Member Snapshot: Greg Steenbeeke
Our Member Snapshot for this month is Greg Steenbeeke. Greg is a botanist and an A.N.O.S. judge. He is the club’s main “go to” man when it comes to resolving native orchid names. Here he kindly shares with us his story on growing native orchids and being a member of our club.
Q: How did you become an orchid enthusiast?
Greg: Second generation grower (my father grew cymbids and a few odds and sods) and therefore I had no hope.
Q: Which are your favourite native orchids and why?
Greg: All of them and none of them. How can you pick a favourite when it’s so diverse, variable and intriguing.
Q: Approximately how many “pots” in your collection?
Greg: Too many. Most of them full … Some even with plants that are meant to be there. I have a database that I collate my collections into – so far it has over 3000 entries. While a good many of these are no longer alive, I supposedly have over 1200 different accessions alive in some 3000 pots.
Q: How often do you water your orchids?
Greg: As they need it. I grow exposed to the elements (no covered sections) so the watering is determined by the weather. In cooler times I water maybe every three days to weekly, warmer times I water daily. In hot periods in western Sydney I can water twice a day. Almost always I water by hand as it lets me check out what is happening to the plants.
I use an open mix (bark and gravel) so need to maintain moisture. I also water from a 15,000 litre water tank so I don’t have town water issues.
Sarcochilus Velvet Dawn
Greg’s shade house & Hills Hoist to hang clothes (or more orchids?).
Greg working in his office.
Q: What was the worst mistake you ever made growing your orchids?
Greg: Apart from starting to grow orchids … not accepting my gut feel for what I should do for my plants. Others’ advice is valuable, but not to copy but from which to learn. I have a growing regime and conditions that are unique to me, and have grown plants in more locations (Blue Mountains, Dubbo, Grafton, Sunshine Coast, Inverell) than many would even contemplate. I have seen what works where and why from watching the plants and checking out what the plants are doing in the region in which I live. I have also learned that if I don’t change my mix soon after moving to a new location or new growing area to suit the conditions I have, I am going to lose a lot of plants.
Q: What would you advise novices thinking of or just starting out growing orchids?
Greg: Start small, and concentrate on a few plants that you can watch and learn from, then expand. Jumping in quickly early you don’t get the opportunity to learn from your plants what your conditions and growing style suit. As I said above too, listen to but don’t copy others. Your conditions are unique. Don’t ask how to grow something, ask what conditions are they growing that plant in, and what they found worked or didn’t.
Q: What do you like about our club ANOS Sydney Group and what activity do you enjoy the most?
Greg: I have always enjoyed the atmosphere and camaraderie at Sydney Group. This year marks the 25th year I have been a member. Some have been so for longer, and I still value the opportunity to ask them questions.
Q: What is on your orchid wish list?
Greg: “Unkillable” plants. I guess I have to go plastic!
Seriously, I would like the opportunity to do more experimenting and growing on my hybrids. They may not be show winners or even strictly beautiful, but every so often one pops up out of the breeding and I can say ‘I did that’ or ‘that’s what I wanted’. Even better is ‘I didn’t expect that, but I like it!’.
Q: Is there anything else you may want to add?
Greg: Not really. The most important things I guess are, start small, ask questions and if you have the opportunity to experiment then try some things a little bit different. Mount Stanhopeas rather than growing them in a basket, grow that twig epiphyte in a basket, put in a little water-holding device in the bottom of the basket pot to keep water always in the mix. Try to make your collection suit your conditions – it’s cheaper in the long run, gives you more successes, and saves on power bills. We can’t grow everything, and we should respect and congratulate those growers who succeed in the conditions that they have. One day, that could be you getting congratulated by another grower, often someone who you respect greatly!
Dendrobium Berry 'Oda'
Q: Do you fertilize your orchids?
Greg: Yes, sporadically, mainly with a soluble commercial fertilizer, sometimes with liquid fertilizers made up of various wastes, and I also apply blood and bone to wetter plants 2 or 3 times a year to provide a slow-release fertilising.
Q: What are the common pests that attack your orchids and how do you control them?
Greg: Scale is my biggest problem, and I have great difficulty with its control. I have used chemicals and molasses, and find that having the time to deal with it is usually what is lacking. The other main ‘pest’ I have is millipedes, although I am uncertain how much damage they do.
And then there are the snails and their insatiable appetite for young inflorescences and the caterpillars that invariable chew off the pod I have been nurturing.
Q: What was the most memorable orchid collection you’ve visited?
Greg: So many to choose from, but most of my most memorable ‘collections’ are actually places in the bush where you see them growing as they should.
Q: Which is your favourite nursery to purchase orchids from?
Greg: Again, I don’t have a favourite, but I also purchase from so few (so those of you from whom I do, should feel honoured. :)
I am mainly getting new plants as raffle prizes or from my own breeding (of which I have a bit); so that makes Flora Laboratories and Botanical Ridge Orchids – who do most of my flasking – the main nurseries with whom I deal. Some of my good friends have also been providing me with plants. I am trying to wean myself off the habit, strange as it sounds given I recently nearly doubled my area of shade house!
(Photos by Greg Steenbeeke)