Prioritising gardening needs in preparation for absence
25th May 2005
All this week will be spent at the Chelsea Flower Show, being absent from my garden therefore for the most part of two weeks means that I have to really prioritise what needs looking after.
The Potatoes were finished last week and left without any polythene cover on top as the emerging shoots were badly burnt last year.
Runner Beans and Broad Beans
The Runner Beans and Broad Beans are all in the cold frame and as soon as I get home next week they will all planted out as a matter of urgency. The last thing I want is to try and plant Runner beans when the leading shoot has starting winding itself up another leading shoot and before you know it, they all become entwined and you have a right mess to sort out.
Another urgent job that I managed to achieve the week, before I left for Chelsea, was to sow some Cauliflower seed. Cauliflowers may well be the queen of the vegetable crop, but it's can certainly prove to be the joker as well if your timings are out. Generally at this time of year, Cauliflowers will take between six to seven weeks from sowing the seed to the plants being ready for planting directly in their growing position. It will then depend on the variety as to how long it will take from planting to maturity although this can vary tremendously depending on the weather. Summer varieties usually take anything from 70 top 80 days whilst the Autumn varieties will take longer.
Two years ago I had some excellent cauliflowers in my onion bed that just wouldn"t produce curds. The reason for this was the absence of a check to their growth which is effectively what happens when the cauliflower develops it's flower head. In my case, the cauliflowers are planted in the polytunnel as soon as the large onions are harvested which means that they have to be continuously potted on to prevent them being pot bound. The glorious summer we had in 2003 was the best for along while and the temperatures in the polytunnel were warm and constant, even at night, preventing curd development. They were so late in fact that I missed all the shows and only harvested my first head on the 30th October. The two varieties that I am sowing this time are brand new, so new in fact that one of them has only got a number to it but the breeders speak highly about the curd quality of both of them. The second variety is Cornell, an F1 hybrid, and if they both prove to be as good as the breeder claims, they will be in my seed catalogue next year. You can sow a few seed today, broadcast sow the seed sparingly on top of some fine seed compost and cover them over with Vermiculite. Moisten the Vermiculite and compost using a fine rosed watering can taking care initially that you don't displace the vermiculite covering too much.
At this time of year there is no need for a propagator to aid germination, leave the tray on the bench in a cold greenhouse and check daily to make sure that the compost remains damp. You can also leave the tray in a cold frame, polytunnel or even outdoors if the weather is warm. Do scatter a tiny amount of slug pellets around the tray, particularly outdoors or in the cold frame where slugs can be hiding, they can devour any emerging green shoots over night. When both seedling leaves are fully developed, pot them up singly into 3 inch pots or plantpak 15s using a good quality Multi Purpose compost. When transplanting make sure they are deep in the pots until the seedling leaves are nearly resting on top of the compost. This will make sure they don't fall over when watering and will give you a much stronger rooting system.
This weekend, on my return from Chelsea, I shall sow my exhibition peas which is my own re selection of Show Perfection. This is really the only pea that is generally used by everyone who wants to have a go on the show bench, believe me, they are a sweet tasting pea for eating as well. I have also been given another variety to try out called Stalleys Long Pod, it will be interesting to see how this one performs next to my own.
Of all the vegetables, the pea is probably the one that we haven't seen any vast improvement in its development for the exhibitor. When I first started showing in earnest, my first national Championship was up in Ayr and I remember winning a second prize card at my first attempt. The peas at that time, if anything, were even better than what I'm growing today with most of the pods having twelve peas with one or two having thirteen.
Show Perfection is often refered to as the 100 day pea as it is considered to take that amount of time from sowing to picking your first fully developed pods, in my case I can actually get away with 90 days. Rather than sowing directly outside I always start mine off in the greenhouse using 24 cells per full sized seed tray. Fill the cells with Multi Purpose compost and make a hole in the centre of each cell about �" deep using the top end of a pencil. Drop one pea in each hole and simply cover them with the same compost. Give them a good soaking initially and position them away from the direct rays of the sun, underneath the bench would be ideal. I don't give them any more water until I actually see the shoot popping through the compost. The trouble generally, when growers fail to get a good and even germination, is because they have over watered the compost and the peas have rotted away before the emergence of the radicle. When the plants are about two to three inches tall, they can be hardened off outdoors for a couple of days prior to planting next to 8ft tall canes.
Next week I shall be concentrating on managing my tomatoes and I've been in touch with the maestro himself, Charles Maisey from Pontyclun, South Wales. Charlie has probably won more red cards at the highest level than anyone else I know. On a recent visit to his garden, Charlie told me all about his feeding regime which is very comprehensive and makes interesting reading. If you are prepared to follow his routine, there is no reason at all why you too couldn't be picking up red cards this coming show season.