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 Diary  2009
A year in the life of an Amateur Begonia Grower

Basil Billinger

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 INTRODUCTION
   My home is at Nailsea, North Somerset, mid way between Bristol and Weston-super- Mare. I have been growing begonias for five years and in that time my enthusiasm has been encouraged by many NBS members.
   My main aim is to grow for pleasure. The tuberous begonias are grown as single stem and I am particularly interested in pendulas and multifloras, especially with many new varieties coming on stream.
   I am not really interested in showing but do support our Area Show at Bideford. That being said the showmen (are there any ladies?) are the life blood of the NBS. Their encouragement and advice over the years has greatly improved my growing and enjoyment. Many of the techniques and tips I use are down to them.
   I started off growing in a small, narrow cedar wood greenhouse and after extending it, I realised that the only way to improve my growing and facilities was to invest in a new greenhouse. This was done three years ago, with all mod cons.
   My facilties are limited, as I suspect are many of our members. I hope over the coming months to show you how I, hopefully, make the best of what space I have.
   I will share with you the ups and downs, high and lows of the coming year. Hopefully, more of the former. Above all, my aim is to enjoy my growing irrespective of the results. I trust that my comments will be of interest to you. Do enjoy your growing in the coming year.

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 NOVEMBER
  
To sum up this month’s weather, rain, rain, rain and mild, mild, mild. The wettest November since 1940. Not in deluges like Cumbria but pretty consistent over the month, unlike two years ago when the South West suffered the same drastic consequences as the north. So mild that miniature daffodils planted in the main begonia trough in the third week of October are now showing. The greenhouse has been quite warm on many days and I keep the doors open. At night plants and cuttings are covered with fleece, just in case.    


A

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(A)  Following last years success with one Kookaburra cutting taken in September, I could not resist doing the same this year. Took quite a few, too many to “lodge out” this year. Brought a propagator down from the loft and hope to overwinter in my greenhouse for a change. This is a first. Have lost some, but these, mainly Fire Dance, seem fine. Keep the cover off during the day and replace at night. 
(B)  The first tubers are now being put to bed for the winter. These are the infamous ones from No.25, of which I have lost five already. I store in cat litter trays and cover the tubers with peat.  
(C)  Here they are in their final resting place. Before covering, I check over and take off any stem scabs as necessary. When I do this I give them a puff of sulphur powder. They are stored in the garage where the central heating boiler keeps the temperature frost free. I have tried various methods over the years, paper bags in the garage loft and in the home and in trays in the house. Nothing works for me like this method that has been successful for three years. They are checked over periodically for any signs of rot. 
(D)  George Tatton, one of my tubers. Very pleased, as this was the earliest cutting taken this year. It appears to have made tremendous growth. Still has some way to go to match its parent that is huge! I initially take out of the pot and leave 3 or 4 inches of compost around the tuber for two or three weeks before cleaning off. I well remember Ray Weekes of Paulton telling me “you don’t dry your tubers off, you ripen them off”. How true that is. 


E

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(E)  The next stage. Some weeks later I remove most of the compost using a stiff but supple paint brush to remove all traces of compost.  This Powder Puff has a very robust root system. They are not all not like this but it is an indication that it is a good healthy tuber and has had a good growing season. 
(F) 
The final stage. This Tahiti has had all its roots removed. This is done by pinching the roots off. Initially I use a pair of scissors to trim them back before resorting to fingers. Do not under any circumstances pull or tug the roots off. You are likely to expose the flesh on the tuber. If you do succumb, dust with sulphur powder. The final act is to fix the label on to the tuber with a rubber band, making sure the band has not deteriorated otherwise it may come adrift and you will be in trouble later on. 
(G) 
The last day of the month and it is getting a bit chilly. A sign that the weather is on the change. All the cutting tubers are hastily removed to the garage. There is a window behind the shelves but this is frosted glass so the growing season is now over. Normally I manage to achieve two months of final growth but this year it has extended by a further month. Perhaps when harvest time comes the tubers will be larger than pea sized like last year. Not that this is any deterrent. It is amazing what plants you get from whatever sized tuber. It’s the stock that counts. 
(H)  My “success” with foliage plants is well documented. Some have been ditched at the end of the season, a couple have been farmed out for the winter and I have kept two, Tiger and Tiger Paws. These are in the heated conservatory. However, at night the temperature plummets, as I know to my cost. I lost my only successful foliage plant last year due to the cold at night. Which is which? T on the left and TP on the right. They are very similar but TP is slightly more luscious and vibrant in my opinion.

   The season is now nearly over, or is it? With the mild weather there are still lots to do. Half of the plants have not gone to sleep and the ones that have are still waiting cleaning off. It will be interesting to see what progress is made next month when normally, for me, everything is done and dusted.  

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 OCTOBER
    
One chilly night with a slight ground frost early on but the rest of the month has been with above average temperatures. Talk about an Indian summer – it certainly arrived this month. This has caused conditions that I have not experienced over my five years of growing begonias. Besides tubers not showing any sign of going into dormancy there was little mildew that was very prevalent during the summer.  


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(A)  Had a call from No. 25 to say the begonias are ready for collection. Joan looks after and tends some twelve pots and even showed at Bideford winning the novice pot with Nell Gwynne. Oh dear! All plants chopped down and even worse water logged with algae well to the fore. Took them back to No.19 and decided to take the tubers out immediately. What a pungent smell from some of the pots. Yes, you’ve guessed it, three were decaying already. An example of what not to do. Tubers would never have dried out naturally so they have been put in the airing cupboard. Will store separately and see what the survival rate is compared with mine. 
(B)   How they should be done, I hope. Let the plants go to dormancy slowly in their own time. My plants show little sign of dyeing down with very few leaves going yellow. I have ceased watering now and have given one treatment of potash.
(C)  The cutting tubers have been in the greenhouse since early September when the shading was removed. This has given two months of excellent growing conditions. I take off any flowers and the growing tips to hopefully increase the tuber size. Also, gave them a half strength feed of general purpose fertiliser every two weeks or so. They look good but I will have a problem of what to do with yet another one hundred tubers! Just can’t resist taking cuttings when I see them. Worth doing as it covers for any losses that may be experienced. 
(D)  General view of greenhouse first thing in the morning. I never use any heat so I cover the cutting tubers with fleece at night to keep them snug and warm. They are also on the side of the greenhouse with no insulation. Baskets are either in the lean-to or hung up in the greenhouse. I have left the flowers on the Fire Dance as they are still looking good and brighten up the surroundings.


E

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(E)  Third week of the month and the multi floras are still going strong. One problem with begonias, if it is a problem, is that they just go on and on. Five minutes after this picture was taken they were chopped down. So much for gradual dormancy! At least they were not waterlogged. Just had to get some miniature daffodils in and hopefully they may be ready for the local show in early April. 
(F) 
These are “surplus to requirement” begonias that were just dumped in a trough towards the end of summer to replace bedding plants that had gone over. L to R. Fairylight, Kookaburra and Jenny Barclay. They do well outside and I know of many growers who use them in garden displays. Particularly pleased with the K as this was a cutting only taken in September last year.  
(G) 
The semperfloren have been wonderful this year and again just go on. Even now these are still outside and looking good. It just shows what a versatile range of plants there are under the begonia banner.   
(H)  Finally I just can’t resist showing you another picture of this basket of Roy Mackey taken on the last day of the month. It is a real eye catcher and it would appear I have finally found a place in the rear garden that suits a hanging basket. We’ll see if I can replicate this success again next year 

   This extraordinary mild weather may well have its implications. It could well be that I may have to prune down my plants to give them any chance of going into dormancy. I don’t use any heating so this may cause problems if we do get any hard frosts. Fingers crossed that this does not happen.

   PS. Sunday 1st November. Roy Mac has been located to the greenhouse to escape the rain and gale force winds.

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January & February          March          April & May          June & July     August & September
December

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OTHER PAGES BY BASIL BILLINGER
Begonias at the Rose & Sweet Pea Show
A Spring Visit to the South West Area Representative's Greenhouses          Garden Begonias
Begonia trail through the Mendips          October Begonias
A Spring Visit to B&L 2007          B&L March 2008          B&L May 2008          B&L Chelsea Preview May 2009 

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