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Breckland Master Gardeners discover traditional willow-weaving skills

Breckland Master Gardeners discover traditional willow-weaving skills

One of the perks of being a Breckland Master Gardener is learning new skills through our seasonal in-service training events.  In the spirit of winter, the latest training day featured a masterclass in traditional Willow Weaving, delivered by Katy Fullilove of the Swaffham ESCAPE project.

The event was held at Necton Community Centre, where their main hall was large enough to cater for 15 of us, plus 9 foot long willow canes.



Preparing the smaller willow branches for weaving through the uprights.

The willow was harvested locally by Katy from both the ESCAPE allotment and the Green Britain centre.

A couple of the Master Gardeners did willow-weaving in the past, but they all thoroughly enjoyed this practical workshop, producing a garden feature which will support new plants in the spring.


Master Gardener Paul getting to grips with the weaving pattern, in, over, out and again.

Once the artistic willow creations were complete, it was time for lunch – a Christmas bring & share to celebrate the festive season.  Savoury and sweet home-made treats made from home-grown organic vegetables with enough for seconds, thirds and even another round.  To help this wonderful food go down, Robert brought and prepared mulled applejuice – simply delicious.  There was no waste.

Listen to what people thought of this event, by clicking this link to The Breckland View.

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Goosegogs for free!

Goosegogs for free!

Too good to be true well let’s throw in redcurrants and blackcurrants, surely there must be a catch somewhere. Who was it that said there was nothing free in this life, and yes I suppose they were right, but here the only catch is a little work and someone else’s generosity in giving you the little snipping’s from an existing bush, so no money involved then, but does it count as free?

The work is hardly that difficult and after the initial planting they can be left alone, what could be better a one shot job with a year’s rest before anything else needs to be done. Now to business producing those free plants or should I give the game away and say cuttings.

The general rule is this year’s growth, usually lighter in colour, length 6-9 inches. Cut off the top bud, and below a bud at the base. For gooseberries and redcurrants remove all but the top three or four buds and either pot or plant directly into the ground (gritty free draining is good) but keep them in a shady area to allow the plant to develop without undue stress. The reason for removing the lower buds, and a good nail works wonders, is that they all have the potential to develop into branches and things would get rather over crowded otherwise.

Yes, I haven’t mentioned blackcurrants, and here because you are seeking renewal shoots from below, leave all the buds on. It goes without saying that in pots you must keep them moist to succeed, but let’s put this to advantage and see that the pots get buried outside in the shade, so there’s no work until this time next year, when a planting out spot is required.

For more great growing tips from Robert, visit his home page.

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Cold, empty and unproductive!

Cold, empty and unproductive!

This is the sad lament of many an unheated Greenhouse, tomatoes finished and cleared out. Lots of space but not a lot doing. I could mention the delights of growing lambs lettuce or even late rocket (much mellower flavour and slow to seed) but for the latter, time’s probably run out. So lets be positive and concentrate on one of the easiest plants to grow now, and whats more is so packed with nutrients and vitamins its classed as a super-food.

I’m talking about water cress, no you don’t need running water to grow it, but try not to use stagnant old water from a butt, clean one out just for this purpose.  Now to the process of growing, no seeds just a jam jar full of water and a bag of water cress from the supermarket. Selecting the right bag to buy is probably the hardest thing to do, look for a long sell-by date (freshest) make sure its not too bashed and has few yellow leaves.

The next step is simplicity itself just pop the growing shoots (those with a growing point) into the jam jar brimful with water (it helps being on a saucer) and wait until they show 2 inches of fresh root (middle finger tip to second joint). Please bear in mind that the plants have had a rough time to this stage so avoid direct sunlight, but give good indirect light.

Now the hardest bit, pot on into 3 inch pots place them all on a drip tray and give plenty of water in the bottom of the tray, about half way up the pot for 5 days, to get them over the transition. Then replace with fresh water just to keep the bottom half inch of the pots moist and don’t let them dry out.
Relax and remember to keep visiting to pick and water, and don’t forget to use that staging to save your back!

As an after thought why not pot up some bought parsley for Christmas Turkey stuffing (lemon and parsley). Most supermarkets sell pots of growing parsley for less than £1.00 and all you need to do is hold the root ball in water and gently shake, there’s probably 20 plus plants in those small pots. Pot on carefully and allow time for them to recover, for they have, truth to be told, been some what forced to get to this stage.

Robert explaining the easy steps to growing your own cress at our recent event at Oxburgh Hall’s Apple Day.

More great growing tips from Robert by visiting his homepage.

Another job you can do at this time of the year – start making your own compost.

Our Master Gardeners are here to help! If you or a community group you support need some help growing your own or you don’t know where to start, then get in touch and you could have the one-to-one support from one of our experienced volunteers. Just contact us. It’s that easy!

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Breckland Master Gardener supports a winner in Thetford

Breckland Master Gardener supports a winner in Thetford

The Thetford Community Association allotment was the proud winner of first prize in the Thetford Town Council Allotment Competition 2015.  Breckland Master Gardener Anne went along to Kings House Garden on Saturday, 5 September, to accept this prize on behalf of her mentored growers and fellow plot volunteers.

The TCA allotment provides an opportunity for young people to learn a new skill whilst meeting similar aged people.  Have a look at our short video, and see how one of their supported growers is benefiting from this community project.

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A thank you for gardeners at Breckland Council offices

A thank you for gardeners at Breckland Council offices

Master Gardener Leigh has been supporting fellow work colleagues as they learn to grow fruit and veg on their staff allotment plot at the Council offices in Dereham.  This photo is a harvest picked last week to say thank you to two of his plotters, Jess and Amanda.  As regular gardeners on the Breckland Plot, he felt they would appreciate an edible reward for all their help.

The Breckland Veg Tray

The onions were started off in cells and transplanted to the ground in early spring.  The tender (but wonky) carrots and French beans came from the courtyard pots, as this was a safer environment away from rabbits.  The patty pan squash is the first harvest, whilst the potatoes and strawberries are the last harvest.

Now the spuds are up, the space will be filled with a late sowing of peas and carrots, which should provide a crop in late autumn.

Read some of our other news from across the District.

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Master Gardener presents another volunteer their Certificate of Achievement

Master Gardener presents another volunteer their Certificate of Achievement

Breckland Master Gardener volunteer, Gavin, is a keen advocate of growing your own.  In his role at the Green Britain Centre, Swaffham, he engages groups of young school children in food-growing activities; taking them on guided tours of the centre’s vegetable gardens, compost demonstration corner and polytunnels and encouraging them to experience the tastes and smells of growing fruit and veg.

The entire site is organically managed with produce utilised in the centre’s cafe and this provides an ideal opportunity to show case practical organic methods of protecting crops through to successful harvest.


Gavin in action, with a group of young pupils from a local school.

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French Beans ran down Watton’s High Street today

French Beans ran down Watton’s High Street today

Breckland Master Gardeners gave away 100 Runner Beans at this year’s Watton Carnival. This event is a highlight in our calendar with planning and sowing starting several weeks before. Our Watton based volunteer, Keith, gives over more than half of his greenhouse to sow and nurture a vegetable to give away each year. Last year it was pumpkins, this year is Runner Beans.

Also on the stand this year people had the opportunity to test their knowledge with ‘Guess the Seed’ – a bit of free fun, but amazing just how competitive people became. For the younger visitors, there was seed sowing – with Chard being the hot favourite choice. Plus for the early visitors, the opportunity to take away a healthy young tomato plant – red robin bush variety.

Master Gardener Trevor potting up Chard seeds with a young visitor to the stand.

Many thanks to our lovely Master Gardener volunteers, Keith, Trevor, Rita, Robin and Paul. Well done on another great day at the Carnival sharing food-growing conversations with over 2000 people.

If you were one of the lucky 100 people who went home with a Master Gardener Runner Bean, do let us know how it grows for you. Facebook or Tweet your photo to us. We’d love to hear if you have a special bean recipe that you’ve used them for.

Master Gardener Keith laying out his 100 runner beans for giving away at the Carnival.

Hear Keith speaking with Breckland View Reporter, Paul Young about the day.

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Breckland Master Gardeners top up their school growing skills

Breckland Master Gardeners top up their school growing skills

Ongoing training and development is integral to the life of a Breckland Master Gardener, with seasonal learning events organised for our volunteers. This spring, the focus was on school growing. Master Gardener volunteers from Breckland, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire came together at Peterborough Cathedral for a training day delivered by Garden Organic trainer Liz Woodward on Friday, 15 May 2015.

80% of schools across the country are already growing and with the inclusion of basic gardening skills incorporated into the school curriculum, the interest from others schools is increasing. The Food for Life Partnership (of which Garden Organic is a significant partner) is working with local authorities across the country to support school growing and Master Gardener volunteers are helping in this with their mentoring of school growing champions. Here in Breckland, six primary schools are benefiting already from support of a Master Gardener. You can read some of their case studies here.

The day was designed following input from the participants – focusing on what they particularly wanted to get from the day, such as resources to support learning, ways to adapt growing around term times and tips on developing a school-wide interest. It was also a great opportunity to share current practices and to develop connections with each other.

Trainer, Liz Woodward, sharing her knowledge and passion with Master Gardeners.

School growing will also feature in our forthcoming Masters Conference, 19 September 2015, providing a further opportunity for volunteers to top up their school specific skills.

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New Breckland Master Gardeners join the network, promoting and supporting home food growing

New Breckland Master Gardeners join the network, promoting and supporting home food growing

New volunteers attended a weekend long induction course, delivered by Garden Organic, equipping them with the skills, resources and confidence to support novice growers keen to introduce home grown organic fruit and vegetables into their diets. These new volunteers from towns and villages across Breckland were selected to join Breckland Master Gardener, a network of community volunteers, co-ordinated by Garden Organic and funded by Breckland Council.

The weekend training course, held at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse , covered all aspects of the role, providing inspiration and confidence to engage people in food-growing conversations, plus practical and fun techniques to educate and enthuse new growers in getting started.

New Master Gardener volunteer, Andy, proud of his great parsnips.

It was also an opportunity to meet the existing team of Breckland Master Gardeners, who joined on Sunday. The horticultural trainer for the course was Garden Organic’s Anton Rosenfeld, an accredited agronomist and experienced trainer. One of the sessions focused on more unusual vegetables that in recent years are becoming common additions to allotments and home vegetable patches – such as dudi, a traditional Asian mainstay ingredient; chickpea for their fresh green peas, which roasted are a delicious alternative to peanuts; lemon grass, who’s leaves make a refreshing tea and sweet potato, originally from South America but in recent years has been adapted to provide good cultivars for the UK climate.  More information about these new crops and how to grow them in the UK can be found on Growing New Seeds another Garden Organic community project.

New Master Gardener Maggie, grating nutmeg to add to our Garam Masala!

The weekend learning culminated in a hotly contested quiz, with 3 teams of Master Gardeners working hard to win the coveted prize – Chocolate Easter Bunnies! In the end, following a ‘first past the post’ finish, the Biffin’s won.

Some of the feedback received from volunteers, following the weekend:

“I thoroughly enjoyed it, I was impressed with the enthusiasm shown by all,”  said Andy.

“Really good weekend, loved the idea of tubs grown with certain menus in mind,” said Anne.

“I was fascinated by the talk given by Anton and will give the sweet potatoes another go in pots as I undoubtedly dug them up too early,”  Jeffrey.

“There are lots of exotic plants you can easily grow,” Robin.

Inspired and brimming with confidence, our Breckland Master Gardeners will be out and about during the next few months at events. Check out our events page for more information.


New Master Gardener Rita explaining the joy and ease of growing lettuce.

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Garden Organic volunteers venture out to Green Britain Centre on Snowy Sunday

Garden Organic volunteers venture out to Green Britain Centre on Snowy Sunday

Garden Organic’s volunteer networks joined forces for a day of learning at the Green Britain Centre on Sunday, 1 February 2015. Volunteers from Norfolk Master Composter and Breckland Master Gardener braved the snow and sleet and enjoyed a day of sharing ideas, updating skills and catching up with fellow volunteer friends.


Getting the best cut

Master Gardener Robert delivered a masterclass on taking the strategic view of apple tree pruning. “It’s not pruning for next year, but the next year and the year after that,” says Robert. “Consider the structure, wine glass shaped, open centred to maximise air-flow.” Robert has many years’ experience managing his own apple orchard and demonstrated practical tips for creating strong structure, such as tying down branches to help develop wider angles of branches against trunk, promoting greater strength in the joint.

Robert, undetered by the weather, brought the apple tree in for pruning.


The new compost demonstration area

Taking advantage of a break in the show showers, a tour of the new compost demonstration area in the gardens of the Green Britain Centre was next on the agenda. This area has been set up by Norfolk County Council’s waste reduction team and Norfolk Master Composter. It showcases the many options for home-composting, ranging from wormeries for small spaces through to large heaps, more suited to big gardens and community spaces.

This demonstration area is open to the public during venue open times and during the summer there will be a number of dates when a Norfolk Master Composter will be on-hand to offer practical advice and guidance in home composting.


David Hawkyard, explaining the composting resources on display in the new demonstration area.

Masters Certificates & Accolades

After lunch and time to award certificates to those volunteers who had achieved their ‘Master’ status with their volunteering hours, many food-growing conversations and mentoring of their supported growers.

All of our volunteers shared their special volunteering moment of 2014 and there were some crackers there;

• Helen, explaining the basics of home-composting to an audience of several different languages. A new take on the game of Charades.

• Trevor, receiving a letter from Breckland Council telling him that his application for funding towards the garden at Ashill Primary School was successful.

• Alice, developing her pea-shoots guide and delivering it within a workshop on micro salads at events during the summer.

• Keith, growing and giving away 114 pumpkin plants at Watton Carnival.

• Leigh, the moment when he and his work colleagues turned the first sod to create the Breckland Council allotment garden, behind the bike shed.


As always, plenty of opportunity to chat and share stories with fellow volunteer friends.


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