The National Begonia Society


Tony Shepherdson

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

Episode 4 – late February 

Well I think I may have went on a bit too long with the last episode – one of the bi-products of having plenty of time on my hands now that I’m a man of leisure, I did try to keep it brief this time but failed miserably! 

Sunday 11th February was the first begonia trip of the year for Colin Elsworth and myself. We had an early start – once Colin had adjusted his seat into the ‘sleep position’, leaving Blaydon around 8.00 a.m. for the 3 hour drive to Bert Nelson’s on our way to the first SBS meeting of the year. Yes, I know it shouldn’t take that long but I should perhaps point out that our eldest grandson calls me Captain Slow! 
I don’t have to tell anyone who is a regular visitor to this website who we met there – yes, who else but Michael Richardson and his band of merry men, regulars Robert Bryce and Dave Weatherby together with our Vice Chairman Peter Sourbutts. As we turned off the A689 just north of Carlisle onto the M74 I said to Colin that Michael would probably have left Heywood at about the same time we left Blaydon but would still be at Bert’s before us! As always the welcome and hospitality from Bert and Margaret was first rate.
Now you would imagine that one of the things on a begonia growers mind when visiting a fellow members garden would be the possibility of a tuber or cutting of a variety on their wanted list – well, one of us only had eyes for a certain plate of coffee biscuits, because Margaret had promised him he could have any that were left to take home; I for one was too scared to even look at them never mind try one! I couldn’t possibly say who it was but obviously it wasn’t Dave Weatherby; true to form, new begonia stock was the only thing on his mind! It wasn’t Colin either, or Robert, or Peter – perhaps I’ve said too much…….? 

It was good to see a healthier turnout for the meeting; I hope this bodes well for the future, we should all remember – use it or loose it. The talk was by John Hamilton and part of his presentation was a trip down memory lane of shows and members past and present. This was good to see, for both the members who had been with the SBS for a long time and those who joined more recently. As one of the latter, for me it was fascinating to see some of the shows and exhibits of yesteryear and also some of the great characters there have been. One of them was Billy Stark from Selkirk, one of the famous ‘Border Men’. I consider myself fortunate to have met Billy, even if it was just the once. The stories that I have heard about him from his great friend and fellow Border Man Ken Jeffrey and his vast knowledge, and not just about begonias makes me wish that I had met him a long time ago. Billy also raised, amongst other varieties Symestar, one of my favourites (with good reason!). 

John also gave some great topical advice about starting up and one of the things he stressed was just how much tubers can grow in the first few weeks of growth. The day after we got back, while looking through my cutting tubers in the propagator I noticed a few of them had what appeared to be splits in the skin, almost like stretch marks, which can only be explained by rapid growth and expansion of the tuber – see below. 


Soilless composts
Not for the first time, I’ve heard the odd concern about Everris M2 compost; plants not getting away well, yellowing foliage, poor root movement are the usual comments. I have used this compost for the last 5 years for starting up, for rooting and potting on my cuttings and also as the soilless element of my half and half compost that I occasionally use for tubers that are struggling to get away and also for my flowering cuttings. So far, I cannot complain about it’s performance – I am very careful to ensure that it is fresh and don’t use compost left over from the previous year but that rule should apply to any compost we use. I get my M2 from a local allotments shop and I can keep a close eye on their stock situation and I grab the new stuff when it arrives. I will say that I always open it up a bit by mixing it 5 to 1 with Vermiculite for my start up compost and my half and half mix and 4 to 1 with Perlite for my rooting compost. I would do this no matter which soilless brand I use (although I am considering a trial of sharp sand instead of Vermiculite to pot up the cuttings) but M2 does seem to compact far too much when used on it’s own. It makes me nervous hearing these reports and I’m starting to think that it’s possible that I have been lucky so far so I am going to trial Mother Earth multi-purpose, perhaps for some of the rooting compost and for potting on the cuttings.

The cutting material has moved on really well, I should be taking my first batch in the next couple of days with more available for the middle of March, so I have decided to pot up the tubers – see below, into 2 litre pots into some of my new Mother Earth multi purpose because: 

      ●   They are becoming root-bound and I need to keep them growing for hopefully a second batch of cuttings that are coming away.
I need the propagator they are in – for the cuttings I am about to take off them! 


Domestos Update
Last episode I said that I have often noticed damage to pips after the bleach treatment. To get my facts straight I thought I needed proper evidence, so what I had intended to do was take some before and after photos of some of the adult tubers that had pipped before they went into the bleach and then some every couple of days afterwards for comparison. Well, typically I remembered to do this as the last tuber went into the bleach, so said to myself no problem I’ll do it when they come out, however by the time I took them out and let them drain a little to take the photos, I could already see some signs of damage. My first reaction to blame the treatment was quickly replaced with the realization that I was probably the culprit and that the damage was due to my putting all of the tubers in at once and was nothing more than abrasion damage due to them rubbing together! I still stand by my concerns regarding the effectiveness against mites and fungal infections and also the impact on bacteria. I’ll carry on investigating over the coming months. 


Tuber Update
The cutting tubers are making steady if not spectacular progress, but they do appear to be starting a little more evenly than they usually do for me – see below. I haven’t had a 100% result, somewhere a little above 95% is probably true but I’ll leave the laggards for a little longer as they seem healthy enough. I will put them into some fresh compost in the next day or so as I have heard this can often give them the kick-start they need.  


The adult tubers are all in the propagators now – see below. I held some back for a week or so to try and stagger them but to be honest more than 95% of them were already pipped so I think this will make little or no difference in the long run. 


I have also started my multiflora tubers and a dozen or so of the tubers that I selected from the seedlings that I flowered last year. The bad news for me is that I lost one of them and it was one that I really liked – see below. Typical I suppose but there you go – I guess that is my welcome to the frustrating world of hybridising! I have also started the rest of the seedlings that I didn’t flower last year. I nearly called them cutting tubers but they’re not – seedling tuber is probably more correct? 


What’s keeping me awake at night?
When will the cold spell end? The average daytime temperature for January and February in these parts is supposed to be 6°C but I’m sure it’s been way below that for most of this year so far and now we have to contend with the latest new phenomena to come along; ‘Sudden stratospheric warming’, ‘Weather bombs’ and ‘Polar vortexes’ – or should that be vortices? I’m sure that they weren’t around when I was a lad; in the infamous winter of 1963, ‘Brass monkeys’ was the standard terminology used!
Later on in the 70’s if you had mentioned the Beast from the East, people would have probably though you were talking about someone such as
Vasily Alekseyev, the famous Russian super heavyweight weightlifter, who incidentally took up strawberry hybridising during his retirement – obviously he hadn’t heard of begonias!
Anyway, basically it’s freezing cold and the meter is going round far to quickly for my liking – I’ll just have to try and get away with blaming the next electricity bill on the tumble drier! 

Next episode - First cuttings and potting compost.


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