Nation Of Gardeners May and June Planting Update: First blooms, First crops!

May parcel Nation of GardenersIt has all been happening in May and June for our gang of gardeners across the UK!

Through the winter months many of the plants and seedlings being raised seemed to be taking their time to develop. But summer has truly arrived in May and June after a warm April. This means that we have been seeing flowers, fruits and vegetables bursting into life for our Nation of Gardeners.

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall or by following the #nationofgardeners hashtag on Twitter.  Feel free to post your own garden updates to Mr Fothergill’s on social media too.

But what was in the box in May and June?

 

A round up of May and June’s planting tasks

Worcestershire Runners

When it is time to sow runner beans and time to start cropping strawberries you can be sure it is a sign that summer is coming. And so in May we asked our gardeners to look at Runner Beans and our new “crop in 30 days” strawberries to see if a taste of summer could be brought into the group’s kitchens as quickly as promised.

Always a British favourite, runner beans are amongst the top selling seeds at Mr Fothergill’s each year. New varieties come along at regular intervals but a British company has been working hard to produce a range of almost self-fertile beans which will set in most weather regimes – which might make them more popular north of the border if they performed better. We sent out a packet of Runner Bean White Lady and a packet of Runner Bean Moonlight to trial the value and trueness of these varieties.

runner bean white lady

Our gardeners got to work sowing these two varieties in their gardens during May and were asked to record flowering, yield and setting habits as well as the flavour of the beans once ready to pick.

By early July, there are young plants starting to climb for all of our gardeners, with the slight advantage on speed of growth being observed in the Runner Bean White Lady variety.  Pictured above to the left are our Worcestershire gardener’s runner beans taken 8 July, that are ready for some support and which she promises to give shortly after taking this photograph!  To the right here is our Pontypridd gardener’s Runner Bean White Lady that is already developing some flower buds on 7 July as the plants climb the poles.  Below are the runner beans being grown side by side in our Bristol gardener’s potager. This photo was taken 5 July.

As summer progresses, the abundance of Broad Beans we’ve been supplying to the Nation of Gardeners’ kitchens will start to be replaced by Runner Beans no doubt!

marion_runner_beans_5July2014

We previously sent out two varieties of strawberry in November and mirrored that in March asking the gardeners to compare growth and yield between the autumn planted strawberries against those supplied in the spring. One of these two varieties was Strawberry Sweetheart which is the variety used in our new ‘Berry Quick Strawberries’, introduced for the first time this year after our own set of trials.

Strawberry Berry QuickBerry Quick Strawberries were new to the range in 2014, and as the name implies, promises strawberries on your plate within a month of receipt.  By tapping into a commercial production method, used by professional growers, which enables plants to fruit within 30 days from the point of planting, we hoped that these plants would live up to their promise.

This unique method of production begins in September and October when plants are lifted from the field with the flower initiation process already started – they are then frozen. The next part of the process happens around the middle of April when the plants are thawed, potted and grown on for 30 days at our nursery. By the middle of May the plants are well developed and have just 30 days of growth remaining – just in time to celebrate the start of Wimbledon!

And so we asked our gardeners to plant three of these plants and let us know how they got on – and importantly, did they all get berries in time for Wimbledon?

Photo 21-06-2014 19 10 26The plants arrived in good health for all of our gardeners, seen here above and to the left are the plants placed in a raised bed by our Devon gardener, where they look healthy and well established shortly after planting out.  Our Buckinghamshire gardener grew her strawberries in hanging baskets, but sadly her fruits developed Grey Mould, a common disease in strawberries.  This rendered her fruits inedible.

But red strawberries were indeed harvested within 30 days by many of our gardeners otherwise.  Our gardener in Renfrewshire reported her first pick on 18 June, our Pontypridd based gardener harvested his first red berries on 18 June and the Peak District berries pictured here on the left were ready for picking 21 June.

Although the plants were healthy and the berries developed to a croppable state very quickly –  there were lots of small green berries when delivered in most cases – some gardeners felt that the taste was quite tart or bitter.  This is especially when compared to the autumn and spring planted Strawberry Sweethearts, which is the variety that is used for the ‘Berry Quick’ plants.

 

Hardy annuals Ceredigion

We now turn from May’s planting tasks and look towards June.

With June came the mid-summer solstice heralding a drawing in of nights when we feel like we have only just got going! June is a time for visiting garden centres to find a potted plant to fill in gaps in the borders. June is not a time traditionally for sowing new seeds as it is the received wisdom that it is now too late.

Mr Fothergill’s wanted to challenge this view however by trialling some hardy annuals that have been tested over at the trial grounds in Kentford last year. So not only did our gardeners receive a range of annuals for sowing in June, they received them very late in June, for sowing by the end of the month to see if everyone could get a good display before the year is out.

All of the varieties were sown on the trial field in Kentford last year on 20 June with good results – all flowers were in bloom by the end of August. In 2014, the team at Mr Fothergill’s were going to push this trial out to 27 June to test for even later sowing. The outcome of this trial could be that we end up changing the sowing instructions on seed packets if we find we get uniform results across the UK.

Hardy annuals Cheshire

On trial this month therefore were the following varieties:

Our group of gardeners got straight to work on this, with many reporting back germination within 3 days.  The pictures here above shows the Ceredigion gardener’s new seedlings coming through in a clearly demarked raised bed built by her husband especially for the purpose of growing these seeds! To the right here are our Cheshire gardener’s seedlings coming through very well in pots.

The warmth of the soil is evidently a good factor for getting these seeds going promptly and bodes well for well-developed plants as the summer progresses.  Our gardeners reported good germination rates, but they also reported that there was either a slow or ‘non-appearance’ of seedlings sown straight to the ground, which indicates that slugs appreciate this mid-summer sowing as a spot of lunch!  Pot sown seedlings on the whole have done very well, and so seems to be the most reliable method of raising these late sown annuals.

 

October through to June updates

Devon potato cropMay and June’s arrival brought with it lots of first crops from the garden for many of our participants. Kilos of potatoes were being dug up around the UK as our group got to work on checking the relative yields of patio planter potatoes versus open ground.  On the whole, patio planter potatoes grew vigorously, but the yields were much smaller than those of the ones planted in the ground.

Armfuls of broad beans and bowlfuls of strawberries and salads were also cropped during May and June and kept many of our gardeners feasting throughout the month.  The autumn sown broad beans have been producing prolifically throughout this period and are now exhausting, just in time to make way for the spring sown crops!

Autumn versus spring strawberries largely lean towards the autumn planted versions cropping first.  It is the Strawberry Sweetheart variety that has produced most prolifically for most people, producing very sweet fruits, especially in light of the comments on taste of the ‘Berry Quick’ fruits.  Although smaller in number, the gardeners who have been able to crop their Strawberry Buddy have found them to be the better tasting of the two varieties. For some gardeners though, there has been a ‘no show’ on the Buddy, with flowers not developing into fruits, but the plants producing runners instead.

Pictures speak louder than words and so take a look at the following to see the wonderful things being produced in gardens up and down the country.

strawberries and broad beans

The sweet peas sown in the autumn also provided lots of wonderful blooms for some of our gardeners, with Max in Hemel Hempstead, Joan in Cumbria, Georgina in Cheshire and Mags in Renfrewshire all sending in entries for the Capel Manor College Sweet Pea Competition in early July.  Jonathan in Pontypridd and Laura in Ceredigion both intended to supply entries too, but Welsh rain blighted their chances by washing out their prize blooms in the week running up to the competition.

Suffolk sweet peas

Tomatoes are growing well for almost everyone in the trials though the pace at which they are developing is hugely variable.

Black Opal renfrewshire It is a complex combination of 6 varieties over three separate sowing/planting dates that is being grown by our company of gardeners and so meticulous labelling and recording has been required.

Many tomatoes for many people are still very green, or are still only just developing from the flower buds.  Shown here to the right is our Renfrewshire gardener’s Black Opal tomatoes developing as young fruits on the plant during early July.

Amazingly we have ripened fruits for our gardeners in Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Bristol, with Sungold being the earliest crop for these gardeners. We have also had our first crop of Tomato Black Opal down in Bristol – which can be clearly seen standing proudly on this plate in the picture below.  This stunning picture shows the deep colour of this fruit, which when cut through runs through the flesh as well.  On the left below is our Surrey based gardener’s Pink Charmer tomato crop.

Tomato crops

 

Out in the flower beds, our autumn planted bare root perennials also got into their stride during this period with Astrantias and Sedums flowering beautifully for many. Perhaps most stunningly of all, and sadly very briefly, were the Papaver Place Pigalle blooms. The Eryngiums and Cimicifugas still have some time left to develop, so watch this space!

Bare root perennials

And finally, the Cucamelons continue to intrigue as they grow taller and taller.  These climbing vines are recommended to be pinched out at about 5ft in length, and they need plenty of rambling support to allow the tendrils and vines to cling, climb and grow.  We are seeing the first tantalising fruits forming on these plants this month.

Cucamelon Bristol

Our Bristol based gardener took this wonderful shot of her Cucamelon fruit which is starting to fatten out a little.

Many of our gardeners have been reporting flower and fruit development during May and June, and the plants seem to deliver these prolifically but they remain very slender and small, unlike the picture promised on the seed packets to date.   On a taste test of the very small fruits, they have a pleasing cucumber taste that is the most present taste, but it is delivered with a very subtle citrusy, zingy tang almost as an aftertaste.

Growing these plants has certainly been a curiosity for our gardeners as we all wait and see how they will develop through the summer.

 

Keep an eye on the hashtag #nationofgardeners on Twitter for more updates as the gardeners post them, or follow the postings to the Facebook wall where you can also find a gallery of plant pictures that chronicle the Nation of Gardeners activities to date.

June 2014′s planting

  • The stats table for:  Marigold Naughty Marietta
  • The stats table for:  Californian Poppy
  • The stats table for:  Godetia Dwarf Mixed
  • The stats table for:  Calendula Daisy Mixed
  • The stats table for:  Alyssum Carpet of Snow
  • The stats table for:  Cornflower Polka Dot

May 2014′s planting

  • The stats table for: Runner Bean White Lady
  • The stats table for: Runner Bean Moonlight
  • The stats table for: Strawberry Berry Quick

April 2014′s planting

March 2014′s planting

February 2014′s planting

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting

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