Posts Tagged ‘Indoor gardening’

Nation of Gardeners results: Tomato Orange Slice

March 21st, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Tomato Orange Slice is a new variety of tomato that is yet to be trialled by Mr Fothergill’s.  This variety produces large orange fruits which can weigh over 300g, bred for colour and flavour and is suitable for greenhouse growing only.

Our Nation of Gardeners were asked to sow Tomato Orange Slice in February 2014 as part of a trial on this tomato that will run in tandem with the trials at Mr Fothergill’s trial grounds in Kentford.   The gardeners were asked to record details such as when the plant produces its first fruit from date of sowing, yield over the season, and the flavour to check for any variations around the country.

The table below charts their progress.

Location Elevation Date planted Date first signs of growth Notes
Cheshire 49m 27 February 10 March Sown in North East facing room in house at 20 degrees C
Renfrewshire 28m
North Devon 30-50m 16 February 25 February Sown at approx 16 degrees indoor propagator – no heat source in East facing room.  8 out of 12 germinated.
Worcestershire 55m 7 March Sown in unheated greenhouse at 14 degrees C in south facing position.
Derbyshire 39m
Cumbria 90m
Ceredigion 131m 20 February 27 February Sown at 16 degrees C in house (utility room) with North West facing aspect.  Repotted 14 March.  Weaker root system than other two varieties.
Bristol 55m 23 February 4 March Sown in south facing conservatory at approx 19 degrees C.
Suffolk 6m 16 February 22 February Sown at 23 degrees C into propagator. Pricked out 1 March
Hertfordshire 150m 23 February Sown in north facing room in window sill unheated propagator.  approx 7-15 degrees C.
Surrey 58m 23 February 5 March Sown in heated greenhouse at approx 20 degrees C
Pontypridd 157m 16 February 21 February 75% germination 3 out of 4. Transplanted on 24 February to stop them getting leggy.
Buckinghamshire 66m 16 February 26 February By 5 March the tomatoes are about 1 inch high.
Guildford 56m 23 February c. 26/27 February 2 out of 6 germinated.Quick to germinate on heated tray – within a few days. Have not been quick enough to remove plastic cover once first shoots appeared, hence have had problems with “damping off” – more h to remove plastic cover once first shoots appeared, hence have had problems with “damping off” – more should have germinated rather than shrivelled!
Gloucestershire 74m 13 January
Derbyshire 241m 22 February 24 February Sown in heated propagator until germinated then moved to covered unheated propagator on windowsill.  5 out of 6 germinated.  Less sturdy looking than other two varieties. 29 March: transplanted to own pots as very leggy.  22 April: looking strong

Nation of Gardeners January planting update: are our gardeners nurturing some winning blooms?

March 3rd, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners | 0 Comments

After the hectic schedule most of our gardeners kept during the festive period, Mr Fothergill’s decided to hold back the January parcel until mid-way through the month to give them a chance to catch their breath!

In January the gardeners were sent a mixed bag to test out for the Company.  Their parcel this month included two varieties of pepper and a new variety of Antirrhinum on offer for the first time in 2014.  Also, because January is the perfect time to source seed potatoes, the group were sent Potato Charlotte to begin chitting in preparation for growing on the potatoes later in the year.

And as the weather – that has been sodden but nevertheless seasonally mild – has turned more Spring-like in recent weeks there has been plenty of activity seen in lots of the previously dispatched parcels.  And so, our gardeners have had their hands full keeping on top of recording changes across a whole range of plants, and taking photos for posting updates to the Facebook wall.


A round up of January’s planting tasks

Potatoes chitting

The gardeners were each sent a pack of Potato Charlotte in order to test open ground planting versus patio planter growing of the tubers.  The gardeners will be asked to put half in the ground – using any method of planting of their choosing – and to plant the other half into patio planters that were provided to them in their parcel.

The decision on whether to chit or not has been left to the gardeners and the decision of *when* to plant their potatoes has also been left to them to decide based on their own local conditions and knowledge for their areas.

As the pictures here show, chitting in egg boxes and in food cartons, in garages, sheds and in porches is occupying cool and light spaces in each of our gardeners’ households as they attempt to develop shoots big enough to get their potato crops planted with a good head start.

Our Cheshire gardener also discovered that, hitherto unknown, rodents also share her garage.   She had left her potatoes chitting overnight only to discover them all mostly eaten one morning.  Happily Mr Fothergill’s rushed to provide her with another pack to help her catch back up with the other gardeners, and which she has promised to keep absolutely mouse-proofed this time!

Coming back indoors, the gardeners were asked to grow two varieties of pepper.  Mr Fothergill’s asked the gardeners to compare two seed varieties – Snackbite and King of the North.  This latter variety is not on general sale yet and so the Nation of Gardeners are testing this seed out in tandem with the formal trials that are taking place at Mr Fothergill’s headquarters in Kentford this year.

For this task, warmth was required to get the seeds to germinate.  Again, method of germination was left to the gardener’s individual experience.  It was suggested that this could either be provided by a propagator or a heated mat, or, if the warmth is sufficient enough indoors to achieve a consistent 15-18° Centigrade, then in pots covered with plastic bags.  Our gardeners chose a variety of methods, with the heated propagator method proving to be most efficient at bringing these seeds to life.

Peppers germinating

By sowing at the same time some direct comparisons have been drawn between the two varieties.  Many gardeners reported that the King of the North was the quickest to germinate, with gardeners in the Peak District and Bristol both reporting a uniform 24 hour gap between King of the North emerging and Snackbite following suit the next day.  However, it took up to a week for our Cheshire gardener’s Snackbite to emerge after the King of the North.  Conversely, in Devon and Worcestershire it was Snackbite that emerged first.  And so, on these peppers, it seems that opinion is divided.  How they grow on will be the next test for the performance of these seeds, with of course, days to cropping and abundance of crops being closely monitored for consistency.

We shall see as time unfolds how the gardeners plan to grow these peppers – whether as houseplants, in the greenhouse, or outside on the patio.  The seeds have the potential to grow in all these situations but the outcome of growing in a variety of situations will, no doubt, show some very different results.

And finally our gardeners were also asked to trial a new variety of snap dragon.  Antirrhinum Purple Twist F1 is being introduced for the first time in the Spring catalogue for 2014 and so Mr Fothergill’s were really keen to find out how the group would get along with these flowers when grown as bedding plants.

These seeds were supplied in a small phial and were microscopic in size, so were tricky to sow evenly.  They also came along with the warning that germination can be erratic!  These seeds again are warmth loving and require a gentle heat of 15-20° Centigrade to germinate and survive healthily.

Many of our gardeners deftly managed to germinate these seeds successfully,  although in Buckinghamshire and the Peak District the Antirrhinums collapsed after successful germination.  As February has drawn to a close, many who raised their seedlings successfully are thinking of pricking out and growing the plants on individually and so we will have to wait to see what glorious displays we get as summer arrives.

Antirhinums germinating


October, November and December updates

Garlic in Guildford in JanuaryThere is plenty happening in the gardens of our participants now and plenty to keep abreast of.  For almost all gardeners, the Garlic Solent Wight has made a strong appearance, with one gardener noting that her Mr Fothergill’s supplied garlic looks healthy and strong whereas garlic she bought from another source (she declined to reveal who!) have failed and that part of her vegetable plot is looking patchy.  This picture of our Guildford gardener’s garlic is typical of what we are now seeing across the country for garlic sown in the autumn.

Where the sweet peas are strong, the sweet peas are strong!  Otherwise, they are almost entirely decimated by rodents.  And so comparative pictures of sweet peas between participants is either a tale of feast or famine.  Although it is nothing new to learn that mice are attracted to freshly germinated peas, it is perhaps interesting to note that mice over winter seem to be much more hungry than in the spring and so where you might not have thought you had mice because you have never sowed ‘food’ for them before, you suddenly discover that the reverse is true.

Despite the failures for some gardeners with sweet peas, the pictures below show some strong plants that look ready to take on the summer once the weather is warm enough to plant them out.  It may even be that these plants will end up becoming winning blooms at the Mr Fothergill’s 2014 Sweet Pea Competition at Capel Manor in July.  Who knows?  Watch this space!

Sweet Peas in January and February

There is positive movement for many bare root perennials now too.  Papaver and Sedum are definitely showing signs of waking up for many gardeners with some pretty consistent performance from those plants.  Eryngium and Astrantia are looking healthy for some gardeners too, with some having kept their green leafy top growth throughout the winter ready to take on the new year.

Bare root perennials

Casualties are starting to tot up steadily too.  In Renfrewshire and the Peak District the storms of December took the Blackberry Reuben, which is otherwise performing outstandingly for all other gardeners.  In the Peak District, the broad beans that were doing very well there were decimated overnight by a rodent.

Damping off claimed multiple sowings of red leafed salads regardless of heat and protection for many gardeners.  Upon further investigation into this, it seems that red leaves are not usually advised in the commercial salad growing industry until the light improves later towards the spring.   Due to reduced levels of chlorophyll the small plants struggle to survive in low light levels and this has clearly been seen in effect for our gardeners.

The basil has also proved to be a challenging crop to grow.  Over December, January and February, gardeners in  Renfrewshire, the Peak District and Bristol have all experienced repeated failures to successfully raise basil.   Our Renfrewshire gardener finally succeeding with a third sowing of basil with some bottom heat applied, though this technique did not help for the other two participants even though they achieved successful germination.

Basil growing successfully in Suffolk

Our Suffolk gardener observed that her basil  had stopped developing over winter and so she decided to give them more heat by popping the pot back into the propagator in February.  As if by magic the plants have started to grow again (pictured here to the left), and so this is a small triumph with this seemingly very difficult crop!

And so the Nation of Gardeners has produced a mixed bag of results so far from the very diverse range of seeds, plants and bulbs from the Mr Fothergill’s range.  There is one thing for certain though, that all of the gardeners are having great fun with their experimentations and eagerly anticipate their next growing tasks.


To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

January 2014′s planting

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


The next parcel

The February package includes:


Using grow lights for healthier seedlings

January 27th, 2014 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

As our Nation of Gardeners have been finding with their growing task from December, seedlings sown at this time of year can suffer from a lack of sufficient light during the day.

This video gives a guide on how to use standard grow lights to best effect to raise seedlings in the darker winter months.  It also gives a good overview of crops and seedlings that are appropriate for growing under grow lights – and when certain crops need to be held back until the Spring gets closer.

It’s not worth using a grow light for crops such as beets, radishes, parsnips and carrots since they don’t transplant very well.   Lettuce, spinach and chard and crops such as sweetcorn, peas and beans are also better left until conditions outside are suitable for sowing.

Grow lights are great for getting crops such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, chilllis and melons however as these plants need a long growing season to develop and so it is a good way to get a good head start.

Nation of Gardeners December planting update: Who needs the shops at Christmas when you have Mr Fothergill’s?

January 15th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

The Nation of Gardeners' gardens are getting very fullAs we enter 2014 and pass the three month mark, it is safe to say that the Nation of Gardeners project is well and truly underway.  The gardens, coldframes and greenhouses of our gardeners are starting to get very full, and so in December, Mr Fothergill’s decided to fill up their windowsills for them as well!

December is a good month for sowing herbs and salad leaves for growing on a sunny windowsill.  Fresh leaves can be picked for up to 4 cuts in as little as 6 – 8 weeks.  Mr Fothergill’s were very interested to know if this could be achieved successfully in all parts of the country.  During milder months it is expected that the first cut can be taken at 6 – 8 weeks, and so this growing task was to test how long they take ‘out of season’ when light levels and ambient temperatures inside and outside are low.


A round up of December’s planting tasks

With the winter weather setting in, the December parcel took our gardeners indoors for windowsill sowings of basil, coriander and four types of salad leaves; mild, spicy, red and green.

The salad leaf varieties were as follows and were suggested to be sown in 25cm pots and to then be placed in a sunny position either indoors on a windowsill or outside in a frost-free greenhouse or coldframe:

It was the salad leaves that surprised many of the gardeners and had them racing for the quickest results. Some salads were seen to be germinated within 48 hours, and all gardeners had sturdy seedlings within a couple of weeks of sowing.

Our Pontypridd gardener decided to test indoor versus outdoor sowing in a frost-free greenhouse in this trial across each of the seeds he was sent.  He reported back that his outdoor salads looked sturdier and less leggy than their indoor sown counterparts.   Our Devon gardener also tested the Spicy Salad Leaves in a coldframe outside – whilst sowing the other three varieties inside – and she too reported back that the outdoor sowings looked much healthier than her indoor specimens.

The ‘legginess’ of the indoor sown seedlings was widely reported back – due to lack of good quality, long periods of daylight perhaps – and so time will tell if the salads respond well to the lengthening of the days now we are past the winter solstice.

Salads grown in December 2013

Two varieties of herbs, Basil Piccolino and Coriander Calypso, were also sent out in the December parcel.  Both of which were suggested to be sown and grown in 9cm pots and then placed on a sunny windowsill and kept moist.

The ambient temperatures both inside and outside was recorded by the gardeners at time of sowing and the gardeners were also asked to record the aspect of windowsill the pots were placed to gauge the effects of the low light levels of winter on the seedlings’ progress.

Coriander seedlings in Scotland

Temperature seems to have been a deciding factor in getting the basil to germinate successfully.  Although some basil sowings for some did germinate within 3 days.  For others it took decidedly longer, with radiator heat being used to warm things up a bit where windowsill temperature could not provide.   Subsequent successful sowing into heated or even just covered non-electric propagators from the same batch of seeds seemed to prove the point that basil needs heat to get going.

Coriander showed itself to be slightly less fussy about temperature, though for some was slow in coming.  Our gardeners with the ‘quickest’ Coriander were in Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire with a 7 day germination rate, although our Pontypridd gardener reported back germination in 6 days.  Otherwise the general germination rate for Coriander showed itself to be 10 to 14 days.

A new dimension to the trials project emerged over Christmas, when the Mr Fothergill’s parcel became a Mr Fothergill’s festive food parcel, when many of the gardeners were able to use their first Fothergill’s batch of produce to garnish their meals over the festive period.  One gardener used their salad leaf micro-greens sprinkled over a prawn and smoked salmon salad on New Year’s Day, and another chopped their baby spicy salad leaves to use in a tomato salad and used their mild leaves as a garnish on top of egg mayonnaise.   The salad leaves had the gardeners discussing recipes and uses from sandwiches to salads, which led one gardener to question “who needs shops”!

October and November planting update

Autumn-sown garlic in DevonOctober and November’s plantings have now fully established and the gardeners have been noting some significant progress lately.   Least magnificently – but most significantly for our group of gardeners perhaps –  is visible progress with the Garlic Solent Wight which was received in the first packages sent out in October.  Many of the gardeners were reporting no movement on their garlic plantings all through October and November, but now the colder weather has arrived most are seeing shoots of green emerging, which has been welcomed with some relief.

The bare root perennials planted in November have shown variable results depending on the variety.  Varieties such as the Papaver  have settled into their new homes very well with lots of new top growth, and the planted Sedums are also looking well settled.  For some, the Astrantia and Eryngium still have top growth intact, but for others the leaves have faded away, leaving a patch of bare ground with a marker the only evidence that something is planted there.  For most, the Cimicifuga appears to have all but disappeared entirely, although this shy-to-show-itself plant is showing minuscule evidences of growth for some observant gardeners who have seen slight growth of only millimetres, or a change in colouration of the growing tip just poking above ground level.

October and November plants for Nation of Gardeners

By far the most robust performers in the trials so far are the autumn planted Broad Beans, the Strawberry Buddy and the  Strawberry Sweetheart, and the Blackberry Reuben.  All gardeners are reporting back strong and healthy growth of these varieties.

Storm damaged blackberry plant in Scotland

Some plants, such as the Broad Beans planted in more southerly areas are continuing to grow right through the winter without check, to the extent that their caretakers are worried they are growing too far, too soon.  In early January, the first flower buds have also started to form on the strawberry plants for our gardener in Devon.  She has nipped these off to strengthen the plant.

Sadly, the storms that have ravaged the country have created plant casualties for the Nation of Gardeners, with both the Renfrewshire and Peak District gardeners losing their Blackberry plants to the high winds.  The stump shown in the picture to the right here is our Scottish gardener’s blackberry plant, which due to where it has snapped, may never recover.


To follow the results of our gardeners in more detail, take a look at our table of stats for each of the varieties:

December 2013′s planting

November 2013′s planting

October 2013′s planting


Looking forward into January

The next package has just been sent out to the group of gardeners who will be receiving their parcels within the couple of days.  For this task, we give them some more crops to grow and a new variety of flower that will be introduced in 2014 for general sale to see how they fare with this new variety.

Nation of Gardeners results: Mixed Green Salad Leaves

January 15th, 2014 | Nation of Gardeners, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Mixed green salad leavesThese Mixed Green Salad leaves can be grown all year round and are quick to grow in containers, on the windowsill indoors or outside during winter in a frost-free greenhouse or cold frame.  These leaves are perfect as a cut-and-come-again crop or for growing on to full lettuce heads.

As long as the plants have plenty of light and are kept frost-free, they will grow successfully to provide salad leaves year-round.

Our Nation of Gardeners were asked to sow Mixed Green Salad Leaves in December 2013 as part of a windowsill growing challenge during the colder months of the year.  The table below charts their progress.


Location Elevation Date planted Date first signs of growth Notes
Cheshire 49m 17 December 20 December Sown on North East facing windowsill. Very quick growth, etiolated seedlings moved to greenhouse after 10 days. Tastes like cress.
Renfrewshire 28m 16 December 20 December Sown indoors on South facing windowsill. 31 December: Fairly good germination but several seedlings collapsed so not many surviving
North Devon 30-50m 12 December 15 December Sown indoors on South East facing windowsill. Although quick to germinate, they haven’t established into full leaves, still thin seedlings.
Worcestershire 55m 28 December 3 January Sown indoors on a South facing windowsill.
Derbyshire 39m
Cumbria 90m 18 January 23 January Sown on North facing windowsill.
Ceredigion 131m 6 December 9 December Sown indoors on North West facing windowsill.  1 January: first picking, good flavour.
Bristol 55m 10 December 14 December Sown indoors on South facing windowsill. 26 December: first picking
Suffolk 6m 7 December 10 December sown in propagator and then placed on West facing windowsill once germinated. Very leggy seedlings.
Hertfordshire 150m 8 December 14 December Sown indoors on North West facing windowsill.
Surrey 58m 27 December 30 December Sown indoors on South facing windowsill. 4 January 2014: Seedlings looking very strong & healthy
Pontypridd 157m 15 December 18 December (indoors)23 December (outdoors) Indoor sowings on North facing windowsill were quick to germinate, started to get ‘leggy’ so cut back. 31 December: first picking. Not bitter – tastelessOutdoor sowings were slower to germinate but the seedlings looked much stronger.
Buckinghamshire 66m 27 December 29 December Sown indoors on an East facing windowsill.
Guildford 56m
Gloucestershire 74m 31 December 2 January Indoor sowings on South facing windowsill, overshadowed by trees.
Derbyshire 241m 14 December 17 December Indoor sowings on South facing windowsill. 30 December: thick mat of seedlings by end of month, but not big enough to pick.