Archive for the ‘The vegetable garden’ Category

Fascinating facts and figures about pumpkins.

October 1st, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Botanical name: Mainly Cucurbita pepo, giant forms are derived from Cucurbita maxima

Origins:  Central and North America

First cultivated:  Seeds have been found on Mexican archaeological sites, dating back to 5,000 – 7,000BC

Skill level: Ideal for both beginners and experienced gardeners

Preferred location and conditions: Full sun on fertile, moisture-retentive soil with plenty of added organic matter. Avoid shallow soils.

Good for containers: Smaller varieties such as Pumpkin Small Sugar and Pumpkin Munchkin grow well in large patio pots and growing bags.
Harvest time: Autumn, before first frost strikes.

Possible problems:  Powdery mildew – usually due to dry soils and humid conditions. Poor fruit set  – usually due to cold conditions at the start of the season and is usually remedied once temperatures increase.

Health benefits:  Low in calories, high in vitamin A and C, minerals and health-boosting beta-carotene

Potted history

Pumpkins are actually forms of winter squash and are now grown on all continents other than Antarctica. Early pilgrim settlers were introduced to the pumpkin via Native American Indian cultivation. Many tribes used the Three Sisters planting method, setting them amongst sweet corn and climbing beans, each bringing benefits to the others.
Pumpkins remain an important commercial US crop, with 680,000 tonnes produced each year, The harvested fruits are an iconic food ingredient in the US, with pumpkin pie a staple in Thanksgiving and Halloween celebrations. In the UK, culinary use is second to decorative use at Halloween, even though all parts of the plant – fruit, seeds, flowers and leaves –  are edible. Competitive growing at local and national level remains a popular pastime in the UK.

The record for the biggest outdoor UK pumpkin was set in 2016 with a 605KG giant grown by gardener Matthew Oliver at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in Essex. The biggest grown under glass in the UK was produced by Stuart and Ian Paton in the New Forest in 2016, weighing a staggering 1022kg.

Why grow pumpkins

Pumpkins are a great introduction to grow-your-own for children. The large seeds are easy to work with and the swelling fruits provide a real sense of achievement, leading to confidence with other crops. The harvest, of course, leads to the fun activity of carving and decorating for Halloween.  Pumpkins grow with few problems, given a sunny spot sheltered from cold winds, and while they take up a good amount of space on the vegetable patch, they can be trained along the ground between rows of sweet corn and other tall crops. Some of the best pumpkins are grown directly on the compost heap.

Planting and growing: 

Seeds can be sown outdoors in late May-June, but in colder regions, it is best to start them under cover at 18-21°C and plant out in June after hardening off the seedlings (place plants outside by day and bring in at night for a week before planting). Earlier crops can also be had by sowing indoors from mid-April.

When planting out, create deep pockets of compost in the soil, around a spade spit deep and wide, and set plants into the compost. You can also grow pumpkins in growing bags or containers (at least 45cm/18in wide). Plant one or two per growing bag, or one per container.

Smaller varieties with prolific fruiting can be left to grow and crop, but to get the best results with larger fruiting varieties, only allow 4 or 5 fruits to mature on the plant. After first fruit set, offer a high potassium feed every 10-14 days to support swelling growth.

Keep fruits off of the soil by supporting them with straw, sacking, roof tiles, stone slabs or similar. Allow the fruits to ripen on the plants and harvest before the first frosts of autumn. Allow skins to harden in the sun if you plan to store over winter.

To browse all the pumpkin varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the pumpkin section of our website.

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website September 2017. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own pumpkins.

How to Tell When Your Fruits and Vegetables are Ready to Harvest

September 19th, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Harvest can often be a gardeners favourite time of year! It’s the moment of truth, the moment when all that hard work earlier on in the season pays off – with harvests coming thick and fast. But when is the perfect time to harvest your crops? We are here to help you out!

Ready to pick?

For some crops, deciding when to pick is simply a matter of personal preference. Chard, for example, is ready whenever the leaves have reached a usable size. Radishes can be harvested once they’re big enough to slice up into salads. Other fruits and veg require a little more observation.

Root vegetables

When harvesting root vegetables – size matters.

  • Beets and turnips can be pulled at any point from golf-ball-sized up. Smaller roots proving to be especially tender. Don’t let roots grow any larger than a tennis ball as they’ll become tough and woody.
  • Dig up carrots and they reach a usable size.
  • You can leave maincrop varieties in the ground until you’re ready to use them.
  • Enjoy parsnips any time after the leaves have died back, though for the sweetest, melt-in-the-mouth roots, wait until after the first frosts, which improves the flavour.


The earliest new potatoes are usually harvested about 10 – 12 weeks after planting when the plants come into flower. You can judge how big the tubers are by carefully pulling back the soil to expose a few at the sides. Maincrop varieties for storing should be lifted only after the foliage has died back, around 20 weeks after planting. Check they are ready by rubbing the skin with your thumb – if the skin doesn’t rub off, they’re ready to lift.

Peas and beans

Check whether peas and beans are good to go by literally getting to grips with their pods.

  • Feel the pods to judge the size of the developing peas, then shell a few to double-check.
  • The same goes for fava or broad beans.
  • The pods of climbing beans are the opposite, they should be long and smooth without beans bulging inside. Don’t let them get too long or the pods will become stringy and the plants less productive.

These are just a few tips and tricks for harvesting fruits and vegetables, there are plenty more in the video below. If you have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Helps Kids Grow – Plant a School Garden!

September 19th, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Many of today’s health problems can be traced to a poor diet. A school garden is a great way to get kids involved in growing their own food from an early age, so they gain a real appreciation of where fresh food comes from and how delicious it can be! This post will show you how to make a school garden.

School gardens offer children the chance to get involved in growing food, a skill that they can improve on throughout their lives. They are also a handy teaching resource, with plenty of opportunities to link into the school curriculum.

Starting small 

  • It’s great to have a vision for your garden but be sure to start small.
  • Containers and larger planters are very manageable and you can grow just about anything in them. Containers allow you to create an almost immediate impact, anywhere at a minimal cost.
  • Raised beds are excellent because they clearly delineate the growing areas, making it less likely that precious seedlings will be accidentally trampled. Place them directly onto soil or first lay down a membrane if you’re growing on contaminated soil or a hard surface such as a concrete yard. Fill the beds with nutrient-rich potting soil and compost. Beds shouldn’t be any wider than 3 foot so that children can easily reach the middle from the sides.
  • Woodchips are a good choice for the paths in between as they’re relatively clean and soft.

Designing your garden

  • If your garden is going to be more than a few raised beds then get the kids involved in the design process!
  • Ask them to make sketches or put together a mood board of what they’d like to see.

What to grow?

  • Children are far more likely to grow fruits and veggies they’ve grown themselves – a great reason to get them involved!
  • Choose crops that are robust, easy to grow and ready to harvest during term time.
  • Try peas and beans – children love sowing the fat seeds, setting up supports and then picking the pods.
  • Potatoes are fun to sprout before planting into potato sacks or beds. They’ll love the hands-on growing process of unearthing the potatoes.
  • Winter squash and pumpkins can be planted out at the end of spring and will be nearing maturity when the children return from their summer break.
  •  You could even have a pumpkin carving competition!

These are just a few tips and tricks for starting a new school garden. If you’ve created your own school garden and have any top tips that you can offer us let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.


Cover Crops To Recharge Your Soil This Winter!

September 19th, 2017 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

By using cover crops or green manures, you can protect your soil over winter – they’ll also help to build up your soils organic content. Late summer is the perfect time to sow a cover crop for winter. Let us show you how!

  • Why grow cover crops? Covering crops over winter protects it from erosion and helps to support all the beneficial life associated. It also gives weeds less opportunity to take over your plot!
  • Good for heavy soils! It adds valuable organic matter this will help to feed the plants that follow cover crops with deep or fibrous roots such as cereal rye. Cereal rye helps to improve soil structure by breaking it up. Mustard grows very fast, producing masses of lush foliage that can be incorporated into the soil after just a few months, to boost its organic content.
  • Good for enriching soils – Some cover crops directly add nutrients to the soil by fixing nitrogen at their roots. Winter field beans and peas, clover and vetch are all types of legumes that are great for sowing before nitrogen hungry brass occurs.
  • Good for suppressing weeds – Cabbage phacelia can be sown in late summer as it’s great for suppressing weeds and will improve your soil structure. You have an extra bonus with their stunning flowers too!
  • Sowing a cover crop – Start by roughly digging the ground over, removing all weeds especially perennials. Tamp down the soil with the back of a rake, then scatter or broadcast your seeds evenly. Break these seeds into the soil and tamp down again.

We’ve listed just a few facts and tips about cover crops for recharging your winter soil – the video below offers more advice, so be sure to give it a watch. Plus, let us know if you have any top tips for recharging your winter soil. Let us know in the comments below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

September Gardening Advice

September 6th, 2017 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

The onset of Autumn sadly marks the end of the gardening year for far too many gardeners, who view it as a time to tidy up and shut down before winter arrives. However, for those in the know, Autumn actually marks one of the busiest seasons in the garden and is the perfect time to get planting plans in place for the following year.

Our gardening advice for September and indeed the next few months will lighten your workload next spring and in many cases offer an easier start to establishing new plants in the garden.

In the flower garden

Border tidy – mixed borders can start to look unkempt this month as summer performing perennials start to wane.  The plants should be cut down as they die back, restoring order and tidiness to displays. Use a knife, secateurs or shears to cut the spent stems and foliage down to the crown (base of the plant).
A mulch of garden compost or similar will help to protect the dormant crowns from winter damage.  If the plant in question dies back fully, it can be fully covered with mulch. If it dies back to a basal rosette of leaves, these should be surrounded by mulch but left uncovered on top.
Any borderline hardy perennials such as penstemon, phygelius and salvia should be mulched, but their spent top growth should be kept in place until spring as extra winter protection for the crowns below.

Eking out summer displays – Summer hanging basket and patio containers will continue to run into mid-autumn if you keep up with deadheading, watering and feeding.  Even plants that are starting to straggle can be given another month or so of life by cutting them back and allowing new shoots to take over, but with our winter and spring bedding plants despatching now it may be best to empty containers and get them prepped ready for re-planting.

September sowing – Many flowering hardy annuals can be sown in beds and borders in September for earlier colour next year. They will establish roots and foliage this side of winter, waking up in early spring to put on a strong floral display in late spring/early summer.

Seeds should be sown in prepared, weed-free soil that has been raked level to a fine tilth. They can either be scattered (broadcast) over the area and raked in for an informal look, or the area can be divided into various patches and the seeds sown in drills for a more ordered look.

For more detailed advice on direct sowing see our guide.

If there is no space due to winter performing bedding displays, hardy annuals can be started off under cover and then hardened off for overwintering in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse for planting in out in spring.

Spring bulbs – Our selection of spring flowering bulbs start to dispatch through September, at the perfect time for planting for the best displays. We work very closely with our growers to ensure we offer the very best, top sized bulbs, which will provide you with a glorious spring show. All of the bulbs we offer have been trialled and tested, either on our own Suffolk trials ground or on those of our growers, to ensure we offer the best range for British gardens.

Bulbs are one of the best value investments for the garden, returning year on year with the absolute minimum of upkeep and care. Simply plant this autumn for years of bold spring colour in borders, containers, lawns, rockeries – these versatile garden additions will pretty much grow anywhere you plant them. For the best performance choose a sunny to partially shaded location in any moist but free-draining soil.

September planting – September is a perfect month for planting out new container grown perennials, trees and shrubs. Soils retain some of their summer warmth through the month but moisture levels are on the rise thanks to the autumn rain. This creates the perfect conditions for early root establishment and also reduces the level of watering needed during the critical early stages of establishment. Watering may be needed in prolonged dry spells next year, but winter wet will have done a large part of the settling in process for you.

Cold season colour – Our winter and spring bedding plants are dispatching now. These winter hardy plants have all been selected to guarantee winter and spring colour in borders, baskets and patio containers. Stunning on their own or mixed together, our pansies, violas, primroses, bellis daisies, wallflowers, and forget-me-nots all offer effortless colour for the colder months of the year.

Plant by variety, or mix together for a kaleidoscope of colour. All our bedding plants work perfectly with spring flowering bulbs too. As you plant your beds and borders add a bulb in between each plant for extra height and colour some spring.

On the Veg patch

Sowing – as in the flower garden, there is a range of hardy vegetables that can be sown this month for overwintering and early cropping next spring. If you are looking to avoid empty veg patches through winter, make sowings of the following in coming weeks: winter lettuce, corn salad, turnips, spring onion, broad beans, spinach, Oriental vegetables including Choi Sum and Pak Choi.

You can also make the last sowing of quick-cropping summer vegetables including radish and salad leaves. If autumn arrives fast in your area, these can be sown in containers and brought under cover when the first frosts threaten.

Spring cabbages – Spring cabbage seedlings sown in July and August should now be large enough to plant out. Soils should be improved ahead of planting by adding well-rotted manure or garden compost. Cabbages prefer a firm soil, so tread over the area and rake flat before planting. Set out in rows leaving 30-45cm between each plant and row.

Asparagus – September is a key month for establishing new asparagus crowns. They perform best in well drained fertile soils, rich in organic matter. Crowns should be set out in long trenches, 20cm deep and 30cm wide. Fill the bottom of the trench with a 7.5cm mounded layer of compost and soil.  Place the asparagus crown on top of the ridge, draping roots over the sides. Cover with another 7.5cm of soil, firm down and water. As growth commences next spring, gradually fill in the remainder of the trench as the spears develop.
Established plants should be cut down to the ground as soon as the foliage has browned. With easier access to the soil, the area should be thoroughly weeded and a good layer of mulch applied afterwards.

Onions, shallots and garlic – September is a great time to plant onions, shallots and garlic as the soil is still warm and the long days give high light levels. Overwintering your alliums will allow them to develop strong root systems to see them through the winter, ready to burst in to life in early spring. Our tried and tested varieties are guaranteed to produce fantastic yields of flavoursome and tender crops.

Onions, shallots and garlic should be set out in rows, in firm, free-draining soil in full sun. Soils should be improved ahead of planting but avoid setting them on a freshly manured soil. Leave 10cm between each bulb and 30cm between rows. The bulbs (or sets) should be planted with the tip of the bulb just showing above the soil surface.


In the greenhouse/on the windowsill

Overwintering – Towards the end of September start to bring prized tender plants under cover of the greenhouse to keep them frost free through winter. Many summer bedding plants can be overwintered this way, leading to bigger better displays the following year. Try it with fuchsias, begonias, geraniums, petunias and marguerites. Water sparingly until spring, but ensure good light levels by washing off shade paint and removing shade netting.

Early bulb colour For early indoor displays of your favourite spring flowering bulbs, pot up tulips, daffodils and hyacinths this month and leave them outside for six weeks or so.  Then bring into the greenhouse to encourage early growth. As soon as flower buds develop the pots can be brought into the house for spring colour in the middle of winter.