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Why Do I Push Kelpak?

People are often suspicious of my motives when I recommend Kelpak, being certain that I’m just “hawking it to make a sale”, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain – it’s a long story, but the background will help.

I have always been fascinated with chemistry. Having moved a fair amount as a kid, it seemed that each new school district taught it in my grade, eventually leading to me being one of six students in an AP Chemistry class as a senior in high school who finished the entire year’s curriculum before Christmas, allowing us to “play” in the lab for the rest of the year. (This was the late 60’s, so “pollution” was a new area to explore, so we created some in the lab that required the evacuation of our entire school!)

When I went to Georgia Tech, I naturally majored in Chemical Engineering, later changing to Ceramic Engineering, which is really “High Temperature Chemical Engineering”, also fitting nicely with my “pyromaniac” side. After a few years of working for Corning Glass, I moved to the chemical industry, where I spent most of my career.

In the almost 50 years I’ve grown orchids, having a “chemical bent” leads me to often ask “what can I put on them to make them grow better?”. That led to my interest in phytohormones and other plant growth regulators, and led me to the use of synthetic auxin products like Superthrive and Dyna-Gro KLN. I did some experiments to prove their efficacy and used KLN regularly for years. (I even developed my own formula that was superior to either one, but the EPA requirements – and related costs – stopped my interest in manufacturing and marketing it.) My curiosity led me to question why some people, like me, thought they were wonderful additions to their culture, while others thought they were worthless. I soon learned of their chemical instability and short shelf-lives, figuring the opinions could be due to the differences in freshness, hence potency of the particular bottle. That got me wondering about natural products, which began my study of seaweed/kelp extracts.

After many months of digging on the internet and in the library, I read a lot of claims that were backed by little factual data. Then I came across the producers of Kelpak, who had reams of data collected in laboratories, greenhouses, and farm fields. Now that sounded like something worth investigating further. I contacted them via email, mentioning my interest as a hobby orchid grower, and asked for contact info for their US distributor. They refused to share it. After about a year of me hounding them via email and telephone calls to South Africa, they finally relented. I contacted the distributor, who was happy to send me a sample.

Upon receipt of the sample, I contacted the producer’s technical folks for advice on the product’s use on orchids. They had none, as all of their efforts related to food crops, turf and landscaping. They advised that I experiment, starting at a 1:400 dilution. If I saw no reaction after a month, try 1:300, and if that fails, try 1:200. I am not that patient, so opted for 1:250 (about 1 tablespoon per gallon). Then I got concerned. Do I really want to use my precious orchids as Guinea Pigs?

I opted to use my tropical houseplants as a test bed, instead. That included a few dracaenas, aglaonemas (Chinese evergreens), and a spathiphyllum my wife had gotten in a “funeral dish garden” some 15 years earlier that had never bloomed since. All of them were watered twice with the solution. A few weeks later, I started to see a response – the dracaenas all sprouted new growths from their bases and branched higher up. The other plants reacted similarly and all bloomed – including the spath – so I felt better about trying it in the greenhouse.

At the time, I grew a fair number of vandaceous plants in slat baskets with no media, hung high in the greenhouse. In Pennsylvania, late March/early April was when I typically saw them “wake up” after the gray winter, and start putting out roots. A mature plant would put out six- to eight new root tips in the spring, followed by more shoot growth. After two waterings, two weeks apart, using the same 1:250 dilution of KelpMax, the average was 40. My immediate thought was “orchid growers are gonna love this!”, so I asked the US distributor if I could resell the product. He went back to the folks in South Africa, and they said “no”. It took another six months of back-and-forth negotiation before we came to an understanding and they allowed me to do so.

I originally purchased the product by the pallet, containing 72, 2.5-gallon jugs. I repackage it into 1-, 4-, and 10-liter containers for resale (I now get 1-liter bottles direct from the factory). The first pallet I acquired (December 2011) took about 18 months to sell. The next four pallets went in about a year, then it started to really take off. I am now average about four pallets in a year. I do no advertising outside of my recommendations online.

When I retired from the chemical industry and was preparing to downsize and relocate to North Carolina, I had planned on closing First Rays altogether. I was the sole retail outlet of Kelpak, K-Lite fertilizer, and Inocucor Garden Solution plant probiotic. I got Kelley’s Korner Orchid Supplies to start selling K-Lite and was planning to do the same with the other products. The VP of Sales for Inocucor (a paphiopedilum grower and user of Kelpak) asked that I keep selling their product, as being a scientist, I educate people about it and not just peddle it. The producer of Kelpak, on the other hand, simply stated “if you stop retailing it, we will not authorize anyone else to do so.”

I view Kelpak as a pretty amazing product and use it on all of my plants – orchids, lawn, flowers and shrubbery, herbs and vegetables – and just couldn’t let the stuff vanish from the market, so I stayed in business, going from more than 300 orchid-growing products occupying over 5000 ft2 of warehouse space, to three products occupying a 75 ft2 room in my garage.

So you can understand it when I say that I sell it because it’s so good, not just to “make a buck.”

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, check out our store.