Friday, November 10, 2017
When I started showing some 23 years ago I could never have imagined that one day I’d be stood up in front of some of the country’s top amateur growers giving them a talk about my showing career, but this is what happened to me last weekend at Medwyn Williams’ annual seminar in Llanberis. I’ve often wanted to attend this seminar during my showing years but never got around to it so I jumped at the chance to give a talk entitled ’20 years of showing vegetables, flowers…and cakes!’ I thought it was well received but even so I was gobsmacked when a few top, top growers also commended me at the end of the weekend and said they voted my talk their favourite. This is me with my fellow speakers.
Monday, September 25, 2017
When I started showing over 20 years ago I never dared dream that one day I’d be able to call myself a National champion but that dream came true on Saturday, albeit in a class I wasn’t expecting to win namely 250g onions. Having gone all around the benches with only a couple of placings to show for my efforts on both sides of the marquee I have to say I was feeling a little demoralised but the very last result I got to there was bright red ticket with my name on it, so I’m now able to go out on a real high.
If I’m being totally honest I got real lucky as there was a much better set on the Malvern side which I feel sure would have taken the honours, grown by Mark Hall, a previous winner of this class, but as he was a judge for the National he couldn’t enter it. And the exhibits grown by other growers who have won this class in the past, such as Sherie Plumb and big Ronnie Jackson were nowhere near as good as they usually bench so I really did strike lucky in a fallow year it seems. If ever there was proof that you need to be in it to win it then I provided it on Saturday, as although I always felt I was in with a shout of a ticket I don’t think I’d have come close to winning it in other years. Whatever, my name’s now in the record books and they can’t take it away from me!
When I pulled my parsnips on Friday morning I really did feel that was the class I was most likely to win, as they were probably the best I’ve ever grown at first glance. Once cleaned up they were perhaps a bit rougher than I would have liked but I still felt that if anyone had better then fair play to them. As it was there were a total of 4 entries that were better but a 5th in the National Championships against the best root growers in the land is not something to be sniffed at.
My long carrots were a big disappointment. I had saved plenty for this show and having won at the Welsh only 2 weeks previously I had high hopes of challenging at Malvern. Those hopes soon started to evaporate as I pulled root after root that was heavy at the top but just didn’t carry their weight very far down. I eventually managed this passable set below, but a slightly smaller middle one let me down on uniformity, and a few rough edges certainly didn’t help. I am now looking forward to a life without shifting several tonnes of sand each Spring, of boring five foot holes and sieving several gallons of compost.
I performed well in the collection classes, coming 7th out of 14 entries in the Millennium and a mere one point away from a 5th placed ticket. My stumps and spuds just weren’t good enough really. I have had several instances now of being no more than a point away, sometimes only half a point. Frustrating, but it does show the incredible levels some of these guys are performing at year in, year out.
I was 11th of 21 entries in the 3x2 class, but this one was no surprise to me, and I was just happy to have beaten so many other top growers on points. My rough long carrots were my downfall on this one, but they were all I had to go with. I have some decent caulis forming and if the show was a week later I may have just edged into the tickets if I’d had those ready instead.
And finally I was placed 2nd again in the National Trug Championships and this result did annoy me a little as I felt I surely must win this one when I’d finished it. There was one trug I recognised as being done by one of the regular winners felt mine was better in terms of the quality of veg on display. Alas, twas not to be and the judge later informed me that he was struggling to split us and that he felt my homemade trug just let me down as it was a bit tatty. A little galling as I was trying to achieve a slightly shabby, rustic feel to it, I certainly didn’t want not perfection, but the judge didn’t get that so I’ll just have to take it on the chin. Oh well, I’ll never have to do one of the stupid things ever again!
And that’s it, the journey is over, the race is run, and despite winning a National title it didn’t persuade me to carry on as I’ve really had enough and want to do other things for personal reasons which I explained to several people over the weekend. Driving back yesterday evening I felt only relief that I won’t have to put myself through this anymore. I’ve had a lot of good times showing my veg for over 2 decades, and made some brilliant friends that I will certainly be keeping in regular touch with. I’ve also made a few enemies but the least said about some of those officious wank stains the better. It only remains for me to say that if any of you ever, ever, ever have any questions about the hobby that you can’t find answers for then please just drop me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll always find time to reply with as much help as I can muster. I would also recommend, as I often have in the past, that if you want to be the best, whether it’s just at your local show or even if you have higher aspirations then you really do need to join The National Vegetable Society. For the first 12 years or so of my showing career my progress was slow to say the least. No fucker at the local shows ever wanted to tell you anything, but at the highest level I have only ever found growers who want to help and encourage you to improve.
Happy growing, happy showing everyone, over and most definitely out!
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Apparently there’s more than one way to skin a cat. There is also more than one way to promote the interests of a society or body, and the power of the internet is sometimes overlooked when it comes round to handing out the recognition gongs. So no doubt when the AGM’s happen across the land there will be lots of shiny medals handed out to the usual uninspiring jobsworths whilst those with alternative ideas and a bit of gob get overlooked as usual. Fucked if I care. The so-called power of the internet is also taken way too seriously by some folk who get upset over a throwaway joke so they can sod off and find someone else to judge their show from now on.
Anyhoo, in terms of Cape Canaveral we’re now at the launchpad and climbing the ladders up to the rocket, ready to commence countdown (What a totally wank analogy, must do better!). I have already lifted a lot of the 39 varieties of veg I’ll be using in the trug which I have no doubt will collapse the benches at Malvern. If I don’t win it will probably be because it isn’t technically a trug, more of a wheelbarrow without wheels. However, I have come a long way since I produced this trug 10 years ago for my local show.
Every veg on it was red (or purple-y), as a sort of homage to the World’s greatest football team. Happy days now that Manchester United (did you know it's now 10,000 days since Liverpool won the League?) are once more leaving the rest of the Premier League in their wake and playing the sort of orgasmic footy we’ve been used to for so long. I once started plans to grow blue veg in honour of Maggie Thatcher, Britain’s greatest prime minister but decided a trug full of Blue Lake French beans, the only ‘blue’ veg I could think of, probably wouldn’t have got me very far.
My 250g onions have been weighed and sorted for the sets I need and boxed up so all I have to do now is load and go, and it will be easy stress free staging at the show. Outside chance of a low ticket with those possibly.
Tuesday night I lifted my globe beetroot as I need a set of 3 for the Malvern side and a 4 for the Millennium class at the National. They had been growing in a variety of deep beds allowing me to excavate a very deep hole beside them in order to get as much of the fine tap root up as I possibly could. Having pulled over 30 I was really struggling to sort my best set of 4 and didn’t feel any of them cut the mustard but just as it was getting dark I gave up and went with 2 sets plus a few for the trug and trudged up to the house to clean them. Once under the tap and cleaned up I have to say they didn’t look too bad so that cheered me up no end, and they are now immersed in water to which a good dash of vinegar and salt has been added. I’ve always done this as I was once told it helps to enhance the colour but in all seriousness I think it makes absolutely no odds whatsofuckingever, and all it does is make you crave some fish and chips. I won’t trim the foliage until I’m at the show.
I have also sorted out all the black display cloths I need for the various classes, had them washed and ironed and put into plastic bags with a label on each bag saying which is for which class. Another labour saving tip to avoid last minute panic. When I started showing over 20 years ago I did most of this the night before a show and still found time to bake a few cakes. The cakes were shit but I found time to bake them nonetheless. Talking of cakes a few of us are having highly serious mince pie competition at Malvern, to be judged by Medwyn Williams. We had a very similar one last year with rock cakes and despite baking the best looking, best tasting, and most evenly distributed fruit-wise I was inexplicably placed last due to some underhanded cheating by my so-called fellow competitors. This year I have a secret plan to ensure I will emerge triumphant however.
Last night I had all sorts of plans to lift and prepare a variety of vegetables but around 3pm I got a call from the Daily Mail who had found a photo I had posted on Twitter of the large ‘quality’ carrot I’m going to enter into the Giant Veg classes at Malvern, and “did I have a small child I could borrow to make it look even bigger?” To cut a long story short when we got home from work (collecting my eldest grandson en route) we spent over an hour having our photos taken with the offending root, so watch out for yours truly in tomorrow’s DM. Page 3 would be appropriate I reckon.
This set me right back and all I had time to do was to get my stump rooted carrots up, which turned out to be the biggest disappointment since I tried removing the shell from my racing snail to make him more streamlined only to find that it actually made him more sluggish. They were crap. Utter crap. I got an ‘ok’ set for the Millennium Class but it is only ok at best and this is one crop I shall be glad to say goodbye to.
One bit of good news is I have a reasonable entry in Class 26 for kohl rabi. I managed to get a couple of sets, one quite big and one smaller but more fresh looking and that’s the set I decided to go for. I just hope I’ve trimmed them correctly but I’ve left everything long and will have to have a quick look at everyone else’s on Saturday morning to see if I need to cut back a bit further.
And one piece of remarkable luck I had over last weekend was my wife offering to wash my carrots for me in order to help out. She’s never offered to do that before so Tuesday night I pulled a reject one with a large split for her to have a practice on. After no more than 20 minutes she emerged from the bathroom with a carrot that looked way better than anything I’ve ever done myself, even allowing for the split. She had even removed all the fine root hairs and used a soft toothbrush on the crown. What a woman. I just hope I can give her some roots of real quality on Friday morning for her to do her magic with. Amazing, considering all this comes less than a week after she threatened to leave me because she reckons I always exaggerate things too much. I was so shocked I almost tripped over my cock.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
I wasn’t going to enter another trug class ever, ever, ever, after coming second last season with a trug that needed a squadron of the Royal Engineers to lift the fucking thing but as I was writing my entries on the Malvern entry form then ‘5A’ somehow managed to dribble out of my pen and onto the paper. Why the thundering fuck have I done that for fuck’s sake? Ah well, when it’s in thee blood tha’kno’s! It’s now called The National Trug Championship no less and i’ve already started assembling it in my garage by placing a marrow and some onions to get a basic structure and more veg will be added as it becomes available during next week when I start lifting for Malvern. The key is to get as much of the big stuff placed so there are no big gaps and they support each other during transportation. ‘Flowery’ bits such as small tomatoes, brussels and chillis can be added once it’s on the showbench to fill any smaller gaps and then any holes are filled with parsley to hide all the foam packing beneath. Hopefully I can go one better than last season when I was actually disappointed to only come 2nd. I’d thought I’d got it but hey ho, I won one or two other things elsewhere so I shouldn’t grumble. I've since been told the judge wouldn't have liked my big marrow at the front!
A first for me is going to be the Giant Veg Championships held on the other side of the showground, where I’ve entered a carrot in the heavy class. It’s actually one of my ‘quality’ carrots that has grown way too big, some 11 inches around. When I tried to pull it last week thinking it might do for the 6x1 class in Wales I couldn’t budge it so it has probably carried it’s weight well down too and has a lot of surface area so it’ll take a bit more excavating. It’s proved to me that New Red Intermediate can certainly be used for the giant heavyweights where they will dig the seedlings up early in its life and cut the tap root to encourage forking. I have a vested interest in this class now I know that a certain grower in Wales has a potential world beater and has used my seed. The Giants go down to 6th place so you never know I might get a ticket.
I’ve entered cucumbers at the National and I finally have a few likely suspects growing well having not exhibited a cucumber yet this season. Indeed I cut my first cu this morning before coming to work, carefully wrapped it in clingfilm and popped it carefully in the fridge to await another couple of the several other suspects to catch up. I made a cardboard template to check the lengths against over the next week. When the National was last held at Malvern in 2012 I broke my National duck by coming 4th (below) with 3 large fruits but I’m going for smaller ones this year as they can lose a bit of colour if you leave them on the plant too long. I’m also straightening the fruits as they form and it’s best to do this at the end of the day when they’re a bit less turgid. You need to be careful in your manipulation mind. Think wanking a sore knob and you get an idea of how gentle you have to be. In theory you no longer have to exhibit them with flowers still intact but everyone still does so if yours falls off just stick it back on with a tiny dab of superglue. Every fucker still does it, some even glue totally fresh fucking flowers on!
I’ve also gone and entered celery where you need a set of 3. Having gone through all the remaining plants on Monday and removed any split outer sticks they are all looking quite healthy and relatively slug damage free although I find it almost impossible to grow them perfectly clean, as do many other growers it appears. There was a very nice set of celery at Carmarthen grown by Jim Thompson but I don’t think I was a million miles from the other ticket winners. However, at the last Malvern National celery was an incredibly well supported class as shown below, so anything less than exceptional isn’t going to get a look in.
I have entered stumps at Malvern on both sides of the marquee, more of a just in case than anything else. My stumps so far this season have been awful, I’d actually go as far as saying completely shit, either pointy, too thin or having large holes in them. I have a 2nd bed growing that were set away a week after the first and these have appeared much healthier all season for some reason. The shoulders seem bigger too so who knows. My main aim is to get a set of 4 for the Millennium collection and anything else would be a bonus, so if I also get a set of 5 for the National and/or a set of 3 for the Malvern side then I’ll have been a very lucky boy.
One class that I won’t be entering is for 5 onions 1-1 ½ kg as I simply cannot get them ripe. 2 are ok and will appear in my trug but the rest are as green as the day I lifted them. Pity, as well ripened I reckon I may have had an outside chance of a ticket and indeed one of the ripened ones went into my Welsh 6x1 entry and scored quite well.
I have once again entered the 3x2 class, where you need 3 different 20 pointer veg, 2 of each. Back in 2011 at my first National I came about 14th out of 20 with long carrots/parsnips and spuds and if I’m honest I was a country mile away from the tickets, along with many others I guess it has to be said.
I think I was 11th out of 20 or so at Malvern in 2012 with long carrots/parsnips and celery but it was certainly a higher scoring exhibit.
7th out of 14 at Harrogate would appear to be a similar result but I think my parsnips were the highest scoring of all the parsnips in the class so I was getting closer. Weird lighting at Harrogate!
At Dundee in 2015 I was a mere half point out of the tickets but I don’t feel this exhibit was as good as my two previous efforts.
This year I’ll be going for long carrots/parsnips and celery as per Malvern 2012, so I’ll be hoping to go that final push and get into the tickets. If my long roots score as highly as they did in Wales then I might just do it, but this class is always a hugely popular one so it’ll be a massive achievement if I could.
And finally, Dan Unsworth texted me in a tizzy the other day as he’d just woken up from a dream where the blonde one in Abba was giving him a blow job, and he was understandably annoyed that he’d not finished the dream. Dan had only woken up because his beard was tickling his bollocks.
Monday, September 11, 2017
On Friday evening we travelled over 200 miles to compete in the annual Welsh Branch Championships of the NVS and after a long journey the first problem that faced us was manoeuvring the car down a ridiculously narrow alley at the side of our hotel to their car park. Despite pulling the wing mirrors in I was still sucking my breath in to try and make us smaller! Further shocks came as I tried to get a few hours kip which soon became almost impossible as the dregs of Carmarthen nightlife seemed to use the street below our room window for a slanging match. Rising at 3.15am for the 8 mile journey to the venue I passed dozens of revellers still going strong in the many pubs, but whilst their night was drawing to a close mine was just about to begin.
When I staged my veg at the Royal Pavillion at the 2011 National in Llangollen I didn’t think I’d ever come across a more dramatic place for a veg show. Walking into the domed glasshouse of the Welsh Botanic Garden was an even bigger wow moment however and proved to be a truly stunning place set your exhibits out in. And straight away I thought I’d potentially wasted my time as there was some superb stuff already on the benches but if I’ve learned one thing it’s never be put off by first glances as you never know what faults you can’t see on other people’s stuff, and you can be sure the judge will find them. One entry I didn’t manage to get down was in the National Tap Root Championships of Great Britain which was really the whole point of entering in the first place, to fulfil a dream I first had when I started showing over 20 years ago. Unfortunately my long beet just didn’t come up to the desired standard so I went to plan B and entered parsnips and long carrots instead. And it wasn’t a bad plan B as I managed to win the long carrots and get 3rd in parsnips, although I have to say I felt my long carrots were as rough as a badger’s snatch. I’d had to scrub them more than I would have liked as there was a lot of black marks at the skin lenticels where the root hairs emerge and I just couldn’t get them as clean as I would have preferred. Having said that several people told me they were still clear winners but I know I’ll need better looking roots for the National in 2 weeks time. Still, it was nice to take a few quid off the elderly class sponsor!
I was altogether much happier with my parsnips and thought I may even have won, they certainly looked the best set on Sunday afternoon when the dry atmosphere of the glasshouse was rendering many of the exhibits quite dehydrated in appearance, but I was happy that Mark Perry won the class, and here he is doing his best silverback gorilla impression. He was so happy to win that he left the trophy behind at the function and had to come back for it. Tit.
If anything went against my nips it was probably that I had one a bigger diameter at the top and I was in two minds about pulling more to see if I could get a better match up, but in the end I decided to leave well alone and save the rest for the National when Mark and I will be doing it all again, this time however we’ll be up against even stiffer competition so we’ll need even better roots. I was also in the tickets with my tomatoes (3rd), 250g onions (3rd) and marrows (2nd) so all in all a really good return as this level of competition is the top of the tree believe me.
The Welsh Branch has a collection class for 6 single veg which is always a well supported class as every exhibitor will have that one single specimen that doesn’t match any others but is otherwise superb, and in keeping with several other attempts at this type of collection I was frustratingly out of the tickets by only half a point. Whilst I had the highest pointed parsnip and long carrot my scabby potato only scored 12.5 out of 20 so it was my own fault, as I should have put a tomato or cucumber in instead.
One other piece of news that absolutely blew me away was that a chap in Minnesota USA has just broken the World record for the heaviest carrot, a record held by our own Peter Glazebrook. So what I hear you ask? Well, amazing as it sounds I actually supplied this guy with the seed in a roundabout way. I set my 5th place winning carrots from the 2015 Dundee National away for seed, harvesting them late last year intending to use them myself and give away any surplus to anyone who wanted some, advertising this on a couple of Facebook pages and several growers took me up on the offer. Kevin Fortey of GiantVegUK heard of this and asked me for some seed to send to America as they use New Red Intermediate, they just grow it in a different way to get the heavyweights. I sent him a load and thought no more of it, doubting that giant veg of such proportions could ever come from my seed, despite the fact that the roots they came from were quite a heavy set. Apparently there is a chap in South Wales who is growing a carrot that may even beat this one, and he is also using my seed, so I’ll be very interested to see the outcome at Malvern. Happy days.
And on Saturday afternoon, just before we set off to the prize giving function hosted by a very generous Welsh Branch that had made us very welcome all weekend, I was asked by a fellow hotel guest what time Liverpool kicked off. About every 15 minutes I told him.
Tuesday, September 05, 2017
A top grower (well he always insisted he was a top grower) was once quite sniffy about competing in local shows, implying that it was beneath him now that he was winning at NVS Branch shows with his cabbages and cucumbers. Not me. I still get a big buzz out of winning a ticket at my local show and it was with some sadness that I entered my veg on Saturday morning for the last time. I know the organisers have been a little bit worried about the effect my giving up showing will have on the show as I have supported it with multiple entries since my first show here in 2001, but there were a few new exhibitors putting in some reasonable quality stuff so I sincerely hope the show will continue to thrive. These shows are the breeding grounds for anyone with aspirations to go onto bigger things but should always be supported as much as possible. And besides I said I’d still try and support them with some baking in future years. However, they told me not to threaten them with that shit. As it was I walked off with the coveted Society Cup for most points, and my name will now be etched on the side of it for a record extending 14th time in 17 years. I’m rather stupidly proud of that.
As I said in the previous post I was particularly pleased with my winning long carrots which were quite a small set compared to many more I appear to have growing. If they carry their weight down like these I’m going to be in a position to compete at the bigger shows to come. One slight concern on a single carrot I pulled for another class was what appeared to be cavity spot which is said not to affect long carrots as much as stumps. I actually used the infected sand from my cavity spot infected stump beds to fill extra carrot drums thinking things would be fine so we shall have to see if this is going to be a major problem for me over the next few weeks.
My stump carrots were almost embarrassing to me. Yes, they won, but if I’d put this set in a National Veg show I’d have been soundly beaten with a sharpened swede, they really were utter wank. I’ll be pulling my stumps for the Welsh Branch Championships tomorrow night and if they’re anything remotely like this they’re going to feed my grandson’s rabbit.
Being a local show you can put more than one entry in a class so over the years in an effort to support the show I have often made multiple entries, whilst being wary of not wanting to do too much and put people off. It’s a fine line but sometimes it’s best to just put one in if you know you’re probably going to win it so that someone else can experience the thrill of getting a ticket. One class I did pull a few entries in was the any other veg class, and my rhubarb was a worthy winner beating my marrows into 2nd and my turnips into 3rd. Other exhibitors’ entries in the class included kale, radish, chard, squash and a very large pair of caulis that were unfortunately badly discoloured and well past their best.
I had 1st and 2nd in the tomato class but was surprised my 2nd place entry didn’t actually win. What do you think?
The small fruited tomato class at any show is always well contested and I was pleased to win with a set of Strillo, although I had to cut over 50 to find a set of 10 that weren’t split. Fair to say I shan’t be growing Strillo ever again.
I won the globe beet class with a nice set of 3 that I thought I’d made a fatal mistake with when I was prepping them. I cut the foliage as if I was prepping them for a National show when I suddenly clapped my hands over my face as I realised our show asks for them to be shown ‘with foliage’. Calming down I noticed that I had cut them long at first and therefore there was some new middle foliage still visible so technically I couldn’t be NAS’d and so it proved as far as the judge was concerned.
And the little fuchsia ‘Auntie Jinks’ that I’d been nurturing all Spring & Summer won me another 1st place. Triffic.
As I said earlier, I’m now turning my thoughts to the Welsh Branch of the NVS Branch Championships in Carmarthen this coming weekend, assuming we’re not going to get nuked by North Korea and America before then, and I emailed my entry form off yesterday morning. Saves the cost of a stamp and doesn’t risk those spanners at Royal Mail losing it in transit. I have entered the rather grandly named National Tap Root Championships of Great Britain but it does all depend on how my long beet pull tonight. I’m having to pull them so long before the show as the daylight hours are getting much less in the evenings by the time those of us who work for a living manage to get home. It’ll be carrots tomorrow night and parsnips on Thursday as we’re travelling down on Friday evening so everything needs to be up and prepped in good time. I’ve entered 9 classes in all plus a couple of back-ups, long carrots and parsnips if the long beet doesn’t cut the mustard, but I shan’t bother with those if they’re adequate for the tap root collection. There is also another collection class for 3 sets of veg with a points value of 18 or less, so I’ll hopefully be going for tomatoes, runner beans and stump carrots, but this is usually a highly contested class so each veg will have to be tip top.
And finally I was in bed the other night pulling off my boxers when the wife walked in on me. “Please don’t do that to the dogs!” she said.
Friday, September 01, 2017
It was major news recently that bugs in general must be in serious decline because it had been noticed that our car windscreens have not suffered the annual Summer splatfest, and the usual suspects such as Chris Packham and Bill Oddie were stating that this was a terrible thing for the future of mankind. Pair of cunts. The less bugs and nasties as far as I’m concerned the better, it means less unappetising damage on our veggies, and who knows we may not have to spray insecticides so much in future? I have noticed a pair of adolescent blackbirds seem to be constantly on the ground in my garden, only fluttering away at the last moment when I’ve approached so perhaps they are having to work harder looking for food if it is indeed less abundant. Whatever, I’m sure the bugs and beastie fuckers will return at some point, perhaps they’re just having a fallow year?
Tomorrow is my local show and much of my veg is up and prepped, including a pair of long carrots which I’m particularly pleased about. They were a couple of the smallest I could find, but still 8” around the shoulder, and carried their weight really well down the root, and were a reasonable matching pair and I’d be very surprised if anyone has better. If what I hope are my best specimens that I’m saving for later shows are the same then they could be quite special. However, the set of stumps that I pulled can only be described as utter wank. They are badly ribbed, too long and thin, and pointier than Japanese tourist. I was all set to abandon any attempt at the National Tap Root Championships of Great Britain next weekend, until I had a furtle on the bottoms of half a dozen bigger looking roots by excavating an inspection hole next to them, and delving my hand down for a fondle in the depths. They all seemed to have better defined stump ends and were all the same length so hopefully I can entice a matching pair from them. I replaced the sand so they can stay fresh until I need to pull next Wednesday night. Tonight I shall pull a pair of small parsnips, again leaving my best roots for bigger battles to come, and at the last minute wash a couple of sets of scabby spuds that I wouldn’t dare set on the benches at a National show, but which should still be in the tickets at the weekend if I can rub of the few small patches of scab.
A few admissions now. Back in late July/early August I harvested 9 nice onions for the 1 ½ kg class at Malvern but I’ll be buggered if I can get the fucking things to ripen. The key with getting large onions to ripen appears to be getting them harvested early, as the later you get them up the less likely they appear to want to ripen evenly. I’ve also had a couple go rotten at the base although there was absolutely no sign of any rot when I got them up. Fucking things. And you may remember the brilliant idea I had of getting the globe beet up when they reached size, cutting off some of the foliage and reburying them so that they didn’t grow any more. Well in that sense it was a success as they didn’t, but they did go a bit soft and of course the foliage went all floppy and thus no longer any good for showing, so all in all it was a fucking stupid idea that Mark Perry suggested I try.
I also started off back in the Spring by championing the powers of Perlka to keep your brassica beds free of club root, but despite using it I’ve lost so many caulis to this disease this season that I’m now struggling to get a decent cauli head to show anywhere. Next season I shall try watering dilute Jeyes Fluid into the planting holes, another remedy suggested to me in the past to see if has any better success. If that doesn’t work it was also Mark Perry’s idea. All in all I’m just wondering if my plot just needs a damned good ‘rest’ which is exactly what it’s going to get from next year, so that I can add lots more organic matter and perhaps experiment with compost teas and the like. Thinking about it, for over 20 years all my growing has been geared up to the show season, meaning that everything comes at once during September when we have so much produce we end up giving a lot away that isn’t show worthy or even composting it. It’s a bit of a criminal waste as well as a drain on the soil, so time will tell if a more relaxed regime, with successional sowing, little and often, and a more all year round production cycle will give me healthier crops. Chris Packham would be proud of me. Cockney tongue tied cunt.
Have a good weekend, i'll be back on Monday with news of my first show exploits.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
It is my local show at the weekend, a typically British affair as part of a large village fete with lots of other attractions going off. The horticultural show is on grass and under canvas and there really is no other smell to compare, it’s truly wonderful especially if the sun shines. As it will be my last I intend to enjoy the day and I hope those of you who have similar such shows also enjoy some success and that you don’t have to contend with a Harry Ecklethwaite as portrayed in Carrots at Dawn, the brilliant novel written by my good pal Craven Morehead (damn fine fella, brilliant grower, hung like a horse and should be running the country).
Show Day arrives
A British village show held amongst the aroma of newly cut grass under canvas is a truly unique affair to be witnessed nowhere else in the World. It is often the one time of the year when the whole community comes together, where lifelong friendships are forged and love affairs sometimes begin, a time of happiness or perhaps remembrance and reflection. Set against a backdrop of a brass band playing, maybe a World War Two Spitfire roaring overhead or a steam engine hissing, a typical British Summer’s afternoon will see hundreds of people strolling amongst the many attractions with ice creams in their hand or else rushing for cover as a sudden deluge descends. Invariably there are flower and vegetable competitions where the best local growers will exhibit their prized onions, carrots, pumpkins and chrysanthemums. The local ladies also come together to compete against each other with their cakes, and jams, or their knitting and flower arrangements. There are often painting and photography classes to tempt the local artists and pretentious Lord Snowdon’s who will photo-shop their snaps to within an inch of their lives so that they bear absolutely no resemblance to the image they originally captured nor indeed a photograph as most normal people would recognise it. Children will roll up with an assortment of animals made from vegetables, the judge for this class, usually the local vicar or visiting mayor often taking ages over his deliberations before deciding on a one-two-three, sometimes bottling a decision entirely and giving each and every child a ‘highly commended’ and a chocolate bar.
Most of this is intended to be in the name of fun and indeed the majority of the participants enter into it with the same spirit but often rivalries can span decades and encompass varying degrees of bitterness between the protagonists. The nastiest of these rivalries usually revolve around the horticultural classes and it is not uncommon for official complaints to be made after judging by the grower who came second. Sabotage is also something the growers have to watch out for, as Dick Tallboys had discovered many years before. It is not uncommon at shows for exhibits to be tampered with behind the owner’s back. For instance, cucumbers must be shown with the flowers still intact but these very often mysteriously get detached and are never seen again after the grower has left them on the staging bench, thus resulting in him being marked down by the judges. Other tricks include onions having finger nails furtively sunk into them to ruin the skin, or vases of flowers emptied of water so that the flowers have wilted by the time they are judged. A judge also has to be on the look-out for dirty tricks carried out by the growers themselves to enhance their own produce, with pumpkins and marrows often being internally syringed with water to make them weigh more, carrots may have orange furniture polish expertly applied to a crack or a hole and in the longest runner bean class exhibitors will splice two beans together by fixing it to a wooden batten using tape to conveniently hide the join.
Allaways-on-Cock’s annual show was no stranger to such shenanigans. Like most similar shows the growers, bakers, painters and florists had to display their exhibits by a certain time when the marquee will be vacated by everyone except the esteemed judges and their accompanying stewards. This was Harry Ecklethwaite’s stamping ground, his raison d’etre, his beginning and his end. He always got to the marquee a few minutes before it opened for entries at 8am on show day so that he could start reverently placing his sixty or so exhibits in the many classes, thus giving him plenty of time to get the task done before the judges turned up in a few hours. He also liked to give himself plenty of time to weigh up the opposition as and when it appeared, delaying them in conversation if needs be so that they became flustered and made mistakes in their own staging. Four or five growers, sometimes more, from the wider environs of Allaways would come to compete against Harry and Dick when he was alive, but in all of its one hundred plus years the cup for most points had never been won by anyone outside the village. Harry’s reputation spread far and wide and many had tried to usurp him but to no avail, Harry often using underhand methods, some of them described above to ensure such a thing could never happen.
On the occasion of this, the one hundredth show, Harry woke unusually late having stupidly gone from a quick nightcap to four or five large glasses of whisky, his banging head making him more irritable than usual………
Friday, August 25, 2017
For most of us the show season is now well and truly upon us and there’s diddly shit you can really do to alter the colour of the cards you’ll be winning, if any, apart from continuing to keep on top of the usual pests. My first show is not until next weekend, my local show, and for the first time for as long as I can remember I won’t be entering runner beans or cucumbers. That’s because I only sowed them with later shows in mind and after thinking I may even have overcooked those I am now thinking I’ll be getting some on the bench at either the Welsh Branch, or Harrogate, or Malvern, and certainly RHS Westminster in early October. The first fruits are now being allowed to develop on the cucumber plants, variety Carmen, now that they have ‘turned the corner’ at the eaves, where they have started to be trained horizontally to allow all fruits to hang downwards. This keeps them away from the foliage thus avoiding scratching and means you can manipulate them straight if they’re bent.
The runner beans are now forming although I’ve never seen plants with such little foliage. They do look quite bizarre but hasn’t seemed to affect the amount of pods. I could possibly get a set for my local show next weekend but I think I’ll wait a few more days to get a set up for the NVS Welsh Branch show in Carmarthen at the Welsh Botanic Gardens. You can start picking runner beans 5 or 6 days before the show as soon as they reach the size you require (I’m going for 14 or 15” plus the tail) and wrap in a damp cloth against a wooden batten to keep them fresh and straight and pop them in the fridge. Not too cold mind.
I have a row of Exhibition Longpod broad beans growing away against canes at an angle and the beans are about 2-3” long now, so no good for my show this weekend. Bit of chocolate spot but a Signum drench soon stopped that In its tracks. There is a class at the Welsh for 4 sets of legumes, but as I don’t grow peas I’m fucked, so these are destined for the kitchen I fear, but it has been a useful exercise to gather info on growing them to show if I ever get back into it in 20 years time.
Some of the first kohl rabi to be planted out are starting to swell so these will be too early for Malvern, but it looks like the 2nd or 3rd batch will probably be spot on, and I’m hoping the Kref in my polytunnel will be one of them. The variety in the photo is Kolibri and there are another 2 later sowings of this alongside, so my dream of becoming National German Turnip Champion are very much alive and well.
At Harrogate & RHS Westminster there are classes for chilli peppers and I have lots to choose from, albeit they are still green but starting to turn red soon I reckon. My banker variety Hungarian Wax (below) always gives me plenty of choice to make a selection from, but I’m not sure about a 2nd one I’m growing this season called Cyklon. A case of the reality not quite matching catalogue photo I fear.
With 2 weeks to the Welsh Branch my dream of getting an entry at the British Tap Root Championships is hanging in the balance. My long beet are still quite small at the shoulder, barely an inch and a half diameter, but if they carry that diameter down for 10 or 12 inches then they may look ok. My parsnips, variety Victor, are also starting to concern me as they haven’t responded to the Chempak 8 feed yet and a number of them are looking quite spindly and therefore the root should also be quite small. At the beginning of the month I felt they were 3 weeks ahead of last season but they don’t appear to have grown much in the meantime. I do have quite a few large looking specimens so I’ll be saving these to try and get a set of 5 at the National, so I’ll have a decision to make as to which ones to pull for a set of 2 at the Welsh for the Tap Root Class. Decisions, decisions!
I’ve been picking tomatoes, variety Zenith, for the best part of 2 months, when I’m usually just starting to pick my first fruits so they are well ahead compared to previous seasons. It means I’ll have plenty to choose from for the next 2 weekends, including the Welsh where there are lots of top tomato growers to test yourself against. If I manage to get a ticket there I’ll be well chuffed.
For my local show I’ve been growing a fuchsia variety called Auntie Jinks that I rescued from one of last year’s hanging baskets. After taking advice I pinched out all shoots until 11 weeks before the show, then snipped off all the flower buds until 5 weeks before the show and I have to say it is going to be spot on in a week’s time once all these buds burst into flower. I haven’t grown a fuchsia for a show for several years, and I have found all the cocking about snipping and debudding quite therapeutic after a hard day at work I have to say. If you’re planning to show a fuchsia at your local show do make sure you tidy the plant up a bit, take off any foliage that is turning yellow and any flowers past their best, and give the pot a good wipe. There’s nothing that fuck’s a judge off more than getting his hands dirty on muddy pots.
So, over the next few weeks it’s going to get quite intense as you’re prepping for the show, but do take time out now and again to smell the coffee. It should be enjoyable, not stressful and you don’t want to miss little gems like these cyclamen I noticed growing at the foot of my conservatory wall today. Spiffin’.
And finally Dan Unsworth took to Twitter this week to strongly refute claims that he’s a gay dyslexic. Personally I think he’s in Daniel. And finally finally, the French man who invented beach sandals sadly died this week. RIP Philippe Phillope.