Growing Hints



Growing Hints for Potatoes courtesy of JBA Seed Potatoes can be seen here.












I noticed these cane caps being used in Tony Featherstone's garden the other day.  They are made from empty shotgun shell casings and come in different colours apparently.  Highly visible and very useful, not only for protecting your eyes when you bend over but also, for reminding you what colour gladiolus corm, tulip bulb, sweet pea seedlings or bedding plant seeds and seedlings you may have planted in the ground underneath.

















These are Mark Hall's tips on growing Millennium Class Vegetables - March 2016 Meeting



Mark has access to plenty of leaf/fern mould  which he sieves and mixes 80:20 with conventional peat and a little sharp sand to aid drainage.  He also adds fertiliser to the mix which needs to be low in nitrogen and high in potash.  Suitable proprietary potato fertiliser mixes are commercially available to buy.  He generally sows potatoes during the first week in April, or thereabouts, using 20L plastic bags standing in double rows on his chosen plot of earth and each holed at the bottom to allow the roots to penetrate the soil as necesssary for extra water/nutrients.  He grows a number of varieties; current favourites include Winston, Kestrel and Bonnie.  Winston can grow to be quite large and needs watching to avoid excessively-sized tubers.  During early stage growth he places inverted 12" plant pots over the growing haulms to protect them from overnight frost damage.  Adequate water is essential for proper potato growth and he uses an autiomatic drip feed system based on compost moisture content sensors.  Common scab, he claims, is caused by lack of water at the potato "initiation" stage ie when the potatoes are first forming underground and it is essential that they are kept moist at this stage to prevent this.  There are two forms of "blight".  Early leaf blight (where the leaf ribs are not affected) occurs in May/June and is not critical in terms of damage. Late leaf blight (where the leaf ribs are also affected) and typically occurring in late June/early July, on the other hand, is devastating for plant growth and affected plants need to be discarded and destroyed.  Prevention is the only solution and a copper-based fungicide spray is the traditional method.  Personal experience and diaries will dictate growing and harvesting times but Mark generally cuts off the haulms at some time in July and moves the intact potato bags to a dry area such as a garage to allow the skins to set for several weeks.  The potato bags are then emptied and the potatoes sorted into sets, placed in bakers' trays lined with newspaper and covered with some of the original bag compost to exclude the light.  Finally, each set is labelled so that it can be identified easily without disturbing the potatoes.  Please note that the potatoes are not washed until just before Show day using a soft sponge and plain water.  They should then be dried off and covered with soft paper to exclude light until staging time.


Stump-rooted Carrots

Mark uses beds of sharp sand 18"-24" deep retained by paving slab walls held together by a wooden frame along the top edge which enables fleece, and later enviromesh, covers to be attached easily..  His borehole mix comprises sterilised loam, peat, sharp sand and a little burnt wood ash.  To this mixture is added John Innes Base fertiliser at a rate of 8oz per bushel and lime at 1/2oz per bushel.  The whole mixture is then sieved through a 1/4" mesh, thoroughly stirred and then bagged up ready for use.  The sand bed is watered before marking out sowing positions at 6" centres.  Holes are bored to a depth of 14" using a custom-made borer at intervals starting from mid-March through to mid-April depending on Show dates.  The variety of choice is Sweet Candle but it needs a longer growing season to form fully-formed stumps and typically takes 24-25 weeks rather than the commonly-held view of 22 weeks.  Seeds are sown 3 per station and thinned down to one seedling after germination.  Mark considers root removal of the rejected seedlings to be important and so pulls them out rather than cutting off the leaves only. Mark replaces the fleece with an environmesh cover 24"-26" in height to fully enclose the growing carrots and this remains in place throughout the growing season. Great care must be taken not to scratch the carrot shoulders when checking on growth progress for matching purposes.  He lifts and gently washes the carrots with a soft sponge, retaining the foliage until final trimming and tying on Show day.



In the absence of the famed Cederico, Meccano and Zenith are two of his favourite new varieties although older varieties like Alicante and Ailsa Craig can still produce decent tomatoes, especially for taste.  Seeds are sown into trays at the end of January/early February, according to planned Show dates.  Seedlings are pricked off into 3" pots and given bottom heat in a greenhouse.  Mark grows tomatoes in the greenhouse border soil, not growbags or pots since he feels they both dry out and become nutrient-starved too easily.  The seedlings stay in 5" pots until the first flowering truss is "setting" ie forming pinhead tomatoes, whilst gradually acclimatising to the cooler temperatures of the lower greenhouse. Waiting until the first truss forms, he believes, guarantees at least the first batch of tomatoes even if the others do not set.  He removes the axil shoots and thins down all trusses to 6 fruits per truss, removing the weakest, misshapen and smallest fruits along the way.  He prefers to support his growing tomato plants with strings attached to the greenhouse roof and wound spirally down and around the growing stem and pegged into the soil bed at the lower end. This method is quicker and more hygienic than using canes and periodic vertical ties.  Beware blossom end rot (caused by calcium deficiency at tomato "setting" time) and the rarer tomato moth caterpillar attacks.  Both cause similar-looking tomato visual defects but the calcium deficiency can be corrected for later-forming trusses by watering the plants with hydrated lime. 


250g Onions

There are Autumn-sown varieties such as Toughball and Spring-sown varieties such as Marco and Tasco. Seedlings sown at the end of February are transplanted into 3" pots and stay in a cool greenhouse until the end of April where they are hardened off in a cold frame before planting out at 10" spacing in the open ground about the second week in May.  They are grown slowly rather than forced along because you need hardy plants that can hit the open ground runnig, so to speak.  Sizing is very important because you should aim to exhibit these onions as close as possible to 250g in weight without being oversized and risking disqualification.  The trick is therefore to establish a link between diameter/circumference of the growing onion to the eventual Show weight of the dried and finished exhibition onion.  For Tasco (and it will vary on variety chosen and seedling planting depth)  a diameter of 83mm (measured by vernier calipers) corresponds to an eventual weight of about 240-250g.  A tape measure can be used instead of a vernier caliper (which runs the risk of scratching/damaging the onion skin) and a circumference of about 101/4" produces the equivalent desired harvested onion weight. Mark uses a custom-made metal sleeve of 83mm internal diameter with a cut-out slot that enables him to slide it past the foliage and over the growing bulb to establish optimum harvest time. Apparently, planting your onion seedlings more deeply produces deeper-shaped bulbs, in which case the diameter of the harvested bulbs needs to be correspondingly less in order to maintain the same optimum Show weight. Matching up onions of different shapes becomes more difficult and the aim should be for consistency in growing depth.  Once the bulbs reach the correct size, they are harvested with leaves and roots intact. The loose basal leaves are removed and a single skin retained ensuring that any interconnective membrane is washed off completely under a tap before suspending the onions bulbs down in a dry, airy place out of direct sunlight for the bulb skins to ripen fully. Applying non-fragrant talc to the bulbs aids the drying process.  Harvesting, drying and ripening becomes a continuous batch process as soon as the growing onions achieve their optimum harvest size.  Always wash off the talc before showing and apply hand cream carefully and in moderation to the onion necks which will soften the skins ahead of tying without breaking them.


Globe Beetroot

Mark used to grow them in half barrels of sand but now uses a similar, but slightly shallower (18"),
design of sand bed to his carrot sand bed described earlier. The pavers and base are lined internally with black polythene sheeting which helps to  retain moisture as well as prevent leakage of sand through gaps in the pavers.  The sand is watered to aid settling and marked out at 6" centres.  Sowings are made in regular batches using a much richer growing mixture than used for carrots.  Beetroot are very hungry feeders and need to be grown quickly in order to produce suitable Show specimens.  Pablo is Mark's variety of choice and he makes sowings (2-3 seeds per station) from about 7th May, every 3 weeks until the end of June.  He suffers from cats and covers the entire growing bed with netting to deter them.  The optimum exhibition globe beetroot body should be about, or slightly larger than, tennis ball size, with symmetrical tap root and foliage placement and no evidence of corkiness.  To achieve this result, Mark believes that the seedlings should not be disturbed once they have reached thumbnail root size and that sufficient foliage, close spacing and quick growing reduces the damaging effect of sunlight sunlight and therefore obviates the need for "earthing up".

These are David Metcalfe's recipes for growing large exhibition onions - November 2014 Meeting

Potting Compost

1st Potting into multi-purpose Irish moss peat compost

2nd and final Potting into same compost but for every 70 litres add:

30 litres steam sterilised soil from onion or leek bed

1/2 jar (something like a 1lb jam jar size) Vitax Q4 or Blood, Fish and Bone

1/2 jar calcified seaweed

1/2 jar rock dust

1/2 jar Osmocote or Miracle Gro slow release fertiliser

Good dusting of Viresco dry and CHARGE (mealworm poo!)

Growing Medium

To 200 litres ( equivalent to 4 x 50 litre tubs or airpots) of clean peaty soil add:

1 jar Chempak potato fertiliser

1 jar dried blood

1/2 jar powdered calcified seaweed

Good dusting of Viresco dry

Alternate watering with compost tea

NO extra feeding!

Additional Notes

CHARGE is a new, 100% naturally-produced soil enhancer that boosts and prolongs the fertility of your soil using one key ingredient; Insect Frass. Charge provides a stampede of beneficial microorganisms and contains a host of natural plant growth catalysts. Further details are available from here.

Chempak potato fertiliser is one of a range of specially formulated mixtures available through Thompson and Morgan product retail outlets.  Further details can be read here.

VIRESCO is a trade name for a natural growth stimulant based on humate which is a pure and highly active compound formed from the decomposition of plant matter over thousands of years. Further details can be read here.

Compost Tea  You can read all about it here.

Rock Dust  also known as rock powders, rock minerals, rock flour, soil remineralization, and mineral fines, consists of finely crushed rock, processed by natural or mechanical means, containing minerals and trace elements widely used in organic farming practices.The igneous rocks basalt and granite often contain the highest mineral content, whereas limestone, considered inferior in this consideration, is often deficient in the majority of essential macro-compounds, trace elements, and micronutrients. Rock dust is not a fertilizer as it lacks the qualifying levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It is available from various sources such as Amazon and from here and here.

David also had a number of other items on display.  These included S B Plant Invigorator - full details from here  and BioMagic a foliar organic feed based on seaweed.

He uses a natural insecticide called Py  produced by Vitax as well as Growing Success advanced slugkiller 
from Monro Brands which is a revolutionary new Slug Killer that outdates all other slug control. This is a bait which can be used around children, pets and wildlife as it only targets Slugs. It also remains effective after both rain and watering.

He also believes that airpots have some merit since they enable the growing root system to make maximum use of the growing medium rather than rush to the outside of conventional plastic pots.  Further details can be found here.




This is David Metcalfe's recipe for leek and onion growing mixtures - November 2012 Meeting

This is Graeme Watson's recipe for Other Than Long Carrot borehole growing mixture - March 2013 Meeting

1  75 litre Bag of Levington F2 plus S growing compost

1  gallon fine Vermiculite ( to aid water retention)

8oz Calcified seaweed dust

8 oz Calcified seaweed meal

12 oz Vitax Q4

Nutrimate (10ml diluted in 1 gallon of water)

This is Graeme Watson's recipe for  Long Carrot borehole growing mixture - March 2013 Meeting

1  75 litre Bag of Levington F2 plus S growing compost

12 oz Calcified seaweed dust

8 oz Calcified seaweed meal

Nutrimate (10ml diluted in 1 gallon of water)

Sangral (at manufacturer's recommended dilution rate)

This is John Bramham's recipe for Parsnip growing mixture - Garden News - February 2014

6 gallons of peat

3 gallons of soil

2 gallons of silver sand

1 gallon of medium vermiculite

200g(7oz) trench base fertiliser

150g (5.2 oz) calcified seaweed

150g (5.2 oz) garden lime

This is Jim Thompson's recipe for Parsnip growing mixture - Garden News - February 2014

3 gallons (68 litres) of sterilised sieved soil

2 gallons 6mm sieved builders' sand

2 gallons 6mm sieved moss peat

2 oz bonemeal

4 oz superphosphate

2 oz sulphate of potash

3 oz calcified seaweed

2 oz garden lime

1.5 oz dolomite lime

1 oz nutrimate powder

This is David Thornton's recipe for Parsnip growing mixture - Garden News - February 2014

75 litres sieved peat-based multipurpose compost

15 litres coarse sand

15 litres fine vermiculite

15 litres sieved soil

5 oz base fertiliser

5 oz seaweed meal

3.5 oz lime

Peter Booker - Pinks and Carnations - April 2014 Meeting


               A simple wire layering clip designed and used by Peter Booker
               for pegging down pink stems to encourage new  roots to form, thereby
               enabling propagation of new plants
.  Could also be used for strawberries
               or any other plant that can be propagated by the layering method.



                  Bud clips - designed to stop carnation flower buds and calyces
                  from splitting during flower formation.   Wrap some plastic-covered wire
                  around a wooden former of your chosen size (or even a broom handle)
                  and make as many turns as you require (one turn equates to one clip).
                  Then use scissors or shears to cut through one side of the wire along
                  the length of the former.  This method produces split rings of a
                  consistent diameter.


                  Simple wire cane clip for supporting carnation stems (and anything else
                  for that matter).  The horizontal hook shape enables stems to be securely
                  held but  also allows stems to be released without damaging them.

                   Same clip showing a different view of the design.


                    Cane clip in position.  The vertical wire can slide up and down
                    the cane as required.  As an ex-builder, Peter uses wire that is designed
                    for hanging false ceiling supports.  You may need to experiment with
                    different  lengths and gauges of wire to suit your purposes.

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