Being Vigilant and never leaving anything to Chance
1st Feb 2001
To get to the very top with your hobby you most certainly have to be vigilant in all that you do and never leave anything to chance. That's why I was able to spot a major problem that could have turned out disastrously to both my leeks and onions.
A few weeks ago I had transplanted a few hundred onion seedlings, that were just at the crook stage, into plantpak 40s using Levington F2 with added sand. I go into the greenhouses first thing every morning and usually check on routine things such as watering whether the lights are working and what the temperature has been on the Max Min thermometer.
However the onions seedlings didn"t appear to be making the growth rate that I would expect from ideal growing conditions, so I lifted up one of the trays to check on the bottom heat and to my amazement the sand underneath the trays was stone cold. The old electric heating blanket that I had installed for the whole length of the greenhouse some ten years or more ago, had failed and the plants were depending purely on the air temperature. From experience I know that the seedlings respond particularly well to some bottom heat to draw down the roots and thereby establish some strong seedling plants.
It was now a case of shifting all the plants back to my other greenhouse and removing all the sand from the 12 foot long by 3 foot wide bench and replacing the damaged blanket with a soil warming cable and thermostat. I ordered the cable and Thermostat on a Monday morning from A N Kays and the following morning it arrived and was installed by the Tuesday evening. It was a particularly good service that meant the plants had the absolute minimum set back. Soil warming cables come in various lengths to cover a range of surface areas. In may case I ordered a 160 foot length which was slightly more than I required but I preferred to have plenty more heat in reserve should I need it and controlled via the thermostat
The effect was dramatic, within two days you could see the difference in the plants, they were responding very favourably to their surrounding warmth and light. This just goes to show that if I hadn't lifted a seed tray that morning I might well not have noticed the problem for a further couple of days which would have meant that my onions in particular would have had a severe set back. My leeks for Chelsea are now in 9 inch pots and they will remain in these pots for quite a while, until at least they have developed a very large root system. The compost used this year was simply straight Levington M3 with a small amount of Ficote 14 14 14 mixed into the bottom layer of each pot.
My leeks for the August shows were also grown at Bangor until a few weeks ago when they were brought back home and will shortly be ready for a move on into larger pots. It is very important with leeks to make sure that they grow perfectly straight right from the first day you have them. During potting on any slight curvature of the barrel can be straightened so that as the leek grows it will maintain it"s straightness. When potting on be particularly careful of the depth that you are planting your leek at within the pot. Try and plant each one at the same depth because later on, when it's time to be planting them outside in their beds you can be confident that when you plant each root ball at a given depth the leeks will all be at the same depth.
This is particularly important because when you collar the plants to lengthen the barrel, and every collar will be the same size, you certainly don't want to be playing about with different size collars to accommodate the same length of barrel. If you do this properly, when it comes time to lift you leek for the show, given that they have all grown well, then the length of the barrel from the root plate to the tight button will be as near the same for each leek as is possible.
Having visited Peter Holden at Gateshead last Summer, and his special article will be coming up soon, I noticed that in his raised beds which were nearly identical to my own he only had one row of leeks planted along the centre of the beds. Mine have always been planted in two rows with the plants staggered between each other so that the flags are resting neatly between each plant on their supports. Most years I have planted between 35 and forty blanch leeks and usually have trouble showing most of them at the highest level because of splitting. This year I therefore intend to reduce the quantity of the plants and grow them on with just one row in each bed.
Within a week or so I shall be at it getting my parsnips sown, this is early I know but if you want to have some real heavy long specimens for the August shows, then you must have them in before the end of February. Do make sure therefore that you have all your requirements to hand such as fine moss peat, some sieved top soil and some fine sand, and I shall tell you how I intend to grow them this time. Don't forget both the Welsh NVS Branch Championships and the National Championships are being held in Wales during August this year. The Welsh is again at Pembroke on Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th Whilst the National is held at Margam Park, just off the M4, on the Bank Holiday weekend Sunday and Monday 26th and 27th.
If you are keen on growing potatoes here are a few dates for you diary as some garden centres have arranged Potato weekends where anything between 60 and 150 different varieties will be available with expert advice given from some of the Three Countries Potatoes and David Chappell from Newport will at most of them. 5th and 6th February at the Cadbury Garden Centre Congress Bury Bristol. Also on the 5th and 6th at the HDRA Ryton on Dunsmore Coventry. On the 11th and 12th of February at Jardinerie Kennelworth Road Solihull Birmingham. I shall be at this Garden Centre myself in Association with Suttons Seed for the whole weekend so if you have any vegetable queries, do come along to meet me.
Also on the 11th and 12th at Gifford Hall Vineyard Hartestes Bury St Edmunds Suffolk. !6th and 17th February - Percy Throwers Garden Centre Shrewsbury and on the 4th March at Boarder Organic Group, Boarder College, Galashiels Scotland where Allan Romans will be in attendance.