How Westerlay Orchids Solved Its Bacteria Problem

westerlay-orchids
To prevent water-based bacteria problems, it was important to treat Westerlay’s water before a drop ever touched the plants.

Bacteria are all around us and, for the most part, they cause no real harm and can even be helpful. But in the right conditions, like a warm, wet greenhouse, they can cause some serious damage. That was the problem that Westerlay Orchids, an orchid-growing company based in California, was dealing with: Water-based bacteria Pseudomonas and Erwinia were attacking the growing orchids through the irrigation system.

Westerlay Orchids started out as a hybrid tea rose grower more than 35 years ago in Carpinteria, CA. At the time, orchid growing was mostly an expensive pastime for hobbyists and collectors. But in the early 2000s, the company noticed a shift in the flower market, so it transitioned to potted orchids in 2003 when new technology made the colorful, tropical blooms affordable for the average person.

Since then, the company has doubled in size, with 22 acres of modern greenhouses. Its staff consists of more than 100 people now grows more than 2.5 million potted Phalaenopsis and Cymbidium orchids each year for garden centers, florists, and supermarkets. With its high production volume and customer demand, losing orchids to bacteria was not an option for Westerlay. It needed to address the problem quickly.

Bacteria Spreads Through Water

The humid greenhouses used for orchid cultivation at Westerlay Orchids were the perfect habitat for the bacteria, which creates lesions on the leaves first, then spreads rapidly to the rest of the plant.

Pseudomonas causes a soft, water-soaked blister somewhere on a leaf. As the infection continues, the spot becomes black or brown and dries up. Several spots can appear at the same time. Erwinia starts similarly, with a water-soaked spot. The blister may also have a yellow halo, depending on the specific type of Erwinia. With particularly bad infections, the bacteria will spread to the roots, and the plant may completely rot in two to three days.

Bacteria in Westerlay’s greenhouses was often introduced through plants from vendors.

“The bacteria spreads at an amazing speed, and was causing a huge problem for us,” says Toine Overgaag, President of Westerlay Orchids.

Westerlay’s irrigation water also comes into its three facilities from city and well-water systems. To combat the problems with water-based bacteria, it was important that the water be treated before a single drop hit the plants.

westerlay-orchids-feature
Westerlay Orchids grows more than 2.5 million potted Phalaenopsis and Cymbidium orchids each year.

Using Oxygen To Decontaminate Water

Westerlay contacted CH2O Inc. of Olympia, WA, to see if it offered a product that would treat irrigation water in several tanks. CH2O installed a Sure Flow treatment system in four tanks that eliminates bacteria and other unwelcome matter carried by water. Once installed, technicians calibrated the system to adjust the product dose as the flow changes in the irrigation system.

The liquid treatment product used for the system helps prevent clogs in the irrigation emitters by creating amorphous deposits at the emitter tips that are easily washed away by the next irrigation cycle. The solution has a minimal effect on fertilizers and creates a bio-clean environment for plant cultivation. It also reduces biological and mineral build-up on surfaces including floors, glass, soil, and plants.

Carl Iverson, CH2O inventor, says the system does two things for the orchid-growing operation. First, a non-halogenated oxidizer disinfects the water to eliminate any bacteria. Then, a chelant grabs onto minerals in the water, including iron and other trace nutrients, and keeps them intact. Without the chelant, the oxidizer would break up those vital plant nutrients, making food for the bacteria.

Overgaag says the irrigation system is extremely important to his operation, and he uses it every day. Without it, the bacteria would come back very quickly.

“We’re protecting the plants from bacteria and viruses,” he says. “It’s like a flu shot for a plant.”

Overgaag says using a water treatment system is all about ensuring orchid quality because above all, Westerlay wants to ship healthy, robust plants to its customers.

“Without using this type of system, you don’t know what’s going to happen to the plants when you ship them,” he says. “When we sell the plant, I can now guarantee that it is a healthy plant.”

Maintaining Environmental Standards

One of Westerlay’s top priorities is sustainability. For a company working so hard to be environmentally friendly, the last thing Westerlay wanted to do was to spray chemicals to address its bacteria problem. The water system it chose disinfects with oxygen only and does not halogenate vital fertilizers.

Bactericides and fungicides tend to hang around in the environment for an extended period of time, affecting plants and people. Carl Iverson, CH2O inventor, says using an oxidizer to decontaminate is a better, more environmentally friendly option because the product has a short half-life. Water treatment systems can also kill fungi, bacteria, viruses, algae, and spores immediately without any harsh chemicals. This is a bonus for Westerlay’s employees because they aren’t exposed to any harsh chemicals while taking care of the orchids.

In addition to its irrigation system, Westerlay Orchids has invested in other new technologies to improve efficiency in the greenhouse and to maintain its commitment to sustainability.

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

More From Foliage & Tropicals...

April 20, 2018

California Dreaming Takes on a Whole New Meaning at CAST 2018

At California Spring Trials 2018, the Greenhouse Grower team witnessed the revitalization of a company, plus some awesome merchandising displays, and efforts toward automation.

Read More

April 19, 2018

California Spring Trials 2018: New Intros from Syngenta Flowers, Hishtil, Jaldety, Cohen Propagators, Bailey Nurseries, and More

Check out the newest 2018 plant introductions from Syngenta Flowers, Hishtil, Jaldety, Cohen Propagators, Nir Nursery, Bailey Nurseries, and Sunset Western/Southern Living Plants.

Read More

April 19, 2018

CAST 2018: Dr. A’s Favorites From Syngenta Flowers, Bailey Nurseries, and More

From an exciting perennial to a new white begonia, Allan Armitage says these showstoppers deserve recognition.

Read More
Latest Stories

March 27, 2018

Newly Launched Online Foliage Company Bloomscape Grabs …

Owner Justin Mast, an industry kid who grew up in his parents’ greenhouse, puts a new spin on growing and marketing plants to consumers.

Read More

February 6, 2018

20 Trends That Dominated at TPIE

If you're looking to stay on top of the current trends to stay ahead of the competition and increase value to your clients by helping them stay at the forefront of their industry, check out some of the new products and ideas we saw trending at TPIE this year.

Read More

January 16, 2018

20 Colorful Foliage and Tropical Plants for Garden Inte…

Add a bit of the tropics to your product mix with new foliage and tropical plant varieties that offer bold colors and distinct patterns.

Read More
Hibiscus Hollywood Gossip Queen

January 24, 2017

29 New Flowering and Foliage Plants from TPIE 2017

The Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE) was the place to be Jan. 18-20 to catch a peek at some of the new plant introductions making their first appearance on the market.

Read More
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benef…

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
Bride with wedding orchids.

January 7, 2017

How to Stand Out in the Orchid Market

With the popularity of the Phalaenopsis orchid growing and its saturation in the market, orchid growers are hunting for new ways to stand out from their competitors.

Read More
westerlay-orchids-feature

January 1, 2017

How Westerlay Orchids Solved Its Bacteria Problem

Water-borne bacteria was causing havoc with Westerlay Orchids’ production, so the company took preventative action to ensure the health of its plants.

Read More

September 5, 2016

7 New Shrubs And Foliage Plants For Spring Interest

Perennials and annuals aren’t the only plants that supply spring color to the garden. Shrubs and foliage plants also add color and interest and are a great way to round out your spring product mix.

Read More
Sansevieria in Corner of home

January 21, 2016

Tropical And Indoor Foliage Plants Emerge As A Lifestyl…

Consumers are incorporating houseplants into their everyday lives, which is driving the trends toward smaller-size plants and unique products that appeal to a younger demographic.

Read More
Caladium Painted Frog Series (Plants Nouveau)

January 17, 2016

16 New Foliage Plants To Round Out The Garden

Every garden needs a good mix of flowering and foliage plants for an attention-grabbing show of thrillers, fillers, and spillers. These new foliage varieties will not only act as a lush backdrop for colorful blooms, they can also stand on their own with their noteworthy textures and colors.

Read More
Streptocarpus 'Yellow Blue Eye' (Green Fuse Botanicals)

January 5, 2016

15 Flowering Foliage And Tropical Plants For The Home A…

Tropical and foliage plants are the ultimate lifestyle plants because they enrich the environment and provide mood-boosting benefits. Take into account some of these new introductions for a crop mix that helps your customers realize the true benefits of plants.

Read More

January 14, 2015

Liven Up Indoor And Outdoor Living With 24 New Tropical…

Uniquely colored foliage and vivid blooms are just two of the great features new tropicals and foliage plants add to energize indoor and outdoor spaces.

Read More

December 31, 2014

Engage Busy Consumers With Modern-Day Tropical And Foli…

Contemporary tropical and foliage plants fit right in with the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century. Their versatility lends itself to countless uses both inside the house and out on the patio.

Read More
Basics & Beyond: New Kalanchoe For Cultivation

November 24, 2014

Basics & Beyond: New Kalanchoe For Cultivation

Several species of Kalanchoe show promise for commercial production as flowering potted plants. Learn how to improve quality and flowering for these underused varieties.

Read More

March 20, 2014

13 New Tropical Plants For 2014

New tropical varieties are great options for containers and combination planters, and boast bold-colored foliage which is sure to draw attention to patios and landscapes.

Read More

September 16, 2013

Colocasia Royal Hawaiian ‘White Lava’…

Colocasia Royal Hawaiian ‘White Lava’ is the latest in the elephant ear breeding of Hawaii’s Dr. John Cho. ‘White Lava’ forms a tight clump that provides a tropical look in the garden without sacrificing premium real estate. Large glossy green leaves are adorned with a wide band of creamy white down the center of each leaf, later radiating out into the side veins. Each leaf is further highlighted by a large purple spot where the leaf attaches to the stalk. ‘White Lava’ is a medium grower reaching 48 by 36 inches at maturity. It makes an ideal 6-inch pot, 16 by 12 inches. It is perfect for large containers, garden borders or mass landscape planting. For more information, contact PlantHaven International, Inc. at 805-569-9179, email [email protected] or visit the PlantHaven website.

Read More

July 16, 2013

Hot New Potted Plants And Tropicals From 2013 Californi…

Each stop at Spring Trials offers exciting new plants and products and this year, that included a lot of new potted plants and tropicals varieties. Take a look at some of these unique new varieties you can put into next year’s program.   Stachys ‘Bella Grigio’ (Fides Oro)   ‘Bella Grigio’s long, soft, nearly white leaves make a dramatic statement in a large combination planter. Bred by Bartels Stek, it is hardy to Zone 6, is fast-growing and holds up well in the rain and weather. Cassia didymobotrya Popcorn Plant (Plant Source International)   The leaves, when brushed, smell just like buttered popcorn. The flowers are an eye-catching yellow spike that has a dark brownish-black tip. It’s a shrub that thrives in heat and is drought tolerant. Gerbera ‘Patio Volcano’ (Florist Holland)   The Patio series finishes in just 16 to 17 weeks. They have strong stems and abundant, very large […]

Read More

February 28, 2013

Logee’s Introduces New Fruiting, Rare And Tropica…

For more than 120 years, Logee’s has been the go-to source for fruiting, rare and tropical plants. For 2013, the family-owned company has introduced 75 new plants that are sure to delight both experienced and novice growers. The new plants for 2013 include a “condo mango” tree that is small enough to grow in a pot, and an striking flowering houseplant called a lifesaver plant because its flowers boast a dark red lifesaver rim. “Fruiting plants that can be grown in containers and flowering tropical plants are easy to grow both indoors and in outdoor living areas such as patios, balconies and porches,” says Byron Martin, a third-generation owner of Logee’s. “We are proud that Logee’s has become America’s favorite source for tropical and fruiting plants from all over the world.” Logee’s catalog and website is known for its vast selection of tropical container plants, dwarf citrus trees, vines and […]

Read More