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Onion Mix – David Metcalfe – Zoom Talk November 2022


Potato Mix –  Michael Bradley – Facebook November 2019

100L fine moss peat

14oz Vitax Q4 pro powder

14oz Calcified seaweed


Carrot Mix – Michael Bradley – Facebook November 2019 – Sowing date ~ 8th April (Southern England)

75L Levington compost F2 + S

10L fine vermiculite

1oz Vitax Q4 pro powder

3oz Superphosphate of lime

2oz Nutrimate


Parsnip Mix – Michael Bradley – Facebook November 2019 – Sowing date ~ 3rd March (Southern England)

75L Levington compost F2 + S

25L topsoil

10L fine vermiculite

5oz Vitax Q4 pro powder

4oz Superphosphate of lime

16oz Calcified seaweed

3oz Nutrimate


Potato Mix – Notes provided by David Peel, October 2018 Meeting

One Poly bag

17L sieved peat

3oz calcified seaweed

4oz Q4

1 Seed potato

Put 6L of peat into a bag, place the seed potato into the middle after digging the eyes out leaving one shoot pointing up, then fill the bag to the top with remainder of the peat. Water well then do not give any more water until the potato is about 8 ” tall.  At this point water every day.  After around 14 weeks the potatoes should be ready.  Lift them and store them in clean peat. 

For Winston, use 2.5 oz calcified seaweed and 3oz Q4 per 17L of peat,  Leave two growing shoots on the potato and check the size after around 9 weeks.


Leaf Nibblers and Sap Suckers – Notes by Geoff Wilson NYASDDA, March 2018 Meeting

Use pesticides only when they are really necessary. Some pests can be kept under control by cultivation techniques such as rotation of plants, destruction of plant residues, or hand removal of pests.
Encouraging natural enemies or even supplementing them with biological controls will reduce the need for spraying. Identify the pest correctly in order to apply appropriate control measures.

Know your enemy. If you do see something being attacked, first make sure you know which insect is doing the damage. Take a sample of the ailing plant to a reliable, knowledgeable garden centre and ask.

Kill ‘em with your bare hands
. Or if you prefer, gloved hands. If you catch them early, a lot of pest infestations can be halted by hand. To get rid of snails and slugs, go out for a few moments at night with a torch and collect and kill them. You will quickly see their population diminish. A colony of aphids can be rubbed off with a cloth and soapy water.

Water early. Watering at night leaves a damp environment that encourages mould and mildew. It also inspires invasions from insects, slugs, and snails.

Rotate annual flowers and vegetables. Planting the same thing in the same place repeatedly makes it easier for insects and viruses that prefer a certain plant to get established.

Confuse insects with variety
. Companion Planting solid beds of the same flowers or vegetables can encourage insects. If you mix up the plants, you literally mix up the insects because if the plant they love is next to one they hate, they don’t like to hang around.

Prune properly. Many bushes, trees, and other perennials are more vulnerable to insects if they have dead wood, or if their branches are so close together that they don’t get sufficient ventilation. So, make sure they are properly pruned. Sometimes an insect infestation can be stopped simply by pruning away the infected part.

Check your plants often. The earlier you spot an infestation the better. Take a good look at the backs of leaves, where many insects lay their eggs and begin their lives.

If you have a problem, first consider the least-toxic approaches

Stick stuff. There are sticky, or syrupy substances on the market that you apply on a plastic card or rubber band wrapped around trunks and stalks, or just hung up. Insects that crawl up the plant from the ground simply can’t get past these sticky wrap barriers and flying pests will stick to the cards. Beware though these are indiscriminate and will also capture beneficial insects .

Then try botanicals. If you must use a pesticide, choose a botanical first. They are made from plants rather than synthesized in a chemical factory. Having withstood the test of time, botanicals are safer than many synthetic chemicals. They often contain one of the following active ingredients:

Pyrethrum, from a type of chrysanthemum, is a low-toxic choice, though some people might experience an allergic reaction. There are also synthetic pyrethrums that work the same way.

Neem, from a tree, is most effective on moth larvae, and can also harm butterflies.

As a last resort, the stronger poisons. Any responsible doctor doesn’t use powerful antibiotics unless an infection is serious or life-threatening. The same principle should apply to your plants. If plants are so sick that you face a choice of letting them die or using a non-botanical, synthetic poison containing active ingredients, make sure that you are getting the one that is most effective for your target insect. Use as little of these poisons as possible and carefully follow every precaution on the label.

Less toxic chemical controls
Spray a dilute solution of fatty acids or liquid soap on affected leaves and rub the aphids off with your fingers.  This will probably have to be repeated once or twice a week but as the plants age their tissue becomes tougher and less vulnerable to attack.

Plant resistant varieties – certain varieties are resistant to the viral diseases transmitted by aphids.

Be aware when using high Nitrogen synthetic fertilisers – these supply too much nitrogen to the plant allowing lush soft growth which is more susceptible to attack.

Companion planting – plant garlic cloves (just one or two) among rose bushes. An infusion of garlic crushed into water and sprayed on the aphids will also help remove them. Many herbs, such as hyssop, sage, dill, lavender and thyme discourage aphids if planted near to susceptible plants.

Plant a trap crop e.g. blackfly love nasturtiums which can be pulled out when they are infested.

Spray nettle spray – this is made from common stinging nettles and will help to control aphids.

Gather 224g (1/2lb) young nettles and soak in a bucket of water for a week. Strain and use undiluted as a control for aphids on roses and celery leaf miner. Add the mushy nettles to the compost heap.

Spray rhubarb spray – the oxalic acid in rhubarb leaves can help to control aphids, particularly on roses.

Cut 450g (1lb) rhubarb leaves, place in an old saucepan (the oxalic acid may damage one that you still use) with 1.1 litres (2pt) water and boil for half an hour, topping up as necessary. When cool, add 1 dessertspoon of soap flakes dissolved in 275ml (1/2pt) warm water. This acts as the wetting agent when added to the strained rhubarb liquid. Stir the mixture thoroughly and use undiluted as a spray. Rhubarb leaves are quite toxic so be careful to keep this away from children and pets.

Use elder spray – this is effective against aphids, small caterpillars and for mildew and blackspot on roses. The effective agent is hydro-cyanic acid, so use an old saucepan when preparing the spray.

Gather 450g (1 lb) leaves and young stems of elder prefer-ably in spring when the sap is rising. Place in the saucepan and add 3.3 litres (6pt) water. Boil for half an hour, topping up as necessary. Strain through old tights and use the liquid cold and undiluted. It will keep for three months if bottled tightly while still hot.

Coffee spray – Mix a good strong mix of black coffee and spray onto brassica whitefly or caterpillars or slugs and snails.

Neem Oil Amounts For Insect Spray

For 1 litre of a 0.5 % dilution of neem plant spray you need:
• 5 ml neem oil
• 1-2 ml soap flakes
• 1 litre warm water

Chilli spray
Slice 500 grams of ripe chilli pods and place in a container then pour over 2ltrs boiling water. Cover and leave to stand for 4 to 5 days. Sieve the mixture and keep the liquid. Dissolve 30g of soap into this liquid Use soap flakes or that is used for washing dishes and not the modern washing powders that contain caustic soda which will harm plants.

How to use: Use as a spray, against most insects including caterpillars, aphids, flies, ants and mealy bugs. Apply once a week if there is no rain or two or three times a week if it rains. It is important to use this solution as a preventative measure.
If the concentration of the chilli solution is too strong, it can burn the leaves. So it is important that the right strength is found by testing.

Garlic spray
Mince or finely chop three to four cloves of garlic, and add them to two teaspoons of paraffin oil. Let this mixture sit for 24 hours, strain and add the remaining liquid to half litre of water. Add one teaspoon of soap flakes. This mixture can be stored and diluted as needed. When you need to spray, use two tablespoons of the mixture added to one pint of water in a spray bottle. First test by spraying an inconspicuous part of the plant to see if your mixture harms it at all. If there are no signs of leaf damage after a day or two, it is safe.


I noticed these cane caps being used in Tony Featherstone’s garden the other day.  They are made from empty shotgun shell casings and come in different colours apparently. 

Highly visible and very useful, not only for protecting your eyes when you bend over but also, for reminding you what colour gladiolus corm, tulip bulb, sweet pea seedlings or bedding plant seeds and seedlings you may have planted in the ground underneath.


Growing Hints for Potatoes courtesy of JBA Seed Potatoes can be seen here.


These are Mark Hall’s tips on growing Millennium Class Vegetables – March 2016 Meeting


Mark has access to plenty of leaf/fern mould  which he sieves and mixes 80:20 with conventional peat and a little sharp sand to aid drainage.  He also adds fertiliser to the mix which needs to be low in nitrogen and high in potash.  Suitable proprietary potato fertiliser mixes are commercially available to buy.  He generally sows potatoes during the first week in April, or thereabouts, using 20L plastic bags standing in double rows on his chosen plot of earth and each holed at the bottom to allow the roots to penetrate the soil as necesssary for extra water/nutrients.  He grows a number of varieties; current favourites include Winston, Kestrel and Bonnie.  Winston can grow to be quite large and needs watching to avoid excessively-sized tubers.  During early stage growth he places inverted 12″ plant pots over the growing haulms to protect them from overnight frost damage.  Adequate water is essential for proper potato growth and he uses an autiomatic drip feed system based on compost moisture content sensors.  Common scab, he claims, is caused by lack of water at the potato “initiation” stage ie when the potatoes are first forming underground and it is essential that they are kept moist at this stage to prevent this.  There are two forms of “blight”.  Early leaf blight (where the leaf ribs are not affected) occurs in May/June and is not critical in terms of damage. Late leaf blight (where the leaf ribs are also affected) and typically occurring in late June/early July, on the other hand, is devastating for plant growth and affected plants need to be discarded and destroyed.  Prevention is the only solution and a copper-based fungicide spray is the traditional method.  Personal experience and diaries will dictate growing and harvesting times but Mark generally cuts off the haulms at some time in July and moves the intact potato bags to a dry area such as a garage to allow the skins to set for several weeks.  The potato bags are then emptied and the potatoes sorted into sets, placed in bakers’ trays lined with newspaper and covered with some of the original bag compost to exclude the light.  Finally, each set is labelled so that it can be identified easily without disturbing the potatoes.  Please note that the potatoes are not washed until just before Show day using a soft sponge and plain water.  They should then be dried off and covered with soft paper to exclude light until staging time.

Stump-rooted Carrots

Mark uses beds of sharp sand 18″-24″ deep retained by paving slab walls held together by a wooden frame along the top edge which enables fleece, and later enviromesh, covers to be attached easily..  His borehole mix comprises sterilised loam, peat, sharp sand and a little burnt wood ash.  To this mixture is added John Innes Base fertiliser at a rate of 8oz per bushel and lime at 1/2oz per bushel.  The whole mixture is then sieved through a 1/4″ mesh, thoroughly stirred and then bagged up ready for use.  The sand bed is watered before marking out sowing positions at 6″ centres.  Holes are bored to a depth of 14″ using a custom-made borer at intervals starting from mid-March through to mid-April depending on Show dates.  The variety of choice is Sweet Candle but it needs a longer growing season to form fully-formed stumps and typically takes 24-25 weeks rather than the commonly-held view of 22 weeks.  Seeds are sown 3 per station and thinned down to one seedling after germination.  Mark considers root removal of the rejected seedlings to be important and so pulls them out rather than cutting off the leaves only. Mark replaces the fleece with an environmesh cover 24″-26″ in height to fully enclose the growing carrots and this remains in place throughout the growing season. Great care must be taken not to scratch the carrot shoulders when checking on growth progress for matching purposes.  He lifts and gently washes the carrots with a soft sponge, retaining the foliage until final trimming and tying on Show day.


In the absence of the famed Cederico, Meccano and Zenith are two of his favourite new varieties although older varieties like Alicante and Ailsa Craig can still produce decent tomatoes, especially for taste.  Seeds are sown into trays at the end of January/early February, according to planned Show dates.  Seedlings are pricked off into 3″ pots and given bottom heat in a greenhouse.  Mark grows tomatoes in the greenhouse border soil, not growbags or pots since he feels they both dry out and become nutrient-starved too easily.  The seedlings stay in 5″ pots until the first flowering truss is “setting” ie forming pinhead tomatoes, whilst gradually acclimatising to the cooler temperatures of the lower greenhouse. Waiting until the first truss forms, he believes, guarantees at least the first batch of tomatoes even if the others do not set.  He removes the axil shoots and thins down all trusses to 6 fruits per truss, removing the weakest, misshapen and smallest fruits along the way.  He prefers to support his growing tomato plants with strings attached to the greenhouse roof and wound spirally down and around the growing stem and pegged into the soil bed at the lower end. This method is quicker and more hygienic than using canes and periodic vertical ties.  Beware blossom end rot (caused by calcium deficiency at tomato “setting” time) and the rarer tomato moth caterpillar attacks.  Both cause similar-looking tomato visual defects but the calcium deficiency can be corrected for later-forming trusses by watering the plants with hydrated lime. 

250g Onions

There are Autumn-sown varieties such as Toughball and Spring-sown varieties such as Marco and Tasco. Seedlings sown at the end of February are transplanted into 3″ pots and stay in a cool greenhouse until the end of April where they are hardened off in a cold frame before planting out at 10″ spacing in the open ground about the second week in May.  They are grown slowly rather than forced along because you need hardy plants that can hit the open ground runnig, so to speak.  Sizing is very important because you should aim to exhibit these onions as close as possible to 250g in weight without being oversized and risking disqualification.  The trick is therefore to establish a link between diameter/circumference of the growing onion to the eventual Show weight of the dried and finished exhibition onion.  For Tasco (and it will vary on variety chosen and seedling planting depth)  a diameter of 83mm (measured by vernier calipers) corresponds to an eventual weight of about 240-250g.  A tape measure can be used instead of a vernier caliper (which runs the risk of scratching/damaging the onion skin) and a circumference of about 101/4″ produces the equivalent desired harvested onion weight. Mark uses a custom-made metal sleeve of 83mm internal diameter with a cut-out slot that enables him to slide it past the foliage and over the growing bulb to establish optimum harvest time. Apparently, planting your onion seedlings more deeply produces deeper-shaped bulbs, in which case the diameter of the harvested bulbs needs to be correspondingly less in order to maintain the same optimum Show weight. Matching up onions of different shapes becomes more difficult and the aim should be for consistency in growing depth.  Once the bulbs reach the correct size, they are harvested with leaves and roots intact. The loose basal leaves are removed and a single skin retained ensuring that any interconnective membrane is washed off completely under a tap before suspending the onions bulbs down in a dry, airy place out of direct sunlight for the bulb skins to ripen fully. Applying non-fragrant talc to the bulbs aids the drying process.  Harvesting, drying and ripening becomes a continuous batch process as soon as the growing onions achieve their optimum harvest size.  Always wash off the talc before showing and apply hand cream carefully and in moderation to the onion necks which will soften the skins ahead of tying without breaking them.

Globe Beetroot

Mark used to grow them in half barrels of sand but now uses a similar, but slightly shallower (18″), design of sand bed to his carrot sand bed described earlier. The pavers and base are lined internally with black polythene sheeting which helps to  retain moisture as well as prevent leakage of sand through gaps in the pavers.  The sand is watered to aid settling and marked out at 6″ centres.  Sowings are made in regular batches using a much richer growing mixture than used for carrots.  Beetroot are very hungry feeders and need to be grown quickly in order to produce suitable Show specimens.  Pablo is Mark’s variety of choice and he makes sowings (2-3 seeds per station) from about 7th May, every 3 weeks until the end of June.  He suffers from cats and covers the entire growing bed with netting to deter them.  The optimum exhibition globe beetroot body should be about, or slightly larger than, tennis ball size, with symmetrical tap root and foliage placement and no evidence of corkiness.  To achieve this result, Mark believes that the seedlings should not be disturbed once they have reached thumbnail root size and that sufficient foliage, close spacing and quick growing reduces the damaging effect of sunlight sunlight and therefore obviates the need for “earthing up”.


These are David Metcalfe’s recipes for growing large exhibition onions – November 2014 Meeting

Potting Compost

1st Potting into multi-purpose Irish moss peat compost

2nd and final Potting into same compost but for every 70 litres add:

30 litres steam sterilised soil from onion or leek bed

1/2 jar (something like a 1lb jam jar size) Vitax Q4 or Blood, Fish and Bone

1/2 jar calcified seaweed

1/2 jar rock dust

1/2 jar Osmocote or Miracle Gro slow release fertiliser

Good dusting of Viresco dry and CHARGE (mealworm poo!)

Growing Medium

To 200 litres ( equivalent to 4 x 50 litre tubs or airpots) of clean peaty soil add:

1 jar Chempak potato fertiliser

1 jar dried blood

1/2 jar powdered calcified seaweed

Good dusting of Viresco dry

Alternate watering with compost tea

NO extra feeding!

Additional Notes

CHARGE is a new, 100% naturally-produced soil enhancer that boosts and prolongs the fertility of your soil using one key ingredient; Insect Frass. Charge provides a stampede of beneficial microorganisms and contains a host of natural plant growth catalysts. Further details are available from here.

Chempak potato fertiliser is one of a range of specially formulated mixtures available through Thompson and Morgan product retail outlets.  Further details can be read here.

VIRESCO is a trade name for a natural growth stimulant based on humate which is a pure and highly active compound formed from the decomposition of plant matter over thousands of years. Further details can be read here.

Compost Tea  You can read all about it here.

Rock Dust  also known as rock powders, rock minerals, rock flour, soil remineralization, and mineral fines, consists of finely crushed rock, processed by natural or mechanical means, containing minerals and trace elements widely used in organic farming practices.The igneous rocks basalt and granite often contain the highest mineral content, whereas limestone, considered inferior in this consideration, is often deficient in the majority of essential macro-compounds, trace elements, and micronutrients. Rock dust is not a fertilizer as it lacks the qualifying levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. It is available from various sources such as Amazon and from here and here.

David also had a number of other items on display.  These included S B Plant Invigorator – full details from here  and BioMagic a foliar organic feed based on seaweed.

He uses a natural insecticide called Py  produced by Vitax as well as Growing Success advanced slugkiller from Monro Brands which is a revolutionary new Slug Killer that outdates all other slug control. This is a bait which can be used around children, pets and wildlife as it only targets Slugs. It also remains effective after both rain and watering.

He also believes that airpots have some merit since they enable the growing root system to make maximum use of the growing medium rather than rush to the outside of conventional plastic pots.  Further details can be found here.


This is David Metcalfe’s recipe for leek and onion growing mixtures – November 2012 Meeting

Pendle Improved Blanch Leek 2011

Grown in 50L tubs. Compost made from mixing 150L sterilised soil with 70L sphagnum moss peat. Fertiliser added using 500g Chicken Tonight jar – 1 1/2 jars dried blood, 1 jar dolomite lime, 1 jar calcified seaweed, 1/2 jar humate, 1 jar osmocote exact (15-9-9) or Miracle Gro slow release fertiliser (18-9-11), 2 handfulls Viresco dry, 1 jar Vitax Q4 high nitrogen. No additional feeding and continue watering up to Show date.

Large Exhibition Onion 2011

Grown in 25, 30 and 35L tubs. Compost made from mixing 150L sterilised soil with 70L sphagnum moss peat. Fertiliser added using 1 jar Chempak Potato fertiliser (6-5-12), 1 jar dried blood, 1/2 jar calcified seaweed, 2 handfulls Viresco dry, 1/2 jar dolomite lime. No additional feeding.


This is Graeme Watson’s recipe for Other Than Long Carrot borehole growing mixture – March 2013 Meeting

1  75 litre Bag of Levington F2 plus S growing compost

1  gallon fine Vermiculite ( to aid water retention)

8oz Calcified seaweed dust

8 oz Calcified seaweed meal

12 oz Vitax Q4

Nutrimate (10ml diluted in 1 gallon of water)


This is Graeme Watson’s recipe for  Long Carrot borehole growing mixture – March 2013 Meeting

1  75 litre Bag of Levington F2 plus S growing compost

12 oz Calcified seaweed dust

8 oz Calcified seaweed meal

Nutrimate (10ml diluted in 1 gallon of water)

Sangral (at manufacturer’s recommended dilution rate)


This is John Bramham’s recipe for Parsnip growing mixture – Garden News – February 2014

6 gallons of peat

3 gallons of soil

2 gallons of silver sand

1 gallon of medium vermiculite

200g(7oz) trench base fertiliser

150g (5.2 oz) calcified seaweed

150g (5.2 oz) garden lime


This is Jim Thompson’s recipe for Parsnip growing mixture – Garden News – February 2014

3 gallons (68 litres) of sterilised sieved soil

2 gallons 6mm sieved builders’ sand

2 gallons 6mm sieved moss peat

2 oz bonemeal

4 oz superphosphate

2 oz sulphate of potash

3 oz calcified seaweed

2 oz garden lime

1.5 oz dolomite lime

1 oz Nutrimate powder


This is David Thornton’s recipe for Parsnip growing mixture – Garden News – February 2014

75 litres sieved peat-based multipurpose compost

15 litres coarse sand

15 litres fine vermiculite

15 litres sieved soil

5 oz base fertiliser

5 oz seaweed meal

3.5 oz lime


Peter Booker – Pinks and Carnations – April 2014 Meeting

A simple wire layering clip designed and used by Peter Booker for pegging down pink stems to encourage new  roots to form, thereby enabling propagation of new plants.  Could also be used for strawberries or any other plant that can be propagated by the layering method.

Bud clips – designed to stop carnation flower buds and calyces from splitting during flower formation.   Wrap some plastic-covered wire around a wooden former of your chosen size (or even a broom handle)
and make as many turns as you require (one turn equates to one clip). Then use scissors or shears to cut through one side of the wire along the length of the former.  This method produces split rings of a
consistent diameter.

Simple wire cane clip for supporting carnation stems (and anything else for that matter).  The horizontal hook shape enables stems to be securely held but  also allows stems to be released without damaging them.

Same clip showing a different view of the design

Cane clip in position.  The vertical wire can slide up and down the cane as required.  As an ex-builder, Peter uses wire that is designed for hanging false ceiling supports.  You may need to experiment with different  lengths and gauges of wire to suit your purposes.

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