Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Gardening Without Plastic

October 31st, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Seedlings growing in a cardboard egg carton container

As gardeners, we try to work with nature where we can, and that’s one of the joys of growing your own – fresh food without the nasty chemicals and pesticides.  But what about that artificial material we’ve been hearing a lot about recently – plastic. It gets just about everywhere, doesn’t it, including the garden. Well if you’re looking to purge your plastic use, then this one is for you. Read on or watch the video for some great ideas for growing and storing food without the plastic.

Sowing and seedlings

Let’s begin where most of our plants begin – with sowing. Swap seedlings flats or seed tray for wooden alternatives. They’re heavier and need watering more often, but will last for many years and are simple enough to make and repair. Wood also improves conditions around the roots because it allows the potting mix to breathe.

Replace plastic plug trays with ones made from pulped cardboard or pots pressed from fibre or coconut coir. Better still, make your own seedling pots from strips of newspaper. You can make pots of different sizes too. Cardboard egg trays are handy for most seedlings, or save toilet paper tubes to start off crops that prefer a longer root run, including corn, peas and beans. If you’d like to learn how to make your own biodegradable pots then check out this video. All biodegradable pots need to be watered a little more frequently,  but on the flip side they encourage healthier roots and can be planted whole, pot and all, avoiding disturbing the root system.

Pots and labels

A bunch of small biodegradable pots filled with potting soil with wooden lollipop stick labels sticking outIt’s easy enough to replace plastic pots with all manner of terracotta, metal, wooden, even slate alternatives, most of which look significantly more eye-catching anyhow. Remember that terracotta and metal pots take a lot of energy to manufacture, so a sturdy plastic pot may have less of an environmental impact over its lifetime, especially if it can be recycled locally.

Labels are easy to make from lollipop sticks, which you can buy in bulk from craft stores. Wood naturally absorbs moisture, which may cause ink to become blurred over time. Use a soft pencil instead, or try labels made of bamboo. For larger labels, opt for lengths of wood batten cut to size and painted with non-toxic paint to give a more durable, decorative finish.

Buying plants

Plants are typically sold in plastic pots but look out for fibre alternatives, often made with quick-growing sustainable grasses. Most trees, shrubs and perennials can be purchased bare-root over the winter months while they are dormant.

Some mail-order nurseries now dispatch young plants and seedlings with minimal packaging, just carefully laid between layers of newspaper or straw. And of course remember that the cheapest and most effective way to raise lots of plants is to propagate them yourself by sowing seeds, taking cuttings and dividing established plants.

Potting mixes

Potting soil or compost typically comes in plastic bags. These can be reused in a multitude of ways around the garden, but if you want to avoid plastic altogether, the simplest way to start is by making your own garden compost and leaf mould. Bear in mind that plastic composters tend to have a longer lifespan, so this is one area where you might want to relax the rules.

Compost and other soil amendments can often be bought in bulk bags which require less packaging per unit of product and can often be returned to the supplier, or make your own potting mixes by thoroughly combining garden compost, leaf mould, topsoil and organic fertiliser.

Looking after your plants

A close up of some brown natural fibre garden string or twinePlastic twine is out, replaced by string or twine made from natural fibres such as hemp, which is also less likely to cut into stems as they grow. Plastic netting is easily swapped with sturdy, long-lasting metal or wooden alternatives. Keep on using your plastic watering can, but when it finally needs replacing go galvanised with a traditional-looking steel can.

Water barrels have many metal or wooden alternatives which are pricier but look very attractive. Cold protection necessitates a return to glass, which is more durable and less likely to scuff, shred or blow away compared to lighter weight plastic cloches or row covers.

Storing produce

There’s really no need for plastic in or around your harvested fruits and vegetables. Use crates of damp sand to store root vegetables like carrots, boxes of straw to insulate fruits such as apples, or breathable hessian sacks for maincrop potatoes.

Keep just-picked leaves fresher for longer by washing then wrapping them in a damp towel destined for the refrigerator. Bunches of herbs should be popped into jars of water like cut flowers, a method that also works for asparagus spears. Twist of the leaves from roots like radish, beets and turnips, then store in a container in the fridge with a damp towel or cloth laid on top. Carrots should be placed into containers of regularly changed fresh water, while tomatoes and aubergine are best left at room temperature out of the sun in the dry.

Finally, store bananas well away from all other produce. It emits ripening gas ethylene which can lead other fruits and vegetables to quickly spoil.

Of course, plastic isn’t always bad and can sometimes form the most sensible and even sustainable choice. Nevertheless, we could all do with reducing our addiction to plastic, especially single-use plastic. Share your tips for a plastic-free gardening life – we’d love to hear your experiences! Have you managed to kick the plastic habit? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Easy to Grow Edible Seeds and Grains

October 23rd, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

A smaller sunflower head with bright yellow petals, resting on a larger dried up sunflower head that's had its seeds harvested. The black seeds are in a small pile infront of the two heads.

When we think about edible gardens, the first things that spring to mind are fruits and vegetables, and then perhaps herbs. But what about seeds and grains – where do they fit in, and are they even worth growing? The answer is a resounding yes!

Seeds and grains have plenty to contribute, so read on or watch the video for our pick of the crop.

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkins are big news in the autumn vegetable garden. Give them rich soil and plenty of room and they will reward you with two harvests for the effort of one – full-flavoured flesh and snackable seeds.

Here’s our guide to roasting them:

  • Cut the pumpkin open, then scrape the seeds out with a spoon. Pull off any bits of stringy flesh and rinse them clean in water.
  • Now, spread them out onto a baking sheet or pan, drizzle over olive oil then sprinkle on a few ingredients to add flavour. Salt is a great starting point. We also love adding some chilli pepper flakes and fennel seeds before mixing it all together to combine.A close up of some roasted pumpkin seeds laid out on a tray
  • Roast them in the oven at 350ºF/180ºC or Gas Mark 4 for about 10 minutes.
  • Once the seeds are golden, take them out of the oven and leave them to cool down completely before storing in an airtight container – if you can resist eating them there and then that is!

Sunflower Seeds

Give sunflowers a sunny spot in the garden sheltered from strong winds and they’ll be standing tall and proud by summer. The seeds are ready to harvest once the petals have withered and the seeds can clearly be seen. Rub the seed head back and forth to dislodge the seeds.

You can roast sunflower seeds as they are – no need for oil – in as little as five minutes, but we reckon salted sunflower seeds taste best:

  • Pour two pints, or a litre, of water into a pan along with two tablespoons of salt and a cup of seeds.
  • Bring the water to the boil then simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Drain the seeds, spread them out on a baking sheet and roast for up to 15 minutes.
  • After 10 minutes is up, check the seeds every few minutes because they can go from perfect to burnt very quickly. Let them cool before storing.
  • Enjoy your salted sunflower seeds, but spit out the tough shells!

Amaranth and Quinoa

Amaranth and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) are two protein-rich grains that make a delicious alternative to rice or pasta. They aren’t difficult to grow and they make colourful additions to the garden. Plant them into nutrient-rich, well-drained soil that gets plenty of sun, then once they’re established they’ll quickly take off!

The grains are ready when they are easy to shake free. You’ll need to winnow the chaff from the grains, first by sieving and then carefully blowing away what remains or by catching a breeze. Allow the grains to dry thoroughly for at least a week before storing. Quinoa needs rinsing in water before cooking to ensure it’s not bitter.

Three dried poppy seed heads on their stems clustered together and foregrounded on a blurry autumn field backgroundPoppy Seeds

Poppy seeds – delicious in cakes and bread – come from the opium or breadseed poppy, Papaver somniferum. In most areas it’s perfectly legal to grow this type of poppy for its pretty flowers and tasty seeds, but check local laws before planting!

This sun-lover is ready to harvest once the seed pods are dry and seeds spill out of the top when turned upside down. Cut them off and bring them indoors to a warm room to finish drying, then pull the pods apart to free the seeds for storing.

Seeds for Spices

Many leafy herbs will also produce seeds for the spice cabinet. Fennel is an easy-to-grow perennial herb that comes back year after year. Sunshine and a free-draining soil should see plants thrive, throwing up clouds of pretty yellow flowers each summer. Simply wait for the seeds that follow, gather them up and dry for storage.

Like fennel, caraway is a member of the carrot family. It prefers cooler, temperate climates and, as a biennial, only lives for two years. Keep plants well-watered in the first year to encourage strong plants producing plenty of seeds in their second.

Grow your own coriander seeds too by allowing it to flower and set seed, which it readily does if sown in the first half of the year as days continue to lengthen.

Then there are nigella seeds, also known as black onion seeds, though bearing no relation. The seeds come from the hardy annual nigella, or love-in-a-mist. Sow the seeds in autumn into well-drained soil that’s been raked to a fine tilth, or wait until spring if your winters are very cold. Harvest the seed heads when they are crisp-dry.

Here’s just a few ideas to get you started, and don’t forget many of these plants are also a big attraction for wildlife – if you don’t mind sharing! Tell us if you’ve grown any of these seeds or grains before, or perhaps you have others to recommend? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Mr Fothergill’s Announces Prize-Winning Sunflower Head… Measuring as Big as a Steering Wheel!

October 18th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Dean Hood's winning sunflower entry - a sunflower head being measured across with a white tape measure, showing 15 inches

Over the summer, Mr Fothergill’s ran a competition to grow the largest sunflower head. The competition was open to anyone and any type of sunflower could be grown. Entrants were asked to take a picture of their sunflower head and upload to Facebook and Twitter with evidence of the size. Over 70 entries were received and the results were impressive!

Kev's 2nd place sunflower entry - a sunflower head being measured across with a white tape measure, showing 15 inches

Measuring 15 ½ inches, the winning entry came from Dean who has won £50 worth of Mr Fothergill’s seeds. He said, “I’m amazed I won! There were some great sunflower heads entered. This prize will not just benefit me but lots of others too!”
In a close 2nd place, Kev’s entry measured 15 inches and 3rd spot went to Jon with 14 ½ inches who remarked, “After carefully growing all summer, battling with hungry slugs, wind and extensive watering, I am really pleased that my sunflower has achieved 3rd prize in the Mr Fothergill’s competition.”

Jon's 3rd place sunflower entry - a sunflower head being measured across with a white tape measure, showing 14 1/2 inches

Ian Cross, Mr Fothergill’s Retail Marketing Manager, commented, “We were delighted with the number of people who took part in our competition – it’s always encouraging to see gardeners getting involved and great to see the results. Well done to all the winners.”
Mr Fothergill’s offers a wide range of sunflowers, including Sunflower Pudsey (RRP £1.99) where 30p from each packet sold will benefit BBC Children in Need. Mr Fothergill’s range of seeds is available from selected garden retailers and online at www.mr-fothergills.co.uk.

End of Summer Finale for Mr Fothergill’s Staff Competitions

October 9th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Every year, our trials team organises gardening-related challenges to Mr Fothergill’s employees. This summer, volunteers could grow a children’s garden or the largest onion. Teams designing the gardens used their creative skills and came up with lots of great ideas that were then judged at our annual Press Day by visiting journalists.

Competition was stiff and closely matched, so much so that we ended up with joint 2 winners and 5 more competitors drawing in 3rd place! Congratulations to Garden 8 (Mr F Minion’s Garden) & Garden 9 (Mr McGregor’s Garden) for taking home joint first place.

Garden 8, Mr F Minions Garden. A small garden including crafty and colourful homemade decorations made from pots, buckets and other garden materials, set on a raised display draped with hessian fabricGarden 9, Mr McGregor's Garden. A small garden featuring a round wooden sign that reads "Mr McGregors WELCOME", colourful flowers and Peter Rabbit references, including a Peter Rabbit stone statuette and photocopied pages from a Peter Rabbit book.

The largest onion competition also had its keen participants. 25 people competed with each other with good-natured banter and secret growing methods employed.

In the end, the heaviest onion was grown by Paul, our Head of Mail Order with a weight of 1.54kg. Finance Director Phil gained 2nd whose onion was 1.38kg in weight, Aga and Rob from our Sales Office were just behind him with 1.34kg.

The 4 winners of the Mr F staff growing onion competition, stood in a row holding their prize onions and smiling.

Everyone grew Mr Fothergill’s Exhibition Onion but could use any fertiliser they wanted. Many went for Seasol, others tried chicken manure or even sheep poo. The winner said: ‘As a first-time onion grower I had no magic formula, so just did a bit of research. I fed my plants weekly with sulphate of ammonia (nitrogen) and every two weeks with a plant tonic.’

Aga and Rob commented: ‘‘From the very first day, we watered our onion every day and made sure we raked the soil around it, to air the soil and allow the water to get down to the roots. From an internet tip from Peter Glazebrook, we used a sulphate of ammonia growth booster which was a good source of nitrogen, which encouraged leafy growth. The more leaves the larger the onion should grow. We used Seasol every time we watered.’’

Mr Fothergill’s has a wide range of easy to grow varieties for children. Exhibition Onion is ideal for shows and cooking alike. Our seed is available from Mr Fothergill’s retail stockists throughout the UK, from our latest Seed Catalogue or online. Visit your local garden centre for the full range or head over to www.mr-fothergills.co.uk.

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter

October 8th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

4 Super Hardy Salad Leaves to Grow in Winter. Lamb's lettuce, or corn salad, growing in rows in soil.

Salads may be the epitome of sunny summer days, but there’s a lesser-known band of salad leaves full of interesting flavours and textures that will faithfully offer fresh pickings for winter. Able to withstand frost and standing firm through the grim weather, they are hardy souls most definitely worth growing. Read on or watch the video to discover four of the very best super-hardy winter salad leaves.

Why Grow Winter Salad Leaves?

Fresh leaves in the depths of winter are a real treat. While they won’t give masses of pickings, what they do produce is truly appreciated. Then as the weather warms up in spring, harvests come thick and fast – at a time when there’s very little else to pick.

Sow winter salad leaves in late summer or early autumn so they go into winter at just the right size – big enough to survive the chill but not so big that lush growth is clobbered by hard frosts.

Most winter salad leaves can grow outside in mild or temperate climates, but you’ll get more leaves if you can offer some protection from the weather, for example by using a hoop house or by growing salads in a greenhouse or tunnel.

What to Grow

Here’s our pick of the hardiest and most reliable winter salads:

1. Mache, aka Lamb’s Lettuce or Corn Salad

Mache, which also goes by the names lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, produces tender leaves with a smooth texture. This is the hardiest salad leaf of our quartet and grows very well outdoors.

2. Land Cress

Land cress, sometimes known as American cress, has rich, dark leaves that taste similar to watercress. It’s one of the quickest winter salad crops, giving leaves to pick as soon as eight weeks from sowing.A close up of winter purslane salad leaves with little white flowers, AKA miner's lettuce or claytonia

3. Claytonia, aka Miner’s Lettuce or Winter Purslane

Claytonia, also called miner’s lettuce or winter purslane, grows soft, succulent leaves and, come spring, tiny white flowers that also make for good eating. Use it in salads or cook it as an alternative to spinach.

4. Watercress

You don’t need running water to grow watercress, so long as you can ensure the soil it’s growing in is consistently damp, which shouldn’t be too difficult in winter! The mildly peppery leaves of watercress make it salad royalty.

Direct Sowing Winter Salads

Winter salad leaves are well suited to sowing direct into ground recently vacated by summer crops. Remove any weeds first, as they might smother your plants, then rake the soil to a fine tilth.

Mark out drills according to the instructions on the seed packet. Depending on what you’re sowing, rows will be spaced between 9-12 inches (22-30cm) apart. Sow the seeds very thinly, then water them. Once they’re up, thin the seedlings in stages until plants are about 6-8 inches (15-20cm) apart within the row.

Sowing Winter Salads into Plug Trays

Winter salad leaves are also prime candidates for starting off in plug trays. At sowing time the ground is often still occupied by summer crops, but sow into plug trays and your salad leaves may be started off away from the vegetable garden, giving earlier crops a chance to finish. Plug trays also reduce the risk of slug damage at the vulnerable seedling stage and produce sturdy young plants able to outcompete weeds.

Fill trays with general-purpose potting soil then firm it in, adding a little more if needed. Firming in the potting soil creates small depressions in each of the plugs, which are ideal for sowing into. Drop about two seeds into each plug. Some seeds like claytonia are tiny, so don’t worry if you end up with more – you can always thin out the seedlings after they’ve germinated to leave just the strongest in each plug.

Once you’re done sowing, cover the seeds with a very thin layer of more potting soil, then label your tray so you don’t forget what you’ve sown – essential if you’re sowing more than one type of plant in a tray! Water the tray with a gentle spray, or place plugs into trays of water to soak it up from below. Remove trays from the water once they’re ready.

Grow the seedlings on until the roots have filled their plugs, when it’s time to plant them. If the ground is still occupied by other crops, you can re-pot into bigger pots or plug trays, buying you another week or two before planting outside.

A close up of watercress salad leaves with drops of water on the leaves, taken from abovePlanting Winter Salads

Set your winter salad leaves out at the recommended spacing. Planting in a block, so plants are the same distance apart in both directions, is perhaps easiest. Allow 7 inches (17cm) both ways for mache, 8 inches (20cm) for claytonia, and 9 inches (22cm) for land cress and watercress. Dig holes into prepared soil, enriched with organic matter such as compost if it’s likely to have needed a boost after summer, then pop the young plants in. Fill the soil back around them, firm in and water.

Wonderful Watercress

Watercress may be grown like any other winter salad, but a handy alternative is to sow the tiny seeds into containers of potting soil.

Scatter seeds thinly across the surface, then cover with a very fine layer of more potting soil. Containers must be kept moist at all times or the seedlings will quickly die. Once stems have reached about 4in (10cm) high, you an begin harvesting either individual leaves or clusters of stems.

Caring for Winter Salads

Weeds and slugs are the enemies of winter salads – keep on top of both. Slug traps filled with beer to attract them work to a point, but keeping growing areas clear of weeds and debris, while planting at the correct spacing, should do a lot to deter slugs.

How to Harvest Winter Salads

Harvest leaves once plants have formed mounded clumps. Cut stems with a sharp knife, taking care to leave the lowest leaves and those towards the centre untouched so they can continue to grow. As growth picks up in spring, so do the harvests and how much you can remove from plants on each occasion.

By mid-spring plants will be flowering. Young flower stalks may be eaten but in time they will become tough. At this point it’s time to dig up and remove winter salad crops to make way for your summer staples.

If you thought winter meant time to retire the vegetable garden till spring, think again. Winter salad leaves will keep the fresh pickings coming. Are you growing some of these sensational salad crops this winter? What are you growing and how? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.