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Apache and Red Robin in the bikesheds

Apache and Red Robin in the bikesheds

Fun in the bikesheds at Lambeth Council, South London, has raised £20 (and counting) for Comic Relief.

On Monday 18th March workers at Blue Star House  sowed seeds to make the most of wonderful wide windowsills in the 60s block. Under heavy showers we retreated to the bikesheds.

I’m the South London Master Gardener Co-ordinator. The programme receives  in kind support in the form of desk space from Lambeth’s Sustainability department. And I get lovely colleagues!

I did my Master Gardener volunteer bit to engage communal growing. Plus, as someone with no greenhouse and useless windowsills at home, I get to enjoy some crops that benefit from summer-long growing under glass.

Windowsill crops

For the Blue Star growers I selected compact varieties of tomato and chili that will really make the most of the sunny windowsills. Inspired by MG-to-be Sheran (click) I chose an early maturing aubergine. I haven’t been able to find the eventual height of the plant so they might have to be grown on outside. It’s a fantastic start to growing this cold, late spring and I’m looking forward to a ratatouille or some kind of antipasto in September!

Tomato ‘Red Robin’  This extremely compact tomato will provide a steady supply of sweet, cherry-sized red fruit. Packed with antioxidants including vitamins A and C and lycopene.

Chili pepper ‘Apache’ Ideal for window boxes or containers. Neat compact plants bearing a prolific crop of medium hot green (turning to red) chillies. Grows to 45cm.

Aubergine ‘Tres Hative de Barbentane’ A prolific variety with 8-10 fruits per stem. Early maturing – we need this one in the UK to be in with a chance!

Green Community Champion officer Ivor Picardo brought in ‘Apache’ chilis of three vintages to show me – they get hotter the longer you keep them! And that’s him breaking off our photo shoot to answer a real life Green Community call!

Were you moved by Comic Relief films from UK and developing world? Not too late to donate!

Become a Master Gardener - do you know your ‘Tres Hative’ from your ‘Calliope’? (click)

Want some growing support? (click)

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It’s salsa time!

It’s salsa time!

Baby, it’s cold outside. And so is that soil: chilled, sodden and claggy. But let’s think ahead to tasty red fruits full of taste and vitamins.

Get started now on a warm windowsill with salsa ingredients. Tomatoes, peppers and chillies all need a long season of warmth to get to ripe fruits.  These cheery Lambeth Borough office workers took advantage last year of good sized windowsills to make nice plants (pictured end of June). A communal salsa was eventually made – read here about the office harvest

Sow seeds 1cm deep in shallow trays of seed compost. You might want to treat yourself to a windowsill propagator, which delivers even bottom heat, so ensuring good germination and a quick start. ‘Gypsy’ is an early maturing pepper, ‘Apache’ makes a 45cm plant ideal for containers and tomato ‘Tumbling Tom’ has prolific cherry fruits, ideal for hanging baskets.

Meanwhile, if you’re fortunate enough to have an outside growing space, try warming the soil so it’ll be ready for sowing and seed potatoes in a few weeks. Cover the soil with clear or black polythene anchoring it with bricks, tent pegs or tucking it under at the bed edges. Cloches also do the job nicely too, so long as you close the ends.

Read here  (click) about the latest training we gave to our Master Gardeners. Want to know more? Contact us to be put in touch with a Master Gardener

Become a member of Garden Organic

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What’s that?! Exotic veg training for London Master Gardeners

What’s that?! Exotic veg training for London Master Gardeners

Dudi, lablab, alaloo, haloon, karella, yard long beans, chana, mouse melon or mexican gherkin, cho cho, mooli, oca, West Indian thyme…just some of the tender and exotic crops 26 Master Gardeners learned about on their latest extra training day, 17th February 2013.

Dr Anton Rosenfeld has been working with growers in the Birmingham area to grow on and document a number of saved seed crops. How do you grow crops from countries with a longer growing season, more sunshine, different humidity? What’s the benefit of growing from seed that’s acclimatised here?

On this karella fruit you can see the evidence of a ‘traffic light’ activity – green ‘I know it’, yellow ‘not sure’, red ‘no idea’. Well, we all knew at the end that karella is a cucurbit from the Indian subcontinent best grown under cover, salted to remove bitterness, spiced and baked, and a natural aid against diabetes.

It was a truly inspiring day for the Master Gardeners, all on the same wavelength of loving detail of cultivation knowledge, comparing crops they know and sharing experience.  They now are ready to go forth, grow their own and multiply.

Thanks to Anton for excellent training and materials, the MGs for their wonderful contributions, Karen Virtue for ayurvedically spiced delicious catering and the Leonard Cheshire Disability Media Centre in Southwark for a great venue.

Want to get some of this knowledge for yourself? Get a year’s free growing support with our Master Gardeners – click here

And click here for top tips on exotic veg.

Growing callaloo!  I’m going to improve on my previous attempts using seeds I collected today.

I will be raiding local Indian and Asian grocers for seed supplies and I really want my own lemongrass plant!

Inspired to experiment with chick peas, turmeric and lemongrass!

Read Gloria’s blog on the day here (click)

Anton and a dudi

Gloria and our lunch

Don’t want to miss a thing

Thoko, Alona and the taste test

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A year’s free fruit and veg gardening advice and encouragement

A year’s free fruit and veg gardening advice and encouragement

Is 2013 the year you’ll get going with your growing? Find your local Master Gardener by clicking here.

MG Gloria from Crystal Palace has been supporting her neighbour Sabera for a year now. They started with pots on a balcony, but now Sabera has a garden and the two, both artists, have been planning a fruitful 2013. Here you see them pictured together at our recent seed swap event – click here to read about it.

South London Master Gardeners have given (or continue to give) a year’s free gardening advice and encouragement to over 900 individuals. There is a range of scenarios: families, couples and individuals in households; community groups, schools, groups of neighbours in a block, community gardens, allotments, places of work, scout group, employment projects, hostels – even a hair salon.

Get in touch if you think our lovely team of volunteers could help you.  We look after our MGs with lots of ongoing support and extra training, so they are inspired to work with others. Read here about the latest training they enjoyed on growing tender and exotic crops such as edo, cho cho and mexican gherkins!

Maybe you know about growing and have the passion and skills to share your expertise? You don’t have to have a formal qualification – read here for how to become a Master Gardener

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Ideal for new growers & households: Grow your own Veg course launches online

Ideal for new growers & households: Grow your own Veg course launches online

Working with leading on-line course providers Love to Learn, Garden Organic is excited to present a new way to learn the joys of growing your own Veg.

What’s more, every booking made through the Garden Organic web link ensures a 10% donation of the course fee goes to supporting the charities projects.

Recommended for householders mentored by Master Gardeners.


What is the course about?

Want to pick your own fresh peas and taste home-grown organic tomatoes? Start from the basics on growing your own vegetables in your own garden or allotment. Learn the important stages and cycles of growing veg, and acquire new skills for sowing and reaping a harvest of fresh, seasonal, organic veg.

Take the course now

Is this the right course for me?

You value the idea of healthy, seasonal, self-sufficient eating and want to start making a difference in an enjoyable, organic way.

Why should I choose this course?

· Learn to grow your own vegetables with this beginner’s course.
· From planning your plot to harvesting your results, Grow your Own Veg will teach you the basics of growing the most popular vegetables, with lots of practical advice and tips.
· Follow the easy step-by-step process featuring How-to videos with Bob Sherman, your expert tutor and Garden Organic’s Chief Horticultural Officer.

How will I learn?

· Start the course at any time of the year as there is always something to do or to plan.
· Get advice and tips from your tutor, Bob Sherman, Garden Organic’s Chief Horticultural Officer, and former presenter of Channel 4’s gardening programme ‘All Muck and Magic’.
· Work at your own pace to suit your gardening needs.
· Enjoy an estimated of 10 to 12 hours of online learning plus your gardening activities.
· Make your own notes in your personal workbook.
· Learn from the comfort of your own home, or out on your patch with a mobile device.

What will I study?

· Course Introduction
· Unit 1: Grow It Yourself
· Unit 2: Planning and Preparing
· Unit 3: Know Your Veg
· Unit 4: Late Winter/Early Spring
· Unit 5: Late Spring/Early Summer
· Unit 6: Late Summer/Early Autumn
· Unit 7: Late Autumn/Early Winter

Take the course now

About Love to Learn

Love to Learn is part of Pearson, the world’s leading learning company. Pearson provides learning materials and services to people in over 70 countries and is home to Penguin, Dorling Kindersley and the Financial Times.

User reviews

“Bob is excellent, like a favourite uncle; good tips, I’d feel confident to start.”
“Very good starting point, it gives you confidence to get out and try it, very good instructions and record-keeping tips.”
“I like the bits you can’t do by using a book, the activities and immediate feedback.”
“It’s very clear, easy to follow, and the overall feeling is one of support “there’s not a ‘right or wrong’ tone to the course.”

Visit Garden Organic’s website

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‘Grow your own food’ a boost for health and sense of community, says Coventry University research

‘Grow your own food’ a boost for health and sense of community, says Coventry University research

Encouraging people to grow more of their own food is not only beneficial to the environment but leads to improved health and wellbeing and creates stronger local communities, according to new Coventry University research released today.

In a study of the Master Gardeners programme run by the UK’s leading organic growing charity, Garden Organic, researchers at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS) and the Centre for Sustainable Regeneration (SURGE) found that those involved enjoyed an increased sense of community and improved life satisfaction, as well as having a significant impact on their food growing and consumption habits.

Through this new mentoring programme, Garden Organic recruited, trained and supported more than 400 volunteers in five areas – North London, South London, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Warwickshire – to become Master Gardeners.

These volunteers, aged 16-81, then worked with their local community to encourage more people to grow food. As part of their commitment volunteers then recruit 10 households to mentor in horticulture for a year.

The Coventry University research found evidence of real behaviour change as the majority of both volunteers and households grew more food and a greater range of food after joining the programme. 63% of volunteers and 79% of households have increased the amount of food they grow, and as a result a quarter of households and a third of volunteers were able to reduce the amount they spent on food each week.

A third of mentored households now report spending 3-5 hours a week growing their own food, with a further 50% giving it a go for 1-2 hours a week. It is not just the households that are learning more about growing food; over 95% of both volunteers and households say they have increased their knowledge about food growing through involvement with Master Gardeners.

As a programme built around a network of local volunteers, the Coventry University researchers were keen to explore any possible impact on community. 94% of volunteers said that they felt part of a community, with two thirds saying their sense of community had increased since being involved in the Master Gardeners programme. And the average life satisfaction scores for both Master Gardener volunteers and households has increased; from 7.4 out of 10 to 8.4 amongst volunteers, 7.2 to 7.8 amongst households.

Families are now growing their own

Dr Moya Kneafsey, a researcher in CAFS and part of the University’s Grand Challenge Initiative in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security, said: “For many years we’ve been told anecdotally that gardening is good for you as well as good for the environment. What these results show is how significant the impact can be in terms of health perceptions, life satisfaction and involvement in the local community. It also highlights just how important volunteering organisations and networks are in creating stronger, more engaged communities regardless of whether this is in an inner-city borough or a rural county.”

Philip Turvil, project manager for the Master Gardeners programme at Garden Organic, said: “We have always felt that our Master Gardeners programme has wide-reaching benefits beyond growing food. It’s also about lifestyle, community and improving the environment. We don’t want to just teach our Master Gardener volunteers the best way of growing a cabbage, we want to teach them how to pass this information on to others in their community, to share their passion and experience so that everyone is learning from each other and feeling the benefits. The outcomes of this research show us that this approach is working. By working with volunteers in their communities we’re proving that the initial challenges of growing your own food can be overcome. So if that first crop ends up slug eaten, rather than feel demoralised people look for advice and support instead of giving up.”

The Garden Organic Master Gardeners programme is supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food Scheme, Sheepdrove Trust and local authorities.


For more information please contact Hannah Murray on 01727 737997 or email

Notes to Editors

Garden Organic Master Gardeners programme

Since its inception in April 2010 the Master Gardeners programme has overseen 44,608 food growing conversations, supported 560 community events and mentored 1,834 households (4,053 individuals including 1,387 under 16s). More than 15,000 volunteer hours have been given to communities in North London, South London, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Warwickshire. Garden Organic has trained 449 volunteers and seen an 82% volunteer retention rate. The programme is supported by the Big Lottery Fund’s Local Food Scheme, Sheepdrove Trust and local authorities. The Master Gardeners programme was devised around the model of another successful scheme also led by Garden Organic, Master Composters.

Garden Organic

Garden Organic, the UK’s leading organic growing charity, has been at the forefront of the organic horticulture movement for 50 years. Dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools, it uses innovation and inspiration to get more people growing in the most sustainable way. Garden Organic’s charitable work delivers the organic growing message through renowned projects such as the Food for Life Partnership, the Master Composter and Master Gardener schemes and the work of The Heritage Seed Library.

Local Food Scheme

Local Food is a £57.5 million programme that distributes money from the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) to a variety of food-related projects to help make locally grown food accessible and affordable. It was developed by a consortium of 15 national environmental organisations, and is managed on their behalf by the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT).

Coventry University

The research was undertaken by Dr Moya Kneafsey from Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS), the research centre which is responsible for the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Grand Challenge Initiative strand of activity which examines how to create resilient food systems on a worldwide basis. In order to tackle this challenge head on CAFS recognises that solutions lie not only in the development of sustainable production technologies but are also concerned with the stability of food supplied and of communities themselves, the means by which people obtain food and aspects of governance, ethics and human behaviour.

The research was supported by Elizabeth Cheese at Coventry University’s Centre for Sustainable Regeneration (SURGE). Research at SURGE focuses on bringing the social and economic aspects of regeneration together, helping society to achieve a more equal, just and sustainable society for the future.

The findings presented here were based on 215 questionnaires, 29 face-to-face interviews and 8 focus groups.


Master Gardeners help local communities grow and share their own food

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Harvest Festival and Food

Harvest Festival and Food

Saturday 6th October saw a great coming together of Master Gardeners from north and south London and some of the people they support with food growing. Scroll down to see great images of the day.

A harvest competition, spouted seed tasting from Stephanie, networking, swapping tips and advice, tasty food, a great talk on nutrition and some really inspiring veg: it all added up to a terrific day.

The Stockwell Community Resource Centre, with its lovely community garden looked after by Blooming Stockwell, was our welcoming venue.

One of the best bits of feedback from the day was from Par, the worker at the Resource Centre looking after us that day.

Everybody is smiling. What you are doing is a very good thing.

A big thank you to all who helped the day come together.

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Julia, Jean, mums and kids

enjoying lunch in the Green Flag Award garden

Nick found a way to say sow broad beans now

amazing spread of veg from Paulette and Robbie

sprout mad

a winning posie from Corina

Maria and Hilda talk health

presentation of 1 year graduation to MG Julia

Robbie’s shark fin melon

Gloria’s sad squash

ooer – Kate!

organic garden catalogue

Dr Trueman from Worcester Uni on nutrition

what a lovely day

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NEW! Master Gardener forum launches

NEW! Master Gardener forum launches

Exciting news! The launch of your very own Master Gardener forum.

An opportunity for you to share ideas and information with other Master Gardeners across the country!

It is live NOW, so please make your way to your local website to login (use your usual website login), or visit

Once you have logged in to the control panel, just click on the forum link and you are ready to join the discussion!

More details

Choose a specialist topic, such as ‘Schools’ or ‘What’s growing well?’. Or chat with other Master Gardeners in your own local network or any network!

Click here for top tips on how to use the forum (link opens PDF)

Prize draw!

Anyone who posts on the forum before the end of October 2012 will be entered into a free prize draw to win one of three sets of Growing cards (25 in a set) – so join in the discussion now!

The growing cards are new and exclusive, printed on quality A5 card, with handy growing instructions including planting, growing and eating tips! As an example……..

Many thanks and enjoy the forum!

Click here to get in touch with questions

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Find us on Facebook

Find us on Facebook

Garden Organic has launched exciting Facebook pages for every Master Gardener network.

Please visit your nearest page and ‘like’ us today for the latest growing tips and local events. There are case studies, news articles, and links with other growing groups.

We love keeping in touch with our enthusiastic volunteers and the householders they mentor to grow food, as well as workplaces, schools, event organisers, partners, and community groups. See you there! Many thanks.

London networks

South London Master Gardeners or visit website
North London Master Gardeners or visit website

County networks

Norfolk Master Gardeners or visit website
Warwickshire Master Gardeners or visit website
Lincolnshire Master Gardeners or visit website

There’s more!

Garden Organic Facebook or visit website
Photo collection by Garden Organic
Click here to visit Flickr to see wonderful images of new food growers with their volunteer mentors


Master Gardeners Forum
Join the discussion – new forum launching September 2012.
Look out for web links coming soon.

We welcome your ideas

Please click here to get in touch with Garden Organic’s Master Gardener team

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Free growing resources relaunched

Free growing resources relaunched

Garden Organic is pleased to announce the re-launch of its online version of the ‘Food Growing Manual’ with Bronze, Silver and Gold booklets.

Each booklet is packed with information and practical advice to support growing skills in schools through the Food for Life Partnership awards programme.

The booklets are now available in easily accessible, individual pdf. chapters. What’s more, the booklets accompany step-by step activities, posters, and growing cards for individual crops.

To get started please take a look at

Garden Organic’s Food Growing Growing

Free resources

Bronze booklet, Silver and Gold booklet, Guidance booklet
Download in full or individual chapters. Booklets accompany activities

Gardening-related activities and games
Practical, step-by-step guides. Activities accompany booklets

Individual food growing instruction cards
Vegetables, herbs, fruit, edible flowers, green manures, glossary

Quick reference posters
12 exciting topics

Summary of activities, cards, posters, templates

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free to read PDF files

Food for Life Partnership logo Big Lottery logoThis resource is produced by Garden Organic as part of the Food for Life Partnership and was funded by the Big Lottery Fund.


What next

Article by Catrina Fenton & Philip Turvil

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