Nation of Gardeners March planting update: time to compare spring planting with autumn planted varieties

March parcel for Nation of GardenersThe March parcel marked the half-year of this project.  We have passed from autumn, through the hard winter months and back out into spring where the lighter days are making everything feel more hopeful.  It is safe to say that at the 6 month mark we have a network of full gardens and full windowsills stuffed to brimming with Mr Fothergill’s produce around the UK.

The weather in March turned mild, and then even turned sunny, before the sting in the tail of the last week of the month.  However, this  break in the weather enabled our gardeners to get going with no impediments for this month’s parcel which contained three varieties of tomato to trial.  Also in their sixth parcel, they found Garlic, Broad Beans and two varieties of Strawberries – Buddy and Sweetheart – all of which they had grown before.

You can follow the gardener’s progress as they post regular updates to the Facebook wall, and if you feel the need… then join in the conversation!  We’ve been finding that other people are joining in and posting pictures of their own developing crops and seedlings which is great to see how they compare with what our own group of gardeners are seeing.   This makes it a true Nation of Gardeners!  So if you are growing and have plants emerging for the first time, please feel free to also post your updates to the wall.

 

A round up of March’s planting tasks
Potted garlicA third shipment of Garlic Solent Wight was sent out in March.   After the autumn and spring planted Garlic Solent Wight from bulbs in October and February, Mr Fothergill’s decided to test out supplying the gardeners with some pot grown garlic – pictured here to the left.

The gardeners were supplied with three plants that were already growing in pots of compost, and were asked to keep an eye on these for whether they bolt having been grown on by the Mr Fothergill’s nursery team in this way.

Together with a final shipment of pot-grown garlic that will be sent out in April, it is hoped we get some firm conclusions on garlic growing across the UK using direct comparisons on techniques for growing to give us the optimum method and time of year to plant out.  See this article on early results published earlier in April for more on garlic growing across our UK sample of gardeners.

Strawberries in water prior to planting out

The gardeners received Strawberry Buddy and Strawberry Sweetheart again during March in order to test these spring planted strawberries against the ones planted out in the autumn.  The autumn-planted fruits have shown varying degrees of success around the country.  Largely they have overwintered well, but other gardeners in the group have found them to have drowned in the heavy rains we had over winter, or found them nibbled by hungry creatures.

Of the healthy plants – which form the majority – these will be tested against the spring planted versions for yield, time to crop from planting and duration of cropping season to see if they perform as well when planted 6 months later.  Many gardeners are already reporting that their autumn planted strawberries are in flower now, and that the spring plants are establishing well and growing on quickly.

Another packet of Broad Bean Aquadulce was also sent out for sowing to compare the crops with the autumn sown seed.  

Spring sown broad beans

By the end of March, many of the gardeners have raised some fine and healthy looking autumn-sown plants that are already in bloom before Spring had arrived.  The pictures below show some of the fabulously healthy looking plants in the care of our gardeners.  The mild winter has enabled this early blooming to some extent, but if there are enough pollinators around whilst these plants have been flowering away, there will be very early crops of broad beans for our gardeners to enjoy.  The mild weather in March has also enabled quite a few gardeners to germinate their spring sown broad beans pretty swiftly too.

By early April, some gardeners are starting to wonder if their autumn-sown plants have ‘run out of steam’.  And so the real test for the spring sown broad beans will be if they produce as heavy crops and with more certainty than the autumn grown seeds.  It seems clear that they certainly won’t be able to catch up and compete with the autumn grown plants in terms of ‘first to crop’, but maybe their growth will prove to be more assured.  Watch this space!

Broad beans sown in the autumn

New to the gardeners this month were three varieties of Tomato for growing outdoors.  Tomato Ferline, Tomato Sungold and Tomato Sakura were supplied as seed for sowing in March with the intention of growing these outside eventually.

March tomatoes for growing outdoors

The gardeners set to this task quickly, with some good germination rates being seen across the board. Whether the change in light and heat conditions in March versus February had an effect or not is not clear.  However, these March sown seeds went ‘leggy’ for some gardeners very quickly meaning they got potted on before the first true leaves had truly established themselves on the plants.   This has not had a detrimental effect on the plants though, with gardeners across the UK reporting some fine looking plants in their care.

The tomatoes supplied in February – Tomato Black Opal, Tomato Pink Charmer and Tomato Orange Slice – have got underway well  for most gardeners, though some reported difficulty in germinating them.  The best results seen were those that had an element of heat available for successful germination.  Intended for indoors growing only, these tomatoes will need more care than the March issued varieties.  This seems to be reflected in the relative ease of germination for the March varieties also, where a greater germination success rate was seen.

 

October through to February updates

The gardeners have been very busy in the last six months and so there is always something to report on.  Of note in March though, our gardeners have observed a number of things.  Here’s a whistle-stop tour of what’s been going on.

  • Potatoes breaking through the soilGeorgina in Cheshire, Gwynne in Morayshire and Max in Hertfordshire all got busy planting their potatoes out in early March.  Many gardeners have followed suit later in March and early April, with the first shoots pushing their way through the soil in patio planters and in the ground around the UK, such as this potato pictured in Ceredigion.
  • Our gardener in Bristol has potted on her salad leaves as individual plants with the intention of growing on outdoors.
  • Hannah in Guildford, Joanne in Suffolk, Lindsay in Devon and Mags in Renfrewshire have all planted out their autumn sown sweet peas in early April. However, it seems that this may have been too early as frosts came in Devon and Guildford shortly afterwards, so we shall have to see if they recover.
  • For many, the antirrhinums have been an unusual growing challenge.  Some of the seedlings collapsed totally for some gardeners whereas others, such as the ones being grown in Renfrewshire, are very well established if a little ‘leggy’ and seemingly on the point of collapse.  Our gardeners in Cheshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon, Pontpridd, Worcestershire and Suffolk have all managed to grow some specimens and so summer will be the real test for these new and exclusive variety of snapdragons by Mr Fothergill’s.Strawberries in bloom
  • The first broad beans sown in the autumn have set tiny beans in early April in Devon and there are flowers coming on the autumn planted strawberries for many gardeners such as these ones pictured in Pontypridd.
  • The bare root perennials planted in the autumn have started to come back to life in the last month. There are some casualties and there are some ‘missing in action’ plants.  Time will tell if these are truly lost or whether they are just being shy at presenting themselves.  The plants that are definitely starting to put in some spring growth are looking handsome and healthy – Astrantia, Papaver and Eryngiums are all performing well.  Perhaps most excitingly, the Cimicifugas have started to unfurl a leaf from the growing tips in the last few weeks for many of the gardeners who had previously doubted there was ever going to be a plant to see come Spring.  This plant has been very reticent to show any promise all winter and so it is with some excitement that the gardeners are greeting these small leaves.
  • February issued tomatoes grown from seedThe tomatoes issued in February, March and April all appear to be healthy so far and are at varying stages of development.  Mags in Renfrewshire appears to have grown some strong plants from seed leaving many other gardeners playing catch up.  In Derbyshire, the March sown seeds have overtaken the February sown seeds.  In Cheshire the gardener there has already planted to the outdoors.  With high levels of germination success, there are going to be bumper crops of 6 varieties of tomato in the gardens of our Nation of Gardeners this 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.

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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