Submitted By: Norma Raiff
He edits our newsletter. Has served on just about every position on the OSWP Board up to and including VP. Insatiable curiosity. Inveterate storyteller. OSWP’s own Santa Claus back in the days when our Holiday Party was a big family affair. And he’s raised chickens since way before they were the “in” thing.
That’s Jim Yamber. Hardworking, dedicated, gives back to the community.
How long have you been growing orchids? Jim’s been growing orchids for over 60 years. Obviously, he started very young. As he recalls, he used to faithfully listen to a Saturday morning television show hosted by the legendary Frank Curto, principal Horticulturalist of Phipps Conservatory. One of these shows’ featured orchids and Jim was entranced. “Well, I was really taken with that. I went downtown to Kaufmann's department store and bought Rebecca Northern’s ‘Home Orchid Growing’ for $10. It was the only place where I could find a book on the subject.” His hard working mother was not at all happy. She said incredulously, “You spent all of your saved allowance on something that you’ll never keep an interest in!”
Then Jim bought his first orchid: a small mail order Cattleya from Rod McClellan Co. What followed was predictable. Jim studied Conservation Wildlife Management (SW Missouri State University) and his collection continued to grow. He even collected orchids in the wild while in the Navy (this is way before CITES and its current prohibitions) “and inspecting officers never said anything when I brought them back on ship.” Jim also traveled to Ecuador during the ‘70s and spent three weeks collecting orchids and cactuses.
Description of growing conditions: Jim’s orchid saga has been marked by flexibility, variety and (as we shall see below) setbacks.
Jim’s growing areas encompass just about every conceivable niche and condition: “I grow in the greenhouse, grow native orchids outside in my yard, and under lights in the basement and on window sills.”
About those recurring greenhouse traumas!
The saga of the first greenhouse: “I came home one day, and it was 18 degrees in the greenhouse.” The heating had failed and the Cattleya leaves snapped “like potato chips.”
The challenges of the second greenhouse: A builder’s challenge and a labor of love, the replacement greenhouse was built over the original and then the first greenhouse was demolished. Unfortunately, history can repeat itself. “This second greenhouse froze over. Some plants froze; some didn’t. Some plants had only frozen tops; others, frozen bottoms. It was weird!”
A third variation: “Well, after losing two collections, it was time for a new approach.” So Jim switched heating systems. “I’ve heated my greenhouses with just about everything you can think of.” While his first heating sources included a potbellied stove and a newer, fancier coal-burning model, Jim grew tired of going down to the greenhouse in the middle of the night to add coal and stoke the fire. He ultimately switched to a forced air gas furnace. But renovations and new introductions didn’t stop there. “I also put in an electric water tank so I could have hot and cold running water, a loft, a TV and a computer. It was my ‘man cave.’” But uh-oh, the electric hot water heater went bad and burned this second greenhouse to the ground (sigh!)
Greenhouse #3: I bought the Raiff’s greenhouse (author’s note: which they in turn had bought second hand from the widow of a former OSWP member), and he continues to grow there (author’s note: Hallelujah!).
Jim’s collection now numbers between 300-400 orchids. He has remained faithful to his longstanding interest in Cattleyas. His two favorites are C. Bess Truman (a large white/purple throated “corsage orchid” named after our former first lady who often wore orchids) and Blc. Norman's Bay ‘Low’ (a fantastic purple Cattleya awarded in 1959). Jim is also a true experimentalist and he has modified his greenhouse to accommodate both warm and cool growers. “The way to do it is to have a fan blowing the warm air from the stove onto the tropicals so they have their own climate.”
What has been your most memorable experiences? “I would frequently go to the Conservatory over the years and Frank Curto would always give me attention and talk to me. He was a small man but had a big personality and loved people and children.” And what stands out in Jim’s mind? “Well you know, everyone says that you never forget where you were when President Kennedy was killed…Well, I was in the Phipps Conservatory looking at orchids.”
What’s the weirdest mistake or experience you had as an orchid grower? “My biggest mistake (laughs) was watching Frank Curto on Saturday morning, because then I became addicted.”
When did you join OSWP & why? Jim became a member after attending the 1971 OSWP show. He wanted to grow his collection and was searching for a local resource that also featured important national vendors.
You might also be interested to know this about me: Jim is the long-term editor of the OSWP Newsletter. He has chaired the show four times, and, as noted above, has been an officer in every position except President. A final note: Jim is extraordinarily active in his local church, volunteering for everything from cooking meals to maintaining the church web page and bulletin. He’s a church leader and even preaches on occasions.
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