Glen Barfield’s Oncidium Wisdom

Glen Barfield gives a talk to the Kona Daifukuji Orchid Club in March 2012The focus of Glen Barfield’s talk at our March meeting was on his breeding programs at the Okika nursery of OrchidWorks. His company is the largest producer of orchid plugs on the Big Island. They generally grow plants for big-box-store companies; these companies like plants priced below 10 dollars that they can sell by the checkout counter.

The information about Glen’s experiences in breeding orchids was fascinating. He provided a number of slides on the parents he used, discussed the reasons for the crosses, and then showed the outcome. Often, the outcomes were totally unexpected, but beautiful nonetheless.

Glen believes that, due to their genetics, oncidium crosses do not produce as consistent results as those for the cattleya genera. Part of his breeding program is designed to breed oncidiums to grow in Homestead, Florida, a very hot area, and to thrive there. Glen said that 97% of the crosses fail; however, the nice thing is that not many people breed them because of this issue.

In response to audience questions, Glen provided the following information on growing oncidiums:

  • The most commonly used fertilizer for big growers the world over is 20-20-20. There is usually a recipe with the fertilizer to dilute it properly for use.
  • The most import thing to remember about watering is not to let oncidiums dry out. At the nursery, they water three times a week for both young and older plants. In the driest months you may need to water more often. (This may not be true for the mule ear types, however.
  • You want to water thoroughly. It might take more than one pass to get them wet. A bit of dishwashing soap can be used as a surfactant which makes water wetter by breaking down the surface tension. The water flattens out and is better received.
  • You have to thoroughly wet the pots to allow fertilizer salts to move through them and not collect, which would burn new roots.
  • He would not make a recommendation about media. He advised us to talk amongst ourselves, comparing growing locations, elements, potting media, etc. and that everyone has to adapt to their own environment.
  • At the nursery, he uses a mixture of coconut chips, sphagnum moss, and perlite, and recommended that coconut chips be soaked and cleaned at least 2-3 times because of salt content. The media holds a lot of moisture and has a high acidity.
  • The best pH is 5.3-5.8, as recommended by growers.
  • If roots and bulbs are shriveling, the roots may be dead due to bacteria. Pull plant out, cut everything off, and put the bulbs somewhere shady and cool. Then watch for new growth.
  • If you want to name a plant, you need to first make a cross, have someone else make a cross, or ask permission from a breeder. You can then submit the cross the Royal Horticultural Society for orchid registration. He said he could do it for anybody for a fee.
  • An advantage of naming a cross is that you no longer have to write all the originating crosses on the label.

Mahalo to Ellen for providing this information in the minutes from the March meeting.

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