No weight-watching for these WHOPPERS!

one of the paton whoppers

Champion pumpkin growing twins, Ian and Stuart Paton from Southampton are at it again!  This year they have four pumpkin babies which are currently piling on a massive 60lb or 4 stone a day!  The twins are well on the way to giving their record-breaking 160 stone pumpkin of 2016 a run for its money.

The water and electricity bills are going through the roof to keep the pumpkins hydrated and warm and in an effort to beat the record once again.  The growing pumpkins are being kept at a constant 18°C, even throughout the night for the first time.  This seems to be working as the rapidly expanding pumpkins are currently 10% ahead of last year’s winner with a circumference of 19ft.  The Paton’s will need to hire a special, super-charged, truck to lift the enormous pumpkin as their tractor will not be up to the job.

However, size isn’t everything as one false move and the pumpkin skin can split making it ineligible for the weigh-in.  The official weigh-in is on Saturday 14th October at the Royal Victoria Country Park, Southampton, so make a day of it and enjoy the Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival and Scarecrow Avenue.

For the first time in 2017, the competition will also include the Tomato Gigantomo weigh-in and these entries will be a welcome addition to the pumpkins on display.  So if you have any Gigantomo hanging around, why not bring them along on the day.

Pumpkin growing really is everything to the dedicated pumpkin-growing twins and the ultimate accolade has been bestowed on Ian Paton.  He has been made President of the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, a world-renowned organisation.  Well done to Ian as it is an honour to be asked.

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.

Storm Force Caterpillars and Losses Cut

There’s this story going around that there’s only a month or so left to go of summer before it fades to autumn. Well that’s handy as I was starting to tire of the endless heat haze and Long Island iced teas.

No? Well, if reality has to get dragged into it, who else here has been casually eyeing up the cosy knits heap at the bottom of the wardrobe, or maybe even sneaking on the central heating?

Just for fun, here’s a definition of Beaufort Wind Scale 7:

‘High wind, moderate gale, near gale … whole trees in motion, inconvenience felt when walking against the wind.’

A few days ago these were the outdoor conditions here; the obvious time to finally sort out the caterpillars cheerfully laying waste to the veg growing in various pots on the patio.  Sprouting broccoli, by now gone over anyway so no real loss, but more importantly the clutch of sprouts intended for Christmas, and which had been grown from seed.  All under attack from the young of the Large Cabbage White.

So, head bent into the wind and with grim determination, the Eviction of the Caterpillars commenced.

Some things I learned:

They like hanging around in packs. I say ‘packs’, apparently the proper collective noun for a group of caterpillars is an army.   That kind of sounds wrong though, too overblown.   They’re actually more like those groups of teenagers you sometimes get around bus stops.  All faux-swagger, but basically a bit timid under it all and preferring safety in numbers.  So, maybe it should be a skulk of caterpillars.

Whatever, as with any skulking teens, they had to move on. This would have happened a lot faster had I known the next bit.

Now, all over the munched sprout leaves were these odd, tiny clumps of mushy green, well, ‘stuff’.  Look again at the first picture above. There it is, all around the stem.  Turns out, somewhat grossly, this is actually caterpillar vomit. The semi-regurgitated leavings of the plants they have been nibbling away at.  Sorry to make you choke on your Long Island iced tea, but there we have it.

Apparently they do this when they are being predated to put off whatever is trying to eat them, according to those in the know at the National Geographic.  Kind of glad I hosed the plant off afterwards.

So, caterpillars despatched to the compost bin together with all ravaged leaves and spent broccoli, losses were cut.  Might still get at least a small handful of sprouts for Christmas, which is all anyone wants anyway.

 

Also this week, wasps claimed the remaining super-ripe Victoria plums for themselves, eating them practically down to the stones. For some reason, I didn’t fancy getting quite so hands-on with the wasps, so left them alone to get on with it.

All of which brings us to the question of pest control. Having always opted for non-chemical means of control for anything grown to be eaten, it does seem we’ve only ever done this in an ad-hoc way, after damage has been done.  Maybe there is a better, preventative approach?

I’m not talking about anything too labour- or time-intensive though. What quick, nifty tricks are there?  Wasp traps are one way I’ve spotted, not that I’ve used these (they look a bit grisly).

I suspect some cold hard cash will have to spent on proper kit to keep the pests off such as netting.

What are your secret tricks and shortcuts?  Oh, and if it’s budget-friendly, we’ll love you forever.  The pests, not so much.

Comment below and share your experiences…

Alison Hooper
I’ve lived in various places from freezing flats in Manchester with just enough room to swing a pot rubber plant, to a Leicester semi which must have held some kind of local record for most concrete used in the garden. That took some digging out.

Now living in Market Harborough with husband Matt and two young daughters. And a cat who shows up for mealtimes.

Gardening neophyte, learning always.

Pumpkin update: Tackling Powdery Mildew on Pumpkins.

Pests and diseases on crops are always a problem in the garden – and my Pumpkin crop is no exception, in the last few days, the leaves of my plants have unfortunately developed Powdery Mildew.

Powdery mildew is easily identified by the powdery white spores on the surface of the foliage, severely affected leaves will quickly shrivel and die back. The spores of this unsightly disease are air borne so it can spread quickly and easily where plants are growing close together.

Powdery mildew is particularly prevalent during humid, wet summers like we’ve had this year, where the spores are spread from leaf to leaf by rain splashes.

powdery mildew on pumpkin leaves

If you notice powdery mildew appearing then you’ll need to act fast to stop it spreading: You can remove and destroy infected leaves to control its spread. Put them straight in the household waste – never compost the leaves as this will simply spread the problem again next year. Keeping the roots evenly watered will also help to prevent the problem.

If the infection is over a wider area then you may have to use a chemical control; there are lots of fungicides available to pick up at your local garden centre. Just be sure to check that you choose one which is suitable for use on edible crops. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and spray the plants evenly, both above and beneath the foliage.

Hopefully that will solve the problem, but if necessary then you may need to repeat the treatment in a few weeks time.

Check out my other videos on growing pumpkins here :

How to grow pumpkins. Part 1: sowing pumpkin seeds

How to grow Pumpkins. Part 2: Planting out Pumpkin plants.

How to grow Pumpkins with Thompson & Morgan. Part 3: Feeding and pollination

I hope you enjoy pumpkin growing this year – who knows, you might grow your very own giant!

 

Sue Sanderson
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman’s nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online. I have a keen interest in drought resistant plants and a passion for perennials, particularly hardy Geraniums. I’m a regional secretary for the International Plant Propagation Society which gives me lots of opportunities to see what other horticulturalists are up to in their nurseries and gardens.

Giving Giants a Go

Last year, I saw a feature on BBC News live from RHS Hyde Hall where Matthew Oliver had smashed the record for the largest pumpkin grown outdoors in the U.K. The giant weighed in at an incredible 605kg which is 95 stone in old money. Inspired, I thought next year I would give it a go.

I purchased some seed from the Thompson & Morgan website with the seeds being named. “Matt’s Monster.” I also discovered a page on their website “How to Grow a Giant Pumpkins” which has some great tips and how to get started.

I have been a keen gardener and grower of vegetables and flowers for the last seven or eight years. Although this may not seem a long time I am still only 22! I have never really had the space or knowledge to grow pumpkins of any size let alone a giant! I sowed the seed in my electronic propagator, another first for me this year and I was off. The starting gun had been fired.

 

Soon enough I had two small pumpkin plants that were in need of being planted out. Both were rather leggy and I wasn’t convinced they were going to become anything. One thing I know about pumpkins is that they are very hungry plants. So I decided there was only one place these could go. The compost heap. Before I knew these tiny plants had swamped the compost pile and was heading for the roof of the greenhouse! The growth rates on the plants were phenomenal and like nothing I had ever seen before.

 

After a continued expansion in growth that I managed to move away from the greenhouse and out onto the garden the flowers began to come. At first I was confused because there seemed to just be male flowers with no female flowers. Female flowers are identified by the small ball behind the flower. At last I had a female flower and my giant had been born.

The growth of the pumpkin has been just as impressive as the growth of the plant. It grew from a cricket ball size on 15/07/17 to beach ball size just ten days later. I took photos so that I could keep a record of how fast it grew. I even got my mum to take photos and send me daily updates of the progress of the giant pumpkin’ while I was away on holiday. I expect by the end of the season it will have bulked up to a decent size. However, nothing like what Matthew Oliver managed to achieve.

 

 

The lessons I have learnt from this experiment have been fantastic. It has reminded why I fell in love with horticulture which is that you never stop learning. Although I am by no means an expert I’ve learnt a lot this season and will use my knowledge to beat this year’s efforts next year. Also it has encouraged me to try new things out and not be afraid to make mistakes. I’m sure this year I made many mistakes but all that has done has put me in a better position next year. So from now on every year I have challenged myself to have a go at growing something I’ve never grown before. I would thoroughly encourage you all to do the same!

 

 

Thomas Carpenter
My name is Thomas Carpenter and I live in Essex. At my home I have a vegetable patch and greenhouse where I grow a range of flowers and vegetables for both the show bench and for eating. I am the Show Secretary for my local horticultural society and have been a member there for the last eight years. Currently I am in training with the Essex Guild of Horticultural Judges and the National Vegetable Society. I have a real passion for growing and showing vegetables as well as encouraging children and young people to get involved with horticulture.

Home Grown Tomatoes

Introduction

One of the main reasons for the increase in gardening activity at our house was to grow our own fruit and vegetables.  As mentioned previously, we have 4 raised beds that have been neglected for a few years now and so it makes sense to restore and use them.  They are in an ideal spot in the garden where the ground is relatively level.

The first thing that I wanted to grow was tomatoes.  What could be easier right?  Furthermore the Isle of Wight is quite famous for them (http://www.thetomatostall.co.uk/).  Not as much as the garlic (www.thegarlicfarm.co.uk), but Island tomatoes are great.

In my head I thought that I’d dig over one of the raised beds (I’d already sprayed the existing 3 feet high weeds with Roundup), mix in some compost (not home-made, naturally), add some tomato feed, and plant the little, erm, plants.

Research

I researched some tomato varieties that seemed to be ideal for me to grow so off we went to the garden centre – I was after Gardeners Delight (they sounded perfect!).  My plan was instantly thrown out of the window as they only had one plant, and I wanted three.  Oh well, what’s the worst that could happen?  So I ended up with 3 different types of tomato plant instead, one of which is Sweet Million.  And some canes as I thought I’d need them at some point.

jack's tomatoes

Hard Ground

Back home and armed with my trusty fork, I headed off to the raised bed.  Now, this was a couple of months ago before we’d had any rain, and the soil was like concrete.  Really hard.  The soil appeared to be a bit like clay and, having been baked in the sun, it was as hard as a brick.  I could break bits up, but I didn’t think that this would be the fertile and nourishing soil that the tomato plants would want to thrive in.  A cactus might have survived…..

So, the next idea was a tomato grow bag.  Surely this was the obvious choice?  They even came with instructions which made it seem really easy.  However, having looked at the depth of the tomato bag and the height of the cane I thought that I might have a problem with the canes staying up right so I located the bag next to some fencing where I could tie the canes higher up to make them more secure.

I cut out three holes in the top of the bag with my Stanley knife and popped in the new plants – I guess they were about 3-4 inches tall.  I put the canes in and tied the plant to the cane and the cane to the aforementioned fence.  Then I watered thoroughly, as I understand that tomatoes need a lot of water.  The issue with growing in the bags though is that the water just kind of runs off and they don’t hold that much liquid.  The consequence there is that it seems to dry out pretty quickly.  I think ideally, and I’m happy to be proved wrong, the bag needs to sit in a tray of water, but it might be that this would mean that the soil would become waterlogged.  Is this a bad thing for tomatoes?  Probably I guess…..but better than drying out?

Pinching Out

The thing that I never really got was this term “pinching out”.  Something to do with pulling out shoots that are 45 degrees to the main plant stalk and means that the plant’s energy is concentrated on the main areas where the tomatoes are going to grow.  Well, I’ve given that a go but, a couple of months later, I can report that I have branches going in all directions some with fruit, and others without.  We have had about 4 ripe fruits so far, but the skin seems a bit tough and this is apparently due to the plants not having enough water.  So next year I’m going to do things a bit differently.

 

Next Year

Ideally I would grow the plants in a greenhouse, but I don’t think that I’m going to be able to do that from a financial point of view, but they will definitely be grown in the ground.  What I’ll probably do is buy a couple of the tomato growing bags and mix that into some good quality topsoil so that I know the right nutrients are there.  I can also really push the canes into the ground then so that they can support the tomatoes weight without needing to be supported higher up.  This also allows me to really soak the ground without the bag overflowing so that water won’t be wasted and the ground won’t dry up.

In the meantime, we can either eat what we’ve got or make some tomato chutney from those fruits that are too tough to eat.  I am happy to report though that all 3 of the plants are now bearing fruit which is slowly ripening.  Time to pick some of my basil and have them with some mozzarella.  And some salt of course.  Please note salt police – tomatoes should only be eaten if there is salt on them as it really brings out the flavour.

One day I’d like to try growing tomatoes upside down – that looks like a good way to grow them and allows the fruit to be exposed to the sun a bit more and the weight keeps them out of the way of the shade of the leaves.  Has anyone tried this at all?

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