Posts Tagged ‘vegetable gardening’

Mr Fothergill’s Seed Store Staff and Product Development Manager Pim win top marrow and tomato competitions

October 8th, 2015 | News, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

The Seed Store Staff with their marrows

Green-fingered staff at Mr Fothergill’s have been competing against each other this summer (2015) to see who could grow the heaviest  Fatboy F1 marrow and heaviest Costoluto fiorentino tomato. The company’s Rachel Cole reports competition was fierce, but has announced the winners following the late-September weigh-in. Warehousemen Alan Kent and Colin Phillips, calling themselves the Seed Store Mafia, grew the heaviest marrow at 7.6kg, while new product development co-ordinator Pim Dickson was the top tomato grower with a specimen weighing 339gm.

In both categories seed was sown by the trials team before contestants picked three marrow plants and one tomato plant. ItPim's winning tomato was then up to each team or individual to tend their plants, feeding them with whatever they felt would give good results. Daily visits to their plants brought out the competitive streak in all the growers.

“We had people singing and reading to their plants to encourage them to grow. Even when it was clear who would win the marrow competition, there was still great rivalry for second and third places”, comments Rachel. “It was just a bit of fun, but many of our team are keen vegetable gardeners and rose to the challenge!”

What to do in the garden in April

March 31st, 2015 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

As we wave goodbye to March and welcome in April we can finally start to see the growing year unfold rapidly ahead of us after patiently waiting for the busiest time of the year in the garden.  So without further ado, here is what you must do!

 

Jobs in the flower garden in April

Zinnias from Mr Fothergill'sIf you have not already done so, make sowings of seed of annual bedding and container plants.  We covered the subject last month, but there is still time for flowers such as French and African marigolds, dahlias, zinnias and petunias.  Sow these now and you will have a riot of colour in your borders and patio pots from June right through to the autumn.

Petunias from Mr Fothergill'sAs the soil warms up (well, we hope it will!) and begins to dry out a little, direct sowings of seed of hardy annuals can be made in their flowering positions.  This is just about the easiest way to have some splashes of colour this summer, as most will start to bloom just a few weeks after sowing.  Virginian and night scented stock are about the fastest of all hardy annuals to burst into flower, so are great subjects to sow with children, who will not want to wait long to see the results of their work.
There are plenty of easy-to-grow hardy annuals in our range, including cornflower, godetia, nasturtium, linaria, candytuft and nigella (love-in-a-mist).  If you are unsure of which to grow, sow our Mixed Annuals or Mixed Californian Wildflowers.  Remember sweet peas are also hardy annuals, so they too can be sown direct this month, requiring only the same support as you would use for runner beans.  When they start blooming, keep cutting the flowers to encourage more to be produced.

mixed annuals

Towards the end of the month summer-flowering bulbs, tubers and corms can also be planted in borders where you want them to flower.  Dahlias and gladioli are some of our favourites, but cannas also look stunning and bring a really tropical touch to any garden.

As spring-flowering bulbs’ flowers fade, remove the dead heads, but let the foliage die back and turn yellow to allow energy to pass back into the bulbs underground.

Roses will benefit from feeding with a good quality general fertiliser or one formulated specially for them to give them a boost ahead of flowering.  The same goes for perennials in your borders.  The winter rains will have depleted nutrients in the soil, particularly on light, free-draining land.

Prune spring-flowering shrubs such as Ribes (flowering currant) and Forsythia when they have finished  flowering.  If you have Cornus (dogwood) it usually needs cutting back, as the colourful winter stems are produced only on young growth.  Cornus alba and sericea can both be cut back hard to within a few inches of the ground, while Cornus sanguinea is not as vigorous as those, so only needs to be cut back by a half to two thirds of its present growth.

Now is a good time to divide and replant hostas.  Lift plants carefully with a spade and divide up the clump with an old serrated knife, making sure each section has both fibrous and fleshy roots.  Replant, taking care not to do so too deeply.  The crown of the plant should be just at ground level.  Water the new plants in well and remember to watch out for slugs, which are particularly fond of hostas.

 

Jobs in the vegetable garden in April

April is the best month to plant maincrop potatoes.  Where space permits, they should be planted 16-18in apart with about 24in between rows.  Earth up the foliage as it develops to prevent damage from late frosts, which will cut back their development.  Many of our customers now grow potatoes in pots, and good crops can be achieved with this method.  Use a 12-15 litre pot for each tuber.  Add compost to a quarter the depth of the pot, plant one tuber, cover it to  about half way with more compost.  Keep the port watered and keep adding more compost as the foliage shows through until the compost is almost to the top of the pot.  The potatoes you produce in pots will usually be of the highest quality and blemish-free.

Savoy cabbage from Mr FothergillsThis is perhaps the busiest month of the year for sowing vegetable seed direct in the garden or on the allotment.  There is a huge range which can be sown during April, but do be guided by the prevailing weather and soil conditions.  If your soil remains cold and very wet, delay sowing until conditions become more favourable  Seed sown in cold, wet soil will often rot before it has a chance to germinate, while a delayed sowing will produce young plants which soon make up for lost time.  If you really cannot wait to sow, try broad beans as they can withstand poor conditions better than most other vegetable seeds.

Herb seed such as coriander, chervil, parsley and dill can also be sown direct in the garden.  If you grow coriander specially for adding to Asian dishes, do try Cilantro, which produces masses of large leaves and is slow to run to seed, which can sometimes be a problem with coriander.  While most of us grow the curly-leaved parsley, the Italian flat-leaf type, such as our organically-grown Giant of Italy, has a stronger flavour and is great added to soups and to many other dishes.  Basil is hugely popular in the UK, but it is tender, so best to sow indoors in pots at present before transplanting outdoors in a few weeks time.

CorianderAutumn- and winter-cropping brassicas such as savoy cabbage, Brussels sprouts and curly kale can be sown either in a seed bed in the garden or in trays of compost in the greenhouse or cold frame.  This should produce plenty of young plants for setting out in summer.

Later in the month you may wish to make an indoor sowing of French and runner beans, although it is far too early to sow these direct because they too are frost-tender.  Sow the seed individually in small pots of compost and leave them in an unheated greenhouse.  When frosts are forecast, cover the seedlings with horticultural fleece or a layer or two of newspaper.  Harden the young plants off gradually before planting out to their cropping positions at the end of May.

Monte cristo beanIf you have never grown climbing (as opposed to runner) beans before, please take a look at Climbing Bean Monte Cristo.  As easy to grow as ‘runners’, it is a very heavy cropper, producing stringless, pencil-podded beans, which are fleshy and full of flavour.  The plants have the advantage of resistance to most common diseases, so remain healthy.  Well worth growing, in our opinion!

There is still time to plant onion sets, but it is best done sooner rather than later.  Most varieties can be planted about 4in apart, allowing about 9-12in between rows.  Just leave the very tip of each set visible above the soil and keep a look-out for birds pulling them out before have a chance to grow.

 

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Buy British runner beans for higher yields and better flavour

February 9th, 2015 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

img1Despite their origins in tropical America and their half-hardiness in the UK, few vegetables are more popular with British gardeners and family cooks than runner beans. Many favourite old varieties such as Scarlet Emperor and Enorma have been widely grown for many decades. However, Mr Fothergill’s is keen to extol the advantages of modern, British-bred varieties, which are easier to grow, far more reliable, higher yielding and of superior flavour to their predecessors.

Leading the way is the white-flowered cultivar Moonlight that has been developed to overcome the img2problems associated with flower ‘set’. Using only traditional plant breeding techniques, a cross was made between runner beans and the related French bean. French beans naturally self-set and are nowhere near as fussy as runners about temperature and moisture.  The resulting cross was carefully selected and refined for around eight years in Britain to develop this new strain, which has all the looks and flavour of a runner bean, but none of the growing problems.

As a result of its breeding,  Moonlight is virtually self-setting, so low bee activity on cold days is not a problem. It is also much more tolerant of hot, dry conditions than traditional varieties, ensuring bumper crops whatever the British summer.  The beans have a lovely crisp texture and also freeze better than traditional cultivars, which is just as well given its high yields.  An added bonus with Moonlight is the pods are far less likely to turn ‘stringy’ than traditional types.

The company has a wide offering of British-bred runner beans, all of which are bred to thrive in our uncertain and unpredictable summers.  Seed can be sown under cover to give an early start or direct in the plants’ cropping positions.  Traditional ‘scarlet runners’ with red flowers include the ultra-early Red Rum, sweet-flavoured Aintree, both of which hold an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society, and the small-podded, but heavy cropping MinnowRunner Bean St George is well named, as it has red and white bicoloured flowers which form thick fleshy pods which are borne in clusters.

Runner bean plants can also be decorative, and none more so than pink flowered Celebration and Riley, both of which are AGM recipients. Celebration has long, fleshy, succulent pods, while Riley is especially tasty and crops through a long season.

With all this choice and the promise of bumper crops, there’s no reason not to buy British for your next batch of runner beans.

Take the guesswork out of gardening with the Mr Fothergill’s Vegetable Planting Planner App

January 5th, 2015 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

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Starting a vegetable plot or allotment for the first time can be a daunting prospect, especially for those unable to draw on the expertise of parents or grandparents, but Mr Fothergill’s has made life easier with the launch of its new Vegetable Planting Guide app to help gardeners discover the best time to sow seeds in their local area.  This easy-to-use iPhone® app brings grow-your-own into the 21st century by predicting the best times for sowing each type of seed in any part of the UK.  Mr Fothergill’s is the first UK seed company to offer this service on the iPhone.

img4In the past gardeners have had to rely on basic charts which give approximate sowing times to accommodate the local weather conditions across the country. Such generalised information can result in seeds being sown too early or too late, leading to disappointment when crops may fail to germinate or do not mature.

Mr Fothergill’s Vegetable Planting Guide app removes the uncertainty by using a database of more than 250 weather stations across the UK and Ireland to look up weather data for any specified location. The app then calculates the best sowing dates for each crop. An easy-to-use calendar is generated, showing when to sow seed under cover or plant out in an area, together with the likely harvest period.

Gardeners can customise the app to show a list of favourite crops or choose from a list of crops for current sowing. For each vegetable type, detailed growing information is included such as the correct spacing, soil and water requirements, advice on how best to grow the plant from seed, through to harvest and troubleshooting tips.

The full range of Mr Fothergill’s vegetable seed varieties can be browsed, complete with detailed descriptions and photographs, enabling the gardener to select the best type of each vegetable to grow. Varieties can be added to a personal ‘shopping list’, making it easy to put together a seed order. Once completed, the app can send the list to Mr Fothergill’s website for speedy ordering.

The Vegetable Planting Guide app complements our online Garden and Allotment Planner for PC or Mac available with a 30 day free trial, then only £15 per year or £25 for 2 years. The Garden and Allotment Planner makes it simple to plan out a garden or allotment, calculating the number of plants that can be grown in the space available and sending planting reminders by email.

What to do in the garden in January

December 30th, 2014 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

So here we are once again at the start of another year in the garden and on the allotment.  Christmas indulgence and relaxation all over for another year, New Year’s resolutions made – and some already broken – and raring to get going whatever the weather.

It may be winter, but there is no better time to start looking forward to the year in the garden – deciding what to grow, reflecting on the past season’s successes and, perhaps, an occasional failure.  The spring edition of our seed, plant and bulb catalogue has been published, full of fascinating new varieties and a wealth of trusted favourites to get you in the mood for gardening in 2015.  We hope you will make a New Year’s resolution to grow one or two varieties which you have not grown before.

Many gardeners traditionally spend the time between Christmas and New Year browsing our seed catalogue or looking through our selection online, dreaming about the frost-free spring and summer of unbroken sunshine, with rain falling only in the hours of darkness from May to October, that is sure to be in store for us all again this year.  Well, we did say ‘dreaming’, but now back to reality.  Of course we would say this, but it really does pay to place your seed order as soon as possible this month, as some varieties inevitably sell out quickly.  If you want certain varieties or like the sound of new ones in our listing, it pays to order now.

Whatever you grow in your garden in 2015, may we wish you a successful season of beautiful flowers and delicious fruit and vegetables.

Jobs in the flower garden in January

Sweet Pea selectionIf you made an autumn sowing of sweet pea seed, it is time to pinch back the shoots of the seedlings to just two or three pairs of leaves.  This will encourage more compact, bushy growth and prevent your plants getting too tall too quickly.

If you did not sow in autumn, make up for lost time by making a sowing during January.  Start the seeds off in a little warmth and when seedlings have emerged they can be transferred to an unheated greenhouse, where they will benefit form a some fleece protection when frosty nights threaten.

Remember there is an even bigger incentive to grow these beautiful annuals in 2015.  We shall be running our third annual national sweet pea competition again at Capel Manor College, north London, on Saturday, 18 July.   It is open solely to ‘ordinary’ gardeners, plus classes for schools and individual youngsters, and with the date a fortnight later than in earlier years, there is no reason not to enter.  There are big money prizes up for grabs, so growing sweet peas can be rewarding in more ways than one!  If you cannot make it to Capel Manor, we have devised a sure-fire method of making sure blooms reach us safely by post – all it takes is a two-litre soft drink bottle!  Full details of how to do it are on our website.

If you intend using your greenhouse for producing a range of half-hardy bedding plants this spring for your summer display, now is the ideal time to wash the panes to maximise sunlight, and to give the inside and the outside a good wash-down with a solution of Jeyes Fluid or similar to ensure it is clean and disease-free for the season ahead.  It may be a cold job, but think how virtuous you will feel when the work is done!

Zinnia Lilac roseMay we draw your attention to some of the new half-hardy annuals we have launched for 2015 and which we feel are well worth consideration?

Zinnia Lilac Rose pictured to the left here is an exclusive introduction, which will look really good in beds and patio containers.  Its beautifully coloured blooms are very long-lasting.

Look out too for our brand new zinnias Zinderella Lilac and Zinderella Peach.  These have very unusual, double, scabious-like flowers which will make a real conversation piece in your garden.  We are sure your visitors will admire them, but will have to ask you what they are!

Gazania New Day Rose Stripe F1Other brand new flowers for this year include the large flowered aster Balloon Mixed (expect blooms up to 6in across!), Gazania New Day Rose Stripe F1, the white background and rich stripe of which present a stunning contrast in beds, borders and terrace pots – this one is a real head-turner.  Order seed of all these now ready for sowing from February onwards.

Cornus (dogwood) can be planted this month to provide you with dramatically coloured stems in winters to come.  They really seem to set the garden alight at the darkest time of year, and require very little maintenance to ensure a good display for several years.  If you appreciate some winter fragrance to cheer up the garden, look out for Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet), Viburnum x bodnantense or winter-flowering Lonicera (honeysuckle).

Privet is still favourite for hedging, but do not forget deciduous native subjects such as hornbeam, hawthorn, beech and blackthorn if you prefer a more natural look and one which will be appreciated by an abundance of wildlife all through the year.  All these can be planted during January when soil conditions allow.

 

Jobs in the vegetable garden in January

Burpees Short & SweetWe often say it at this time of year, but if you have not completed your winter digging of the vegetable plot, aim to have it complete by the end of the month, so frosts and rain can work on it in the weeks ahead to break down clods.  By the middle of March it should be ready to be prepared for the first sowings of the spring – often parsnip, beetroot, peas and carrots.

On the subject of carrots, we have two new varieties – one exclusive and one brand new – for you to try in 2015.  Burpees Short & Sweet (pictured left here) is to exclusive to Mr Fothergill’s.  Bred with heavy or poor soils in mind, this short-rooted type is also good for growing in containers.  Sweet, crisp and high in sugars, we strongly recommend Short & Sweet.  By the way, the name ‘Burpees’ refers to its breeder, not to any side-effects it may have!

Red Samurai F1Also brand new is our red-skinned Red Samurai F1, which has long, tapering roots.  Inside the flesh is pink and it holds its colour well when cooked.

Seed of slower growing greenhouse crops such as aubergine and peppers, both sweet and hot types, can be sown during January.  Sow seed in either a heated propagator or a warm kitchen windowsill.  Emergence can often be rapid in a propagator, so take a daily look and reduce the heat as seedlings start to show, as this will help to prevent them becoming drawn up and ‘leggy’.  There are scores of pepper (capsicum) varieties from which to choose, but we believe we offer one of the finest and carefully selected ranges.

Tomato 'Orange Slice'January is not too soon to make a sowing of tomato seed, but only if you are intending to grow the plants to maturity in a greenhouse.  The seed of plants destined to be grown outdoors should not be sown until March at the earliest.  Our exclusive new beefsteak variety Orange Slice F1 can be grown either indoors or outdoors.  Its fleshy fruits can weigh 8oz each and they have a superb flavour.  If you love ‘beef’ tomatoes, we are sure you will enjoy Orange Slice F1

If you enjoy Brussels sprouts after Christmas rather than before, our brand new Braemar F1 is for you.  The rather tall plants produce their crop of medium-sized, bright green buttons from January onwards, often lasting until early April.  The solid sprouts hold well on the stem and have a great flavour.

Braemar f1 brussels We often wonder why the Brussels sprout is such a maligned vegetable.  In our book, it is up there with the best of them.  True we would not want them cooked until they are grey and sloppy, and nor do we care for them too al dente, but boiled or steamed just right and nothing beats them – and we do not need chestnuts, pancetta or flaked almonds added to make them more palatable!  Seed of Braemar F1 can be sown from February onwards.

You will also see we are offering a small range of vegetable seed of varieties chosen with the exhibitor in mind.   Time and time again the winning exhibits at horticultural shows come from a small group of tried and trusted varieties, which give growers a head start.  So if you fancy having some fun by growing a few varieties with the local summer or autumn show in mind, take a look at our range.  Not only will the varieties look good on the showbench they are also great in the kitchen, so even if you do not win prizes you will still have a delicious crop to enjoy!

 

Jobs in the fruit garden in January

strawberry long seasonIt is hard to believe that such a sweet taste of summer is best planted out in the depths of winter, and so January is a good time to establish or renew a strawberry bed.  When planning a strawberry bed try to incorporate a few varieties that will crop across the whole season to give you that most precious of crops for most of the summer.

If you are establishing a bed for the first time, then try our Strawberry Long Season Collection with a mix of varieties to keep your kitchen supplied long term – the varieties included are Mae which is an extra-early cropping from early June; Elegance for picking from late-June to late July; and Malwina which will provide fruit until August.

If you already have a bed that produces fruits, but that has gaps, then plant according to the part of the season where you are not getting fruit.

Early season:

  • Strawberry Romina is newly introduced for 2015 and is a June bearer with a sweet, high sugar content flavour.
  • Strawberry Christine has good disease resistance and produces fruits from early June

strawberry mara de boisMain Season:

Late season/Everbearing varieties:

If you do not have a garden in which to plant strawberries, they will also crop well in window boxes, hanging baskets and other containers – so just about anyone can grow their own home-produced strawberries this summer.