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   The Dutch Touch 

                       WOULD I KEEP YOU IN THE DARK

There are more photographs and text to add to this article at a later date.

This article is the nearest thing to a scientific paper that a retired painter and decorator is likely to write, once again Jack Gott triggered the idea.
As you know both he and I are in awe of the Dutch growers.
For centuries they've been in the forefront of horticulture.
Considering they've had to reclaim land from the North Sea, and continue to maintain it, is nothing short of a miracle.
For years all I thought the Dutch produced were windmills and clogs, but since getting enthralled in the world of dahlias, I realise they are the true professionals growers.
For my part just to visit my Dutch friend Aad Verwer's site, proves to me they are in charge, unfortunately, with the expansion of the European market they are having to cope with ever decreasing prices, I suppose it will settle down in the end, but for now it is a bit of a headache.

Before I decided to write this article, Jack and I had a slight difference of opinion regards a little thing called breeders rights, you see the Verwer brothers breed many dahlia varieties for the European market, and so obviously they want to protect their special varieties by applying a sort of patient on extraordinary varieties, there are not a great many from their vast collection that have this honour bestowed on them, one of my favourites is Art Nouveau.
The reason the company does it, is to stop other nurseries profiting from their endeavours.
I'm dead keen on breeders rights, I think if a breeder raises a cracking variety, they should be able to profit from it, not Tom Dick or Harry.
It's a bit like the record industry, if an artist writes, or makes a song popular, why shouldn't they be the ones to make the profit.
It's different for us amateurs, we haven't had to earn a living in horticulture, mores the pity.
It isn't as if the Verwer's don't pay for the privilege, it costs thousands of pounds, or the Dutch equivalent to set this process up, and it doesn't stop there, every so often they have to send these varieties to a laboratory to be checked.
To see whether they are the same pure strain that they started with, and of course this entails more expense.
I've had the variety Art Nouveau for a number of years now, I have maintained it, and propagated it, filled my garden with it, and I only paid for the variety once, when I bought it out of a  British catalogue, that came through my letter box.
If you would like to acquire some of these beautiful varieties you only have to leave this site via the link Verwer of Holland to see for yourself one of the top nurseries in the Netherlands.
Ivor Mace a Champion Exhibition Chrysanthemum grower told me a couple of years ago, to get a pure strain of many of his giants chrysanthemums had cost him a Kings ransom.
I was enquiring to see if I could get breeders rights for Charlie Dimmock, come on now, the dahlia of course, but it worked out far to costly.
I was going to ask if the charity Break Through Breast Cancer wanted to place breeders rights on the variety, but thought better of it, as it would probably have taken forever to regain the cost.
I'm not finished with this breeders rights business though, just as soon as we've had this years elections, I shall write to whoever's in charge, and demand scrapping the cost of breeders rights for charity varieties.
Who am I kidding, but it's worth a try.
Now back to the plot, breeders rights wasn't all Jack and I talked about, when it come to Dutch growers.
He'd been over to see his contact you see, they'd given him a grand tour, he'd had the run of the place, one of the partners, or brothers was a sort of laboratory type person, it's all scientific over there.
I think the skills are handed down within the families.
Most of the growers know each other, and many of them have connections in the same markets, the thing that intrigued me was, how they produced their tubers, I asked my friend Aad once, what ratio of the three essential elements did they use to produce the enormous amount of tubers, bit cheeky really I suppose, but I needn't have worried, I didn't get an answer, some questions should not be asked, not when it's a fellow's livelihood. Needless to say I am still experimenting in the tuber business, I'll get there in the end, all I know is, to finish them off you need plenty of potash.
In conjunction with the growing of the tuber, is the growing of the plant, I thought like the British grower, they would have huge glass houses, don't you believe it, the cuttings are all grown in the dark, they use large windowless barns.
It's more like a place that you'd grow mushrooms, all the tubers are nose to tail with their brothers, batches of each variety are tuber thick on raised heated beds, Jack's boys have a double tiered system, in order to utilise the heat.
That's when it hit me, what if I set up an experiment, to see if this system worked for me, of course I couldn't do it on a grand scale, but then I wouldn't have to.
I told Jack, and I think he was a bit bemused, but he humoured me, I could tell even though I've never met the guy.
That evening I sent off for some more heating cable, you know the type we use with a thermostat, for our propagating area.
I set about making the place I was going to use for the experiment suitable. I was lucky because the space I had in mind was ready built, all it needed was a large hanging door to keep the heat in, and the light out.
Below is a rough sketch of what I was trying to achieve, the only difference in the drawing, and the real thing was, the curtain was replaced by this hanging hinged door.

Ken's Mini Dutch Barn. The two  hot boxes.

The sketch also shows the two tiered system, with a couple of large trays to hold the tubers, that was the idea, but as time was running out for the experiment, I abandoned the idea, and reverted to placing seed trays of `chicken legs' directly on to the washed grit, that covered the heating cables.
I wasn't going to tell you, but having ordered a twenty foot cable, I found out to my dismay, that it was exactly half of what I needed, that's the worst of being a retired painter and decorator, of course it meant another week was lost, waiting for the longer cable to arrive.
Mind you it gave me time to realise,  having two drawers that big would be far to heavy to manage, as each would hold eight seed trays, and a number of half pots.
Any way far from wasting the first twenty foot heating cable, I used it to increase my propagating area in the glass house, I asked Jack if I could run two lots of heating cables with the one thermostat, and he insured me all would be well, as long as I put the wires in the right terminals,  he's an electrician you see.
Below are a few of photograph of Ken's Mini Barn in action.

 
     
 
  Bottom tier.       Top tier.  
 

 

 
     
 
  Closer.       Close up.  
 
     
 
  Darkroom cuttings.       The last three rows are darkroom cuttings after three days.  
             

You can see the whitish shoots emerging from the tubers, the amazing thing to me was, not one of these cuttings were hollow, not one, even the thickest of them had solid stems.
Once they're inserted they green up in three days, obviously soaking up the light, and rapidly making chlorophyll, isn't nature grand.
I'm convinced the cuttings were made up of root cells, as they had been produced completely in the dark, think of the space you can save with this method.
Of course when you insert the cuttings the base remains white, and the theory behind it is this, they should root far quicker than a conventional cutting.
Best of it was, I didn't once use a knife on them, consequently  I didn't have to sterilize anything, I just broke the cutting off at compost level, it was just as Jack had told me, it couldn't have been simpler, I'm not sure how long they would stand this treatment, but I'm sure they'd produce until you had enough cuttings.
Jack said his boys snap them off, and insert them in large trays, and they go in a poly tunnel on top of more heating cables.
They are left there for no more than three weeks, when they go in to other poly tunnels with no heat at all, talk about grow them the hard way.
As Jack says we're to soft with them.
I'm practically certain they are not potted on, but are planted directly from the trays they were rooted in, or should I say, knocked out of the trays they were rooted in, and planted from their torture bus. Here are a few photographs to give you some idea of the work involved.

   
 

 

 
 Get these done by five o'clock and you can go home. Here's Ton hanging around again.
   
   
 
The rear view showing how uncomfortable it is. What a wonderful sight.

 
  Aad Verwer in between Karma Amanda and Karma Lagoon.      

As you can see there is a lot to do before you have the finished product, be it flowers or tubers.

 
 
     
 
 
   
             
         
 
 
             

As soon as I have grown the two methods of producing dahlia plants, I'll report on the outcome, and add it to this page.

By Ken Stock

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