The National Begonia Society


2015 Diary

Michael Richardson

Episode 24. 

There is an Educational twist to this instalment

Wednesday 23rd September – Autumnal Equinox
5 things you may not know about the first day of autumn
    • What does the word “equinox” mean? It means “equal night”. Daytime and night are not actually equal even though the centre of the sun sets 12 hrs after it rises, the day begins as the upper edge of the sun reaches the horizon. Hence the days are slightly longer.

    • Is the equinox always on the same day – It usually falls on either the 22 or 23 September but in 1931 it fell on 24th September. The Gregorian calendar does not always match up as the plant takes 365.25 days to orbit the sun, this results in the equinox day being delayed by a day. The next time this will happen is in the year 2303 on 24 September (please note I will not be around to debate this if I am wrong).
    • Why do meteorologists say autumn begins on 1st September – To make accurate comparisons of seasonal weather from year to year, meteorologists often divide the season into x4 3 month periods.
    • The difference between the autumn equinox in the North and South Pole? If you live at the South Pole you will be experiencing the first sighting of sunlight in 6 months, as the September equinox marks the first day of spring there. Those who live at the North Pole will be beginning their 6 months of darkness.
    • Celebrating the Autumn equinox – Stonehenge has the Druids and music, China celebrate with a harvest festival and Korea mark it with a type of Thanksgiving

Saturday 26th September -
   Well it’s that time of year where I go through all my cuttings and “weed” out all the ones that are the “runts of the litter” so to speak. The ones that I have “weeded” out, have been put at the back of my propagating greenhouse on top of the back hotbox and given a little heat and will be fed as well as I try and force them to bulk up a little (see picture to the left).
All the strong cuttings were left outside for another week or two as the leaves were showing no sign of seasonal change e.g. leaf’s yellowing and dropping.
I then went through all my strong cuttings left outside and –
    • Checked and where necessary stopped them by rubbing out side-shoot’s as necessary.
     • Fed them with Chempak 4 – 15:15:30
Now John Hamilton can get birds nesting in his begonia hanging baskets in his greenhouse (see instalment Caledonian Tours 6) me… I get toads nesting in the tops of my cuttings, see pictures to the left and right. – So I have a “knot” of Toads (that’s what you call a group of Toads just in case you are wondering).

October –
   Well it’s nearly that time of year when I stop watering my adult plants to try and get them to go down and head to dormancy. Now I am a grower who likes to get there plants down gradually so they are coming out of their pots during November.
The last thing I want is the tuber sitting in a damp pot because they have not had enough time to dry out properly.
When to stop watering - Now this is a hot topic of discussion between growers and I base my decision on the following x3 points -
First – The weather in your area
    • The warmer it is, the more you still have to water or your plants will dry out too quick.
    • The cooler it is, the less you have to water as without heat your plants will not dry out quickly enough.
Second – The type of plant you grow
    • If you grow a single stem plant you don’t have to water as much as you just have the “foliage” on x1 stem.
    • Now a pot plant is different as its takes up a lot more water than a single stem plant because it has multiple stems resulting in a lot more foliage. It also means you have to water longer than you do a single stem plant just because of how quick a pot plant will take water up
Third – Your growing medium
    • John Innes No 2 mix – this mix retains water a lot better, so you don’t have to water as often and stop watering earlier than the next two types of medium.
    • Multi-purpose Johns Innes mix – You have to water it more due to the Multi-purpose compost content of the mix.
    • Multi-purpose mix – you have to water nearly every other day as once it dries and comes away from the sides of the pot it’s a sod to rehydrate it. So you have to water it a lot longer after you have stopped watering a John Innes No2 mix.
   Please remember I use Kettering Loam which has 32% clay content in my Homemade Johns Innes No 2 mix – so it will retain water a lot longer than other mediums – so basically what I am saying is I am in a position where I can stop watering earlier than a lot of growers when you couple that with my local weather conditions. The other advantage with using a loam with a high clay content is the way it dries out, as it dries on the outside forming a type of crust that keeps the moisture inside.

Sunday 27th September to Friday 2nd October -
   This without doubt could be one of the best weeks of the year with average night temperatures around 12°c / 55°f and the average day temperature has been above 20°c / 68°f, along with beautiful blue skies and no wind.
   But believe it or not is has caused me a serious problem. I had got my plants just where I had wanted them just damp and slowly going back. However this spell of great weather has dried the pot out too quickly so over the Thursday & Friday I went through them all –
1. To check them for fallen flower stems and leaves that have dropped.
2. And to give them some water to “rehydrate” them again

Saturday 3rd October -
   Well the night temperature is back to the low single figures again and a cold day followed.
My cuttings are still looking alright outside as they are still green and “growing well” I can tell this by –
    • The top of the compost in the pot is starting to bulge up – sure sign that a cutting tuber is “forming” below and pushing the compost up as it makes room for its self (see pic to right).

  • Basal shoots are appearing well away from the main stem – sure sign there is a cutting tuber “forming” (see pic to left).


Sunday 11th October –
   Brought some more cuttings into the greenhouse, that leaves 50%  still outside.
Now according to tonight’s TV weather report for my area it has forecasted that the night time temperature will be dropping to just above freezing and could drop below zero during the week. That means the rest of my cuttings will be coming in at some point during the start of this coming week.

Monday 12th October –
   Found my car's windscreen frozen at approx. 0530hrs whilst going out to work and the outside temperature was 2°f. When I got home from work I moved another 25% of my cuttings into a greenhouse, the last 25% will be brought in tomorrow.

Advice and Help from a fellow grower -
   Basil Billinger contacted me and informed me he waters all his begonias with rainwater collected in slim line water butts. Also that he has never washed them out either. Now like me you could be wondering how he keeps his rainwater clean and fresh and problem free!!!!! I hope he does not mind me divulging his secret – He puts a lump of coal in each water butt…. Yep, a lump of Coal / Charcoal. He did not exactly know how it worked, but it did.

So curiosity got the better of me, so I have done a little research on the subject.

The technical jargon –
First - Now with regards a lump of coal – If you use anthracite coal (see picture to right), the coal grains carry a slight electrical charge on their surface, they act like tiny magnets attracting other charged contaminants that adhere themselves to the surface of the coal.
Second – Now with regards Charcoal - Charcoal is carbon and Activated charcoal is a material that is produced from carbonaceous sourced materials such as coal and wood that has been treated to thermal decomposition in a furnace and oxygen to open up millions of tiny pores between carbon atoms. The use of this special manufacturing process results in highly porous charcoals that have surface areas of 300-2,000 square meters per gram (see pic on left).
Physical adsorption is the primary means by which activated carbon works to remove contaminants from liquid. Carbons large surface are per unit weight allows for contaminants to adhere to the activated carbon media

List of what Activated Charcoal will & Wont Filter -
It will filter –
    • Chlorine
    • Chloramine – are derivatives of ammonia by substitution of one, two or three hydrogen atoms with chlorine atoms
    • Tannins – organic substance found in some galls, barks & other plant tissues
    • Phenol – also known as carbolic acid
    • Hydrogen sulphide & some other volatile compounds
    • Small amounts of metals like, such as iron, mercury and chelated copper
It won’t remove –
    • Ammonia
    • Nitrates
    • Nitrites
    • Fluoride
    • Sodium and most other cations
    • Significant amounts of heavy metals, iron and copper
    • Bacteria, protozoa, viruses and other micro-organisms

A mother’s tale – to finish with
    My mother told me that during the Second World War a lot of the woman including her mother used to work in munition factories. One of the things they used to do to save time the following day was to peel the potatoes and put them in a pan of water with a lid on as well as putting a piece of coal in with them the night before.
   Apparently if you did this the peeled potatoes neither dis-coloured nor went “slimy” when they were stored overnight.
My mother will be in trouble if this is a wind up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

   One thing you have to admit, is that this series has certainly been an educational journey, for us all so far….

Until next time…..


Michael Richardson's Diaries 2015