Pickles and Boomer (left) are featured here taking a little nap. It must be exhausting to watch over the thousands of plants from EnLightened Orchids in Illinois.
Ernie Gemeinhart from
EnLightened was one of the standout speakers at the Mid-America Orchid Congress meetings this year. He offered a lively exposition on the advantages of growing orchids under lights, but it had an overriding budget conscious, DIY message. Instead of extolling the virtues of high intensity discharge lamps, Ernie championed a set-up of four 4' T8 40W shop light bulbs as a basic starting point. One can build from there -- and he mapped the pros and cons of different lighting approaches -- but the overall strategy was inspirational in its hardware store simplicity. You don't need expensive lights with elaborate rotating systems and cooling fans in order to grow prize-winning orchids.
He described some low-tech tricks to improve our orchid growing culture, like increasing humidity by pointing a box fan in a corner of the growing room facing a pan of water. When the box fan burns out, he takes them apart and uses the grate to fashion homemade humidity trays. Genius! A lot of Ernie's insights can be found in an article he wrote for Orchids in 2007. You can find more information at his website Enlightened Orchids where they specialize in orchids suitable for growing under lights and on windowsills (check out these gorgeous Paph. Species and Paph. Hybrids!)
I knew that Enlightened Orchids would make the Kitties Approved list because he mentioned that cat hair is the "magic ingredient" in his potting mix.
So, what insights are we going to incorporate into the Cats and Catts growing set-up? I need Sabine to look into the possibilities. Ernie seemed to think I had the right approach with supplementing my West-facing windowsill with two 42W compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) about an inch from our big plants (Blc. Mem-al-Na and B. Little Stars, both from Bird's Botanicals). We might expand in that direction and increase the wattage and/or the number of the bulbs. And if we increase the light we will have to consider adjusting the other cultural factors (another bit of wisdom reinforced in Ernie's talk). But I'll have to review it all with Bean.