HOW I GROW MY SEEDLINGS
Before going onto how I became involved with begonias I shall cover a past history regarding my Horticultural activities, which was next door to poison to me. I was always interested in all forms of livestock ‘pigeons, canaries, cocker spaniels’, all of which I bred and of course had to show, and I may say with a considerable bit of success. A period of ten years prior, and during the war years, I was never far from the Nith during the fishing season.
After the war, house building continued at a rapid rate and I was allocated a new council house back in my native Kirkconnel. I now had a garden for really the first time and I spent a great deal of time getting this new garden into working condition. I was really keen and attended the local library and read every book I could lay my hands on. No further my knowledge on the how and wherefore of growing plants. It was then a natural progression to my first time exhibiting at our local show, and from then on, I was really hooked on this gardening lark. My next progress was securing a greenhouse from someone who was emigrating to Australia, so I became the proud owner of a ten by eight greenhouse. I grew tomatoes on one side and generally fuchsias on the other side and generally speaking another phase was started.
During this period I became acquainted with Jimmy Black and I used to look after Jimmy's greenhouse and outdoor stock while he went on holiday. Jenny suggested one night that we went up to Wanlochhead 1530 feet above sea level, to see Robert Brown's begonias. When I saw Roberts display that was all I needed to push me into vicious clutches of the begonias. I was well and truly hooked. The next season I started away with seventeen plants and finished up with around seventy cuttings, I couldn't do a thing wrong. I'm moved up to my present address around the 12 years ago and bought a new 13 by 10 greenhouse, and erected a fairly large Chrysanthemum shelter to cover around two hundred plants. About ten years ago I started to grow a few seedlings and since then that chrysanthemums have gone and I constructed a 14 by 14 Milinen House to enable me to take up the seedlings side a bit more seriously.
Now I can get around to telling you how I grow my seedlings, not how to grow them, as the general practice is to grow them outside. The first part is generally the most difficult part, i.e., securing pollen flowers to fertilise your female flowers, I have generally difficulty in getting pollen flowers. For the benefit of members who are wondering what a pollen flower is, it's a male flower with pollen bearing anthers, these generally come from later cuttings which are allowed to flower on first flower bud. A female is easily told from a male flower, the female has a three cornered seed sack at the back of the flower. When they male flower is ready to fertilise, you then take a small camel hair brush and transfer the pollen to your female, the best time to do this is around midday. After a week or ten days you will generally find the petals of the fertilised female is beginning to drop, and it will take a further five weeks or so for the pod to be ripened and then put in store.
I am very particular as to what parents I use in all unlike my other hobbies, whereby you could be assured of what you are going to choose as parents, with begonias this is a bit more difficult. I have always followed a certain pattern and in what ever I did breed, and it was on the female side quality and breeding, and on the male side, included to use somewhat on the large size male.
If I don't get the pollen flowers I want, I don't use them, and if you're cross is right you will find you will have a pretty level lot with very few really bad flowers.
The second phase is in the sowing of your seed for me the beginning of February is just right, and sow in one of the peat seed composts. If you have sufficient heat they should be showing around in ten days to a fortnight, and additional lighting should be given during this period, which I have found very beneficial to growth.
After five or six weeks they are ready for pricking out and once they start to root into the new compost they will grow away rapidly. Once they have made nice plants I pot them into three inch pots and as they progress I'll move them on to a five inch size which I will flower them in. After frost threat is past I'm move them into a frame and all are kept in the frame until Ayr show is past and I move them into the greenhouse to flower. By the time I move them into the greenhouse, which holds about 90 seedlings my bud is roughly on three weeks, so they are ready to flower in a further three weeks. I stop my seedlings once I take my bud. I am generally taking my bud with my plants showing six or seven leaves and I can secure flowers of exhibition size by this method. It also lets you know in the first year, as they are as good the first-year, as they will ever be. If you want to be successful producing your own seed, and you don't need to grow hundreds either, grow less and give them more attention and above all grow them in pots, it's not much more work.