Member Snapshot: Joe Portelli

Our new club Treasurer, Joe has been a member of the club for a few years now and his photos of native orchids have been featured in past issues of our newsletter.  He kindly shares with us his story on his interest with Australian native orchids.

Q: How did you become an orchid enthusiast?

 Joe: I must admit I'm not quite sure. I had an interest in botany/horticulture for many decades (I think this traces to the fact that farming was in the family background). At some stage, in the last seven or so years, I became intrigued by the life cycle of orchids and the beauty of their flowers. The rest followed from there. 


Q: Which are your favourite native orchids and why?

 Joe: Changes all the time! They all have their interesting features. Dendrobium speciosum and related species always features in my top 5 list.

Joe proudly wearing  our new club polo shirt!

Cymbidium suave – Bilpin, Blue Mountains

Q: Approximately how many “pots” in your collection?

Joe: I have around 310 plants in my collection (virtually all listed in a spreadsheet which also contains associated information) – quite a few are mounted. I find mounted plants are much harder to kill but grow slower (less water/nutrient availability).

Q: How often do you water your orchids?

 Joe: That of course depends on the season. A lot of plants get zero watering in Winter – only way they can survive Riverstone's winters which can result in temperature of -4°C. In Summer the mounted orchids are watered at least once daily – often twice or more. Small pots are watered every other day. Big pots once a week. All these are averages and needs vary to some extent. 


Q: Do you fertilise your orchids?

 Joe: I use both slow release fertiliser pellets and soluble fertiliser. Soluble fertiliser is applied once every 2 weeks at ½ to ¾ recommended rate. Slow release fertiliser pellets are mainly applied when re-potting. However I do experiment with fertilisers and am trying to use more organic type fertilisers (rather than the dissolved salts types).

Q: What are the common pests that attack your orchids and how do you control them?

 Joe: Scale insect – Controlled with a mix Eco oil and Pyrethrum based insecticides.

  • Red Spider Mite – A mix of Imidacloprid (systemic action) and Pyrethrum (contact action)

  • Dendrobium beetle – Catch-and-destroy (not too effective)

I also spray enclosed areas with a mix of Imidacloprid (systemic action) and Pyrethrum (contact action) insecticides on a regular basis (say every 3 weeks). Do not really like doing this but without doing so I had a lot of issues with insects.

Q: What was the most memorable orchid collection you’ve visited?

 Joe: Must admit I haven't visited orchid collections recently. When I lived in Canberra I went to see David Judge's Paphiopedulum collection. That was very impressive. 

Q: Which is your favourite nursery to purchase orchids from?

Joe: Orchid Species Plus and Woolf Orchidculture are the source of most of my non-native orchid species. Woolf Orchidculture and the Australian Orchid Nursery are the source of most of my native species. I am also always on the lookout for emerging players.

Q: What was the worst mistake you ever made growing your orchids?

Joe: The year I started collecting, I bought one of those “greenhouse” kits from ALDI – those ones which have tubes which slide end-on-end and give you a frame of, roughly 1.8m wide x 1.8m high x 0.5m deep. It also had a transparent poly cover which can cover the frame to form a sealed chamber. I placed almost all the orchids I had at the time (about 20) in this “greenhouse” and sealed them in with the poly cover for protection overnight (it was early spring and we were still getting quite cool weather). Problem was, I forgot to open the thing the next day and we had a very bright day. I lost most of the orchids that day – luckily I was just starting out and so only lost a few.

Q: What would you advise novices thinking of or just starting out growing orchids?

Joe: I still consider myself as being in a learning stage. What I advice others is what I find works for myself – I observe and ask what successful growers do. The potting mixes they use, growing conditions, fertilisation regimes used, watering, etc. I learn one plant type at-a-time

Q: What do you like about our club ANOS Sydney Group and what activity do you enjoy the most?

Joe: What I like the most is the lack of pretentiousness there is. Everyone is approachable and willing to help. There are quite a few who know what they're doing so there’s a significant knowledge repository. I also find the benching really compelling. Besides the visual appeal of the flowering, it's also a source of learning (observing the potting media used, pots/mounts used, talking to the growers about how they grow their plants). Since starting to bench myself, I am finding I'm more motivated to improve on my cultural methods.  

Q: What is on your orchid wish list?

Joe: Currently what features most prominently on my wish list are not plants, but the aspiration to grow better what I already have. Better growing conditions, more knowledge on the needs of specific species … and other such things. I feel proud in knowing the fact that, this year, I spent much more on potting mixes, fertilisers and infrastructure than on plants.

Q: Is there anything else you may want to add?

Joe: If I were to have another career I would chose one that combines all my interests: Electronics, Information Technology and Horticulture. I see a significant potential for this in making inexpensive equipment for environmental monitoring and control and task automation in horticulture. Incidentally I spent quite a bit of time in this area and have constructed various environmental monitoring and control systems for my growing areas.

Photos by Joe Portelli