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.

Summer in Pembrokeshire!

Hello Everyone,

What’s happened to the summer sun? Honestly it’s more like autumn in Pembrokeshire! The days are usually overcast, with a fair chance of a shower. The wind makes it impossible some days to open the greenhouse doors or windows for fear of damage, and the sawflies are out in force.

On days it is actually sunny, my poor plants get caught out as temperatures soar. The other day it was too wet and wild to open the greenhouse and we had to go out. When we got back at lunchtime the weather had brightened up and inside the greenhouse was 38 degrees. Thankfully the plants didn’t suffer too much stress. There’s an old trick to getting the temperature down quickly under the glass, which is to open all doors and windows and then damp down the path with a can of water. Then the use a mister to slightly wet the foliage. Each year I think about buying shade paint, but then promptly forget to get it, so I’ve now taken to taping split orange plastic recycling bags to the outside of the greenhouse on really hot days.

This month has been particularly busy in the garden; I’ve harvested peas, beans, strawberries, red currents, raspberries and red gooseberries. These plants are low maintenance and give so much in return every garden should have them! I’ve also grown cut flowers for a vase everyday; this is often an ecclesiastical mix of perennial and annual flowers, herbs, wildflowers and foliage. I’m dahlia mad and a currently have two favourites growing. Ice and Fire from T&M and I love Life, that I bought as a sad dried out little tuber in a local shop for £1.49. My favourite wildflower at the moment is Scarlet Pimpernel – but many would class this as a weed.

The grassy knoll is starting to take shape, but there is room for more ornamental grasses as well as some herbs. Unfortunately, the slugs ate all of my Hyssops after they were put in their final growing positions, so I’ve set off more grass seeds as well as Stevia and Lavender. There are some grasses that require a cold snap before germination, and some that just need a consistent temperature, and there are many varieties that can be grown in July. Some are just sprinkled on the surface of good compost, while others need a layer of vermiculite and then sealed in a plastic bag before they start to grow. Hopefully within one to six months I should see Pony Tail, Tail Feathers, and Rainbow Phornium seedlings appear. These seeds are in the small greenhouse along with a new batch of freshly sown Liatris, Hollyhock, Cabbage, Turnip, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Viola, and an Olive. The Turnips were eager, germinating in only forty-eight hours. Followed closely by the Stevia, Lavender and a pot of Violas. I’m looking forward to the Heartsease as it’s an old fashioned variety called Jonny Jump Up.

I’ve squeezed three extra tomato plants into the small greenhouse too. One in the border nestled between the money tree and a giant aloe. The other two are on the path in potato grow bags. I have no idea if they will be deep enough in the bags, but they seem to be flowering so fingers crossed. Another tomato is in the spent pea container outside. I’m experimenting with the theory that the Nitrogen left behind in the pea roots (which stay in the used compost) will give enough nutrients to grow a tomato plant in. It’s also only being watered by the rain. It seems to be standing without supports at the moment; I’ll let you know how it goes.

The aloes have finished flowering, the cacti has had a few babies, and the money tree is still putting on lots of new growth. The three house plants that people gave me in work are still green, but as yet there are no new flowers on them. I can’t remember what they are called, but they have strappy leaves and a flower spike comes out off the middle, similar to a flaming Katie. Hopefully the picture will help.

tomato yellow stufferThe big greenhouse is full to the rafters, literally! On the shelves we have spider plant in full flower, pretty little white things, but so pot bound we are will have to cut the pot for it to be replanted, I am wondering if it’s hardy enough to go outside in our sheltered bit, between the house, shed and maple tree, next to another houseplant ,(mother in laws tongue) the spider plant belonged to dad, so I don’t want to kill it, or give it away, but it’s too big for the house. Perhaps I will thin the aloes and stick it in the small greenhouse after all. There are also baby money trees in pots which I am looking for homes for. I have cuttings of Christmas cacti on the shelves too. In the left border, we have three highly prolific Sweet Aperitif tomatoes, these cherry ones, certainly live up to their name. It’s so hard not to eat them all walking back to the kitchen. Alternatively, they are absolutely delicious in a cheese, onion, and tomato toasty, sprinkled with turmeric, black pepper, basil and oregano. We also have two large Yellow Stuffer tomato plants growing there too. These are yet to change colour, they are about the size of an apple at the moment, and getting bigger. I’m surprised at how many there are; wrongly assumed that as they were bigger fruits there would be less of them. Under planting the tomatoes with Marigolds, and many rouge Amaranthus, (we have transferred half a dozen outside) has attracted many pollinators, which means more fruits for us, and absolutely no white or greenfly. We do seem to have an ant problem in both greenhouses though. (The sparrows usually sort this out for us by comically hanging off the guttering or doors and grabbing the ants midair. Occasionally the blackbird is in the foliage digging for the grubs.)

The back border is where my aubergine trial is taking place. The normal Celine ones are flowering profusely, and I have already had one tasty aubergine from an early plant. The Patio Mix are just starting to fruit. One is called Jewel Jade and is just starting to form green fruits. I’m still waiting to see if I have a white and purple stripy one come up. The right border contains a pumpkin, (another is in a container outside, another experiment.) as I couldn’t find anyone to take it. It seems to be behaving by not spreading too much, and putting up beautiful yellow flowers. Next to it are two Pepper Sweet Bonita plants, which have fruits that are slowly starting to ripen. There are plenty of new flowers coming too. I absolutely love this pepper as it’s very mild and juicy.

chilli medinaNext to the peppers is a Chilli Medina. I don’t like chillies but grew it for Mark. The first chilli to come off it was a dark green beast, but as I left it on the kitchen worktop for two days it turned bright red. One night making supper, Mark decided to fry some mushrooms with the chilli, I told him to try it first before adding it to the pan. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was hilarious, he went from white to red, to purple in about three seconds. He did a little jumping around on the spot before muttering something I dare not repeat! He would have drunk straight from the tap if he could have. Apparently his tongue was still burning fifteen minutes later, (even though it was de-seeded.) His lasting memory of that chilli was “an unpleasant experience, never to be repeated!). Luckily my friend Trisha’s partner is part dragon so he can easily tolerate the heat in them.

 

 

melon plantNext to the chilli, and taking up at least six feet of the greenhouse including wrapping itself around its trellis the shelf and the lead for the solar lights is the cantaloupe melon. It has at least four melons growing. I have to keep picking off the flowers, as advice from T&M and one of my mum’s friends, is to allow only a few fruits to develop, as these will be bigger and better quality. Try telling the plant that! Everyday, a new flower appears. I have to keep pinching out growing tips that are as annoying as the tomato ones. I have to untangle it from the lights, and occasionally cut off a few yellow leaves. The stems are hairy and can irritate like a tomato, but otherwise it’s easy to look after.

 

 

Oh I forgot, there’s also a purple Nicotiana between the chilli and the pepper. It’s so pretty I don’t want to dig it up and transfer it in case I accidentally kill it. Trouble is, it may decide to seed itself like the Amaranthus did, and then I will be cursing next year, when I end up with a greenhouse full of flowers instead of edibles – though surprisingly the French eat Amaranthus leaves like spinach.

Until next time.

Love Amanda xx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

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