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Growing ahead – why & how of seed saving uncovered

Growing ahead – why & how of seed saving uncovered

Heritage Seed Library’s Seed Officer, Vicki Cooke, delivered a lively, engaging and thought-provoking day-long training course to Lincolnshire Master Gardeners last Saturday.  The National Centre for Craft & Design in Sleaford was the venue, and very appropriate given that it was once a major seed warehouse.

Highlights of the day included dissection of flowers from brassicas, tomatoes and courgettes, identification of pollination methods and repercussions and practical sessions of seed harvesting.

Feedback from delegates:

“Really excellent training session – and good fun.  Vicky’s mix of hands-on and theory was brilliant.”

“It was a really good and well planned day – delivered with enthusiasm.”

“Thanks so much to you and the team for providing such a jam packed day that really inspired me to start thinking about seed saving in a much more detailed way.  I always feel so positive, inspired and upbeat after the Garden Organic training sessions.”

Saving seed is an exciting and money-saving way to complete the growing cycle.  It lets you preserve your favourite fruit or vegetable varieties to grow again next year or swap with friends – a great way to get others growing.  Anybody can save seed and for beginners, the best crops to start with are peas, French beans and tomatoes.

Some of the highlights of learning for those who came along:

“As many seeds have good longevity, if you want to grow for seed, you don’t need to do it every year.  You can concentrate on a particular crop one year and a different one the next.”

“Knowing what not to save seed from – annuals you grew for food, that are highly likely to have been cross-pollinated – avoids disappointment and waste of space and time.”

“Seed to seed brassica growing (it solves the space problem) and growing aubergines as perennials – ours are usually not ready until late summer so an early crop would be great.”

“To attempt to create a new broad bean by crossing two of my favourites – Red Epicure and the dwarf Sutton.  I want to create a dwarf red bean suited to my exposed Lincolnshire garden.”

“To become a seed guardian again and try and germinate some 2 year old Mummy Pea heritage variety that I got from HSL when I was heavily pregnant and thought I’d be able juggle a new born and seed guardianship – pure loony behaviour!  I am now motivated to have another go!”

For more information on seed saving, go to the Heritage Seed Library.

Connect with your local Master Gardener.

Read the lastest case studies of food-growing across Lincolnshire.

Annual or biennial? The first step in seed saving.

Weeding out the rogue carrots!


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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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More organic & nutritious after training day at Lincolnshire farm

More organic & nutritious after training day at Lincolnshire farm

Hundreds of vegetables greeted Lincolnshire Master Gardeners during a tour of Woodlands Organic Farm on Saturday 29 September 2012.

BBC Farmer of the year 2009, Andrew Dennis, showed the group of Garden Organic volunteers how he supplies over 1,000 boxes of fresh food every week to local residents.

The expert tips continued with farm-grower, Simon Smith. He showed an impressive selection of outdoor and polytunnel crops. There’s lots of trial and error with techniques and varieties.

Read more about Woodlands Organic Farm here

More nutritious

The training day continued with a thought-provoking talk about nutrition by Dr Laurence Trueman from the University of Worcester. There were compelling reasons why we should all eat as many different types and colours of fruit and veg as possible for a halthier lifestyle.

And finally…

Master Gardener programme manager, Philip Turvil, discussed ideas by volunteers for how to improve the network. As well as dabbled in the intricacies of ‘companion planting’ with tips for improving growth with ‘crop-chaperones’.

Get involved
This latest training day shared experiences so Garden Organic’s Master Gardeners can better support local people to start growing their own food…

Click here to register to 12 months free growing support

Coming up
3rd November 2012: Master Gardener training day with Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library. Venue to be announced.

Click for event details – more coming soon


Andrew Dennis (left) and Simon Smith

Thought-provoking talk about nutrition by Dr Laurence Trueman.

Rhubarb listening to the farm-grower, Simon Smith describing his expert growing techniques

Reviewing the mixed planting with vegetable and flower crops

Studying ‘The Bee Cause’ – a campaign by Friends of the Earth

Organic turkeys taking a keen interest in the volunteers….

Andrew Dennis swapping growing tips with Master Gardeners

Click here for more local news

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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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The Rewards of being a Master Gardener

The Rewards of being a Master Gardener

It’s a balmy summer evening, and the house martins and swallows wheel and dive above my head as I approach my vegetable patch.

Tomorrow is the day of the village horticultural show and I have very mixed feelings about this. Part of me is still the little girl, overawed by the giant onions and impossible beans proudly displayed by the old men of the village, back in the glory days of the 1970s. How could I possibly dare to compete with these horticultural masters?

But this is another era, the competition is more light-hearted and fun and I am aware that the village hall needs as many entries as possible for this, the biggest fundraising day of the year. Last summer I only entered my perfect specimens and then wished I had brought more as I saw categories in which others had struggled to grow perfect veg too. I set myself the challenge then to enter every category possible this year but, as I open the gate, I wonder how many will this actually be?

It has been a dark and damp year. Although it is late August, the tomatoes have yet to start ripening, the apples are still hard and dark in the trees and I have managed to raise the grand total of three beetroot and four carrots outdoors. The remainder of the seed rotted in the ground. I have struggled with bindweed, docks and nettles, which seem to thrive whatever the weather. At this point I certainly don’t feel like a Master Gardener.

As I fossick among the prickly umbrellas and golden trumpets of the courgettes my spirits begin to lift. Here at least are some creditable fruits. My fork bites deep, and I squeal with surprise as fat, pink and white potato tubers rise from the crumbling earth. I have to lift a bucketful to find enough without slug holes but they are beautiful. I march home triumphantly with armfuls of produce, undecided whether to enter my beetroot and carrots in their proper classes or to try for the ugliest vegetable, but at least I have something to show.

My home grown veg

Later, my daughter and I raid her tiny patch for entries in the new children’s vegetable growing cup. This has been donated in memory of a neighbour who died last year and whose smallholding we now help to cultivate. We select a handful of beautifully speckled French beans and three perfect, straight carrots. What did she do that I didn’t? The leggy, yellow broad beans that she rescued from her classroom have flourished and developed fat pods full of fabulous beans. I have some serious competition here.

The next day we return home triumphant. My policy of entering everything paid off and I have achieved the unthinkable, bringing home the Parish Cup. However, this is nothing compared to the thrill of seeing my daughter’s delight as she is presented with the children’s trophy. As she skips back to me, gap toothed and sparkling, I am reminded of a photo emailed to me by one of my households earlier this summer. In it a small boy grins behind the huge tub of rocket that he has helped to grow.

In another image, entitled ‘The grand unveiling of the enormous carrot’, he holds up yet another perfect, straight carrot. Children are obviously a lot better at carrots than I am. I realize that, as a gardener, I will never reach the standards of those old master gardeners who put their heart and soul into colossal fruit and vegetables for display. It doesn’t matter.

This year, as a Master Gardener, I have found even greater rewards in seeing these children’s delight in their achievements and in hearing other householders speak of the magic of watching their own seeds sprouting. Eating your own produce is wonderful but it can’t compare with knowing that you have helped to light the spark that may bring someone else a lifetime of similar simple joys.


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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.

County networks

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

London networks

North London Master Gardeners or visit website
South London 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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Have your say this September

Have your say this September

Garden Organic has sent out exciting questionnaires this week to the Lincolnshire Master Gardeners and the lovely people they mentor to grow their own food.

We’re working with Coventry University to monitor and evaluate the health, social and environmental impacts of the programme.

It’s very exciting with intriguing questions – and already intriguing findings from our autumn 2011 and spring 12 research. We’re announcing the findings in few weeks…

Look out for your questionnaire in the post if:

  • you’re a householder registered by your Master Gardener between May 2011 and October 2011
  • a Master Gardener trained in autumn 2011.

We’re planning interviews and discussion groups during September and October 2012.

Alona and Susan planting apple trees in Mayow Park

Find out more -
Research overview and the pilot findings with Coventry University.

Get involved -
Register for your 12 months free growing advice or become a Master Gardener

Read latest news and case studies

Who’s who?

Master Gardeners Volunteers recruited, trained, and supported by Garden Organicto mentor registered ‘householders’ – individuals, couples and families wanting to start growing food or grow more at home and on communal land.
Garden OrganicWe’re the UK’s leading organic growing charity, dedicated to promoting organic gardening in homes, communities and schools.
Coventry UniversityResearchers in the health, environmental and social impact of local food systems at the Applied Research Centre in Sustainable Regeneration (SURGE) and the Centre for Agroecology and Food Security (CAFS).


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Community Gardening goes viral in Lincolnshire!

Community Gardening goes viral in Lincolnshire!

Log in and ‘like ‘ the new Facebook page for Lincolnshire Master Gardeners and keep up-to-date with gardening news, views,  cooking recipies and links to interesting places.

If you live in or around Boston then ‘like’ their own community garden facebook page and find out what the voluteers are getting up to.

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Pam Warhurst – an inspiration for Lincolnshire

Pam Warhurst – an inspiration for Lincolnshire

Pam Warhurst, one of the founders of Incredible Edible Todmorden gives an inspirational Ted Talk. Watch this and feel the need to get planting!

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