Chitting Parsnips and the Onion "Toughball"
2nd Apr 1997
The onion Toughball that I'm trying out for the first time this year has really grown well and will be potted up again this weekend from a 3" pot into a 7" pot and this will be the one in which they will grow right through the season. There is no doubt that this particular onion caught everyone"s eye last year when it was superbly grown by Bill Hughes of Swansea and seems to be perfect in every respect for the under 8 ounce classes.
As I always find space to be at a premium in my garden, I have for the last few years grown my small onions inside the greenhouse which means that the pots are sitting in what would be my growing cabinet during the Winter months. The mix I intend to use will be the same one as for the big onions and will be as follows : 4 parts Levington M3 potting compost, 3 parts soil which was sieved from my onion beds last year and I'm hoping that I will just have enough left to complete the potting of 50 Toughball, 1 part Vermiculite.
As the plants have to grow be in these pots for a few weeks I shall also add some base fertiliser by way of Chempak BTD, some two ounces to a bushel of mixture should be sufficient to ensure that they have all the nutrients that they need. The high temperatures in the greenhouse can be a draw back so a couple of panes of glass are always removed at the far end of the house from both sides. On top of this the fan that is an integral part of the growing cabinet will also be switched on to circulate the air around.
My parsnips this year were sown on the 5th of March, a total of 75 and for the first time in a few years, the seed were first chitted prior to sowing. This is a process that can be very controversial, with some growers firmly believing in it's merits whilst others (including myself at one point) consider the whole thing a waste of time. The reason I changed my mind this year was the atrocious weather that we were having throughout February and I was getting worried that my sowing dates could be delayed, so chitting was commenced on the 25th of February.
The seed are scattered on some moist tissue and covered over with another couple of layers and placed inside a sealed receptacle and kept in a warm room. When they were inspected on the evening prior to sowing, some of the seed had already broken their dormancy and the radicle was clearly visible protruding through the seed coat. All the others were well swollen and in their prime for sowing. As I was scared of failure I placed three plump seed in each station and within two weeks they were starting to pop through the compost.
This of course is one of the great benefits of chitting, you save valuable growing time so that effectively, even though the seed went in later than normal into the sowing stations, they had in fact been started off a good ten days earlier. I was very cautious not to sow any seed that had the white radicle showing through the seed case, I was just paranoid that I might damage it in some way which could contribute towards having forked specimens at lifting time; I can't bear even thinking about such a scenario!
I have always had trouble with the cats and this year was no exception, would you believe that even though the whole bed is covered over with a timber framed structure which in turn is draped over with a polythene sheet, it still got in. At the very top of the frame, at one end only, I had left a small triangular space uncovered so that on a hot day any excess heat could escape. Mercifully the cat contained it's activities to one corner and totally ruined about eight stations which had to be re sown with some fresh unchitted seed. These of course will grow but it's never the same is it having some plants looking weaker than the others.
The answer of course is clear, when you think the cats won't get in they most certainly will so make doubly sure that you haven't got a gap anywhere in your beds.