Brave New Farmers
story by Shannon Wianecki
photo courtesy Orchids of Olinda
“Don’t be afraid of your orchid,” says Dan Judson, yanking a leafy bundle from its pot. Sterilizing his scissors, he hacks at the plant’s exposed roots, cutting it in two and then repotting both halves, all in a matter of moments. “Orchids want to live,” he asserts, scoffing somewhat at the notion that the flowers are vulnerable things. “Some species even thrive in snow.”
Some of his more sensitive pupils look mildly shocked at all of thisto budding horticulturalists, these techniques seem unorthodox they, no doubt, fear their flowers. But Judson has reason to speak boldly: Not only did he snag Maui County Fair’s Best in Show prize two years running; he’s also won the American Orchid Society’s prestigious Riopelle Award. The winning flower, a fragrant, showy miltonia called “Olinda Cloudline” was named in part after his farm, Orchids of Olinda, which sits 2,100 feet up the slope of Haleakala in a misty pocket of perfect orchid-growing weather.
At the farm, an explosion of roots and orange blooms climbs up the back wall of his greenhouse, like some sort of blossoming totem. Beneath two layers of shadecloth, organized benches reveal plant after plant, in all stages of maturity. Surveying the flowers with a protective eye, Judson pauses over a tray of young plants already in the stage of “initiating a spike”preparing to bloom, in orchid-speak. He shakes his head reproachfully. “Too young,” he says. “It’s like teenagers having babies.” Not one to harbor trade secrets, Judson is generous with his advice: In addition to growing the flowers commercially, he presides over “Orchids 101”a highly entertaining tour of his farm that includes a self-published booklet detailing varieties and growing instructions and lunch served in the greenhouse. And, yes, his method works: Not long after he’d fearlessly sliced into and repotted that orchid, both halves had begun initiating spikes.
Orchids of Olinda