July

July, and all is well in the garden. A warm June with some welcome rains and little wind has sprung everything into life. The sappy spring growth has either fallen over in the winds or hardened up and we have seen some welcome rain for the crops. At the risk of repeating myself, rain does not get through to the soil where you have thick luscious bedding, so watering and dead heading are still essential.

I harvested the first cucumbers on June 12th and the tomatoes were picking well by the last week of June. My early strawberries grown in pots in the tunnels have been replaced now by the outdoor ones and they taste a lot better. They are twice as big with a much higher sugar content. My only problem with the outdoor strawberries wasn’t slugs but a very cheeky blackbird that didn’t fly away even when I was close up to him; he just kept pecking at the ripe fruit, looking very pleased with himself.

Needless to say my strawberry bed is now covered in very unattractive up turned old hanging baskets that seem to have foiled him. I also don’t remember a year when I have picked strawberries before broad beans. The beans were late going in because of the winter weather conditions and that doesn’t help the crop rotation as they will be much later being cleared. I religiously pinched out the growing tips to deter the black fly but the little blighters have appeared though only in their thousands, not millions, like previous years.

Last spring, two weeks before the Royal Cornwall Show, I had a call from a large exhibitor wanting tubs for their display. Bearing in mind that tubs and baskets are often ordered from February and planted well in advance to fill out, this was a fairly tall order as I like displays to go out well established and not looking as if they had been crammed into a pot at the last minute with gaping bits of compost showing.

As always, I went to see my friend who produces only bedding on the north coast. He was amused to see me, as every year I leave his premises in March with the bedding order, promising not to see him again until the autumn bedding collection in August. But every year there is some sort of last minute panic and up I roll with my latest problem when he has nothing left, as all the stock has gone at least a month previously, or has been reserved for large garden centres on a two week supply basis. But he has never failed to get me out of trouble and took me up to his largest glasshouse, an absolutely stunning construction, which was a sea of brilliant red, spoiled only by his wife’s washing drying in the hot glasshouse.

Here were the largest red pelargoniums I have ever seen. They were in small 4” pots but the plants had a girth of well over 12 “and were at least 18” high. Of course I scooped up loads for the job but wanted to know how he could produce such magnificent plants in the tiniest amount of compost. It doesn’t take a professional to know it was in the feed but I nurture my plants regularly with the proprietary professional feeds bought in bulk quantities as he does, but do not produce specimens like these.

The secret to a massive pelargonium? Once they are producing buds he feeds at every other watering with a very high potash and magnesium fertiliser which you and I will recognise simply as tomato food. For domestic use he decries the use of expensively packaged ‘blue’ food with the added costs of TV advertising and acclaims the humble bottle of tomato food with the necessary trace elements (boring elements like boron and copper). Litre for litre the cost of this feed against a fancy package, heavily marketed is far less and actually much easier to administer.

The zingy red pelargoniums were packed into wooden tubs, surrounded by my favourite little filler, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’ centred with a cordyline (also raised on tomato food!) and they looked as if they had been planted in March like all the others. This year the same exhibitor called me 9 weeks in advance of the Show so I haven’t had quite the same traumas this year.

My relief at having the display ready last year was all that was required. But in the aftermath of the rush I bought several of the proprietary foods and compared the ingredients on the back of the packaging. I have also tried to cost a litre. Actually it is not possible to compare properly as manufacturers only have to put on the major contents and tell you to go to hospital if you, or presumably your unattended child accidentally drink it. Not much help to the amateur scientist in me. But it has prompted me to go back to the boring bits and work out what a healthy bedding plant needs for the season. I have written about this before but I am going to repeat it because getting the feeding of any garden plant correct has amazing results.

‘NPK’ is what you see on the back of the packet:-
Nitrogen encourages vegetative growth and is therefore important in lawns and leaf crops.
Phosphorous is for root growth and the ripening of fruit. It builds up in regularly fertilised soil and it is recycled within the plant and so deficiencies are rare in the garden but it needs adding to summer pots.
Potassium is essential for good fruit and flower formation (hence the fabulous flowers on the pelargoniums).
Magnesium is required for the correct functioning of photosynthesis but also aids the movement of phosphorous within the plant
Calcium helps harden the cell walls within plants and finally sulphur is required for the production of chlorophyll.

Any good make of food, designed for the job, will have the correct ratio of each of the above plus those little beggars (with names that your average spell check throws out), the trace elements. These are minor, though essential nutrients, which are in miniscule amounts and are measured in parts per million. That apart they are absolutely essential.

Iron and manganese for the production of chlorophyll, boron makes calcium available within the plant and moves around the sugars, copper make the plant enzymes function correctly and zinc is required for pollen production. Molybdenum helps the uptake of nitrogen and is heavily involved in the root nodule activity.

If you’re still with me you will be glad to know that the science bit is finished. If you glazed over 500 words back then you will have got the earlier point about that wonder, tomato food!

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