A year in the life of an Amateur Begonia Grower
Overall this has been rather an odd month weather wise. It has been
a bit warmer than usual but this was down to the last two days when
temperatures reached 70oF and some places in the South West experienced
their hottest May temperatures on record. Earlier the wind and rain
delayed progress out of doors but suited the begonias in the greenhouse.
(A) The first
basal cuttings of the year were taken on the 1st. of the month. These are
taken the traditional way by rocking the stems off the tuber with thumb
and forefinger and hopefully with some root. The medium I use is coir
with a generous amount of Perlite. The block seen on the top of the
bucket is soaked in approximately 5 pints of water, left for an hour or
so, and then given a thorough stir to break down completely.
(B) This is the amount of compost generated from one block. I
find that the earlier cuttings require heat so I use a propagator to
start with. This is surprising as most of them have rootlets. I
generally use no hormone rooting powder except on some pendula cuttings
and this rarely these days. If you use too much powder or gel, the
cuttings rot. If you must, use very, very sparingly.
(C) Cuttings now inserted in the compost. The leaves are
trimmed down to the size of a one pence coin or smaller. If any show
signs of flagging I invert a plant label and push this through the leaf
to hold it stable.
(D) The propagator is then covered
with fleece ensuring that it does not touch the cuttings in any way. It
is essential to keep damp, but not wet, and it is fatal to let the coir
dry out. A tip, I tend to spray with a hand spray every time I go in the
greenhouse – a sort of manual mist sprayer.
(E) The back staging has now been
inserted with the “drinks bar” underneath. I use rain water from the
water butts at the rear of the greenhouse. This is stored in watering
cans to ensure that the water applied is at room temperature. The rear
door is open at all times and is covered with shade net to stop fliers,
i.e. insects and birds gaining entry. Having a back door installed in
the greenhouse was a great decision. It helps to ensure air circulation
at all times.
(F) The second weekend of
the month saw Blackmore & Langdon's Open Day at Pensford only a few
miles from Nailsea. This is a regular on the begonia calendar. Here is
my friend Tony Willoughby inspecting blooms in the show house. Met up
with Gary Dando, John Chiswell and Don Dewey but missed many other NBS
members who visited over the three days. Incidentally, B&L picked up
another gold for their display of begonias and delphiniums.
(G) Here are two trays of semperfloren begonias. These will
be used for bedding in some parts of the garden. They were purchased as
plugs from a local garden centre and have made good growth.
(H) Moth balls, the first line of defence against vine weevils. I
started using them some three years ago and now many other growers do
likewise. They are scattered around the greenhouse floor and also placed
in saucers amongst the plants. Their main use is for outside the
greenhouse where all baskets and tubs are treated. Later Provado
is utilised but I am convinced that moth balls deter the little
blighters in the first place.
How the price has escalated over that time. Initially they cost
£1.22 for a box of 30 balls, and this has now risen steadily to £2.24
this year, or 7.5p per ball. However you can obtain from a major
national chain at their special price of £3.29! You can still, I am
told, obtain from certain pound shops but I’ve never seen any. Geoff
Porter tells me that Northern Ireland is the place to be, as you can
obtain balls imported from the USA at just £1 for 50 balls.
A combination of weather and back trouble has meant that no
baskets or troughs have been planted out as yet, many of the begonias
are overdue for staking and things are lagging a bit. However, with both
on the mend, watch out next month.
It’s all happening this month in the “begonia world”. So much to be
done and waiting for plans to come to fruition. The weather was
extremely hot towards the middle of the month but by the end there was a
very cold wind with a ground frost at night. Just ask my potatoes on the
allotment what they thought of that!
(A) The 5th
April saw the South West Area’s annual meeting in Nailsea. A great
chance to meet up and exchange ideas and views. Many of us meet up for
lunch, before going up to Grove Sports Centre for the meeting. L to R
Mike Ball, Chudleigh, Devon, Mike Osborne, Camborne, Cornwall, Gary
Dando, Area Rep, Shepton Mallet, Somerset and Dennis Need, our speaker
from Merseyside, a combined mileage of approaching 1,000 to be with us
on the day. What dedication. A good time was had by all. Others
attending came from throughout the SW with visitors from South Wales and
(B) Dennis Need travelled down from the North West to be with
us and his talk on multi floras was very well received by approximately
50 attending. It shows there are other begonia varieties than the
tuberous show varieties to be considered. An integral part of the
afternoon was the plant/tuber sale. The Area is grateful to all who
contribute, especially John Chiswell and Gary. Here you see the sale in
full swing. The proceeds were shared by the Area with the recently
formed South Wales Group.
(C) John Chiswell brought 400 sachets containing Amblyseius
cocumeris to the meeting and all were purchased. It seems that at last
the environmental prevention and treatment for Tarsonemid mite is
catching on. I introduce my 10 sachets and these last for 6/8 weeks. I
intend to obtain another supply in early June and that will see me
through the growing season. Can you afford not to take this precaution?
I have seen the devastating effect that mite does to the plant and may I
say the growers as well. It is heartbreaking if you are affected.
(D) The first flowers of the season.
These are Dainty Dancer plug plants developed by Dennis Need and
obtained from him at our
meeting. . Another one that is down to Dennis is Peardrop”. They will make a good display in baskets, troughs and for
general bedding and will be on sale at selected garden centres. I intend
to use in a long trough under the kitchen window.
(E) This is the first potting on of a
cutting tuber of Apricot Loveliness taken on 27th June, 2008, planted on
the 22nd January this year and now re-potted. The roots are just filling
the 3½” pot and it has now been transferred to a 5½” half pot. I use the
smaller pot to make a template, put compost around it, and the plant
just drops in with no root disturbance.
(F) The 22nd April was a
significant day, or particularly the afternoon. The heat was intense so
I had to move quickly to shade the greenhouse. Until then I had relied
on the bubble wrap for shading. I use shade netting and it took around
10 minutes to fix with four ties on each sheet. It withstands all the
gales that nature can throw at the greenhouse and as it is an integral
part of the garden, to paint it white would be an eyesore. This system
is so much easier and it works.
(G) My system of cleaning off labels. Soak them for 48
hours in a mix of 50/50 water and bleach and most will be clean and
ready to use. Less laborious and more efficient then using a scouring
pad. It doesn’t work on pencil markers though.
(H) The interior of the greenhouse, at the end of the month,
now totally devoted to begonias. Pendulas, multi floras et al on the
left and tuberous varieties on the right. I have introduced yellow
sticky traps. Strictly against the rules as they will certainly catch a
few of the mite predators, but so what, there’s plenty to go round. My
aim was to grow 36 plants this year and a quick count revealed 103!
Certainly some culling required to achieve my aim. They are all looking
very healthy and I am, as always, looking for a good season, as we all
So far I haven’t taken any cuttings this year. I
concentrated on growing the miniscule cutting tubers, some of which have
made remarkable progress. I delayed starting my main tubers, some only
going in in the early part of this month. I hope that next month I will
be in full swing taking cuttings, but intend to be much more selective
than last year as I do not really have the space to do them all justice.
January & February
June & July
August & September
October & November
BY BASIL BILLINGER
Begonias at the Rose & Sweet Pea Show
A Spring Visit to
the South West Area Representative's Greenhouses
trail through the Mendips
A Spring Visit to B&L 2007
B&L March 2008
B&L May 2008
B&L Chelsea Preview May