Posts Tagged ‘vegetable gardening’

Facts and figures on Onions and Shallots

February 1st, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Onions from Mr Fothergill'sOnion red baronShallot sets

Onions and shallots are both botanically Allium cepa, with onions, which produce a single bulb, belonging to the Cepa Group and shallots, with their clusters of bulbs, part of the Aggregatum Group. Egyptian and tree onions belong to a third Proliferum Group.

No one is certain where onions originated, but central Asia, Persia (Iran) and Pakistan have all been suggested. Nor are we certain for how long onions have been cultivated, but we believe it to be around 5,000 years. Thanks to their concentric layers of flesh or circles within circles, they represented eternity to the Ancient Egyptians and were even buried with the Pharaohs. Traces of onions have been found in some Bronze Age settlements.

Athletes in Ancient Greece ate plenty of onions in the belief they would ‘lighten the balance’ of their blood. Roman gladiators rubbed themselves down with onions to firm up their muscles. Alexander the Great fed his army onions because he thought that strong food produced strong men. Another famous general, Ulysses S Grant, sent a telegram to the War Department in an onion shortage during the American Civil War saying “I will not move my army without onions”. He soon received his bulbs.

The Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed onions both as a diuretic and wound-healer. During the Middle Ages onions were used to treat snakebites, headaches and hair loss. At this period the onion was a staple of the European diet. Christopher Columbus took it with him to America, but wild onions were already growing there and being eaten by the native North American Indians. When the Pilgrim Fathers arrived more than a century later, onions were one of the first crops they grew on the land they cleared.

Nowadays around 9,000,000 acres of onions are grown worldwide annually. China and India are the two main producers, with the USA a long way back in third place. In the UK just 370 acres are devoted to the commercial production of shallots, with most of these in the eastern counties of Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Bedfordshire. While shallots are easier to grow, quicker to mature and store better than onions, they are nevertheless only a minor crop in comparison.

The Ancient Greeks gave shallots their name, when their traders discovered them in the Palestinian port of Ashkalon and named them after the city. Shallots found their way to Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries when crusaders brought them back from the Middle East.

Shallots are an integral part of many classic French dishes, including Boeuf Bourguignon. The French grey shallot or griselle is considered by some to be the ‘true’ shallot, and is famed for it5s intense, unique flavour.

Still widely grown by gardeners today, Bedfordshire Champion was introduced in 1885 and Ailsa Craig in 1899. Onions and shallots do best in an open, sunny position and in fairly rich, well drained soils. Acid soils should be limed before onions are grown in them. The application of well-rotted manure or compost to the soil in autumn is ideal for spring-sown or planted onions; onion seed should not be sown on freshly manured soil.


To browse all the onions, shallots and garlic we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the onion section of our website

Royal Horticultural Society


This article was first published on the RHS website January 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing onions and shallots successfully.

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.




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


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.