The National Begonia Society


2015 Diary

Michael Richardson

Episode 4. Mid February

Cleaning Schedule phase 2
   Greenhouse / Shade house has been stripped out and the floor and walls cleaned then drenched with Jeyes fluid. The frame and glass was sprayed down with Armillotox along with the staging after it’s been washed down with soapy water and rinsed off. Then it’s finished off by letting off a Sulphur Candle.
Now both the Propagating Greenhouse and Greenhouse / Shade house have been cleaned and they have had the double bubble attached to the inside of the frames to help insulate them as you can see by the picture to the left and right.
   Now I am ready to start off another year full of expectations and I very much doubt trouble free, but we all love a challenge or we would not put ourselves through this year after year.

Now a subject that always causes a debate between growers…… Compost
   When I first started mixing my own starting compost I used Chempak Seed Base to make my starting compost to start my tubers in. Then I realized I was better off starting them in a Multi-Purpose compost. I got fed up with the inconsistencies of brands from 1 year to the next – So now I mix all my own Multi-Purpose resulting in the type of root I have been searching for and resulting in a marked improvement in my growing, yet I still have a fair way to go. The root I want is thick white roots with a pink tip - not the thin weak spingly roots that you quite often see.
   The following is my Multi-Purpose Compost mix per 100 Litre of compost –
X75 Litre Westland Sphagnum Moss Peat x 25 Litre Horticultural Sharp Sand, to this I add 600g Vitax Q4,150g Dolomite Lime and 150g Garden Lime. Once it’s mixed I let it stand for 3 to 4 days to “settle in”.
I have mixed x250 Litres of Multi-Purpose ready to kick off another year.
This mix may sound harsh to other growers who like to pamper there tubers with a “softer” starting medium so to speak. But I want my tubers to work hard and this helps make for a stronger root system that I have been looking for.
   I always buy a couple of 100 Litre bags of Westland Moss Peat towards the end of the growing season when its new and fresh so to speak, then store them in a shed and forget about them until late January when I use them.

Starting my cutting tubers.
I have x2 Shankley propagators that I fill to depth of approx. 2 inch layer of sharp sand then water them in, then put a tray in each of the propagators. These trays have holes drilled in the bottom then filled with Multi-Purpose Compost and watered in then covered with a lid. This allows moisture and warmth to transfer to the compost and keep it at a constant temperature.
I then sort out all the small cutting tubers that I want to start up.
I tried to get pollen at the end of last year, and managed to make a couple of crosses. However when the petals dropped off within a week the stem on which held the flower bud to the main stem fell off – Why this happened I have no idea but if there is one thing I will do this year is ask a certain gentleman from Coalburn why it happened. The resulting cuttings I took to get pollen produced little cutting tubers which need going back in.
I have sorted my cutting tubers out and the smallest cutting tubers will go back in.
I soak them in warm water for about 15 minutes then bury them in the compost with the label placed at the back of the tuber.
There are x2 reasons why I soak them –
     • The 1st is to help them take up a little moisture so they don’t absorb all the moisture straight from your chosen starting medium and it also helps them to start to “plump up” again
     • The 2nd and just as important is to see if any of the cutting tubers float, if so it’s a sure sign there is rot in your tuber. Put please make sure with the very small tubers they are not floating due to the label that’s still attached by a rubber band.
As you can see from the picture on the right I pack them in fairly tight because as soon as they start to throw root I pot them up into a 4 inch pot pretty quickly. Then leave them to root properly.
Again my thinking is different from most growers as I believe in the following -
Now I treat both my cutting tubers and adult tubers the same when potting up. I like to lift the tuber and root ball out and give it a little “shake” before they go into the 1st pot as I don’t like starting them in pots for the following x2 reasons
     • The 1st is a way I aerate my roots before they go in the first pot. Now if you have the right root system you will find that you don’t have issues with “losing roots” whilst “disturbing the root ball so to speak.
• The 2nd and the main reason is that when you start the tuber in a pot and its roots hit the edge of the pot and you pot it on then technically the medium in the 1st pot that you started your tuber in is nearly if not spent so most of your medium in the 2nd pot is doing nothing. Now if you lift and shake your tuber before you pot it not only do you aerate the roots put you put fresh medium around the roots and the rest of the pot. This means there is a greater percentage of medium now working for the plant and not just part of it.
Unlike John Hamilton and Bob Bryce who don’t use labels most of the time and just seem to know the variety by looking at it. Me, I can do it with a few varieties like – Linda Jackson, Tom Brownlee, Sweet Dreams, Falstaff & Golden Hind – they are a few easy ones.
One New Year’s resolution I have made is when you take a cutting write a label and put it in. I have a terrible habit of taking a cutting and thinking I will label that tomorrow – the following day comes and I’ve forgotten what variety it is. I bet I am not the only one out there who does this.
The other thing I started to do last year is use a bigger plant label to write the variety on – Why, I hear you ask…. well its simple I find that small labels fall out the bottom of the pots at the end of the year or can slip down the side of the pot and you think you have lost It. A big plant label does help to stop this from happening.

Staring my adult tubers and large cutting tubers –
Both my Hotbox’s in my Propagating Greenhouse have been filled with Multi-Purpose compost and have been watered in and allowed to settle and come up to temperature.

Sunday 8th February – Scotland –
   Set off at 07:30 to meet Vincent Potts at Chorley then on to Scotland. It was a new venue where we were going to so it was technically another venture into the unknown. Where was Bob Bryce I hear you ask…. well he read my last article and thought it was going to be hard work when I mentioned the weather and spades so he went and booked a trip to Latvia for 5 days.
It took us a good 3hrs to get to Roberts as the temperature never rose above -2° and the fog never lifted until we came off the M74 and cut across to Carluke and Roberts.
We were not the only guests at Robert Nelson as Colin Elsworth and Tony Shepherdson where visiting. If any of you managed to get to Ayr Flower Show last year and saw Tony Shepherdson's blooms you will know he will be a future force to be reckoned with. The topic of conversation round the table was…. Yep you have guessed it begonias.
   For those who have never been to Robert Nelsons home then let me tell you, you will have to go a long way to find a greater collection of Double Tuberous Begonias like he has. Personally I feel we need people like Robert or varieties will just die out and will be lost forever just because they don’t make a great pot or cut bloom for showing. We don’t have a National Collection for Double Tuberous Begonias maybe Roberts the man…. who knows.
Robert has kindly let me put up some pictures of his set up, see below. The eagle eyed amongst you out there will have noticed that Robert's main greenhouse (Picture on the left) has had the dwarf wall pebble dashed and painted – now that’s class.
Once again we were spoilt by Robert and Margaret and were well fed and watered, on behalf of the 4 of us thank you.
We got to the meeting early so Robert could attend the committee meeting. Since we were there early Samuel Kennedy invited myself and Vincent to sit in on the committee meeting.
To my great surprise John Hamilton had made the committee meeting which was a shock to the system.
It was great to meet up and renew friendships after the Winter break.
John Hamilton was giving the talk, and explained he had combined x3 talks into x1 for this talk. His talk was well received by all present.
On the way home the fog had lifted and we made good time getting back.

Until next time.....….


 Robert Nelson's greenhouses

Michael Richardson's Diaries 2015