Interview with a Giant Pumpkin Maker

The brothers with their giant pumpkin

Giant pumpkins are the order of the day!

Recently, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Ian Paton about his success at growing record-winning pumpkins. Last year Ian and his twin brother Stuart broke the UK record for the heaviest pumpkin grown indoors, which weighed in at a whopping 2252lbs (160.9 stone, or 1,021kg)! This year they are hoping to do even better.

The process started back in April when a dozen specially selected seeds were planted, around the time of Thompson & Morgan’s nominated National Pumpkin Sowing Day. The best 6 plants were then selected and whisked away to the ‘PRD’ (Pumpkin Research & Development) where they start their journey to potential enormity.

Careful cultivation

growing a giant pumpkin

Ian’s growing a giant!

Each plant is trimmed and trained in much the same way you would expect a tomato plant to be grown initially, except that every leaf nodule is placed over a pot of compost, and encouraged to produce a new root to help feed the plant.

Pollination takes place in June. The fruit is set and the race begins in earnest. Each plant, sporting 900 plus leaves, each with its own root, starts to feed the newly formed pumpkin.

Staurt says:

“There are one hundred and ten days in the growing season, so everything has to be perfect for the pumpkin”

At the peak of the growing period, 100 gallons of water go into the plant and the pumpkin puts on 58lbs in weight PER DAY – that’s the equivalent of a bag of cement each day!

*Fun Fact – The Paton brothers’ first pumpkin, grown when they were 12 years old, weighed 57lbs!*

As the pumpkin growing season slows down, its water intake reduces by about a quarter. However, at this vital stage it is essential that the plant NEVER dries out. A dry pumpkin can split when watered – resulting in disaster and tears!

Each pumpkin is grown on a large bed of sand, which allows the pumpkin to slide easily as it grows. A bow wave appears around each giant fruit as it pushes sand ahead of it, making it look like it’s ‘surfing’ in very slow motion!

Weighing in

pumpkin weigh in

The all-important weigh-in

As the weigh-in day approaches, Ian and Stuart send pumpkins abroad to take part in the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth. Recently a pumpkin weighing an estimated 1950lb was sent to Holland; another, at approximately 2000lbs, is en route to France. The biggest however, is kept for the local weigh-in, held in Hampshire!

Transporting these giant fruit is no easy task, though, and comes with risks. As Stuart told me:

“We were devastated that the pumpkin split on its journey to Holland, classing it as ‘damaged’ ”

The Paton brothers have high hopes for this year’s contender. It was grown from a seed from the world record giant pumpkin, grown by Mathias Willemijns last year and weighing in at 2624.6lbs. The pumpkin that Ian and Stuart are growing currently has some impressive stats, measuring an incredible 486 inches in circumference – that’s about the same as the length of a double decker bus – and is only 9 inches short of its record breaking pumpkin parent! Although Ian remains modest about the final weight, he feels confident that it may well beat their personal best – so another record breaker perhaps!

The giant pumpkin weigh-in is on Saturday 14th October at the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival, at the Royal Victoria Country Park in Southampton.

Do you want to try to grow a prize-winning pumpkin? Check out our giant pumpkin guide here, and try your hand with some Wallace’s Whoppers If you’ve already got yours going, share some of your pictures on our Facebook page – we love to see what you grow.

Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone. Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

National Allotment Week

National Allotment Week

So this week is National Allotment week, it brings back happy memories of my first allotment that we decided would be a wonderful idea ( myself and my partner at the time), we would be self sufficient in vegetables and it would be such fun to do!

Oh my goodness…..

We were really lucky as some local allotments out where I live in (very) rural Suffolk hadn’t been used for years and so were quickly available. In fact, we were told we could have two! So I quickly drove to see the local chap who ran the allotments and handed over my £10 for the year for both ( I know, how cheap was that!)  and we were on our way.

National Allotment week

Humming the tune to “The Good Life” we went down, armed with spades, hoes and various tools that we thought we’d need, we had seen the allotments from the footpath but never actually set foot on them until now. It turned out that a more suitable variety of tools would have been dynamite, a JCB and a flame thrower! Mare’s tail was everywhere, bindweed, fat hen towering over our heads, nettles galore and brambles that were actually deliberately trying to trip us at every opportunity. However – my partner and I were determined to make a start, and we did just that, slashing digging raking all commenced in earnest!  Followed by bonfires and flasks of tea, rolls, oh, and blisters, hot baths and plasters too.

It was incredibly worth it though, after clearing the worst, we hired a huge tiller and we turned over the whole site, raked and removed root clumps, tilled again and repeated over and over for an entire weekend until we actually had a useable area.

We couldn’t wait to plant all sorts, starting with onion sets brassicas, lots of spuds and even butternut squashes, peas, beans and a pumpkin that we’d been growing in the greenhouse back at home.

I won’t say it was easy, but my goodness it was rewarding, being able to go down to the allotment after work, a flask of tea and some snacks and do some gardening was good for the soul, being able to sit and look over the river in the distance after doing a couple of hours’ weeding felt like an accomplishment and eating the fruits of our labours (literally) was the best feeling in the world. That was usually after giving away loads of fresh veg to our neighbours too! Who knew that 15 years later, I’d be lucky enough to work at Thompson & Morgan and be reminded today of those amazing days.

What were your first experiences of allotmenteering ? I’d love to hear them, feel free to share in the comments below.

All the best

Graham

Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone. Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Dance, Dance, Dance!

Many people at work here at T&M know that I am an avid dancer, I’ve even encouraged a few others from my office to come along and try Ceroc (the dance I love to do) and they’ve enjoyed it too!
This got me thinking recently, as I start to plan out my garden pots for this year; why not have a section dedicated to dance, after all, if I can combine my two passions, dancing and gardening then surely I’ve got the best of both worlds?

Telegraph plant

Googling “Dancing Plants” will firstly come up with Desmondium gyrans, which is known as the “dancing plant” or “telegraph plant”. This unusual botanical wonder actually has leaves which move about in search of the best source of daylight in the morning, but will also move quite visibly when played music too! So it is a must on my list, although it’s a tender annual so will probably live with me indoors and dance along when I play my music.

amaryllis dancing queenSo to more practical varieties that I can plant outside in my theme. Just typing in the word “dance” on the T&M website gave me some great choices. Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’, I’ve grown before outside in the summer, packing half a dozen bulbs into a large pot, the stems didn’t grow quite as tall as I’d have liked, but what an impressive show they were! And, as long as you keep them away from the frosts, give them a good feed and look after them, they’ll come back again, in a similar way that crinum will.

loropetalum
I must admit that Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ has really caught my eye, early flowering , so I’ll have missed it this year, but what stunning foliage too! I think keeping it in a large pot at the back is going to provide me with the perfect backdrop for my other plants. I’ll keep a Clematis ‘Dancing Smile’ in a tower pot next to it which will sort out the height I’m going to need and I’ll still get some nice blooms from the clematis too!

bidens, trollius, red hot poker

I do like bright colours in my garden, which is why I think at the front of my dancing themed display I’m going to have Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ and also Trollius ‘Dancing Flame’, these will also fit in nicely with my ideas as one of the main colours in the ceroc logo is orange too, so it’s win, win! Red Hot Poker ‘Fire Dance’ is also a contender too, as the leaves will hang around all year, I’ll have to see how it copes with being in a large pot, I’m sure it’ll be fine!

dance statueThere are also a couple of very nice dance based sculptures that we sell, I’m loving the “ballroom grace” one, maybe I’ll hint for it as a birthday present!

So it looks like this year – in the words of a famous TV show – I’ll “Keep Dancing”

Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone. Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

Cleaning up garden tools for the winter

Cleaning Garden tools for winter

    garden tools needing a vlean

    A good garden tool isn’t just for Christmas ….

    A cliché, but true. Proper tool maintainance, from the humble trowel to the mighty cultivator, will extend their useful life considerably. Regular cleaning, oiling, sharpening and generally looking after them will also make your life a lot easier. Some tools may only need an annual service whilst others will benefit from being cleaned after each use.

    I have to admit that I’m no angel all the time when it comes to this, and I’m sure there have been times when we’ve all left a pair of secateurs outside or put dirty spades and forks away in the shed. When was the last time you sharpened your shears properly and gave your Dutch hoe some TLC?

    As it’s now that time of year when a lot of the garden has been put to bed and tools are away for the winter. The lawn mower has gone into hibernation in the shed or garage like a bear settling down for the winter and even the hedge cutter can find a roost and be hung up until it’s needed again.
    But before all that happens, I need to be kind to my tools so that I can use them when I need to come spring!

    First of all, anything with a blade I will give a good clean. I’ll use a strong detergent, water as hot as I can bear a scrubbing brush and one of those sponges with a scourer on one side. It’s so easy to let a build up of rubbish, gunk, sap etc accumulate, especially on secateurs and loppers; scrape off the worst of it using another blade (I use the knife on my trusty Multitool) and then give them a good scrub. Once they’re all clean and dried, sharpen them using a file or whetstone if you have one, they’re cheap to buy anyway and well worth getting one. You’ll get a much keener edge on the blade, which will make pruning later on much easier and you’ll also get a cleaner cut, which will reduce the chances of disease getting in! One I’ve sharpened the blade, checked it and put a plaster on my thumb where I found out it was VERY sharp, I put a drop of oil on the hinge and any other parts that move and I also then spray the blades with WD40.

    digging spade, raking leaves, trowel and fork

    Next on my list are the hand tools; the trowels, spades, rakes and hoes etc. These are usually the ones that take the hardest beating each year, and so also end up looking the worst of all.
    A good scrape of the worst of the built up dirt followed by a wire brush to really give them a thorough clean and then the detergent and scourer again to finish them off. Once the metal parts have all dried I wipe them over with an oily rag or again a light spray with WD40

    I have heard a tip from a friend who has a bucket of sharp sand in his shed, which has been mixed with motor oil, when he comes in with used tools, he plunges them in and out of the bucket, the sand helps to clean the tools and the oil preserves against rust. I haven’t tried this I admit, it sounds like a good idea, but knowing me, I’d stub my toe on the bucket or kick it over!

    Although much rarer these days, some of my tools have wooden handles, these handle can dry out and potentially split, or become weak and break under strain. A clean, light sanding and then a liberal dose of teak oil keeps the wood in good condition and also helps to keep it more flexible too.

    I know a lot of people recommend and use linseed oil on their gardening tools, to preserve blades, prevent rust and on wooden handles etc. I am perhaps overly cautious though and don’t really want to have anything that could potentially burst into flames if I forget to do something like clear up properly. I’ll stick with WD40 and teak oil, thank you very much!

    I’m not a mechanic by any means but I do carry out a few simpler tasks on any garden machinery I own. For major things I always use a professional as it’s just not worth doing a “bodge” job on any piece of machinery that could go wrong and be expensive to replace!

    Cleaning is probably the most important part, especially on your lawn mower, the build up inside the deck of old grass, mud, leaves and goodness knows what else can lead to rust holes on a metal deck, or an inefficient grass collection, the blades catching in internal debris can be harmful too.

    cleaning lawn mower

    If you have a petrol mower, tip it back in the direction recommended by the manufacturer, if you don’t then trust me, the oil can go everywhere, and this can REALLY mess things up later on. I usually use an old paint scraper to get rid of the worst, then it’s back to brushes and hot soapy water to give it a thorough scrub. Whilst you’re waiting for it to dry off, take the blade off if you can (wearing gloves of course) and test the cutting edges. Sharpen using a file, balance it and put it back. If in doubt, take it somewhere that can sharpen mower blades and balance them properly. If a rotary mower blade isn’t balanced then the vibrations it will cause when in use will seriously harm the machine, not to mention it being absolutely awful to use too!

    Check the oil regularly of course, and clean out air filters, or replace them, this goes for all petrol machinery throughout the year. It’s a similar routine for tillers and any other large, driven machinery. As a matter of course, before I start any machine, I always check the spark plug lead is intact and that it’s firmly seated onto the plug itself, this is from past experience and prevents some head scratching as to why the machine won’t start!

    The internal workings of some of my electrical equipment I honestly leave well alone. I’m nowhere near qualified to take my hedge trimmer apart, so I don’t. I really good clean and brush down, Good old WD40 on all the moving parts and check all the wires and plugs for damage is about all I can do.
    Obviously make sure your storage area is clean and dry too, no point cleaning everything up & putting it away only to find the more rust has accumulated over the winter!

    These are definitely “chores” every year, but I’ve found that it’s well worth it, keep your favourite tools clean and tidy and you’ll have as much pride in them as you will your garden!

    Obviously more hints and tips are more than welcome from everyone!

    Graham Ward
    I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone. Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

“Kalettes” the Ghosts of Christmas past?

Are “Kalettes” the Ghosts of Christmas past that are now making a welcome return?


Not that we at Thompson & Morgan are keen to say “I told you so”, but the recent resurgence of Kale as a superfood and now the amazing new development of “kalettes” is somewhat old news to us.

Back in 2009 we offered Brassica ‘Petit Posy Mix’ to our customers and said:

“Petit Posy™ is similar in appearance to both Brussels sprouts and kale but the flavour and nutritional content is very similar to spring greens – perfect for fussy eaters who don’t enjoy sprouts!
The loose buttons are easy to pick off the stems and are perfect for adding to stir fries, serving steamed or microwaved and make very nutritious winter greens”

kalettes brassica petit posy mix

Also known as “kale sprouts” or even “flower sprouts” these easy to grow brassicas could well be an alternative to brussels sprouts during the festive season, they could also supplement winter veg over the whole of the season due to their very long cropping season. Extremely hardy ‘Petit Posy’ will stand throughout the winter to ensure you have access to tasty fresh vegetables whenever you need them that have a milder taste than traditional Brussels and so may well appeal more to younger members of the family too.

Available to buy from seed with 20 seeds per pack, the price has barely changed in nearly 7 years too, making our very own “kalettes” superb value for money!

Graham Ward
I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember, my first earliest memory being planting seeds in my Grandfather’s prestige flower bed and having a prize lettuce growing there, which he proudly left to show everyone. Since then, gaining knowledge and experience from both my Grandfather and my Father, I’ve continued to garden, both as a hobby and later on as a professional gardener and landscaper for 12 years. I love all aspects of it, from the design and build, to the planting out of summer borders with plants you’ve either grown from seed or raised from plugs. Unusual varieties always catch my eye and I’m keen to try growing them, even if sometimes it means learning from my mistakes.

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