Aiming for a hat trick at Chelsea
20th May 1998
This will be my third visit to compete at the Chelsea flower show this week, this year my display is sponsored by Suttons, and having already had two gold's the pressure is much greater when going for a hat trick. The weather has been strange as well with January and February being very bleak with little sun to boost the vegetables along. March fortunately gave us some lovely Summer weather early on and I had a feeling that we would have to pay for it later. My feeling turned out to be true as April was a diabolical mess with again little sun to help the plants along.
Nearly all of my vegetables for Chelsea are grown in large greenhouses with a steady warm temperature of 18°C and artificial lights that are on for 16 hours every day. This appears to be very bright indeed during the gloomy sunless days of Winter but pale into insignificance when the sun is really beaming through. On a lovely sunny day you can hardly see the lamps being on, however more importantly is the fact that the greenhouse temperatures rise above the control settings which means that the roof lights open up automatically to allow a significant exchange of air.
This air movement is quite important towards good growth and you can actually sense the difference in the plants as they become more turgid with the fresher air about them. This pattern should be copied in our own little greenhouses leaving the vents wide open on warm sunny days, it certainly makes a difference to plant growth. Another difference opening the vents makes is that it reduces the condensation level on the inside of the glass and this in itself will help to increase light levels within the house.
Aubergines and Peppers
There are some new cultivars on the stand this year and most of them are either the Aubergines or Peppers. Neither of these are the easiest of vegetables to grow well as they require a high degree of nutrients, they take in water by the gallons when well grown and are very suspect to Whitefly and other aphids. As there is no soil at all in these greenhouses, just a concrete floor, all of the vegetables have to be grow in pots, containers, pipes or drums to achieve the desired result.
This year I went to a great deal of trouble with the aubergines, they were continuously potted on right through to a ten inch diameter florist bucket. Last year the ended up in a normal ten inch pot and I felt that the plants were not performing to their optimum. These florist buckets are ideal for the job as they are considerably deeper than the normal pots and I can actually buy them in cheap from florist shops locally. After the main flower selling seasons such as Christmas, Easter and mothering Sunday etc., these shops have piles of these buckets and I can usually buy them at 10 pence each, a fraction of what a ten inch pot would cost and they last a few years as well.
When I get them home the bottom of every bucket is drilled through with a half inch drill, at least eight holes in each one to ensure adequate drainage. The plants were potted up using Levington M2 initially then on to M3 and finally into the Levington tub and container compost. They are 4ft tall and two foot six across and as they were regularly sprayed with Polysect on a weekly basis they were kept free from the white fly.
The white hens egg size aubergine from Suttons called Ova has performed really well and make an interesting contrast against the normal deep purple type. the ones that I had from the states are also interesting as they have a range of different shapes and colours. The variety Kermit is green and white and only 2" in diameter. The Neon has deep pink fruits, semi cylindrical and as stated in the American catalogue "Neon is a productive, edible work of art". Another variety is Tango with white fruits and green calyx averaging 7" x 2" and finally Machiaw, this has long skinny pink fruit averaging 9 " in length but only an inch in diameter.
When I went to Suttons trial grounds last August there was a bed there of the cabbage Black Tuscany, an unusual leaf picking type that more resembles kale than a cabbage. What struck me though was it"s resemblance to the Prince of Wales feathers, so I have some of these on the display as well which helps to create interest in form and shape. Incidentally my wife cooked some leaves from one plant and I can tell you they were delicious, I can thoroughly recommend it.