This Business Is Blooming

Sachi Brooks with the Brassavila Cattelya Maikai Mayumi orchid

By Sachi and Noel Brooks
Owners, Kaua’i Orchids

What is the nature of your business? Sachi: We grow and bloom orchids, and sell them. It’s a retail business certified to ship to the U.S. Mainland.

How did you get started in this business? Sachi: I’m the third generation of an agricultural family. My grandfather was among the first wave of Japanese indentured laborers who came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations – we’re not sure which island he was on. He eventually worked his way to California, where he sent for a picture bride and they started a vegetable business. My family was interned in Hart Mountain, Wyo., during World War II, and after the war my father started a cooperative farming business in San Diego. I eventually moved to Washington state, where I started growing orchids in a greenhouse, selling to local retail businesses. I visited Hawaii in the early 1980s and kept returning. I decided to move here and continue to grow orchids. I bought this 2.18-acre parcel in 1996 and built a house, and now have five greenhouses.

Noel: I came on board in 2001. She’s the botany end of it and I’m the technical person. I built all the automated watering and fertilizer system.

What sets your business apart? Sachi: I grow the genus cattleya orchid as well as one hybrid of vanda with a peach-colored flower. With the genus cattleya, from the time the seed is sown until it blooms, it takes about seven years. It’s a complicated thing. In the past, we had a laboratory and grew them in flasks in a clean room. Now we get them near to blooming size, or about five years old. Most customers want a flower on their orchid plant, so we wait for that, another year or so.

Noel: A big part of what we do here is educate people. The orchid is the largest blooming plant family on earth, with more than 30,000 species of orchids and more than 100,000 registered hybridized ones. There’s a lot to know.

Do you ship orchids?

Sachi: We ship on Mondays with delivery on Wednesdays, and prior to that I go to the NOAA web-site to see what the temperature will be at the destination. I won’t ship if it’s 38 degrees or below. We’ve had clients wait for months. If it’s too cold, I don’t ship because the cold will kill it. But I can also package the plant for the visitor to carry home – most of them do that, and they are allowed to carry them on the plane.

What are some interesting facts about orchids?

Sachi: The thing I’ve learned is that one can never learn enough about orchids because there are so many different varieties. Some may have a fragrance that’s really pleasing, or just awful – it covers the gamut. For example, certain orchids smell like rotten meat because carrion flies pollinate that particular kind of orchid. How orchids attract pollinators is fascinating: One orchid will look like a female insect and the male of that species will go in, root around and think it’s found its mate, then carry the pollen elsewhere. Pollinators may be flying insects, ants or moths that fly at night in response to a particular orchid fragrance.

What motivates you to get up and go to work? Sachi: I have an investment in the plants, so I need to take care of them so I can sell them. I have about 10,000 orchids at this point.

I’ve downsized my product because of the economy and because I don’t want to work as hard. There’s a lot of work to do and I don’t have employees. I have plants that need to be repotted. Nothing can be mechanically done. I have to make sure I spray my orchids as a preventative measure so there are no bugs on them. I don’t use any toxic type of insecticides. I spray on Friday or Saturday, alternating weekly between an insecticidal soap and a water-soluble paraffin-type of insecticide certified for nursery plants.

Do you have a motto or philosophy for doing business? Sachi: Service, service, service!

Are there any business/community organizations that you’ve found helpful? Sachi: We’re members of the Kaua’i County Farm Bureau, Kaua’i Orchid Society and Hawaii Tropical Flower Council.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Noel: We probably would be doing almost the same thing without the business end of it. We would take care of the property, remove invasive species and plant native species, trying to restore it.

Sachi: I think I would plug into something locally that deals with youths. I used to do a lot of youth work on the Mainland, and I know how important it is to be involved in that.

Kaua’i Orchids is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but call first: 828-0904. It is located mauka at 4643 Waiakalua St # C, at the 21-mile marker in Kilauea. Follow the gold-and-black signs. E-mail orchids@kauaiorchids.com

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