Begonias - My Hobby
An Occasional Page by Dave Staines
 ....and Finally





A. Stewed cabbage anyone? This is the effect of frost on the seedlings and I'm really pleased as it means I can now set to and begin to clear the front garden beds. All of these stems will be cut down to leave about 6 inches of stem attached to the tuber, and once I have space I will dig a hole and bury all of the top waste where it will readily rot down into the soil. Those plants I've chosen to keep for trialing in the greenhouse next year will be stored separately with their label attached but the majority will be mixed together for cleaning and storing, then in the Spring they will be passed on to those who have requested them.
B. The tubers with the soil removed and the remaining stems attached. The top waste has been buried and the local cats are no doubt arranging a party to celebrate the opening of their new "convenience" store!! I shall clean these as time permits as the named varieties will naturally take precedence over them. This is a lesson learnt from years ago when I lost the majority of my stock of named varieties to the frost due to spending too much time cleaning seedlings so I could give them away. Never again!!
C. The plants in the greenhouse in various stages of dying down for their Winter rest. Many are down to stumps and I will now be looking to see which ones are ready for removing from their pots and removing the compost and final piece of dead stem from the tuber.
This stump is showing how the sections of stem crack as they become ready to fall from the lower sections. A gentle rocking of the stem will show if it is ready to part from the plant but DO NOT snap it off as it will come away when it is ready.





E. Here you can see where the main portion of the stem has recently parted from the final piece of stem that will be attached to the tuber within the compost. When the top of this portion dries and begins to turn brown I will remove all the compost from the tuber and check to see if the final portion of stem is ready for removal from the tuber. You will notice the compost in the pot on the right is still very wet.
Two pots where the compost is still very wet so I have removed them from their pots and stood them on the upturned base to assist them to dry out quicker. Later I will begin to remove the compost in stages until I reach the tuber.
This is a plastic pot stood on the base of a bucket. Notice how the pot has begun to elongate as the tuber inside has begun to swell. Also; how dark brown the remaining pieces of stem are. These are now ready to be removed from the tuber along with the compost. Naturally the elongation of the pot can only apply to plastic pots, not clay, and the fun begins when you try to extricate the compost and tuber from the pot. I find a few good sharp taps on the edge of a bench or similar is a great help. Failing this destruction of the pot will be necessary.
I have chosen this pot to show how I go about cleaning and preparing the tuber for Winter storage. With the compost dry on top and the remaining piece of stem a nice dark brown I am confident this plant is ready for my ministrations. Note the knife. This is the type of strong equipment needed for removing the final piece of stem as some can be obstinate and will need persuading to part from the tuber. The edge of an old spoon may also be employed with good results.





I. With most of the compost now removed it's easier to get a better idea of the size and health of the tuber. Be careful now as you won't want to rip the skin from the tuber as you clean the remaining compost from it.
I am now ready to remove the last piece of stem from the tuber. I first try to push it off using my thumbs but failing that I resort to my knife. By placing the edge of the knife under the swollen lip of the stem I should be able to use enough force to remove it in one piece.
 The final piece of stem is free and the clean yellow and pink flesh of this plump tuber give me cause for optimism for this tuber next season. When removing the stem or stems from the tuber you should be very careful not to damage the edges around the tuber where the stem has been removed. A nice young pip is just visible at the top of the tuber and others will be hidden below the papery bracts that surround the edge of the open wound. Some of these will be next years plant stems and cuttings so take great care of them.
The open wound is now dusted with "Flowers of Sulphur" and an elastic band is placed around the tuber to retain the label.





M. A boxful of nearly prepared tubers ready for placing in the back end of the greenhouse where I maintain a temperature just above freezing with a "Parwin" electric heater. Those tubers that have not had a dusting of sulphur are to be checked again to be sure they are clean and ready for the sulphur.
One pot of each of the composts I trialed this season with the one on the left being my usual compost made from Kekkila Medium Grade Peat, then Black Fen Topsoil, Wisbech St. Mary Clay and Mendip Hills Soil. Apart from the two "Sulphate of Potash" feeds I gave all of my plants later in the season I only fed them once during the earlier part of the year with a half strength "Phostrogen" feed. I would normally have fed my plants on a regular basis but as I didn't know the level of feed already in the three soil composts I felt it right to rely only on the base fertilizer I had mixed into my own peat only compost.
 This is the Kekkila Peat mix and the root action is evident. The white particles are horticultural sand and the p.h. of this pot is just below 6.
This is Black Fen Topsoil. Again the roots are evident and the white pieces are "Perlite". The p.h. is between 6 and 6.5. A closer look at this pot shows how the soil particles are much finer at the base and top than in the centre. The finer particles would have washed down through the pot and no doubt the weight above would have a compaction effect. The centre with it's larger particles would have a much greater air flow to assist with the plant roots air requirements. My assumption of the finer particles at the top of the pot is probably due to the soil particles dissolving as the plant is watered from the top.





Q. This is Wisbech St. Mary Clay and the roots are not so evident. With the obvious exception of the larger root the majority appear to be feeder roots. The larger soil particles are evident towards the upper part of the pot and the lower portion is naturally compacted as this soil is extremely heavy. Note the lack of any real amount of drainage material. The larger root appears much thicker than in the previous two pots which leads me to suppose the roots need to be stronger to push through the clay particles. This root would have found it easier to travel once it had encountered the space between the soil and the inside wall of the pot. Another noticeable point is the feed salts on the lower two thirds of the soil which shows as a white residue and is more evident on the right side of this picture. The p.h.of this pot is just over 6.5.
This is Mendip Hills Soil and the roots are conspicuous by their absence. I believe the particles of this soil are so fine that compaction excludes air from the pot and the soil hardly ever dries out. The plant in this pot grew very short with extremely small leaves and a thin stem. Both stem and leaves were very dark green in colour which is hardly surprising when the soil came from stacked turfs. The land would have had a high nitrogen content to assist the turf to grow well. The p.h. of this pot was almost 7. You can see part of the tuber protruding through the top of the compost and I believe that as the tuber is swelling it has found the point of least resistance is upwards as there's not a lot of air space to allow the movement of the soil particles within the pot.
 The pots in the larger end of the greenhouse are covered with horticultural fleece if frost is forecast as a precaution against the frost getting to the pots. As space becomes available on the centre staging the pots near the glass are moved inwards onto the staging. On the left you will see the wooden tomato trays I use to store the tubers and the plastic bag next to them contains spent compost from the pots. The door to the heated end is closed and a curtain of bubble plastic is draped behind it to conserve heat. The "Parwin" heater is clearly seen facing the doorway.
When all of your tubers are cleaned and safely tucked up in bed for the Winter you will then have the joy of knowing you have all of the pots, stakes and bloom supports to clean before you can sit back and enjoy a drop of something of your choice. Mine will be the expensive brush cleaning liquid on the right in picture (E) of my "Hybridization" page.

   My remarks regarding the various compost soils I've tried this season should not in any way be seen as criticism of other growers techniques, and my sincerest thanks go to John Chiswell and Tony Richardson for supplying me with enough of their soil to enable me to trial it under my own growing conditions. I know from other pots of various mixtures that the addition of grit was a great help to the drainage and subsequent root action of the plants in pots that were predominately made with the soils supplied by John and Tony. Again, my thanks to both for their generosity. What will I use in 2009? I will try a few pots in 75% Kekkila Medium Peat with a 10% addition of Black Fen Topsoil and the remaining 15% will be a mixture of horticultural sand and Flint Chick Grit. The compost for the final potting will be made with the same peat and topsoil but will have the remaining 15% made with Cornish Grit as it has larger pieces in it. The results remain to be seen!! Remember, Begonia growing is a hobby for most of us so if you do nothing else, ENJOY IT!! You can contact me anytime through the Web Master ....and Finally one last piece of advice, "Don't have the Salmon Mousse"!!
                                                                                                 Take Care, Regards, Dave.    December 2008