Keith's Canna Blog 2014

01/01/14 The year began with rain, storms, floods. Part of our land was flooded and 2 of our polytunnels. It quite interrupted our work to erect a new polytunnel. But fortunately the weather was very mild, so the cannas were nice and snug in their winter storage, and we didn't have to spend big bucks on heating. The plan is that I, Nick, David, Dave do the heavy work. Abby looks after the polytunnels and does potting. Celeste does a bit of everything. Christine does mail order sales, admin, and helps with potting.

05/01/14 A cold day, just what I've been waiting for. I opened up all the polytunnels and thoroughly doused all the cannas in freezing cold water. The aim was to make life difficult for any hibernating red spider mite. Red spider mite is a most pernicious pest, but it doen't like water, or the cold. Now it's got both. And at this time of year the cannas have not much foliage so they have nowhere to hide. The empire strikes back.

09/01/14 Our tractor sank in the mud. I've never had this happen before. It is usually our tractor that is called upon to pull other vehicles out of the mud or snow. The more I tried to drive it out, the deeper it sank. Eventually, it had sunk up to its axles, and was resting on the ground on its engine sump. It was well and truly stuck. I couldn't even walk near it without my wellies sinking in, and me getting stuck. The problem was made more serious by the fact that it was nowhere near a track where I could use a towing vehicle. There was no-one I could call on with a 4-wheel drive tractor to pull it out, and there was no nearby tree where I could attach a cable and winch. I decided to sleep on the problem.

10/01/14. The new laptop arrived. It didn't take me long to realise that Microsoft products are not improving, and Windows 8 is just as bad as the Microsoft Windows I remember from many years ago. That's why I moved to Linux in 2004. I wiped out Microsoft Windows 8 and installed Linux Ubuntu 13.10. One further advantage is that Ubuntu, and all the Linux software, is free. We've now got 3 computers, and all of them use Ubuntu. Our 3 computers and printers are networked (we use Network File System. NFS).

10/01/14 I ordered 25 meters of 8mm steel rope from, plus a variety of cleats and shackles, and an 8 tonne winch from Toolstation. But we didn't need them.

12/01/14 My friend and tractor enthusiast Andy sent me a computer link on how to get your tractor out of the mud. It's hilarious. I've watched it many times just for fun. Basically, you attach a beam of wood across one back wheel, so that it projects out 1ft either side of the wheel. You chain it on tightly with strong chains. You apply the differential breaking to the other rear wheel, then just drive forward.

12/01/14. Well, here goes. David is here today to help me. We've no chain, so we used a tow rope to tie a chopped-off pine tree across a back wheel. Each time the tow rope snapped, and so we multiplied the turns. When we'd no tow rope left we used a really thick rope, multiple turns. Then the pine log broke. We went to a thicker log and that broke. The biggest beam I had was a 8" x 2". That did it, and the tractor hopped out of its confinement, and continued hopping over the field, but at least it was free!

17/10/14 Kew Gardens give us a good order for canna plants, to be delivered later.

21/01/14 Talk on cannas at Horsham.

27/01/14 Bad news for me. The hospital confirm that I have prostate cancer. The good news is that it has been discovered early and has probably not spread. I elect to have the prostate totally removed. I must get all heavy jobs done at the nursery before I have the surgery, which will be soon. We continue to try and prepare the plot for the new polytunnel, but we are hampered by the weather. Eveywhere is still flooded.

11/02/14 Talk, Braishfield.

13/02/14 Talk Crookham.

22/02/14. To hospital for my operation, a total radical prostatectomy by robot. I was 3 days in hospital. It was an interesting experience to put it mildly. No pain afterwards, but quite a bit of soreness, and I was incapacitated by a catheter. The catheter was taken out after 10 days, which left me mobile but totally incontinent. The incontinence gradually got better over the next few months and has now completely gone. I was told I must not do heavy lifting for 3 months.

09/03/14 Frog spawn at the nursery.

17/03/14 I cancel our stand at the Malvern Spring Show because I am not fit enough to do it.

20/03/14 I start doing mild work again at the nursery.

26/03/14 Cannas are now starting to grow in unheated polytunnels.

27/03/14 A fly tipper dumps a lorry load of rubbish in front of the entrance to our nursery. The police are called but can't do anything. I must think about getting CCTV.

01/04/14 I release Spider Mite predator mite at the nursery. This is a mite that is about the same size as the mites it eats.

06/04/14 we started working on the new polytunnel again. Got the ground level and hammered in the posts. Some animal has decided that it wants to dig a hole where we need the new polytunnel. I don't know whether it is a rabbit, a fox, or a badger. Sorry to say he doesn't have planning permission to make a new home there. We begin a standoff. I fill in the hole, he digs it again, and so on. Eventually he gets the message.

09/04/14 Problem with an import of canna rhizomes from South Africa. The SA Department of Agriculture Inspector won't sign the Phytosanitary Certificate because of nematodes on the rhizomes. Then he changes his mind and does sign it. We don't know whether the problem is graft or incompetence. The consignement arrives at Heathrow and is immediately impounded by Defra because they have heard of the problem in SA. They say that if they find any nematodes, they wll destroy the lot.

18/04/14 Trees are now in full leaf at the nursery.

22/04/14 Defra say they can't find any nematodes on the imported rhizomes, and they approve the release through Customs. I collect 6 large cartons in the van from a depot near Heathrow. We immediately begin to pot up the rhizomes and put them under heat. I was amazed that within 5 days of potting they had grown roots 1 - 2 cm long!

11/05/14 The nursery has dried out and we plough the field.

16/05/14 A heatwave starts.

21/05/14 We delivered cannas to Kew Gardens

28/05/14 Talk on cannas, Itchen Abbas.

04/06/14 Talk on cannas, Fleet.

06/06/14 Rotavated the field and started planting cannas.

03/07/14 Hampton Court Flower Show. 10 days including buildup and breakdown. We got a Silver Medal, not one of our best efforts. The specimen plants were not as good as they should have been, which we put down to a change of compost. Also we were marked down because of a few slug holes. But lots of visitors. We were visited by Carol Klein, and appeared briefly on TV. Re-met lots of friends and made new ones. Plant Heritage had appointed Wicor School, near Portmouth, "Plant Guardians" of a canna called 'Chouchou' which they got from us. Chouchou means "teacher's pet" so it is a suitable variety for the kids to grow. There was a photo shoot with the kids and teachers of the school, which was good fun and good publicity for us.

15/07/14 We start work again after the show. The weeds in the field are now as high as the cannas. We have to pull them out by hand. It is a big job. The worst are Annual Nettle and Fat Hen, but Black Nightshade is also a problem. Our work is largely a battle against nature: the weather, the bugs, the weeds. We get a lot of nature on the nursery. There's a badger set in one corner. We never see them but they plough the ground to find things to eat. We often see roe deer, foxes, rabbits, and lots of mice. Fortunately none of the mammals eat cannas, though the mice pull out the seedlings to get at the seeds. Last year we had a number of adders, including a big pregnant female, but I haven't seen any this year. We also get grass snakes, slow worms, frogs, toads, newts. I put down corrugated sheets and the snakes and slow worms hide beneath them. For many years we had wild bees in a hole in an oak tree, but the long cold winter 2 years ago killed them. There are lots of birds and sometimes i think I should learn to recognise the different songs. Sometimes hornets and dragonflies get trapped in a polytunnel, and we catch them and release them.

22/08/14 Our Open Days. 4 days. The weather was good and we had lots of visitors including customers who are now friends. Christine and friends are busy making and serving scones and tea, and we sold lots of cannas.

29/08/14 To Kew Gardens to see the cannas we supplied. They look good.

31/08/14 Wisley Autumn Show 7 days including buidup. We enjoyed the show, and met some interesting people, including the Curator of Dublin Botanical Gardens and his wife who also works at there. Both the van and the car broke down on the way to the show. The van needs a new clutch, and the car had a broken water pipe. The van is immobile, though we did manage to drive it to the nursery before it died. Fortunately the AA man repaired the car termporarily, so at least I am mobile. Vicki took her horsebox and we all did the breakdown of the stand together. After the show, David towed the van to the repairers to get it fixed. We use Lackeys in Bisley.

15/09/14 I began to see scale insects on the cannas, at least I thought they were scale insects. This could be very serious. They are everywhere, under the leaves, firmly attached alongside the central rib. I began to isolate the worst affected plants, and cut off the worst leaves of some of the others. I phoned our supplier to see what insecticide he would suggest. He asked me to send him samples. His reply was that it is not a scale insect, it is a predatory gall midge called Feltiella acarisuga. What I think are scale insects are the cocoons of the pupea. Feltiella is a natural enemy of spider mites, it eats nothing else! I am so pleased with this good news. This little creature had found its own way into one of our polytunnels to feast on the spider mites that were living on our cannas. Immediately it is transformed from an enemy to a cherished friend. I retrieved the infested leaves from the compost heap, and spread them around among our cannas.

29/09/14 I am now back to full strength following the prostate cancer surgery, and the tests so far show that I am clear. A slight problem is that it has left me with a hernia where they made the incision. Maybe the problem is accentuated by the heavy work of running a nursery. I'm hoping it will be fixed next year.

03/10/14 We have a stand, the Wicor School plant fair. A pity that it was heavy rain all day.

06/10/14 Talk on cannas, Frimley.

19/10/14 Today we fitted the polythene cover to our new polytunnel, which is now just about finished.

23/10/14 Christine and I go to Dublin, Irelend, for 8 days, for a family wedding. But we took a van-load of cannas, and had pre-arranged to give a talk on cannas to the gardening club at Foxrock. Christine did the chatty bit and I did the technical bit. They were a large group, about 150, and they were very enthusiastic. We were invited to lunch by Hellen Dillon, horticultural writer, who showed us around her garden. We gave her cannas and she gave us a copy of one of her books. Also we took up the offer of a visit to Dublin Botanical Gardens, guests of the Curator and his wife who we had met at Wisley. They kindly gave us a tour, and lunch, and we did an impromptu talk and slide-show on cannas for their staff. We just happened to have a copy of our slides on a memory stick on my keyring. We gave them lots of cannas and they presented us with a signed book "Ireland's Wild Orchids, a Field Guide" by Brendan Sayers, who also works there, and who is keen on cannas. This book is very comprehensive, and will be a useful reference for wild orchids in England. Our van was broken into during the night in the hotel car park. 2 locks were forced and 2 doors damaged. But the thieves saw only cannas in the van, and so took nothing. In a way we felt quite insulted!

06/11//14 The first frost of the winter. Now the cannas are over.

22/11/14 All our cannas are harvested and prepared for sales.

23/11/14 We finalise our canna website. I do all the web design. I just use a text editor in combination with a browser (Firefox). To upload to the Web I use FireFTP which comes with Firefox. I don't see a need for anything more complex. And it's all free.