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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 15 Ė early November

I actually made a start on this episode in late September so should have finished it long before now, but Iíve had a lot of things do so Iím relieved that I have finally got round to it!
At the end of September, we arrived back home from a week in the sun with my batteries as recharged as they would ever be and just as well because there were lots of begonia jobs to catch up on. Although everything was well watered before we left, they were well on their way to drying out when we arrived home. It was too early to start withholding water so they all had a little drink and the later cuttings also had a balanced feed to keep them growing. Although there was no damage from the storms, the fleece that I use to line the insides of the greenhouses was badly shredded in one of them because the fleece had been up for 2 seasons and had become very brittle, also because I had left the doors and louvres open, there was quite a mess to clear up. Itís clear that sunlight is the culprit as only the south facing side was affected Ė see below 

 As things stand now on the 13th of November, the adult plants have finally decided itís hibernation time Ė a couple of light frosts probably made their minds up for them and the last couple of days have seen me busy clearing up fallen leaves and stems. The earlier cuttings are also going down but Iím not too concerned, as they appear to have produced some decent sized tubers that should keep well if left in the pots until January. The later cuttings are still growing and getting the occasional feed; if they can grow until Christmas time I will be happy enough and will start them up probably mid January.
As the saying goes, thereís a first time for everything and for the first time Iíve got a cutting tuber with stem rot. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has grown it that the variety is Mrs Dan Ramage Ė see below. I rooted everything I could from this variety this year so I do have a reasonable number of cuttings but this set back does make me nervous! 

 I was working on my ĎWhat Went Wellí and ĎAreas For Improvementí lists for 2018 while sitting in the sun. This is just two lists that I use to summarise the season and decide what I need to do to improve next time, in other words from now on, so while Pauline was buried in her Kindle, I was busy reviewing my growing year from September 2017 to September 2018.
The lists could be as brief or as detailed as I want, but I think it is better to dismiss things later rather that forget about them, so I include just about everything Ė well, everything I can remember! So, here are a few of the items that are in my AFI list that Iíll be thinking about over the winter months.

 Tuber Storage
Last winter, I brought my tubers out from the garage in early January to avoid the risk of frost. I kept them as cold as I could in the conservatory which gets very little sunlight at that time of year and put them back in the garage if it got too warm, but I noticed later on that even though I staggered the start up of the adult tubers
Ė because my two main shows were 3 weeks apart, it had made little difference to them by mid March, probably because they had all pipped before early February. I am going to try using the loft this winter and have rearranged things up there so I have easy access for my weekly inspection. Separate start up dates are even more critical this year with Dundee being a week later and I know that with certain varieties I will need to use adult tubers for Dundee because that is what I will have available.

 Rooting cuttings
This is a real mystery to me Ė over the last couple of years it seems that my success rate at rooting cuttings has drastically reduced. There was a time when I thought I would be able to root matchsticks, but now my confidence levels are at an all time low. The strangest thing is that when they do root, (the begonias not the matchsticks!) everything is completely normal for the majority, itís just that some of them rot and my list of reasons is long and varied which basically means that I havenít a clue why and I really am clutching at straws. What I will do next year is keep more data about varieties, rooting mediums, propagators, temperatures etc. to help find out why. This past season in particular I have tried too many different methods meaning I havenít a clue what difference they made but it also makes me suspect that it is something entirely different that is the root cause Ė sorry; couldnít resist that!

 Top Dressing
I have mentioned before that I donít top dress my plants. My logic is that it impacts on my ability to water the plants correctly. When first potted up, I check for watering by lifting the pots, because while the roots are busy growing into the new compost, the surface of the compost may look dry but it can still be wet underneath, so by lifting the pot I can gauge what it needs by itís weight. By the time the roots have filled the pot, the plant is becoming too large to lift without me inflicting some leaf damage but by this time I can gauge the need for water by the compost surface, as at this stage the compost tends to dry out more evenly. My concern about using a top dressing is that this top layer will dry out quicker than the rest of the compost meaning I am at risk of over-watering.
Having said all of that, I have always understood the benefits of the process Ė my late chrysanthemums were always top dressed, sometimes twice a season, but as they were grown in clays I also had the advantage of being able to tap the pot Ė a dull sound means the compost still has moisture and a higher sound indicates that it is drying out. So does it mean that I am missing out on the benefits of top dressing only because I am not confident about knowing when to water? I suppose the real issue here is why do I feel this may be something that my plants are missing out on? Basically, I think I usually produce enough petals; certainly on my blooms grown on adult tubers, itís just sometimes it looks like the individual petals have not developed to their full potential. This could be feed related Ė I know that I am not the heaviest of feeders but also by the time the flowering period has arrived, my pots are packed with roots so I think that some additional compost will keep the whole plant developing and the small amount of additional fertilizer in the top dressing will contribute as well. By the way, credit for this topic being on my list goes to Colin Elsworth who has kept on at me about top dressing for a couple of years now!

 Pot size for flowering cuttings
This is along the same lines as top dressing inasmuch as I suspect that my flowering cuttings do not quite fulfill their potential. Talking to Robert Bryce at Dundee, he commented that some of my blooms were just lacking a row of petals. I had already been thinking about this particularly as the ones in question were the cuttings. For the last couple of years, I have tended to use mainly adult tubers and a few cutting tubers for Shrewsbury and mainly cutting tubers and a few cuttings for Dundee. Last year I got away with it perhaps because of the cooler conditions when the blooms opened slower and also in 2016 when I had some good Colin Hamilton and a couple of other varieties in mid September on cuttings. The cuttings are all flowered in a 2 litre pot and there is very little room at the top of the pot for watering by the time the flowering period arrives. Iím sure that I pot them lower than this so Iím wondering if it is just root expansion that fills the pot this high. What I am considering trying is using a 3 litre pot, but putting the plant in low down, effectively using a similar amount of compost that I would use in a 2 litre pot. This will allow me the space to top dress if I want to and it will also make watering easier. It may also do away with the need to plunge the pot into a bigger one to improve stability Ė a job that I donít enjoy!

 Thatís just a few of my ideas for next year, my thoughts may change over the next few months but I suppose at least I am thinking about it and it isnít about change for change sake. Basically it boils down to this Ė If you always do what youíve always done, youíll always get what youíve always got. 

The Jungle
Unfair comments are being made from time to time here at home about the increased amount of greenery that has gradually built up in the conservatory. This has happened for a few years now and from now until January, Pauline calls it the Jungle which I think is a bit unfair, so just to help clarify things I sent her an e-mail with the official Oxford Dictionary Online definition Ė ĎA room with a glass roof and walls that is attached to a house at one side and used as a sun lounge or for growing delicate plantsí Her reply Ė and what is the definition of a greenhouse Ė youíve got three of them!
 

Varieties flowered for the first time in 2018
When I get a new variety, I donít always flower it the same year because the priority is always building up my stock, but occasionally I will flower them the same year if they have produced a decent number of cutting early on. 

Robert Tyler Murphy Ė the tuber I got early last year started off slowly in 2018 and looked like it would struggle to catch up but a couple of last years cuttings taken from it got away well and produced two really good flowers Ė unfortunately, given the season we have had and the fact that it looks like itís going to be a 38 day variety for me, they were both past their best and edged just before the shows Ė I grew one each for Shrewsbury and Dundee. Talking to other growers I also found out that itís a bad one for marking but that aside, I was very impressed with the form, especially the centers and size does not appear to be an issue meaning it probably could be shown young. 

 Anniversary Ė you donít see an awful lot of this one around the show benches although Phil Champion regularly shows it to very good effect. Without getting into the Ďis it a yellow or an orange, or a bi-colour or a selfí debate, suffice to say that itís a great colour that brightens up a board and on a twelve board especially, it can break up the ranks of reds, pinks and oranges to really good effect. Itís a lovely plant to grow, with almost variegated foliage and the petals are far tougher than any I have seen on a tuberous double. Additionally it is perfectly round with a good centre and a very symmetrical petal lay. Three plants grown and three blooms shown left me with very little to complain about. 

 

Fantasia Ė I didnít really take much notice of this variety until Ayr 2015 when Jim Mihulka showed a couple, including one belter on his winning 12 board, but to be fair, he had already told me on more than one occasion before then that he rated it highly. I only flowered the one plant but it ended up on my Shrewsbury 12 board. The same thing applies to Fantasia as Anniversary in that it breaks up the other colours. It also seems to have naturally good depth so Iím planning to grow a few more in 2019 which makes it a good acquisition as Daisy Trinder, Lindsey Murray and Beryl Rhodes currently look like getting dropped from the Team Shepherdson squad!

 Joyce Champion Ė a leaf cutting taken last year grew well and I could tell that it had divided. When I took it out of the pot in early August there were four pea sized tubers. I potted them up individually and they went on to produce tubers around 3 centimeters across. They grew vigorously when started up and three were flowered. One ended up on my Shrewsbury 12 board, the other two were just too early for Dundee. Lots of promise; if itís as reliable as Fair Maid of Perth itíll do for me. 

 

Dena Ė another one of the newer varieties around and raised by Dave Coates. A finely edged picotee that I suspect will take a bit of understanding to get it anywhere near to the standard of it in Daveís hands. It also looks like it is going to be less than 40 days with me, so Iíll start with 38 days for next year and Iím sure it will also benefit from being shown young. Size is definitely not a problem; I just need to learn how to tame it a bit then take it from there. 

 Moonlight Ė I mentioned this variety in an earlier episode; I had one planned for Shrewsbury that didnít make it because of a bent petal that spoilt the form with a couple of weeks left to go. Itís still a variety I like and will continue with it for 2019. I guess everyone uses certain criteria for growing the varieties that they do but for me they are:
     ●  
 Do I like it?
     ●    Does it grow well for me?
     ●    Does it have best bloom potential?
The first criteria is a given but as long as it also has one of the others it becomes a candidate. Currently Moonlight ticks the first and third box, so Iíll see how it does over the next few years. 

 Joan Bryce Ė I obtained a good sized cutting tuber of this in February and as it had produced a few early cuttings for me, I let it flower. Fabulous colour, good form and very round, but it was a bit down on size however and edged just before Dundee. I need to give this variety a bit of thought as to how to get a touch more size into it for next year. Itís a tall, quite vigorous growing plant.

 

 Emily Rose Ė I also flowered this one first time as I had a two year old tuber that had given me enough early cuttings to play with for next year. I have always liked this variety except for one fault, which is that it has a tendency to produce one guard petal bigger than the other, which impacts on the symmetry of the bloom. I love the colour and it can produce incredibly neat centers however mine ended up with a poor centre that looked like it had some sort of damage. Looking forward to trying a few more next year.

 Whatís keeping me awake at night?
Itís less than 40 sleeps to Christmas now and I need to start thinking about what I want from Santa. A heated mat is top of the list; I had thought about a sulphur vaporizer but I havenít seen any mildew whatsoever this year Ė even on Flamboyant! The sweet peas got a touch of it as usual but this was more my fault because I didnít spray them at the same time as the begonias were done. Apparently mildews are species specific so mildew on sweet peas will not trouble begonias etc. etc. I donít know where I read this Ė somewhere on the internet I think so I must look into it sometime to make sure Iíve got my facts right!

 

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