Produce for Chelsea
31st Mar 1999
There's more than enough work to be getting on with at this time of year particularly now that Chelsea Flower Show is on the horizon, so I have to flit back and forth between my own garden and the glasshouses at Bangor where the Chelsea produce is mainly grown.
It's all too easy to take everything for granted now that I have won three gold medals on the run and I was very abruptly reminded of this when for some reason my long carrots started giving me problems a few weeks ago.
Even though they have been sown in exactly the same 6" diameter pipes using the same compost mixture as other years, they suddenly decide they weren't going to grow. The whole of the first sowing, bar one, collapsed on me, 30% of the second sowing believe it or not got munched away by a stray slug that must have thumbed a free lift into the greenhouse on my empty pipes from the storage area. So after a third sowing, whether or not the long carrots are going to make it will be a close run thing. A dozen pipes though of an old Japanese variety that is supposed to grow very long and used at major ceremonial events in Japan are growing well. These are pink in colour and were given to me from the gene bank in Japan through the good offices of Wellsbourne.
One of the most important elements of my display is an adequate supply of fine parsley as nearly all the dishes are garnished with this valuable vegetable. The parsley that I prefer to grow is Faulds, a very fine moss like old variety from Scotland and for my needs I require a minimum of 80 plants in 6" pots that are travelled down in the van to ensure that the stalks are fresh and turgid. Everything for Chelsea needs to be grown in pots or containers as the whole surface area of the greenhouse floors are concrete. Watering therefore can be nightmare as it"s so very easy to over water the young seedlings and parsley in it's infancy is not that easy to grow in pots as the roots can rot off very quickly.
Leeks have been very slow to put on weight, mainly because of the very dull days we have had, even though the plants are grown under artificial lights, there is definitely no substitute for sunlight. Another cultural problem is maintaining steady growth through giving the plants an adequate supply of nutrients. When the plants are in their final pots they will need a liquid feed every week to maintain growth, the leeks are all individually potted on into 14" diameter pots and are given a higher ratio of nitrogen by using Chempak N°2. Later on the feeding pattern will alter gradually varying through a balanced feed to terminate with a high potash specification, particularly to assist fruiting in the case of Peppers and Aubergines.
Large Exhibition Onions
However, it's not all doom and gloom, if some plants are perhaps not performing exactly to my expectations, others are surpassing my expectations as in the case of the large exhibition onions. These have really grown well this year from a very early sowing during July and are from my own reselected seed from the Mel Ednie selection of Kelsae type onion. These onions were potted up into their final pots, which are florist buckets, during the middle of February and towards the end of that month there were a couple of onions measuring over 10 inches in circumference. This far exceeds any of the previous onions that I have staged at Chelsea with the largest size being 15 inches. With nearly two months of good growing to go they should, hopefully make some fine specimens.
If the long carrots are giving me problems, the short varieties are certainly not, they are really moving now and looking very healthy and completely free from any pests. They are grown in plastic drums that were cut in halve which measure about 18 inches across and about the same depth. Sixteen of these drums cover one bench and were filled with a mixture of peat sand and soil which took over two days to complete. There are a number of varieties grown, over 200 in total including my own short stump variety from the Suttons Favourite also Barbados, Corrie, Goliath and Gringo. I have also sown the brand new F1 hybrid called Yellowstone, as far as I'm aware it's the first F1 yellow carrot and should make a lovely contrast against the other dishes. I also have drums of an Asian white variety as well as a purple one.
The parsnips are now germinated through, they were initially covered over with panes of glass, these have now been removed and each station will be covered over with plastic clear cylinders cut from water and lemonade bottles. These are 4 inches in diameter and about 9 inches tall. Every cylinder has two split canes pushed along side into the compost and sellotaped together to prevent them being blown away. These should act as a cloche and help the plants to grow away unchecked. The 24 stations that are growing at my other garden in plastic drums have also been treated in the same way.