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CULTURAL DIARY   2018
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Tony Shepherdson

National Begonia Society Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017
British Begonia Champion 12 Cut Blooms 2017

Episode 2 – mid January 2018

Well there’s no going back now, the new season is well and truly underway and from now on things will just get busier and busier. We managed to get away for a quick holiday a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve had to play catch up for a few days since we got back home. 

The old tubers that I started off in early January are showing of plenty signs of life – see below left and all but the biggest of my cutting tubers are now in the propagators in the same 5 parts to 1 M2 and Vermiculite mix that I used for starting all my tubers – see below centre and right.

                              

Cutting tuber harvest is a bit of an apprehensive time for me; my success rate in terms of producing a good quality tuber has been mixed and I struggle to understand why. Don’t get me wrong, overall they are improving, especially in terms of tuber size with the majority around 2 inches – see Bali Hi and Nichola Coates below left - and a decent amount close to 3 inches – see Joyce Mihulka below right but there are areas for improvement. To be more specific, it is the plants that retain their stems long after the others have fell off and then when harvested they have virtually no tuber to speak of. I had a bad time with this problem a couple of years ago and ‘hung my hat’ on the theory that the rooted cuttings had been potted up too deeply and since then I have been careful to ensure that they are not buried. Even so, I have still had too many plants this year that have displayed this problem.

 

               

It’s worth saying that certain varieties are much worse than others – Symestar seems to be by far the worst under my conditions but thankfully it throws a lot of cuttings and I take full advantage and root at least twice as many of this variety than I need just because of this problem. I have recently acquired Burnout and I managed to get a decent number of cuttings from it but just as well because again too many of them have not produced a viable tuber – see below. To be fair, it is worth pointing out that with this variety, quite a few of my plants were from stem cuttings, so that may be a contributing factor. Surprisingly, Tom Brownlee has been affected by this problem and considering I haven’t had this issue with it before and that these plants were rooted from late March to early April I cannot understand why. It’s even more puzzling why seemingly identical plants throughout the season are then found to behave so differently at the end of the season, with one plant retaining it’s stem but no tuber and the other loosing It’s stem on time and producing a decent sized tuber. This anomaly continues but to a much lesser extent when looking at the remaining varieties in my collection. This year, rather than dumping these ‘tubers’ I am going to try starting them up and will see how it goes. I may just get a cutting or two and they may go on to produce a decent enough tuber for next years’ early cuttings or they may be vigorous enough to produce a plant to flower later in August – I’ll give it a go and see what happens – at the back of my mind though is the risk that keeping plants that have this fault should be avoided. 

 

Well with the cutting tubers I have, everything seems to be progressing well. I don’t give them the bleach treatment like the older tubers get, they just come out of their pots and straight into the propagator as soon as they have had a close inspection for signs of rot, pests, diseases and scab issues. Any that need minor surgery are left for a couple of days for wounds to heal before they go in otherwise there will be an increased risk of grey mould - Botrytis Cinerea – see below, but I do not keep them in the warmth of the house as the smaller ones especially would rapidly dehydrate. Also like the adult tubers I have found virtually no evidence of vine weevils, just a handful of tubers with some very small holes that have healed completely so I will definitely be using the nematodes to treat this pest in future.

 

It was a big relief when the Scottish Begonia Society Committee managed to transfer some of the classes from the defunct Ayr show to Dundee at such short notice, however the later date of Dundee has brought with it a new challenge for growers who want to exhibit at both shows. In previous seasons, the National and SBS show were only one week apart but now there is a three week gap, which creates some additional timing issues. 

When these shows were just a week apart, later blooms for the first show could hang on until the second one and early blooms for the second show could be just about ready for the first show, but at three weeks apart none of the blooms are transferrable. Now I honestly don’t think that this is an big issue, it’s just a new challenge that we should all embrace because once resolved, it will mean we have learned something new and that should make us better growers. Besides, it extends the main part of the flowering season and gives a longer break between two big journeys and make blooms available for any shows in between. Also, theoretically at least, the later date of Dundee should mean cooler conditions for the critical last week before the show. 

Another aspect of this gap between the shows concerns the date we start up our tubers. Last season, I know that I wasn’t the only exhibitor who thought that some of their Dundee plants felt like they had been growing for too long by the time that they flowered, if that makes sense?
For a start, mine went into their final pots at the same time as my Shrewsbury plants and as a result had probably used up most of the fertilizer by around three weeks ahead of their bud securing dates for Dundee so I had to resort to supplementary feeds.

They also flowered, in some cases on the eighth bud and beyond which I don’t like. In other words, the Dundee adult tubers were started up too early. Additionally, the root systems would have been starting to become dense at the time of bud securing, rather than still growing as they would have been three weeks earlier, so I now have to weigh up the benefits of starting them up in Late February / early March against the risk of the tubers remaining in storage for longer, as opposed to my normal start up date of between 10th and 15th February. 

So currently when I give my adult tubers their weekly health check, I am gradually separating them into two batches – one to go in at my normal date around mid February and a second for the end of February. Criteria that I am using are: 

     ●   Varieties – last season I used one of my two 16 x 8 greenhouses for Shrewsbury and the other one for Dundee. Each greenhouse holds around 84 plants in 3 rows of 14 each side (I’d love to give them more elbow room but so far it’s been a compromise between space and numbers that works) and I will be doing the same this year, but I would like to have similar numbers of the same varieties for each show. I know this won’t be 100% achievable but I am aiming for approaching 90%. The remainder of the 200 plants I am hoping to grow will be housed in my 10 x 8 Alton once the main propagation phase is completed. Which varieties these plants will be will depend on what is available but some of them will be the seedlings that I retained for further trials from last years sowing of seed kindly given by Michael Richardson – the cross is Powder Puff and Tom Brownlee.
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Stage of growth – those that are well pipped will be used for the first batch whenever possible.
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Tuber condition – just some simple common sense so that I use the ones that look like they will last better for the second batch.

I am not staggering the cutting tubers as mine tend to be a bit more erratic in pipping compared to the adult tubers so they tend to sort themselves into early and late season plants, however I have held a few of the bigger ones back to start in mid February with the first batch of adults.

What’s keeping me awake at night?

Compost ingredients – I’ve made a good start on stocking up and hope to have everything in place well before the main batch of adult tubers go in, but until I have everything on site, I will be worrying whether:

      ●   All of my preferred products will be available?
●   Will they be physically the same as in previous years?·
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Will they be fresh?
●   Should I make any adjustments?
●   Should I try any experiments?
●   Will I be able to borrow my wife’s accurate digital kitchen scales again to weigh out my fertilizers without getting caught……?

Next episode – adult tuber preparation and start up. 

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