A Few Notes on Insecticide Use

ART_2575Recently, I was reviewing my notes of Jim Roberts (See Note 1) 2012 presentation to the Jacksonville Orchid Society on “Growing Orchids Outside.”  During that presentation, Jim made a little noted comment about application of insecticide.

He said: “Read the Instructions.”

This is really a very important observation.  Reading instructions as we all have seen, tell us about the amount of insecticide to use in a given application.  However, most of us stop at that point.  We shouldn’t; we really need to read all of the instructions and the warnings as well.

Many will say they get it, but then go right ahead and apply insecticides with little concern about their exposure after the first time they get some on themselves and nothing happens.  The truth, however, is a bit more complicated.

But first a little background.  Many of you know that I retired after a career in the Army.  I spent most of my time as a Chemical Officer; that is to say, an expert in the use of chemical, as well as biological and nuclear weapons.  Moreover, my last job before joining the Army was as an exterminator applying chemical insecticides.  No doubt, many will say: ok, I get the connection, but most don’t.  The important thing to know is that the “nerve agent” (See Note 2) series of chemical weapons are simply insecticides for bigger bugs – People!

Many of the more effective insecticides belong to a class of chemicals known as organophosphate compounds and were first  discovered shortly before World War II by German chemists looking for better insecticides.  The good news for us as insecticide users is that the ones we use are far weaker than those used as nerve agents.  But here’s the problem, they are still dangerous.  Many of these compounds act as a cumulative poison.  A little bit today won’t hurt, but who knows about tomorrow?  Moreover, the medical research is still not complete about sub-critical dosages and their effects on human health.

Ever notice a statement on some insecticides that “atropine is antidotal?”  Atropine is the first of several antidotes administered to counter-act the effects of nerve agent poisoning!

So what to do?  I’m not a “licensed professional,” but like everyone else, do use insecticides.  Here’s my method, use it if you will, without warranty.  My approach is intended to minimize my exposure:

  • Wear a charcoal-based respirator (charcoal-filled)
  • Wear clothing that leaves little to no exposed skin
  • Wear a hat
  • Wear wrap-around eye protection.
  • Wear chemical proof gloves
  • Apply insecticide with the wind behind you so that it blows any excess away from you
  • Don’t apply around gardens or other food stuffs
  • Don’t allow the overspray to hit gardens, foodstuffs, others, children, or pets.
  • Immediately upon finishing, wash your hands and exposed skin with cold water (which lessens likelihood of absorption)
  • Immediately upon finishing, separately wash your clothes and exposed articles.
  • Use only one sprayer for insecticides, don’t use it for anything else (You don’t want to spray high-strength insecticides on your garden by mistake!).
  • Rinse-out your sprayer after use to minimize exposure later.

This seems like a lot to go through just to use insecticide.  There is.  Having been in the business of killing little bugs and knowing how to defend against those trying to kill us bigger bugs, I choose to err on the side of caution.


Note 1 – Roberts, J.  (2012, April 10).  Growing Orchids Outside.  Presentation to the Jacksonville Orchid Society.  Jacksonville, Fl.   Jim Roberts is the owner of Florida Sun Coast Orchids; http://floridasuncoastorchids.com.

Note 2 – The Wikipedia article on nerve agents is pretty good if you’d like to learn more.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_agent.


Hurricane!…? Maybe not, but…

Yes, we do live in Florida, and that means we occassionally get visited by Hurricanes. Next week’s coming event will be wet, but probably that’s about the size of it. However, it also pays to be prepared – especaily if you have Orchids gowing outside.

This weekend is your opportunity to get ready. With that in mind, and especially if you are new to Florida (or missed out on the last Major Rain Event), consider preparing your orchids and growing spaces now!

A couple of recommendations:
Loose items – Move any loose items inside a protected space. That means Orchids, but it can also include grills, chairs, and anything that can become a projectile.
Hanging Orchids – If you have hanging orchids (like myself and others), make sure they are secure and won’t get blown loose. If there is any doubt – move them inside!
Saucers – If your orchids are sitting in saucers, empty the saucers at least once a day. Orchids don’t generally want to be wet, and although they love Rain, they aren’t aquatic plants. Give those roots an opportunity to dry out. (Thanks Cammy!)
Anti-Fungal. After the blow passes by, treat all of your outside orchids to a dose of anti-fungal. It can’t hurt and may help to control fungal blooms that are common after long periods of wet.

You can probably come up with your own thoughts and recommendations. The point here is that don’t just let the wet weather happen; plan for it before hand, and take action before, during, and after!

Resources Discussed at the August 2015 Jacksonville Orchid Society General Meeting

At last night’s General Meeting of the Jacksonville Orchid Society, our “Panel of Experts” covered a broad range of topics. References for newcommers featured prominently. Following are several links that I’ve found useful.

http://www.orchidspecies.com – “Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia” – This is my first stop when I’m looking for online information about a particular orchid species.

http://orchids.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page – “ORCHIDS WIKI” – This is often my second choice for orchid information online and often fills in gaps that aren’t addressed by orchidspecies.com.

http://cattleya.wikidot.com – “Cattleya Source Wiki” – I recently came across this source, so only time will tell whether I continue to use it, but it has proven useful so far.

http://www.kew.org – The website of the “Royal Botanical Gardens” is rapidly becoming one of my favorite resources. While it covers flora in general, it also does a wonderful job describing orchids. Take a look – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As an example, I sold a Dendrobium aphyllum keiki last night at the General Meeting. Searching kew.org yields http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/dendrobium-aphyllum. Take a look and you’ll see that not only is the origin of plant well described, but for our interests – its care and culture are well described as well.

http://www.hydroponicsgc.com – Grower’s Choice and Hydroponics store in north Jacksonville. Located in two Jacksonville locations (http://www.hydroponicsgc.com/locations.html), it’s easily accessed and sells both “Hydrotron” and “Plant It” in 50L and 45L (and smaller) bags at reasonable prices. Both products are small fired clay spheres with Plant It retaining moisture 3 times as long as Hydrotron (see “Replacing Hydrotron” in the January 2014 edition of the JOS “The Bulletin” – http://www.jaxorchidsociety.org/PDF/2014-01.pdf).
Don’t forget to search Google as well. It will often yield clues and information that other sites don’t provide.

Orchid Slum Greenhouse Tour

Jane and I hosted the Jacksonville Orchid Society’s tour of Art’s “Orchid Slum” on 6 October 2013. I currently have approximately 260 orchids split between two greenhouses, plus another 20 or so under the trees, or in the house if they are blooming.  Approximately 10 JOS members were on hand for the tour during which I passed out Epidendrum radicans and Dendrobium cucullatum keikis.








By way of background, Bonnie Myers, JOS President, gave me the first greenhouse, which is an 8ft wide x 8ft long x 6ft tall “Dream House” by Flower House greenhouses that she’d used for several seasons before replacing it with a considerably larger rigid-wall greenhouse. This greenhouse is for all intents and purposes, simply a large tent with a fiberglass shock-pole skeleton. As I’ve owned several smaller tents, I immediately knew how it went together and had it up within 30 minutes of after getting it home. I also built two 7ft x 2ft orchid benches for this greenhouse as well. The “tent” is a rip-stop weave of polypropylene fabric that has unfortunately not done well with Florida’s relentless ultraviolet light. A week before the greenhouse tour, the top panels ripped out (no rip-stop here!), but fortunately, I already had on hand a 20ft x 25ft roll of 4mil clear plastic, and it is now the top of the greenhouse!

Last year, I rescued my father’s orchids (75 or so) and his greenhouse came along with the deal.  This one is 6ft wide x 8ft long x 7+ feet tall and the plastic is considerably tougher, at least 6mil, if not more, with a true rip-stop weave. Unlike the “Dream House,” this green house has a rigid steel tube skeleton and is considerably stronger. Did I mention that it is taller as well?  I can stand up fully and its rigid structure makes it ideal for my Vandas and mounted orchids.  Like the “Dream House,” I have orchid benches, but in this case I purchased a 5-tier plastic shelf system at Home Depot and repurposed it for my orchids.


Both green houses are equipped with fans in the summer and electric heat in the winter, with one heater in each green house running at 750 watts easily providing sufficient heat. Both green houses also have watering systems, with each timed separately to meet the needs of their individual collections.

Photos by Margie Johnson

Greenhouse Disaster Averted

Disaster Averted! Looking out this morning I noticed that my smaller greenhouse looked “different.” Upon closer examination I discovered that two panels of “ripstop” fabric had indeed, ripped. Er, without stopping.

What to do? The good news is that I was already planning for the cooler or cold weather soon to come and had a 20×25 foot roll of 4mil plastic. All this really did was move my plans forward.

And give me something else to talk about during the “Orchid Slum Greenhouse Tour” next weekend.

Total cost? About $35 dollars and 35 minutes of time.

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