Ray Barkalow of First Ray Orchids,
This month, Ray Barkalow of First Rays Orchids will talk about “Biological Treatments in Horticulture.” His focus is on the use of organic, biological treatments — bacteria and fungi — for pest control, and for stimulation of the plants’ defenses and growth. Ray will take pre-orders via their online store (shop.firstrays.com). Use the “MDOS” coupon code to avoid shipping charges. He requests that no pre-orders be made prior to one week before the meeting.
Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m.
As a young child, Ray lived a couple blocks from Walter Off and Waldor Orchids in Linwood, N.J., and knew about the greenhouses, but didn’t give it another thought. His father was transferred to England in the 60s, and they lived quiteclose to a preeminent orchid grower and breeder, Black & Flory, who originated almost 1000 hybrids. Later they moved to northwest Washington, D.C., and the Maryland suburb of Kensington was a high school stomping ground. The biggest coincidence, however, happened when he met a college friend at a public greenhouse while volunteering to work on their orchid collection. “I didn’t know you were into orchids, Roger,” brought peals of laughter from others. That’s when I learned that his father was Merritt Huntington, owner of Kensington Orchids and an officer of the AOS!
Ray’s orchid growing began when he was a Ceramic Engineering student at Georgia Tech. After about a year of volunteering his time at the public greenhouses in Piedmont Park — now the Atlanta Botanical Gardens — the orchid grower there gave him a big, “floofy” purple Cattleya.
It took him about two years to kill it via the typical root rot/desiccation cycle torture, and at the time, he simply “did not kill plants,” so he was determined to learn more and got addicted like everyone else. Needless to say, in the 40+ years since, he learned that he is a very effective plant killer. (Isn’t it true that you’re not an orchid-growing “pro” until you have killed your weight in plants?)
During his professional career, he has had many opportunities to travel internationally and put together an extensive collection of orchids from around the world. That travel schedule (averaging 13 flights a week for over three years at one point) led to a great deal of experimentation involving keeping plants healthy and happy during his absences, and that’s what led to the development of Semi-Hydroponics.
First Rays came into being by accident — literally — courtesy of a greenhouse heater and alarm failure on a 7°F night in January of 1994. They lost that entire 20-year collection of plants from around the world. After a few months, a new heater and alarm were purchased and written off as business expenses, even though he had no idea how he’d make a business out of orchids. Shortly thereafter, he divided the first couple of replacement plants he had purchased, created a text-only web page listing them, and offered the extra divisions to the Internet orchid community via a post to the Comp-U-Serve Gardening Forum. Within three hours he had two orders, and knew how he’d make it a business.
Ray says the best part about the exposure that First Rays has given him is the ability to communicate with folks from around the world on the fascinating subject of orchids. Sharing the obsession is second only to growing the plants.
Complete Awards for the 2014
Maryland Orchid Society Show and Sale!
Click here to download a copy of the complete show results (44 pages!).