
WHAT WEAKENS BLOOD?
DIET TO STRENGTHEN QI
There is an old Chinese saying that it takes “40 parts of Qi to make 1 part of Blood”. Building Blood takes more time and requires high protein foods. The best foods to build blood are animal products: liver (or desiccated liver pills), chicken, and bone marrow broth. Chlorophyll-rich greens are very important. Vegetarians will take a little longer and are more dependent on Chinese herbs. Try to eat organic as much as possible. MacClean and Littleton recommend a diet of 30-40% carbohydrates, 40-50% vegetables, and 20-30% protein.
Specific foods to strengthen Blood: liver, eggs, chicken, beef, bone marrow, bone broth, pork trotters, oyster, mussel, tempeh, miso, quinoa, rice, beans and legumes (especially black beans), carrots, beets, go ji berries, longan berries, mulberries, jujube dates, black sesame seed, wheatgrass, blue-green algae, spinach, kale, collards, swiss chard, dill, cilantro, parsley, dark beer (small quantities).
Avoid or limit: excessive raw food, chemicals, refined food.
LIFESTYLE TO STRENGTHEN BLOOD
TIMES WHEN BLOOD IS WEAKENED
WHAT IS QI?
Qì 气(氣) is the energy that animates our bodies and all of life. Qi is a difficult concept for Westerners to grasp and has been further confused by changes in language. You may see Qi spelled “chi” which is from an older romanization of Chinese characters created by Western missionaries called Wade-Giles. In the 1950’s Zhou Youguang created the official romanization of Chinese used today. In Japanese it is pronounced “ki”.
The concept of Qi may be foreign to modern life, but is similar to the understanding of energy in many cultures. For example, we find the concept of prana in Hinduism, mana in native Hawaiian culture, axé in Candomblé, and lüng in Tibetan Buddhism.
The Chinese character is made of two radicals:
The visual of steam emanating from cooked rise gives us a clear picture of Qi; it is insubstantial, it transforms, it is hot, and like rice in ancient China, it is vital to life. Qi is present everywhere in our bodies and the world around us. In our bodies, there are concentrated pathways of Qi (rivers of energy) known as meridians. It is easier to access and affect the way Qi flows in the body by stimulating these meridians. This is the basis for acupuncture, qigong/taichi, and Chinese masssage.
In the body Qi performs 6 major functions:
WHAT WEAKENS QI?
DIET TO STRENGTHEN QI
To strengthen Qi eat simple, uncomplicated meals and favor long cooking times. Congee, porridge, stew, broth, and soup all break down food and make it easier to digest, requiring less effort by the body to extract nutrients. This is why traditional cultures recommend soup for people when they are sick. Limit raw foods as they require more Qi to break down. Eat smaller meals and eat at regular times. Do not allow yourself to go hungry. Avoid drinks other than tea with meals. MacClean and Littleton recommend a diet of 40-60% carbohydrates, 30-40% vegetables, and 10-20% protein.
Specific foods to strengthen Qi: rice, oats, yams, sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, peas, green beans, cooked fruit, eggs, most meat and fish (chicken, beef, lamb, tuna). Use cooking spices such as onions, ginger, garlic, clove, etc. Incorporate small amounts of complex natural sweeteners such as honey (though most Americans already eat too many sweet foods).
Avoid or limit: raw fruits and vegetables, soy products, seaweed, salt, brown rice, excessive sweets, dairy, nuts.
LIFESTYLE TO STRENGTHEN QI
TIMES WHEN QI IS WEAKENED
In this episode of The Lia Andrews Show I interview Chinese medicine scholar, professor, and translator Lorraine Wilcox. Listen as she discusses gender, translating, and the future of Chinese medicine. Lorraine Wilcox has authored several books on acupuncture and Chinese medicine including: Moxibustion:The Power of Mugwort Fire, a translation of Tan Yunxian‘s Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor, and her upcoming translation of Xue Ji’s An Outline of Female Medicine.
You can contact Lorraine Wilcox via her Facebook Page.
I admit I was a little sad to wake up this morning to one single (albeit beautiful) flowering orchid after we attended the Redlands Orchid Festival yesterday. She was a phalaenopsis hybrid that was too good a deal to pass up. After the Tamiami Orchid Show, Dr. Judith Andrews and I came home with a dozen flowering plants. This time we new the plants we wanted and that we could get a lot more of them if we purchased bare root plants.
Bare root plants are usually found in bins at orchid shows for a steal compared to the price if they were potted. They look half dead and unappealing, but with a little TLC they spring back to life. The above Aerides was a bare root cutting I purchased 2 months ago from Robert Palmer Nursery. Even after being abused (I put her in high sun and burned her leaves) she has significant new root growth and a flower spike.
We went to the show with a plan: better plants, long term blooming, and more of them. The problem is, bare rooted plants don’t always thrive. I have already learned to repot every orchid I acquire. For phalaenopsis and paphiopediliums I use fine coconut fiber, fine orchid fir bark, stalite, and sponge rock. For cattleyas, oncidiums, and dendrobiums I use a mix of stalite, sponge rock, coconut chips & charcoal. I have nearly lost several plants after believing vendors who say,”You don’t have to worry about repotting for 1-2 years.” That may be true in other climates, but in South Florida (or any wet climate) sphagnum moss or regular tree bark can turn orchid roots to mush in a matter of weeks. Orchid vendors pot their orchids to endure neglect and survive, not to thrive in home orchid collections.
Southwest Florida Orchid Society president Barb Murza advised us on how to treat bare root orchids. She explained that they have been through a lot of abuse. They have been shipped from other countries and jostled around. They endure cuts and broken roots leaving them wide open for fungal infections that can wipe them out. She recommends treatment with a systemic fungicide such as Aliete. Further, many successful growers soak any orchid they are repotting (bare root or established) and their growing media in a combination of fungicide, Super Thrive, and fertilizer.
We are growing many of our orchids as medicine so this is not an option. We substituted an organic neem oil-based 3-in-1 fungicide, miticide, and insecticide we use on our fruit trees. We added this to a gallon of water. We then added Super Thrive and the orchid food we are currently using. We soaked each orchid before we mounted or potted them, then we immersed the full pots in the solution after planting. Let’s see how it goes.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at these newly mounted/potted plants, but these are some of the showiest bloomers in the orchid world: