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Report of Meeting on April 29 2013

Paul Patton on Achieving the Best Plant Growth

Paul is a freelance consultant, writer and broadcaster who has spent forty years in the growing industry, farming, horticulture and as a plant pathologist. His talk focussed on plant nutrition to obtain the best growth possible. He mentioned that schools are now starting to have gardening in the curriculum once more so children are taught to value food and how it is produced. Hopefully this may reduce wastage of food.

Need vitality in a plant - dark leaves and thick stems.

Plants need light, air, water, nutrients.

Nutrients

Plants need nitrogen for leaves, phosphorus for roots and potassium for healthy fruit and flowers. Also the trace elements or minerals such as iron, copper, manganese and many others.

Mineral deficiencies in soil

If a plant has yellow leaves in the spring it means it is deficient in manganese and magnesium. It needs to be treated with 'miracle grow' or any commercial equivalent, and organic matter put into the soil.

Any discoloration indicates a mineral deficiency of some sort eg black spots mean a copper deficiency.

Nitrogen fixing bacteria

Microbes have a nitrogen fixing symbiotic relationship with root hairs. Because this is so important we must ensure that the soil is in good condition with a good population of nitrogen fixing microbes ie organic material in the form of manure or compost is essential. (Although the air is 78% nitrogen plants cannot absorb the gas directly from the atmosphere so need the help of microbes which can do that and then transfer the nitrogen in the form of soluble nitrates to the root hairs of plants.)

Legumes produce own microbes for the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen so the roots of legumes should be left in the soil after harvesting. When planting non leguminous plants it is a good idea to add mycorrhizal fungi near the roots. This may be bought from garden centres.

Powdery mildew

Cut off affected parts of plant in early stages and add nutrients especially potash. Lots of modern cultivars have been developed with excellent resistance to powdery mildew and other such problems.

Compost

When composting use a covered bin or area at least 1 cubic metre , cover well and get it to such a high temperature (60C) that the mixture steams. Mix soft matter with fibrous such as paper or dry leaves. Chicken waste, soil or manure are good activators, temperatures of over 60C break down pathogens and weeds.

Biochar is a volcanic mineral which boosts levels of nutrition and stimulates the growth of nitrogen fixing microbes. This is a new material that has begun to be added to compost. Paul showed us pictures of large scale composting on a commercial scale.

Coconut coir

One can never have enough organic matter. A good buy is coconut coir which is light (protects the back), dry and easily reconstituted. Dig in or mulch.

Mulch

Mulch will conserve water, suppress weeds, act like a soil duvet, rots and worms can drag it into the soil below.

Earthworms

Earthworms break down organic matter and aerate the soil. A wormery is useful to have.

Commercial Plant Foods

A Root drench is quick acting.

Liquid foliar feeds are quick acting for tomatoes, flowers and hanging baskets.

Granules are for slow controlled release.

Resin balls expand and release food.

Commercial Growing Media

Current thinking is to use coir mixed with vegetable matter. Miracle Grow have developed different growing medias for specific uses and moving away from use of multipurpose compost. Paul also recommended Levingtons products and the use of grow bags for hungry plants.

Paul's Tips

Try kohlrabi which is quick growing, can be roasted and in soup.

Buy compact forms of plants eg cabbages to grow quickly.

Try some of the new varieties found in seed catalogues. New research is being continually undertaken to find plants with desirable characteristics.

When the lawn starts to grow then the soil temperature is correct for planting out. In summer spike the lawn and feed. Any shorter than 1-1.5 inches weakens the lawn, compost the clippings.

Vigilance is essential for pest control.

Comfrey and nettles can be soaked in water to produce liquid plant feed, needs diluting before use.

A cold frame extends the gardening season.

Multipurpose planting such as a cordon screen of fruit trees are more productive if branches are trained horizontally.

Plan vegetable garden carefully and be experimental.

See what is new in the brochures eg Thompson and Morgan have over 200 different types of potatoes. Try Shetland Black potato.

Feed Robins in the winter because they will help you by eating grubs later.

For healthy plants need good root system. Make your own root trainers from rolled newspapers or toilet roll holders.

To grow strong healthy plants the soil should be a good open loam. Check your own soil, buy a soil nutrition testing kit, check pH.

Root systems have been developed to have different size fruit trees, Malus and crab apples can be planted to help wild life. They have a small root system and are attractive at all times.

Report by Susan Sinnett-Jones