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Growing Potatoes from Planting to Harvest

March 13th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Growing Potatoes from Planting to Harvest

Potatoes are one of the most satisfying vegetables you can grow. It’s not just the growing part that’s so satisfying – harvest time is what makes the potato really special, when those delicious tubers are finally unearthed like buried nuggets of gold. Garden-grown potatoes are really something else! So if you’ve never tried growing them before, make this the year you do.

Read on or watch the video for our planting to harvest guide to potatoes…

Types of Potato

Before you plant you need to decide what to grow. There are two main types of potato: maincrops and earlies.

Maincrop varieties are usually bulkier and give a bigger harvest, and many can be stored for winter use. Maincrops are typically harvested in late summer or autumn.

Early varieties are ready from early to midsummer and are further divided into first earlies and second earlies. First early varieties are first to crop, while second earlies follow on a few weeks later. Early potatoes tend to be smaller than maincrop types, but they have the best flavour and often have a smoother, waxier texture that makes them perfect in salads. They’re also sublime when served steaming hot, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of herbs.

Check variety descriptions for potatoes suited to different uses, whether baked, boiled, sautéed or cut up into wedges – or even a combination of these. Some varieties offer good resistance to common diseases including blight, which can ruin a crop in warm, wet summers. Or grow first earlies, which are usually harvested before the main blight risk.

Prepare for PlantingFebruary Gardening Advice - time to start chitting your potatoes

To plant a crop of potatoes you’ll need to get hold of some seed or sprouting potatoes, also sold as simply ‘tubers’. Large seed potatoes can be cut into smaller pieces to make them go further. Make sure each piece has at least two ‘eyes’ and allow the cut to air dry for a day before planting.

In regions where spring’s arrival is a little slower to arrive, it’s worth sprouting or ‘chitting’ your seed potatoes. Do this up to six weeks ahead of planting to give your crop a head start. Lay them out in a single layer so the ends with most eyes – that’s the dimples where the shoots will sprout from – face up. Place them into trays or old egg cartons, which hold the potatoes steady. Keep them in a cool, bright place to sprout thick, sturdy shoots.

Where to Grow Potatoes

Potatoes love rich, moist soil that’s been gradually improved with organic matter such as well-rotted compost or manure. Avoid poorly draining soil to prevent tubers from rotting. A sunny spot on the plot will encourage the strong growth you’re after.

How to Plant Potatoes

Plant first earlies once the soil has begun to warm up in early spring. Second earlies are planted a few weeks later, while maincrops follow on a couple of weeks later still, in mid-spring. You can use our Garden Planner to check the best times to plant in your area, based on data from your local nearest weather station. The Planner is also a great resource for browsing variety descriptions and, of course, to lay out potatoes on your plan so you’ll know exactly how many seed potatoes you’ll need to fill the area you have.

Plant seed potatoes into dug trenches or individual planting holes. Space them out so that they’re a foot (30cm) apart along the row. Additional rows of early varieties should be spaced at least 18 inches (45cm) apart, while maincrops need a minimum of 30 inches (75cm) left between rows. Dig a hole for each potato and plant so it’s around 6in (15cm) deep.

Caring for Potatoes

Shoots should poke above ground within about 2-3 weeks. They’ll tolerate very light frosts but are best covered over with row cover or fleece if something colder is forecast.

Once they reach 6 inches (15cm) tall, begin hilling or earthing up your potatoes. Hilling mounds up the soil along the row to encourage more tubers to grow and to reduce the risk of light exposure, which turns them green. Use a hoe to draw up the surrounding soil around the shoots, leaving just the very tops exposed. Hill in stages like this each time the foliage reaches a similar height above soil level, and continue until the mounds are either a foot (30cm) tall or the foliage above has closed over.

Remove weeds early on, but fast-growing potatoes soon crowd out any competition. Potatoes need ample moisture for all that growth though. Water thoroughly in dry weather so tubers grow to their full potential, free of any cracks or hollows.

When to Harvest

You can harvest tubers small as new potatoes as soon as the plants begin to flower a couple of months after planting. Continue harvesting early varieties in stages from this point on, leaving the remaining plants to grow on until needed. This staggered approach to harvesting makes it easier to enjoy potatoes at their freshest and tastiest.

Maincrop potatoes are usually harvested towards the end of summer or in early autumn once the foliage has died back. Leave the tubers underground for a further two weeks then, on a dry day, lift them up with a fork, taking care not to accidentally pierce any of the tubers. Brush off excess soil, let the potatoes air dry for a few hours then store out of the light in a cool but frost-free place.

You can’t beat a perfect potato! If you have any clever potato growing techniques or advice of your own, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Growing Peppers from Sowing to Harvest

March 7th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

 

Growing Peppers from Sowing to Harvest

Whether you like the sweet crunch of a bell pepper or the feisty fire of a chili pepper, there’s none like those you’ve grown yourself. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from – and deciding what to grow is half the fun!

Now’s the time to sow them, but before you so much as rip open a seed packet we thought we’d better share a few secrets to pepper growing success. Read on or watch the video for our sowing-to-picking guide to peppers.

Types of Pepper

Few crops come in the variety of shapes, sizes and of course heat levels as peppers and chili peppers. With so many to explore, there’s always something new to enjoy. Grow them yourself and you’ll be able to harvest at the peak of perfection and enjoy unrivalled flavour.

When to Sow Peppers

Peppers need warmth and sunshine to thrive. Warmth is especially important for germination and then to encourage strong seedling growth, so they will need to be started off indoors or under cover in most climates. Sow seeds in late winter or early spring, no more than two months before your last frost date.

How to Sow Peppers

Sow peppers into pots or plug trays of seed-starting mix

Sow into pots or plug trays of seed-starting mix. Space seeds at least an inch (2.5cm) apart across the surface then cover with a little more mix. You might want to wear gloves if handling seeds from especially hot varieties and -please – take care not to rub your eyes after touching them! Water the seeds in using a fine spray.

Seedlings appear quickly when pots or trays are placed onto a heat mat or into a heated propagator set to around 70ºF (21ºC). Alternatively, secure clear plastic bags over your pots using a rubber band then move them to a warm windowsill to germinate.

Once the seedlings are up, remove covers and then grow on somewhere warm and bright. After a few weeks, carefully transfer seedlings to their own pots. Do this while they’re still fairly small yet big enough to handle, and always hold seedlings by their leaves, not their delicate stems. Grow lights can be used to help give seedlings a strong start.

Continue growing, potting the young plants on again if the roots fill their pots before they are ready for planting.

Planting Peppers

Peppers love sunshine, so reserve them a place in full sun where they will get at least six hours of direct sunshine every day. Acclimatize plants before setting them outside by leaving them out somewhere sheltered for gradually longer timespans over a two-week period, taking care that a late frost doesn’t accidentally damage them. Plant out once your last expected frost date has passed.

Plant peppers directly into open ground that’s been improved with plenty of organic matter, such as garden compost. Set plants a minimum of 16in (40cm) apart, or plant into containers that are at least 1.5 gallons (6 litres) in volume. Use good-quality potting soil enriched with added organic matter and plant the young peppers so that the soil surface reaches just shy of the rim. This will help to avoid runoff every time you water.

In cooler temperate climates, peppers will come into flower far quicker if they are grown on with the added protection of a greenhouse, hoop house or conservatory. Plants may also be grown on a bright, sunny windowsill.

Caring for Peppers

Keep plants upright and encourage more reliable growth by pushing in a cane or stake next to each plant, then tying the main stem to it with twine. Larger plants may need several canes.

Pinch out the growing point at the top once plants reach about 8in (20cm) to stimulate plants to produce more branches. This creates a bushier habit and healthier plants with the knock on effect of more flowers and fruits.

In hot weather you may find you need to water your pepper plants daily

Once they start producing flower buds, feed plants regularly with a liquid feed high in potassium, such as a tomato fertilizer. Water plants often in dry weather so the foliage doesn’t wilt, as this can cause undue stress and potential problems such as blossom end rot or leaf curl. In hot weather you may find you need to water daily. A tray or similar reservoir at the bottom of pots helps to contain the water that drains through so it can be fully absorbed back up through the drainage holes.

 

Harvesting Peppers

Peppers are ready to harvest as soon as they have taken on their final colour. Cut the fruits away with a sharp pair of clean pruners then store in the refrigerator ready to enjoy. They freeze well too. Chili peppers may also be dehydrated then pulverized in a food processor to store as chili flakes in airtight jars. Or how about threading them in a spiral formation to create stunning chili ristras?

What sorts of peppers do you prefer? Do you have any tips or tricks for growing them? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Get 25% Off BBC Gardeners’ World Live Tickets with Mr Fothergill’s

March 6th, 2019 | Events, News | 0 Comments

Get 25% Off BBC Gardeners' World Live Tickets with Mr Fothergill's

BBC Gardeners’ World Live is back at the Birmingham NEC this summer from June 13th-16th!

Featuring practical ideas and advice presented by top gardening experts, show gardens, live theatre and entertainment, nurseries, garden walks, talks, kid’s activities – PLUS free entry to the BBC Good Food Summer Show – there truly is something for gardening enthusiasts of all ages to enjoy across the long weekend.

This year, Mr Fothergill’s has teamed up with BBC GWL to offer our wonderful customers 25% off* their tickets with code MF25 – to buy tickets online simply head to theticketfactory.com, select your tickets and then enter the promo code MF25 when prompted, or phone the box office on 0844 581 1343** and quote code MF25.

What’s more, come and say hello to us on the Mr F stand at location G510 when you visit, show us the promo code and you can claim a FREE packet of seeds of your choice at our stand, too!

Visit the Gardeners’ World Live website to find out more and book your tickets today. We can’t wait to see you there!

Terms and conditions:

  • *25% off valid on advanced standard adult/over 65 tickets only. Not valid on Saturday tickets, Standard plus Premium Theatre Tickets, VIP Packages, Gift Vouchers, Add-ons or with any other offer
  • **Calls cost 7p per minute
  • £2.95 fulfilment fee per advance order
  • Not all experts appear on all days
  • Free packet of seeds offer excludes Children in Need Sunflower Pudsey and Pumpkin Pudsey seeds
  • Offer ends 16/06/2019

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

March 4th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting a Vegetable Garden

Longer days and the first brave flowers pushing through – spring is nearly here! This is the perfect time to plan for the coming growing season. If you’re new to gardening – welcome! This is for anyone looking to start a new vegetable garden. You’re about to embark on a journey that’s equal parts challenging and rewarding, mystifying but uplifting. Read on or watch the video for the top ten things I wish I’d known when I started out…

1. Let the Sunshine In

The first thing to consider when starting a vegetable garden is light. Most vegetables, fruits and herbs grow best in full sunshine – somewhere that receives at least 6 hours and preferably 8 hours of direct sunshine a day, though some shading is welcome in hotter climates.

Some cool-season crops – for example spinach, cabbage and radishes – can be grown in part shade, while there are plenty of flowers for both sunny and shady locations.

2. Convenience is Key

You’ll need to tend your garden regularly, so if possible position it close to the house where you will see it – that way you won’t forget about it and can see what needs doing as it needs doing. Try to site it near a source of water too, or install water barrels or other means of collecting rainwater close by to make watering quick and easy.

Nourish your soil with organic matter, including garden compost and manure

3. Love Your Soil

Lavish your soil with love! Nourish it with organic matter, including garden compost and manure. Manure must be rotted down for at least 6 months before applying it because fresh manure contains weed seeds, can harbour disease and may ‘burn’ plants due to its very high nitrogen content.

Add organic matter whenever you can, and at least once a year. This can be simply laid on the soil surface as what’s known as a ‘mulch’. Over time your soil structure will improve, becoming better draining and a healthier environment for roots. You can add organic fertilisers too of course, but think of these as a short-term boost rather than building up long-term soil health like organic matter can.

4. Don’t Be Too Hasty

As a new gardener it’s easy to get carried away, but a little restraint is essential. Plant too soon and tender plants are likely to be caught out by a sudden frost or will fail to thrive as they grow on. In most areas your last and first frost dates define your growing season.

Our Garden Planner can help. It automatically calculates your frost dates based on your location. As you add plants to your plan the accompanying Plant List grows too. Open it up and you’ll be able to see exactly when you should be sowing, planting and harvesting your chosen crops.

5. Give Plants the Best Start

Begin sowing outside only once your soil has warmed up and dried out enough to become workable. Seed beds – that’s the area you sow into – should have a fine, crumbly texture. Sowing under cover into plug trays and pots is a great way to get a head start while outside temperatures are still too low.

Transplants need planting holes that are bigger than the existing rootball. The soil then used to fill in the hole will be looser, which will make it easier for new roots to grow out into the surrounding soil and help plants to establish quicker in their new home.

Most plants need an average of 2-5cm of water a week

6. Water Well

Most plants need an average of 1-2 inches (2-5cm) of water a week. You’ll probably need to water more as it gets warmer, but this does depend on rainfall. It’s better to water heavily once a week than a little every day. This forces roots to reach further down into the soil to seek moisture, improving self-reliance. Plants in containers can’t do this of course, so water them more often.

7. War of the Weeds

Remove weeds as soon as you see them so they don’t have a chance to produce seeds and spread. Hoeing is quick and easy, and severed weeds may be left where they fall to wither in the sun. Keep the blade edge sharp and close to the surface to prevent damaging crop roots. Hand-weed where the hoe can’t reach.

Mulching with organic matter is a great way stop new weeds popping up as well as improving your soil as it gradually rots down.

8. Keep Picking

Some vegetables must be picked regularly to keep the harvests coming. Beans, courgettes and tomatoes are just a few examples where picking will encourage even more pods and fruits to follow.

Similarly, removing old blooms from ornamental flowers – called ‘deadheading’ – encourages more to follow, extending the display a little longer.

9. End of the Season

Add leaves to compost heaps, compost them alone to turn them into leafmould, or pile them thickly over tender perennials to protect them over winter

An end-of-season tidy up is a great way to ensure a clean start the following year, but don’t get too carried away. Old seed heads of, for example, coneflowers and thistles will help feed birds over winter, while ornamental grasses can be left to add movement and structure to the garden – and overwintering sites for beneficial bugs such as butterflies.

Fallen leaves are a welcome resource. Add them to compost heaps, compost them alone to turn them into leafmould, or pile them thickly over tender perennials to protect them over winter.

10. Keep Records

Good gardeners make lots of mistakes, but they learn from them! By keeping track of when, where and what you grew and noting any pests, diseases or failures, you can build up a personal record of what works best for you and your garden.

Take advantage of our free online Garden Journal, which makes record keeping easy. Take photos outside on the go, then upload them with your written notes. Record when you planted, watered and tended your crops, get to the bottom of problems, and see how much you’ve harvested.

These tips are our recommendations, but of course everyone has a different opinion based on their own experiences. So if you’re not so new to gardening, what advice would you give to beginners? Let us know by commenting below, or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

March Gardening Advice

March 1st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

March Gardening Advice - a time for new beginnings in the garden

We can finally say goodbye to winter, and hello to spring. The clocks going forward on the 31st of the month means more daylight and more hours to spend in the garden, which is just as well, as March is a busy month for gardeners. We need to prepare, clean, and more excitingly, start sowing. All those planting lists and plans we drew up over the colder months can now be put into action. This is the month for new beginnings.

But we’re not entirely out of the woods yet, as there’s always the chance of a short sharp frost, or even snow. So, it’s best not to get too carried away with the sowing. What can’t be protected in a heated greenhouse, or under cloches and horticultural fleece, should be saved for later.

This is a month of change, and everyday there’s something new to enjoy. Whether it’s the bold trumpets of a daffodil, or the emerging shoots of a keen tulip, it’s important to take the time to enjoy these moments, as they are all too brief.

In the flower garden

Dogwood

By now your cornus has done its job, so prune before it starts producing its leaves. Cut it down to ground level, so the energy can transfer to the root ball of the plant. This will help strengthen it and enable it to re-grow quickly. Come next autumn, you’ll have tall, strong, colourful whips that will brighten a dark winter’s day.

December-is-the-tiarch Gardening Advice - Now is the time to prune your rosesme-to-prune-wisteria-and-climbing-roses

Prune

As winter gives way to spring, you should be finishing all winter pruning. Fuchsias will now begin to show new growth. Cut to either just above where the new shoots appear, or back to one or two buds on a shoot.

If you haven’t done so, then now’s the time to prune your roses. With all roses, remove any shoots that are dead, damaged or diseased. Shrub roses with flowering shoots should be cut back by 8-12cms. The cut should be made just above a bud. Climbing roses should be pruned back by two thirds, cutting out old branches at the base, as this will promote new growth. Ensure all climbing shoots are suitably tied to a support. For all rose varieties, it’s advisable to disturb the soil at the base of the plant, and feed with a well-balanced rose feed, and water.

Summer bulbs

With the soil warming up, it’s time to plant your summer bulbs. Plant gladioli, freesias and alliums at a depth of two to three times the height of your bulb. Whether they’re going into pots, or straight into the ground, ensure they’re planted into well-drained soil. If not, add grit as bulbs can rot in waterlogged conditions. Place the bulb upright, then cover over and water in.

Dahlias

If you’ve been storing dahlia tubers over winter, it’s time to get them out. Disregard any that are damaged, or have succumbed to the winter weather. Using a good multi-purpose compost, pot them up, and water them in. Place them in a greenhouse or cold frame, and let them slowly respond to the change of season.

Mulch

With warmer temperatures comes warmer soil, which not only wakes your dormant plants, but encourages weeds. Mulching your borders will suppress weeds, and protect plants from those cold nights and sharp frosts. Wood chippings, compost or leaf mould, all do the job, and smarten up any bare border.

Summer bedding

If you’re hoping for a big floral display this summer, then sow now. Varieties to consider include, petunia, lobelia, marigold, larkspur and impatiens. Ensure you have somewhere bright and warm for seeds to germinate. Once they’ve become young seedlings, individually pot up and grow on.

Pests

The arrival of spring also means the arrival of pests. Slugs and snails will be arriving en masse, so be prepared. Check all pots, containers, and any lush new growth. Vine weevil may also be lurking. Remove all pests from site. If you choose to use pellets, ensure you are considering who or what else uses the garden as they can be harmful. Alternatively, use nematodes or organic methods.

Lawns

If you have an established lawn and it’s a dry day, this might be the opportunity to give it the first cut of the season. Nothing drastic, just a minimal trim. Remove weeds, and cut lawn edges with an edging tool.

Paths and patios

Winter may have encouraged lichen and slippery conditions. So, on a dry, bright day, pressure clean all decking and paths. If using chemicals, ensure the water doesn’t harm surrounding plants or wildlife.

Maintenance

Now’s the time to make repairs on any garden structures. Whether it’s fencing, walls, or sheds, inspect closely for any signs of decay and fix accordingly. With flowers only just beginning to stir, this is the time to stain a fence or paint a shed.

On the veg patch

Potatoes

Plant your chitted first earlies into the ground, or potato growbags. If planting them into a trench, tubers should be placed to the depth of 12cm, and 30cm apart.  Keep fleece handy, as frost will damage the emerging foliage, blackening them and possibly killing the tuber. If you’re growing potatoes in growbags, or large containers, place no more than four seeded tubers on a base of 10cm of soil, or compost, and cover over thoroughly. Again, ensure they are kept in a sunny spot, with good drainage.

Fruit

As there’s still a strong possibility of a sharp frost, any flowering or bud-forming fruit trees should be protected by fleece at night. Any frost damage could cause irreversible damage to your budding trees.

If you have strawberry plants, cut away old leaves, tidy the bed and apply a general fertiliser. However, if your strawberry plants are over four years old, or you’re thinking of growing strawberries for the first time, consider ordering bare root varieties.

Once your new plants arrive, place them, roots down, in a few inches of water. With your growing area prepared, plant, water and give them a top-dressing feed. Until they become established, keep fleece handy to protect them from the late frost. Strawberries will grow equally well in containers, pots or hanging baskets.

Raspberries need to be cut. If you have autumn-fruiting varieties, cut down to the base of the plant as this will stimulate the plant to produce new shoots. If you have a summer-fruiting variety, trim the edges to above a bud, and tie-in.

You may find early varieties of forced rhubarb, such as Timperley Early, will now have strong growing stems. These could be ready for harvesting by the end of the month. Once picked, refrain from forcing further as you’ll weaken the crown. Instead, mulch around the crown and leave to rest until next year.

Dig In

If you’ve used well-rotted manure to cover your beds over winter, or green manure, then dig in. To prepare for the growing season ahead, break the matter down until the soil is workable. Ensure any weeds and stones are removed.

March Gardening Advice - if the weather is bad, sow seed varieties in module trays until they're ready to be planted outSow

If you’ve been warming your plots and raised beds with cloches, sheeting or fleece, then you can think about sowing directly into the ground. Early varieties of carrots and beetroot, parsnips, Swiss chard, onions, sprouts and cabbage, are all fit for purpose. With unpredictable weather at this time of year, try to carry out your sowing on a sunny, dry day. Failing that, these seed varieties can also be sown in modules, and kept in cold frames, greenhouses and polytunnels, until you’re ready to plant them out as young plants.

Other Jobs

  • From now until the end of summer, introduce a regular feed to your plants.
  • Reduce water and feed intake on winter plants.
  • Warmer temperatures encourage pests and disease, so check all indoor plants regularly.
  • With new growth, indoor plants may require larger pots. Plant up accordingly.