Annual Master Class Weekend
12th Dec 2002
My annual master class weekend on growing vegetables for the show bench and kitchen was once again a huge success. There were over 60 people in attendance, and not all of them men either, there seems to be far more ladies taking an active part in growing vegetables than I can ever remember. They travelled a long way as well, four attending from Scotland with no one travelling much further than Alan Romans the potato speaker. Alan spoke with a great deal of knowledge about the history of the potato as well as explaining the merits of some of the more unusual heritage varieties.
It doesn't really matter how long you live for, because you will still strive for knowledge and still learn new things every day. Gardening is certainly a huge subject with vegetables taking a fair chunk of it. I was therefore not so surprised that I gleaned a lot of new things from the various speakers.
Water, Mares Tail and Powdery Mildew
Our speaker on Water was Rob Foster and he certainly caused a buzz when he mentioned that he never had any powdery mildew on his peas since he has been spraying with his own special concoction.
The mixture, believe it or not, is made from probably the most hated plant that any vegetable grower can have in his plot or garden. Yes it's the Horse Tail or Mares Tail as I call it, luckily enough it has never popped his head through the soil in my garden, but I do have a few friends who really do hate it with a passion. I really never thought that I would see the day when I had something good to say about this weed. Rob collects the young fresh stems from the plant and puts then in a bucket of water, he then keeps them under the water with some weight and in a few weeks it can be used.
The dilution rate is at the ratio of 1 to 1, 1 part of the juice to one part of water and Rob then sprays it on a regular basis all over the pea foliage and he swears it keeps the mildew at bay. Naturally everyone had their mouths drooling because the powdery mildew is one disease that pea growers would dearly like to see the back of. It usually starts on my plants here in Anglesey around the last weekend in August, but it can vary as weather conditions affect it. In South Wales however the growers there sometimes find it extremely difficult to show top quality pods after mid August.
I would dearly like to know if any of you readers have any experience of using this notorious weed as a preventative for powdery mildew or indeed any other pest or disease. Further I would also like to know how much of the weed you use to a quantity of water and what then is your dilution rate. If this really does work, and I am not in any way saying that it doesn't, then we shall certainly see some peas at the National in Harrogate next September.
Large Exhibition Onions
Another excellent speaker was Tom Henshaw who gave and enlightened talk on growing the large exhibition onions right through from producing his own onion seed through to staging them on the bench. Again a number of those present were astounded to hear Tom saying that he only waters his onions once when they are grwoing in their polytunnel. He grows his onions away from his house in a fairly large polytunnel in a slight dip with a river running close by. This means that the water table of his plot is fairly high and he only has to dig about two spades deep before he hits water.
After preparing his soil to the analysts report, he then sinks in the ground the same size pots as his onions are growing in at two feet apart prior to laying down the black and white polythene sheeting over the whole area. This way he is able to feel for the pots through the sheet, cut a cross where the pots are, and tuck the flaps under the sheet. Tom then saturates through each pot with some Armillatox and that is all the moisture the bed gets. After the Armillatox has drained away, he removes the pots, and plants his onions direct into the same shape hole as the root ball.
No water is then given at all, not even to bed the plants into the adjoining soil and they just grow away. I knew that onions don"t like too much water, but it took a big risk for Tom to not to water at all, it shows what a thinking gardener he is. Of course he has been proved right more than once having the won at the NVS Championships on more than one occasion and also at Harrogate. The lesson is simple, get to know your land and your soil and treat the plants accordingly. When I first grew my onions for Chelsea in Florist buckets, I soon realised that even with regular light watering, they were suffering, and my onions initially turned out to be very small.
Now, after I have planted and water them in, even though they are growing on a bench in a heated greenhouse with artificial lights above them, I shan't water them more than about five times between early December and late May. What I do however is to give them a good soaking when I do water and then leave them until they get quite dry. Try watering less next year, and who knows you could be a top onion grower like Tom Henshaw as well.