Potatoes – First earlies are great for beginners?

Potatoes are one of the easiest things to grow when you get your first plot of land for cropping. The early potatoes grow fairly quickly, in approximately 10 weeks. Check our Potato Selector Guide to find out which variety is the best one for you, and don’t forget it depends on the time of year you are growing them too. You also need to decide if you want to grow in bags, or in the ground. Potato ‘Rocket’ is a good first early. It has good all round disease resistance and can be grown in bags or in the ground.

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Potato growing kit & T&M potash fertiliser

Once you have decided where you are planting your potatoes, you need to prepare the ground or get the bags and compost, you can buy a Patio Potato Growing Kit which has all you will need for this choice.  For comprehensive instruction on growing potatoes in bags, see our guide. If you want to see the difference between growing in the ground or bags then read Sue’s (very unscientific) potato trials.

Potato 'Rocket' grown & cooked

Potato ‘Rocket’ grown & cooked

When growing in the ground potatoes are not too fussy on soil type. An acidic soil is preferable but not essential; add sulphur to the tops of the potato ridge if the soil is alkaline. This will deter skin blemishes like Common Scab that is a problem in alkaline conditions. You can get a kit to tell you the type of soil you have. Choose an open position in full sun on fertile, well drained soil. Avoid soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession, as this will increase the risk of disease. Begin preparing the planting site well in advance. A couple of months before planting is ideal to allow the soil to settle. Remove all weeds and dig the site thoroughly and deeply, lifting out any large stones, and incorporating plenty of well rotted organic matter like leaf mould and high potash fertiliser.

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

Ph tester kit & potato growing bags

When your potatoes arrive you will need to ‘chit’ them. This is essentially just growing shoots out of the tubers prior to planting. The benefit is they will produce faster growth and heavier crops. Do it as soon as you get them. Remove packaging; lay them out in a cool bright, frost-free position. Pop them in egg boxes or seed trays; you will notice that the immature shoots are all at one end (called the rose end). Place the potatoes with this end facing upwards. By the time that you are ready to plant them, they will have produced shoots up to 25mm (1″) in length.
Remember seed potatoes (tubers) can be cut if they have shoots at both ends, this will make 2 tubers, so you will get more potatoes from your crop.
Plant your first earlies in February; you will need to dig a trench to a depth of about 10cm (4″) and place the seed potatoes into the trench with the rose end facing upwards. Fill the trench with soil to cover the potatoes. The potash fertiliser purchased at the beginning of the year, which you added to the ground, is fine to put over the top of the trench.

Potato sacks - paper & hessian

Potato sacks – paper & hessian

It is important to ‘earth up’ potato crops as the shoots emerge above ground, to protect them from frosts which blacken the shoots and delays production. Simply draw some soil over the top of the shoots to cover them again. first early crops need plenty of water during prolonged dry weather especially when tubers are starting to form. When the stems reach a height of 23cm (9″) above ground they should be earthed up again to prevent tubers near to the soil surface from turning green.

Plannting and lifting guide times

Plannting and lifting guide times

Start to harvest first earlies as ‘new potatoes;’ when the plants begin to flower, approximately 10 weeks from planting around late May. Tubers will generally become larger the longer their growing period. It is worth having a gentle dig below the surface to check the potato sizes – if they’re too small simply leave them for another week or so, otherwise lift them and enjoy!
After harvesting, leave the tubers on the soil surface for a few hours to dry and cure the skin. Once dry store them in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, cool but frost free place. Avoid storing in polythene bags as potatoes will ‘sweat’ and rot.
Then all you have to do is enjoy them!

Pack size info: 1kg equates to approximately 15 potato tubers of grade 35:55.

Wendie Alexander
Having just finished my English Degree at university I am excited to continue working for Thompson & Morgan where I have worked for more than 3 years. I am a keen gardener who wants to learn lots more!

Vacuuming The Pebbles

If you were circling North London on 16th July in a helicopter (and why wouldn’t you be?) you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon – gardeners of the Hampstead Garden Suburb on their hands and knees vacuuming their plots – the London Gardens’ Society judges were on their way! Now don’t get me wrong, we are not at loggerheads over this, indeed we have been referred to as a formidable bunch (also the Witches of Eastwick but I digress) and are at great pains to reassure each other that we are not competitive, but – well, if you believe that you will believe anything. One of us usually gets mentioned in dispatches so if you work on the theory of reflected glory then we are all winners.

Caroline Broome's Garden

Welcome to Caroline’s Garden

If anyone tells you that they don’t buy plants at the last minute for Garden Presentations then they are naughty little fibbers! A last minute decision to remove Cephalaria Gigantica, a real cuckoo in the nest, resulted in a gap with the potential for at least 5 new plants. Oh joy! And so the last plant went in @ 5pm the previous day. My revamped blue and lemon border was now complete. (Well nearly, I am sure I could heal another heuchera in if I tried).

So Judgement Day dawned bright and sunny, no strong winds, no clouds on the horizon. To deadhead or not to deadhead, that was the question: Was it better to let the judges see nature taking its course? Do recent plantings look too contrived? So anyway – I decided to deadhead – that was half the colour in the garden gone. Veronicastrum verginicum, filipendula, thalictrum, tansy, all firmly staked; hanging baskets watered, fed, deadheaded and watered again. Petunia Mandevilla is totally stunning, and so is the little unnamed trial bidens outshining its shady corner and much admired Petunia Cremissimo, a perfect match for the beach striped bench beneath. The judges came, photographed, made notes, exchanged anecdotes, and now we wait until October for the results (bit like A Levels!)

Petunia Mandevilla, Cucamelons and Fernery in Caroline's Garden

Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’, Cucamelon’s and Shady Fernery

And lo and behold, a couple of weeks later we were doing it all again for the 2nd NGS Open Day! 31st July was a new date for us, quite late on in the season, and with summer holidays in full swing we were expecting a quieter turnout than June. Oh how Fate laughs! It was so packed at one point that I had to queue to get into my own house! We had to put extra chairs and tables on the front drive, and almost ran out of cake (rioting in the streets). Amazing day: 160 visitors and over £1000 raised for charity. Plants of the day? Ricinus communis, grown from T&M seed, Veronicastrum Virginucum Fascination covered in bees, and towering Tree Lilies in containers either side of our front door, flooding the entrance to the garden with their fragrance. Talking point? Cucamelons – one of my visitors actually pointed out my first fruits to me as I hadn’t noticed it yet.

Perhaps the most notable moment of the day for me was when one of our visitors was looking at David’s story boards of our garden adventures, and, admiring a photo of Rachel De Thame and me taken at the Perennial Fund Raiser in winter 2015, asked if she was my daughter! (Hmmm, I am 58 and I think Rachel is in her early 50s).

Caroline and Rachel De Thame

Caroline and Rachel De Thame and Caroline in her garden

Having taken the following Monday off work I ventured down to our allotment for a change of pace. I must have harvested 3kgs of blackberries (blackberry fool, blackberry coulis, blackberry ice cream – yummy), Hurst Greenshaft peas, broad beans, Patti Pans ‘Summer Mix’ F1 hybrid and Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ (the latter two are fantastic in stir fries). Dozens of Tree Lilies are in flower, sweet peas keep coming and coming, and I was able to make up a small posy of dahlias & Buddleia ‘Buzz’® for my 104 year old friend Ethel, (whose brother survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, but that’s a whole other story.) Although Ethel had to give up gardening at the tender age of 100 because she could no longer balance on the top rung of her ladder, she did however manage the climb down her basement stairs to her wine cellar until she was 101.

Part of the reason I am able to continue trialling plants for T&M is the availability of space to experiment on my allotment. In fact really and truly I should register it in the name of T&M as most of the plants growing on it are from trials past and present! Some shrubs like the lilac are now in their third or fourth year and flowering reliably every spring. Daffodil bulbs are transplanted there after flowering on my patio, and annuals for cutting are sown to bring colour and fragrance into the house, as I won’t cut anything from the garden.

Caroline's Allotment

Buddleja ‘Buzz’®, Lilies and recent spoils from Caroline’s allotment

We have one more Open Day scheduled this summer on Sunday 4th September for The British Red Cross and then perhaps I can relax and go on holiday! As long as I have something new to try I am happy, and as gardens are never static I should be gainfully occupied for some time to come!

The initial garden set up!

The Good Life in Practice and Thompson & Morgan – the initial garden set up!

So I have been lucky enough to get a goodie bag from Thompson and Morgan to try this growing season! Now I have used Thompson and Morgan for the last 5 years and have always had productive crops so it is good to be working with the same company – particularly as they are my local gardening company to Suffolk. This is my first update for this growing season with hopefully some ideas to get you into the garden or allotment.

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

I have started to plant up seeds ready in both the ground and in the greenhouse space. I have potted up Calendula Candyman orange and yellow (marigold) and Nasturiums ‘Firebird’, ‘Princess of India’ and ‘St Clements’ ready for adding to salads and baking. I love using edible flower to add a niche element to meals and to additionally add colour. I quite often bake breads adding nasturtium flowers to bring a spicy element to cheesy bread and to herb bread varieties. What’s more, the Calendula gives a great colour pop to other recipes. This includes the obvious salads and soups. However, I love using the brightly coloured petals to decorate cupcakes and want to have a go at making a natural balm with it this year-watch this space. Again, I have planted some Cornflowers ‘Blue Diadem’ as they not only look beautiful outside or as a cut flower but also add attitude to a dull salad.

Calendula 'Candyman' Orange & Yellow & Sunflower 'Helios Flame'

Calendula ‘Candyman’ Orange & Yellow & Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’

Next I have been potting up all the salad varieties to hopefully make me more self-sufficient this year; rather than having to supplement my garden with brought salad. Think this will save a lot of money and shopping trips! These are the varieties I am trying this year:
Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’
Salad leaves Sorrel ‘Blood Veined’
Salad leaves ‘Bright and Spicy’
Herb Rocket
Wasabi Rocket
So far the Wasabi Rocket is growing on the windowsill – it is growing gradually; although I couldn’t resist trying a bit of a seedling – hot stuff! Can’t wait to use it as something a bit different in Thai salads and to serve with main meals. It will make an exciting addition to a vegetarian lunchbox.

Nasturtium 'Firebird', Princess of India & St. Clements

Nasturtium ‘Firebird’, Princess of India & St. Clements

As well as the edible plants, I also love cut flowers in the house. One that is rustic, sturdy or simple. Therefore I have planted some Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’ to grow gradually so I can harvest the stems later in the growing year to add colour to the house and dinner table.
Lastly, in this session I have planted up a set of Spring Onions ‘White Lisbon’ seed tape. This was so much easier than separate seeds to plant! Also it will hopefully reduce weeds that will grow around the plant and make it easier to flourish. Spring onions add a punch to summer salads – yum!
Next time I will give you an update on my allotment, how things are growing and some tasty, alternative recipes to try at home.

Lettuce 'Ultimate Mixed', Salad Leaves 'Bright & Spicy' & Spring Onion 'White Lisbon'

Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’, Salad Leaves ‘Bright & Spicy’ & Spring Onion ‘White Lisbon’

Katy Runacres, The Good Life In Practice
https://thegoodlifeinpractice.wordpress.com/, Facebook: The Good Life In Practice, Twitter: @thegoodlifein

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

So many plants, so little space!

The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas

The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!

Caroline's overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus

The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!

Tulips & more tulips

Tulips & more tulips

I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!

RHS gardener sows seed of hope for UK record-breaking pumpkin

Thompson & Morgan donates world’s most expensive pumpkin seed to Hyde Hall vegetable grower

Following a nationwide hunt to find a gardener brave enough to sow the world’s most expensive pumpkin seed, Thompson & Morgan has delivered a seed of the current world record-breaking pumpkin (2,323lb, grown by Beni Meier in 2014) to the vegetable garden at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex. The mail order seed and plant specialist paid a record £1,250 for the seed at auction at the World Pumpkin Commonwealth Conference earlier in the season, in a bid to boost UK pumpkin genetics and see a world record contender grown on UK shores for the first time.

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Paul Hansord handing over the giant pumpkin seed to Matthew Oliver

Thompson & Morgan director Paul Hansord delivered the precious seed to RHS horticulturist, Matthew Oliver, on 13 April. Armed with a crib sheet of Thompson & Morgan’s tips for success he promptly set the seed into potting compost, eager to make a start on the giant undertaking. Adding to the pressure, all this was carried out in front of a film crew from BBC Inside Out East, who will be following his progress through the season. A full report will be aired on the BBC1 show in the build up to Halloween.

Fortunately Matthew already has some good experience under his belt. Hyde Hall has become renowned for its pumpkin patch in recent years. Around 60 varieties of pumpkins, squash and gourds are grown at the Chelmsford garden each year, with thousands of visitors attending events through autumn to see the produce on display.

Matthew said: “Our largest pumpkins always draw a crowd, so I have been concentrating more time and effort on growing giant specimens in recent years. In 2015 I produced a 530lb giant and I already had big plans for 2016. We’ve built a larger patch (150x40ft) giving me space to grow four giant plants. Soil conditions have been improved and so have the irrigation systems, wind shelter and feeding programmes have all been planned to encourage the heaviest fruits.”

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Sanding down the seed coating for quicker germination

Growing outdoors, Matthew admits he is unlikely to break the world record, but has set a personal target around the 1,000lb mark, which would make his attempt the heaviest outdoor pumpkin ever grown in the UK. He also hopes his attempt will encourage others to try in the future. He said: “Outdoor growing is much more achievable for home gardeners, and once they see the results at Hyde Hall I hope others will take up the challenge in their own gardens and allotments. Pumpkins are such a rewarding hobby plant.”

Matthew now has until 8th October to grow the biggest possible specimen and get it to the UK official weigh in at the Autumn Pumpkin Festival, Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley, Southampton.
The pumpkin patch will be on show to all Hyde Hall garden visitors through the season.

Thompson & Morgan was swamped with requests to grow the seed. Impressed with the passion of many of the entrants, it has sent seeds from several other heavyweight pumpkins (1689-2008lb specimens) to five other interested growers: Joanne Jackson, Cheshire; Guy French, Essex; Anthony & Sally Pooley, Suffolk, George Richardson, County Durham, and Mr Hill, Cantubury

Kris Collins
Kris Collins works as Thompson & Morgan’s communications officer, making sure customers new and old are kept up to date on the latest plant developments and company news via a wide range of media sources. He trained in London’s Royal Parks and has spent more than a decade writing for UK gardening publications before joining the team at Thompson & Morgan.

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