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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 1 Ė early January 

Christmas is over and our Grandchildren have enjoyed their big countdown to Santa Claus when they excitedly kept us up to date with how many sleeps they had left until the big day. Well, itís my turn now and Iíve only got a few sleeps left until my big day when I start up the first of my tubers! 

The first batch will be in before the 10th January. They are some soon to be retired adult tubers to provide me with early cutting material that will hopefully be available by the end of February. Over the last couple of years, I have had great fun experimenting with producing blooms on a cutting. Ian Donaldson has championed this method that quite a few growers are now following and although I was more than happy with the results that I got from them last year, I suspect Ė and hope, that we all have a lot more to learn. 

It reminds me of my chrysanthemum growing days in some ways as exhibition chrysanthemums are flowered on cuttings taken from the previous years plants. I somehow donít think we will ever get to the point where begonias are grown exactly this way, because the smaller tubers produced by flowering cuttings donít seem to be capable of producing a sufficient amount of cutting material, but who knows what the future holds. I can however see the time when adult tubers are retired a lot younger in order to provide cutting material and we will all be growing our plants on younger tubers and cuttings. This should result in improved form and we will also be using smaller pots and less compost as a result. 

In addition to the varieties that have proved successful for me so far, which are:

      ∑        Colin Hamilton
        Symestar
        Alexandria
        Daisy Trinder
        Tigger

I will be adding: 
Golden Hind Ė far better on a cutting tuber than anything older because blooms on older tubers usually loose form completely in the last week of development. Itís a strong vigorous grower so well worth a try. Iíll just have to be extra vigilant during the flowering period because in a 2 litre pot Ė which I am using for all my flowering cuttings, drying out will be a real issue and you simply cannot afford to let that happen to one of the worst Ďedgersí around∑
Nichola Coates Ė I tried this in 2016 with encouraging results, whereas in 2017 my blooms were very big but rather coarse when grown on two and especially three year old tubers.
Ann Crawford Ė I tried one plant in 2016 and it was promising enough for an extended trial Ė no lack of size and it looked a bit rounder with less of a letterbox centre.
Gipsy
Ė one of my double center varieties that only seems to do well on a cutting tuber for me, so time to try it on a cutting. 

There are some other varieties that I think will respond to this method; Iíll see what cutting material is available in March and Iíll try a few of them for Dundee. 

I use my Wards / Stewarts electric propagators to produce my early cutting material. Mine donít have adjustable thermostats and tend to run quite hot so I put three centimeters of damp sand in the bottom (below left) then cover this with a layer of polythene sheeting (below centre) before adding the compost (below right). The compost is 5 parts Levington M2 to 1 part Vermiculite. Filling the compost right to the top of the propagator also helps to keep the temperature down at root level.

                               

I donít see any point in giving these old tubers plenty of space as they should have produced the cuttings that I need before they become too root bound and run out of compost, so I just pack them together as close as I can because they will only be required for cutting production. I can always give them a half strength balanced feed if they look like they need it. This early in the season, I leave the propagators in the conservatory (an understanding wife is a big help here, but Iíll really be pushing my luck over the next 3 months as I use it more and more as my overspill propagation greenhouse rather than heat one of the other ones!) and I donít put the lids on as this also increases the temperature too much. Propagator thermometers are essential to monitor the temperature.

 

One of my challenges this year will be to have blooms from cuttings available for the National. For my first attempt at flowering cuttings in 2016, I rooted in early April for the Fife show in the middle of September. Based on those promising results, in 2017 I rooted them on 10th March for Dundee on 1st September. At the time I secured the buds, the plants were well developed (see below) and in some cases I could even have secured the previous buds, so Iím hoping that by trying to root a couple of weeks earlier I will get a few blooms out in time for Shrewsbury.

 

Whatís keeping me awake at night? 

Ė I donít know about other members but thereís often something begonia related that stops me from nodding off at night, so Iíll try to share one each month! 

Right now itís tuber storage Ė up until now, I have been very happy about my tuber survival rate. We have never put the car in the garage, so there was always plenty of room to store the tubers and crucially, it was well insulated and dry. I have never recorded a November to February temperature in the garage lower than 3įC and that was with an outside temperature of -7įC. 

That all changed in April 2017 when we converted most of the garage into a hobby room for my wife Pauline. The Ďgarageí is now a 12í x 5í storage space accessed by the old garage door that has an area big enough to overwinter the boxes of adult tubers but on the colder nights we have had so far it hasnít been as warm as it used to be because now they are nearer to the door, there is less heat exchange from the house and the smaller space does not seem to retain as much heat from during the day Ė Iíll just have to ensure that I keep checking, especially on the nights that the temperature is forecast to drop. A maximum minimum thermometer is essential throughout the storage period. I also have covers on standby but only for the cold nights, as I prefer to have plenty of air circulating during the storage period. 

My real venture into the unknown is cutting tuber storage. Like many growers, I leave mine in their pots until January because there is a risk of dehydration if they are removed from the compost too early. Previously this wasnít an issue as there was plenty of room in the old garage but so far I have been shuffling them between the greenhouse and our conservatory, depending on the outside temperature. Although I am keeping them frost free, I am concerned with the effect of them being in constant light and fluctuating temperatures compared to the constant dark and the steadier temperature of the garage. Iím not sure what the impact will be, itís just my old system seems more akin to what a Ďperiod of dormancyí should be like. Itís one to watch for now and Iíll try to come up with a better system for next winter. One option is to use my propagating benches with the thermostat set at around 5įC but as the tubers will still be in their 1 litre pots, I wonít be able to accommodate them all, so I am also thinking about slightly reducing the pot size for 2018. 

On the subject of tubers, so far at least, I am very happy with the absence of vine weevil grubs on my adult tubers. Last season was the first time that I have used parasitic nematodes, Steinernema Kraussei to control them and so far itís been a success. I know that I had them last year Ė I even caught my first ever adult beetle, (see below) but the only evidence of grubs I have found so far are a very small number of their tell tale entry marks, but they only penetrate a couple of millimeters and the tubers have healed so I guess that is the point that the nematodes got to them! I just need the same results on my cutting tubers for it to be a complete success. I have an unopened 1 litre bottle of the old type Provado that I will keep as an emergency back up, but from now on it will be the nematodes for me.

 

Footnote Ė Iím also a very keen photographer who should have known better and taken the Ďbeforeí version of the vine weevil beetle, but the begonia grower won and dispatched it without thinking, meaning the Ďafterí version is all that I have!

 Next episode Ė starting up the cutting tubers

 

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