Seed Potatoes, Onions and Shallots
30th Dec 1998
I for one will be very glad indeed to see the back of 1998 in gardening terms, it certainly wasn't conducive towards pleasurable gardening, certainly not along the West coast line of Wales. The main problem was the regular days of cold low temperatures coupled with incessant rain that made growing vegetables to a high standard very difficult indeed. My wish therefore for 1999 is that we have a Summer that will be conducive towards enjoying our hobby rather than turning it into a chore.
I have now received my seed potatoes for next season and as I explained a few weeks ago, my intention is to grow just two banker varieties that always seem to turn out the goods for me. They are the purple splashed Kestrel and the smooth white skinned Winston, both of which I have had as fresh stock from Suttons. They are now in seed trays with the rose end uppermost and positioned on a bench in my garage fairly close to a window. As the young shoots emerge they will need to be in good light in order for the shoots or sprouts to be sturdy and strong. Be wary however if hard frosts are forecasted and be ready to throw a protective blanket of fleece over them.
I have to admit that I was under the impression that Kestrel was a variety that performed well for everyone all over the country in the same manner as it does regularly for me. I was therefore very surprised to hear from different growers in Scotland that they have great difficulty in growing kestrel to perfection and consider it a rather ordinary variety. Bearing this in mind I just wonder how long it will take kestrel to break down and not be as regular in producing perfect clean specimens as we have had over the past few years.
I well remember during my early years on the show bench when other varieties such as Vanessa seemed to break down and not be as good as they were when first introduced. Another instance over the years was Catriona, a variety which was grown by most top vegetable growers but is rarely seen today as the skin condition seems to have deteriorated over the years.
My onions were sown a few days before Christmas and I had an excellent fast germination rate from my own selected seed in an electric propagator. Once germinated they were moved from the propagator into the growing cabinet under artificial lights and within a week or so they will be ready for transplanting into their first pot or cell. Never move them into too large a pot, mine will first go into Plantpak 40"s which are 40 cells that fit inside a normal full size seed tray. The compost at this stage will be Levington F2 with about 20% added fine vermiculite. Since introducing this fine material to my various potting mixes I have had some excellent root development on all my plants and thoroughly recommend it's use.
Take plenty of care at this point when transplanting as the young seedlings are extremely tender and vulnerable to the least excess pressure and any bruising of the leaf at this stage could well prove to be fatal. Do remember also to warm up the compost before using it by making sure that it"s in the heated greenhouse for a few days prior to using it. To consider transplanting young seedlings that have been nurtured along in the warm environment of a growing cabinet and sticking them into cold compost could prove to be disastrous. At best they could take a few days longer to establish their new root system and at worst, later on in the season, they could double up or go to seed.
Do make sure whenever you check up on either the leeks or the onions inside the growing cabinet that you keep a sharp eye out for any aphids at the base of the young plants as well as any tiny rust spores or spots. Rust is a devastating disease that quickly spreads throughout the whole stock and when really established can be difficult to totally eradicate. Should you find the odd red spot or pustule on a flag, then switch off the lights for a couple of hours and spray the foliage with a small squirt of washing up liquid in a litre of water in a small hand sprayer which seems to work really well.
Another word of caution as well, if the plants are growing with the aid of bottom heat, be particularly vigilant that the capillary matting or sand that is usually used to cover the heating element is always kept uniformly moist. If the sand dries underneath the pots or trays it could prove to be fatal as the bottom layer of compost could be bone dry resulting in the roots being left brown and possibly burnt off altogether.
The shallots that I planted as an experiment during September haven't grown as much top growth as I had excepted, probably around four inches. They are though very well anchored in the soil which suggests that there is a good strong root system developing and once Spring appears they should really put on a lot of quick growth. The remainder of my shallots will be planted during this coming week and the method adopted will depend to a large extent on the weather. If we have a dry frost free period, then I shall lightly fork over the growing area and plant them directly into the soil. If the weather is very wet or freezing then I shall pot them up into Plantpak 15's and leave them for a couple of weeks on the greenhouse benching where they will develop a strong root system before being moved to a cold frame from where they will be planted out when the weather and the ground is suitable.