Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Case Against Buying More

The deeper I go into the orchid world, the more opportunities I have to buy orchids.  Just this week, I was hit with two amazing opportunities from my Orchid Society.  The first offer included a long list of hard-to-find species that next month's speaker will have for sale.  The other offer was for $5 near-blooming Cattleya hybrids.  How could I resist?

We had our first evenings in the low-50s this week, so I've started to bring in some of the orchids in from their summering.  Doing this has made me realize how much they've grown and how much juggling I'm going to have to do to group plants with similar watering and light needs.  The photo above doesn't include my five largest plants, and it doesn't include any of my slipper orchids, which now outnumber the Cattleyas if I'm not mistaken.  This put the orchid bargains in a new light.  It's hard to pass on $5 Cattleyas of any size, but the act of deleting the email offers led me to think harder about the economics of my orchid collection.  Here are a few concepts I've been twisting around in my head.  Economics is way out of my depth, much like Greek mythology.  But I saw "Tango and Cash" about twenty-five years ago, so I'm not completely ignorant of the world of economics.  The sound was off, but I think I got the idea.

Hidden Direct Costs 
The plant is only five dollars but if it's bare-root you need to add a dollar or two to the cost because you'll need a clay pot and potting medium.  Then we need to look at water and watts.  I never thought about watering as a cost when I only had five orchids.  Now, I realize it all adds up.  Also, light is a limited resource in my growing set-up.  I have my high-light Brassavolas and Cattleyas in the front and my Paphiopedilums behind them, under a mix of regular florescent bulbs and CFLs.  Another plant takes me closer to needing another 40W CFL bulb.

Opportunity Costs
It's easier to add to your collection when you have a greenhouse, but windowsill growers need to be a little snobbier.  With the $10 I might spend on the two catts, I have to think "what else could I spend that money on?"  If the $10 was already designated as orchid money you could think of it as 1/6th of a truly special orchid, or 1/10th of an orchid show registration fee.  I heard a judge in our Orchid Society say something to the effect of "I think it's better to learn to grow a few types of orchids well than to grow multiple types in a mediocre way."  The flip side of this, of course, is that it's hard to learn what orchids you like and what orchids work well for your growing conditions if you don't experiment with different genera and species.  The $5 Cattleya might come in handy if your collection is full of Phals, but spatial constraints have made my want list more and more specific.

Do you remember when you had two or three plants and you could do all of your watering under the sink in five or ten minutes?  I know.  It's becoming a fading memory for me, too.  Each little addition to the family is a new mouth to feed and a new set of roots to irrigate.  And they grow up so fast!  The plant will eventually need repotting.  I will eventually need to locate a good spot for it outside when spring arrives.  I love repotting as much as the next guy, but the $5 Cattleya is less of a bargain if I place a dollar amount on my time.  I would rather stare at them than fuss with them, especially since the amount of time I spend on the former leaves little time for the latter.

The next time you get that orchid-hoarder impulse, stop and think about these downstream economic consequences.  The orchids already in your collection will thank you. 


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