Delphiniums, family and fun

Monday, March 31, 2008

Challenges in the heat

Rain. First we had drizzle and now we have a light, steady rain, the first in about 3 weeks. It’s still warm however and even with the rain there is a feeling of this long, hot summer continuing.

Growing delphiniums in the plastic house this year been interesting. Summer started with an unusually warm, dry, calm November and has continued, unabated, until now. It will be one of those summers that young people today will remember as the summers that we used to have. It’s one of those summers that I will remember as a challenge.

Wanganui is generally a very temperate place with almost constant, prevailing westerly winds and our greenhouses are designed with that in mind. Long, hot, calm sunny days have therefore taken their toll. Temperatures have often exceeded 35degC in the growing houses. Now delphiniums can handle days like these providing they get some cool weather interludes – we’ve had none; well maybe a week’s worth in 5 months. This has meant we’ve had to battle to keep our plants alive - so we can fill our seed orders. Fortunately we have done that. Fortunately also, the heat is coming off now and there’s a new flush of flowers ready to pollinate.

Of course a difficult year has its advantages and you tend to learn a lot. We’ve learned to modify our growing medium and are also looking at methods of cooling the growing houses. We always knew a hot year would find us struggling and this has certainly been a wake-up call. One real bonus has been the results from a trial of plants grown in straight pumice (see images). This has been an outstanding success and something that will be of use to gardeners trying to grow delphiniums in climates normally too warm for them to survive well. Essentially the lesson is to keep the roots cool by growing them in an airy, white, inert media and supplying a total nutrient (hydroponic) feed at regular intervals. We’ll be doing more work with this to find a system that can be recommended for the home garden.

One problem with the hot weather is that delphiniums become susceptible to Schlrotinia rolfsii (see images below). This is a nasty disease which can fell a plant within days by dehydrating it. There is no cure so it is essential to remove the plant and all, but all, the surrounding soil that may contain fungal growth ... very white filaments). Treating the remaining soil with “Jeys Fluid” may help but solarisation (covering the moist soil with black plastic and leaving it over summer) should sterilise it out. This disease does not affect many plant genera (onions are susceptible also I think) so don’t worry about the rest of your garden plants. Guess why we grow our precious breeding stock in bags?

I’m going outside now to stand in the rain.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Fries on Friday

About this time of year we start wondering how the delphiniums in the northern hemisphere are coming along. It’s not so difficult to know as many people write from time to time. Right now I can tell you that they are flowering in Los Angeles (as they are in New Zealand), still under the snow in Dawson Creek, (Northern BC) and starting to shoot in Washington State, just as they are in England. Most of you will be looking forward to displays like this one, in a neighbours garden.

For many of you it’s time to make sure the tender shoots aren’t being ravaged by slugs and snails. Keep them off –either by using bait or transferring them to some sacrificial hostas! It’s a good idea to place slug pellets on your delphinium clumps before they even start to shoot, so, for those of you who are waiting for the snow to clear, make sure you’re right there when it’s gone. For those who don’t have to bother with snow (or it’s gone already), get those pellets down now.

It may be spring in the northern hemisphere but it’s Friday in Wanganui. Friday means wrapping up the week’s work and driving on down to the local family type pub for FOF (Fries on Friday) at the end of the day. This Friday it also means packing up camping gear (me only) ready for our Rotary Club’s annual trip into Hipango Park. This is a small, council owned area, set in native bush about two hours ride up the Whanganui River on a nineteenth century river boat. This year we’ll be painting a hut, some barbecue tables and tidying the track a little. We’ll have fine weather too.



Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fresh Seed

The extraordinary summer continues. Although we’re into autumn now the dry weather is with us again, as is the wind. But that’s ok, as one of the main reasons we shifted to Wanganui 8 years ago was for more wind. The almost constant breeze keeps the climate temperate and makes cooling greenhouses easier. Even so, another summer like the one just past and we’ll have to think seriously about fogging in the greenhouses.

We have at least some new season’s seed ready for almost all our seed lines now so this week, or early next, we’ll be sending out our annual email to past clients. If you want fresh seed – now is the time to order it! Of course, we have to have a new image gallery to support this and to add interest and I’ve included some of the images in this blog. If you want to see the rest you will need to visit our photo galleries - in about a week.

Work for the rest of the day today consists of installing the weed matting in the last half of the new growing house. We put black matting down first and that forms a barrier between the hard and slightly rough compressed shell rock floor and the white weed matting that goes on top. Once this is complete I can concentrate on installing the corrugated iron sheets that will bear the plants and drain the excess water into a gutter. This can be seen in the images of the first half of the house in this blog.

The grapes are ripe, tomatoes in full flight, “Black Boy” peaches are just perfect and the two courgette plants are continuing to provide more than we need. The silver cover in the image on the left is to protect the grapes from the birds



Sunday, March 9, 2008

New Greenhouse nearing completion

The trouble shooter from Harfords Greenhouses has come to view his team’s handiwork and try to settle some of the problems we have. Many of these problems resulted from an amazing lack of communication from the construction team. That much has been acknowledged.

What’s gone wrong? Remember, this is a 900 square metre (around 10,000 sq ft) greenhouse.

The whole house was built sloping the wrong way, so that the gutters took water to the wrong end of the house – away from the down pipes. They fixed this when it was pointed out, but only to “level”. That’s ok but....

The central gutter, when full, leaks water inside the house.

One ratchet arm that’s involved in opening the vents is badly aligned and bangs into a truss.

The internal insect screens weren’t finished, so insects (including bees) can pass freely between sections of the house. This should not happen. We don’t want stray pollen.

The doors don’t have stoppers to prevent them blowing in, in a strong wind.

The insect screens attached to the roof vents were cut down (without consultation) when they were installed, preventing the vents from opening to their full extent, which they need to do in still, hot weather.

That’s about the lot. We’ve discussed the problems and he has agreed to fix them at their cost. It has, however, cost us most of the seed crop we hoped to harvest from the new house this summer.

It’s Sunday. The sun’s shining, the birds are singing and lunch will soon be ready.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Useful Links

Almost every day we receive requests from people or companies asking us to link to them from our web site. We almost invariable decline the request as the sites in question are usually out and out commercial, offering little, or no useful information. However, we occasionally will exchange links.

We recently received a request from David Grist, who is responsible for the online content of the Gardener’s Supply Company. David wrote to make us aware of an article he’d written about delphiniums on their blog site “Gardener’s Journal”. Well, I’ve had a look around the Garden Supply site, and the blog, and think they do a great job of offering both commercial service and free information. .The employee owner structure of the business seems to result in a friendly approach. Their mission statement also adds to this..

"Gardener's Supply is in business to spread the joys and rewards of gardening, because gardening nourishes the body, elevates the spirit, builds community and makes the world a better place.”

We think the Gardener’s Supply Company and the Gardener’s Journal are well worth linking to and that you will enjoy what they have to offer.

Here is the link to the journal/blog

And to the Gardener’s Supply Co David Grist>



Thursday, March 6, 2008

Autumn Down Under

We’ve had a very warm, sunny, dry summer here in Wanganui and the delphiniums are now enjoying some welcome cooler days. Actually, it’s the cooler nights that really do the job and temperatures are now getting down to 15degC or so. Couple that with a few cloudy, cool days and some rain and the delphiniums love it. Yellowing leaves green up, new growth races away and the plants shout out a thank you audible for miles (if you’re in tune to the plant frequencies).

If anyone reading this has trouble with their delphiniums in the hotter months, take heart. If your summers are hot then enjoy the early summer flush and, as soon as this is finished, try cutting them down, mulch them and keeping them quite dry. You shouldn’t overdo this but keeping them checked for a few weeks while they have little top growth seems to help them through the hottest weather. Just watch out for powdery mildew though.

The summer here is now almost over and we’re hopeful of a good autumn flush of flowers for late pollination. We need it. Local farmers are almost happy too and that’s about as good as it gets for a farmer it seems. Most have harvested all their grain and the new grass growth is going to flush the dried off dairy cows for early calving.

We’ve just about cleaned all the first seed crop and will be sending out notification of fresh seed to our customers next week. We have a new line of seeds that produce mottled purple/pink florets with picotee edges we think will be a hit. We’ll see.

Judging by the infrequency of these blogs, despite my resolutions to do better, it’s something that clearly needs a higher priority. Does anyone have any higher priority to spare?