Preparing for tenth consecutive Chelsea Gold medal
15th Dec 2004
have just started growing in earnest in my greenhouses at Bangor in an attempt to gain my tenth consecutive Chelsea Gold medal. This will undoubtedly be my last Chelsea as the University College of North Wales are selling the land for housing development and the greenhouses are going to be knocked down. It will therefore in many ways be a sad year as I will no longer be able to enjoy the privilege of growing vegetables for such a highly prestigious event. On the other hand it may automatically solve one problem, preventing me from growing for it and therefore possibly allowing me to go out on a high.
I do have a few new ideas in mind for the 2005 show and as always they will centre on having as much colour as possible within the display as well as introducing some more difficult specimens to grow.
One vegetable that has eluded me over past three years has been Brussels Sprouts. They are relatively easy to grow outdoors, within their normal time scale, but getting a full grown stem bursting with well developed buttons for the middle of May is another story. I was close to it last year so hopefully the variety Oliver will do the business for me.
This week I intend to plant my blanch leeks in their permanent growing position which is on top a bench and using Link-a-Bord to support my growing medium. There's no doubt about it that Link-a-Bord is a marvellous product and in many ways, as with a host of other good ideas, it's the simplicity of it that makes you wonder, why didn't I think of that. The product is basically effective because of the patented design of the corner pieces that hold together pre determined lengths of plastic cavity planking. And it"s this cavity, even inside a greenhouse environment, that his given me such excellent leeks over the past two years. The ability of the plastic walls means that the growing compost inside is always kept at a stable temperature giving you a more balanced and uniform growth. The boards are 6 inches deep and an inch wide and I use them to form boxes the width of the bench and a metre long and two boards deep which, after some settlement will give me a growing depth of 11 inches. The beauty of this system really is in it's versatility because at the end of the season I just empty the material out and then wash all the plastic pieces and store it away until the next time. This means that you can utilise these in your own garden, particularly where you have some poor drainage or poor soil and then create your own perfect and annually sterile growing medium.
Top Soil and Compost
For both the leeks and onions I will empty two bags of Westland top soil which is available in 25kg bags into each bay and on top of this I will empty sufficient Westland Multipurpose compost with added John Innes and perlite. I was invited over to the Westlands factory a few weeks ago to see their operation and I brought to their attention a complaint that I had from two growers regarding the quality of the soil in their bags. I have to say that the management there were seriously concerned and on a tour of the unit I saw the actual top soil being used as well as handling the actual product just before it was bagged and it looked exactly the same as I have been using. If the two growers who contacted me at Harrogate could get back in touch again, Westland would like to know if you still have a bag left over from last season so that they can trace the problem that youexperienced.
Due to the fact that the leeks and onions will be growing in this medium for five months it's only natural that the all the nutrient levels are going to be depleted so I also add to the mixed medium 4 ounces of lime, 4 ounces of calcified seaweed, 4 ounces of Nutrimate and 4 ounces of Hydro Complex Partner fertiliser. This is certainly a powerful mixture but it certainly produces top quality leeks and onions. Those that are left in the bed after Chelsea has gone are proof of that, continuing to grow on to a very large size.
At the time of planting the plants will be in the region of 15 to eighteen inches tall and about two inches around and as soon as they get into the beds and their roots get hold of all those nutrients, they simply romp away. Once planted in two rows at fifteen inches apart the bed is given a thorough watering until I see it dripping through the bottom of the bench. No more water will then be given until the upper layer of compost is really getting dry, this will take anything up to three weeks or more. During this time the roots will be developing and extending downwards searching out for moisture and nutrients thereby creating a strong and healthy root system which will in turn produce top quality leeks and onions.
Large Exhibition Onions
Next week will be my traditional time for sowing the large exhibition onions, so make sure that the greenhouse is ready, or at least you have a propagator in good working order. If you haven't all ready got one of these marvellous inventions, why not drop a hint or two now to your friends and loved ones, there's still plenty of time left until Christmas day, who knows Father Christmas may be really generous to you this year!!