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Friday, June 30, 2017

Class 26

For those unaware of The National Vegetable Society it is split into 5 branches, Southern, Midlands, Welsh, Northern and Scottish. Each branch has its own BRANCH championships every year, and the Midlands Branch that I belong to holds theirs at Malvern each year. Northern Branch hold theirs at Harrogate for instance and so forth. The Southern Branch Championships is always the first one of the year and they hold theirs in July at the Dorset County Show, and if you can win down there you can probably win at any village show in the country. Every five years each branch takes their turn to host the National Championships of the NVS and this year it’s the turn of Midlands Branch at Malvern. As a result the Midlands Branch Championships will be held as part of Shrewsbury Show in August instead. I won’t be able to do that one so I shall have to relinquish my parsnip trophy won for the past 2 years at Malvern. Any member can enter any of the 5 branch championships and the National, and it’s the National which is the biggest and best and the one that every grower aspires to. There are 26 classes in all, and because of the incredible level of competition any ticket is something to cherish, because the usual names are often the ones that hoover up the silverware so it’s incredibly difficult to become a true National Champion. The best growers usually travel to wherever the National is held, whereas that isn’t always the case for the Branch Championships so you can only ever really call yourself a regional champion if you win at a Branch, although some branch championships do carry more kudos than others. I hope that clears up any confusion?

In 2012 The National Vegetable Society introduced a new class (no. 26) into their annual National Championships for a 15 point or under veg that would change each year, the hosting branch having the honour of deciding which veg would be contested. In 2012 at Malvern the veg chosen by Midlands Branch was marrows, and the winner was Marcus Powell, pictured below during a recent court case for breaching an injunction taken out against him by Sherie Plumb.

A year later at Harrogate it was small fruited tomatoes won by Mark Hewartson (I came 3rd!), in 2014 at Dorset Southern Branch chose globe beet won by Andrew Jones. In 2015 at Dundee, Scottish Branch chose broad beans which I thought was an interesting choice as I only ever grew them to eat and didn’t realise they could be grown to show so late in the season. The size of those benched at Dundee really staggered me as they must have been over a foot long, a variety called Relon that appears to be no longer available in any catalogues and which has been perpetuated by some of the growers up there. Ian Simpson won the class.

I had some seed given to me by Jim Pearson and grew Relon last season but could not time them for any shows. Despite sowing them according to Jim’s sowing dates they all cropped way too early but I have to say they were huge beans like those benched in Scotland so I’ll keep the strain going south of the border if I can.

Last year when the National was held in Carmarthen at the Welsh Botanic Garden glasshouse the Welsh Branch chose globe beet once again, displaying the usual lack of imagination you expect from the Welsh. Well, they still think their rugby team are the best in the World! It was won by Trevor Humphrey with his usual stunners with incredibly long tap roots.

This year the class has come full circle and it’s the turn of Midlands Branch once more to choose which veg to grow and compete with, and they have gone slightly off grid with kohl rabi, or german turnips to give its alternative name. 

I think this is an inspired choice as you never see it on the benches and I doubt if many of the usual suspects will ever have grown it for exhibition so this is one National title that is really up for grabs this year I believe. I shall be doing my first sowing this weekend, with Malvern a mere 13 weeks away, and a second sowing next weekend which should be about the right timing to get me a set of 4. I’ve only ever grown kohl rabi 2 or 3 times in the past so I do have a little bit of knowledge about them, and one thing I did learn is that they soon deteriorate once they reach their prime so timing is essential. Now, according to the NVS judges guide kohl rabi should be no more than tennis ball size, but there is a variety I’m tempted to grow called Superschmelz which can grow considerably bigger. Whatever you grow all specimens need to be alike in shape and size, and most importantly of all in good condition with no sign of pest or disease damage. I doubt any of the judges at the National no matter how experienced would have come across this crop many times during their judging career so no doubt they’ll all be cribbing up on it just in case class 26 is one assigned to them!

It will be interesting to see what the branches decide on in future as there are many more 15 point or less crops that could be given a go, assuming the unimaginative Welsh keep plumping for globe beet of course. Cabbages, brussels, broccoli, calabrese, celeriac, courgettes, garlic, kale, lettuces, peppers, radish, swedes and turnips to name but a few.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Too late now!

In life you are often faced with situations that seem at first glance to be one thing, which may look quite threatening, but in actuality turn out to be something totally opposite and entirely benign. For instance, (and I use this example and location entirely at random) if you saw a group of middle-aged white people in a field below the magnificent Malvern hills, standing around a table full of fruit cakes, your natural reaction, understandably so, would be that they were all converted ISIS terrorists determined to ruin the Malvern Show and all that it stood for. A closer look, and it takes some doing believe me, would reveal a bunch of friends merely having a laugh and a joke and taking the piss out of the cooking of skills of some of their number, but I have to accept it’s an easy mistake to make at first glance.

Some garden creatures are similarly maligned, such as ants and woodlice for instance. People often blame them for things not growing so well because they see them crawling all over their suffering plants, but woodlice only feed on rotting detritus (unlike me they don’t have big enough gobs you see!) and don’t cause the damage in the first instance, but rather take advantage once a plant has begun to rot. Ants are probably farming aphids for their bodily fluids if you see them, and likewise are not to blame for a plant not growing so well, although the aphids they are milking and managing probably are. So it pays to try and think logically when faced with an issue so that you can treat accordingly. For instance, for the past few years now I have really struggled to get globe beetroot seeds to germinate and I couldn’t work out why as I always found they were one of the easiest crops I ever grew. I was starting to blame the seed suppliers, or else slugs were nibbling them off before they had chance to establish properly as I was still getting some come through albeit there was extremely sparse germination. I was even wondering if mice were nicking the seed but there was never any soil disturbance so it couldn’t be that. I ditched Pablo a couple of years back and tried one called Cardeal with no change in success rates so I had to sit down and try and work out what I was doing wrong. In the end it turned out to be what I was doing differently. In the past I had always opened up a seed drill and thoroughly watered it prior to sowing the seed. For some reason I’ve yet to fathom, I stopped doing that, sowing the seed into the open drill, covering it over and then watering. I’ve gone back to that method this season and hey presto I’ve started to get much better germination rates. It’s often recommended in gardening books that you soak beetroot seed overnight before sowing to encourage it to break dormancy, and I think my pre-watered rows may have been doing a similar task.

You need to have a lot of globe beetroot to be able to pull a matching set of 3 I always find. They’re total bastards to match up. You can pull 3 roots up with the same diameter but then find they are all totally different when viewed in side profile. One will be flat bottomed, one will be ‘pointy’ and another may be forked or misshapen. I reckon I would have had to pull upwards of 20 for each of the 2 sets pictured below, 3rd on the open side at Malvern in 2015 and 1st on the open side at Dundee also in 2015. Neither set filled me with great delight I have to say, but it just goes to show you have to be in it to win it.

Some growers go to great lengths to grow them for exhibition, doing boreholes in much the same way as you would for carrots and parsnips to ensure a nice long tap root. I find that too much trouble for what is only a 15 point veg and can usually get some decent roots from various raised beds with a deep root run, if I can get the damned things to germinate that is. One thing you must ensure is they never go short of water, that the shoulders are covered as much as possible to prevent corkiness, and that you spray them to stop the mangold fly in its tracks. This critter will soon tunnel through the leaves and slow down growth considerably. Flea beetle is another pest that can be problematic, but I find Hallmark stops them both and leaves me with nice clean foliage. Globe beet need about 15 weeks from sowing to showing, and surprisingly, they need a lot of nitrogen feed for a root crop.

So like I said, try and think logically around a problem and don’t jump to quick conclusions. And, instead of threatening the cake bakers of ISIS with extermination perhaps you ought to ask them for ideas on making the World a happier friendly place instead and see what they can contribute to the community rather than condemning them to a life in the shadows?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Widening the appeal

In most walks of life you’ll come up against someone who passes himself off as an expert in his field but when you drill down into the facts you’ll find he actually knows four fifths of fuck all about it. The same is true in the world of exhibition vegetables, whether it be the exhibitor at your local show who moans about a result going against him when it’s quite clear he has been judged correctly because he hasn’t a clue how vegetables are actually judged, or the judge himself who has never personally exhibited as far as anyone can remember and yet who passes himself off as an expert through a mixture of age, experience and a lot of bullshit. These learned gentlemen are often stern in nature and treat the art of showing as a serious business and conduct themselves accordingly, but ‘evans almighty, growing to show is meant to be a fun hobby and thankfully such sad individuals are slowly being consigned to history. Certainly, in The National Vegetable Society there is a much more relaxed attitude to the hobby amongst the majority of the growers and I think this approach is slowly spreading out to the judges too. When I judge a show for instance, I’m looking to judge as many of the dishes as possible rather than find reasons to disqualify them.

A few years ago I had an experience that will influence my judging methods forever.  It was a local show, but of a reasonable quality, and as my wife was with me I sent her on ahead to check the quantities in each class were correct. She comes in handy that way and saves time. If there isn’t enough of something, for instance 8 shallots when 9 are asked for, then unfortunately there really is nothing you can do but to issue a ‘NAS’ ticket (not according to schedule) but I do try to leave a little note of encouragement such as ‘shame, these were good shallots otherwise’. However on this occasion she alerted me to a dish of tomatoes that had one too many in it, and at a first glance they would have been clear winners but for the obvious error on numbers. I had a steward shadowing me, himself a very experienced showman, and requested that he removed one of the offending fruits whilst my back was turned, thus allowing me to judge that dish along with the rest. His response totally shocked me, as he refused to do it, saying the exhibitor in question should know better and it wouldn’t be fair on the others in the class. As my wife calmed me down and sort of backed him up, I had no choice but to issue a NAS but it was a decision that didn’t sit easily with me. My mood worsened when I discovered later that the steward had benefitted from the NAS, achieving 3rd when he would have been out of the tickets if I’d been allowed to judge the NAS’d plate.

I asked a question on the NVS forum of other judges what they would have done in such a circumstance and I was quite bewildered by some of the responses. The one that really pissed me off was that it shouldn’t be allowed in case another exhibitor had spotted that his fellow competitor had benched too many of something. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK??? Let’s just think that one through for a minute. One of your opponents spotted that you had put too many shallots on the plate, and couldn’t be bothered or sporting enough to tap you on the shoulder and point out your mistake. What a cunt. He would then go further and complain if he came back after judging, having been certain no doubt upon vacating the marquee that there were still too many in your dish, that someone had altered it during the judging process when in fact you should have been disqualified. What a complete and utter total cunt turd of the highest order. Such wankshites have no place in the hobby as far as I am concerned and should be hung from their tessies.

In future when faced with a similar situation as the one with the tomatoes I will insist the excess is removed, and if the steward refuses I will do it myself. If he objects I will leave the area and not come back, thus leaving them in a pickle if the show isn’t judged. I would like to see this spread out to even the biggest shows. In 2013 when the National was held at Harrogate an elderly exhibitor who can’t bake cakes but who somehow manages to beat me every time, put too many shallots on his stand and was disqualified. They were otherwise magnificent shallots and would probably have been in the tickets in my opinion. I just think that NAS looked ridiculous to the paying public and did the NVS no favours if they want to entice new members, who may think such an antiquated society with such arcane rules isn’t for them.

There have to be rules of course, but these should be applied sensibly, fairly and in the spirit of positivity rather than negativity. As I said at the beginning, growing for show should be about having fun and promoting camaraderie and a sporting tolerance open to all, not the creation of a hidden underworld frequented by old men with piss-stained trousers and tweed jackets thumbing through their rule books looking for reasons to disqualify someone for having the audacity to smile.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Heatwaves and splash spuds

I took the opportunity the weekend before last to knock off some peaks in the Lake District, staying in the beautiful Buttermere valley. 26 miles and 6 mountains later my aching limbs are still suffering over a week later, but man I sure do look sexy on a mountaintop!

Whilst on top of a mountain called High Sile I took the opportunity to have a much needed bladder emptying session on the Ennerdale side of the mountain knowing that Gareth Cameron lives further down the valley. Gareth is 50% of a showing Cumbrian duo otherwise known as Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. I reckon my toxic weewee should have reached his allotment by now so it should already have started to kill all his veg meaning I have one less opponent to worry about come show time. Very much looking forward to my next walking holiday to the Campsie Fells, unfortunate name for surely no proper men live below such a gay sounding range of hills?

In the heatwave that large swathes of the country were experiencing recently I had to make sure my spuds in the bags were getting plenty of water. The haulms are currently approaching 12” high which is approximately the time when the tubers are forming (tuber initiation) and water is critical at this time if you want to avoid scab. I only grow a single variety these days, one called Amour which seems to be the one favoured by most of the top growers since the demise of Kestrel which appears to be losing some of its colour (the purple speckles on the rose end).

In truth I find Amour really easy to grow compared to other varieties, and the skin usually scrubs up a dream if you can keep it free from scab. From 30 bags last season I managed to win my local show which is always easy enough if I’m honest, but saved my best set of 5 for the coloured class at Malvern. This was a high risk strategy as I’ve never won a ticket for spuds at NVS level before but as soon as I’d benched them in a class with over 20 entries I did think they might have an outside chance of a ticket, the problem being most of the entries are covered with various cloths placed over them by the exhibitor to delay them going green until after judging, so you can never tell for sure. Coming back to a 3rd place ticket behind only Sherie Plumb in 2nd and Ray Sale in 1st was one of my best achievements last season I reckon, in that it was the most unexpected of all. If the tuber in the 9 o’clock position had been more rounded at the end then perhaps I might have been placed higher because my skin finish was on a par with 1st and 2nd. These are the fine lines you have to try and be above if you want to compete at that sort of level and you do have to be as critically subjective as you can when selecting your sets.

I planted 40 bags of Amour this year but a couple have failed to come through for some reason. Each bag is filled with peat, and whilst I don’t bother sieving or shredding the peat like a lot of growers do (can’t be fucked to be honest), I do fill them all by hand and break up any big lumps and discard any large twigs as I go. Bit of a ball-ache and a job I certainly won’t be missing in future when I give up the showing.

Due to the humid weather then blight will be prevalent around the country so you do need to sign up to one of the blight warning websites which are easy enough to subscribe to. I am on Blightwatch and I notice that the old ‘Smith Period’ calculation has now been ditched for something called the ‘Hutton Period’ which has much more scientific data behind it apparently. Blight is not something I’ve ever suffered myself but the other day I noticed most of the lower leaflets on my spuds were discolouring to a mottled yellow with darker patches that resembled blight. To the nervous grower this might have led to them taking an overdose of Yorkshire beer (which wouldn’t have killed them as it’s weaker than piss) but as I hadn’t had any warning of blight in my area I wasn’t concerned about that. I think it is magnesium deficiency so have sprayed with Epsom salts in the hope this will rectify the problem. I wonder if the copious amounts of water I’ve been spraying over them have leached the magnesium nutrient from the bags such as there was? In the Winter when we had a new kitchen sink fitted I took the opportunity to ask the plumber to fit me an outside tap at the same time. This is a luxury I’ve never had before so now I can water the garden at will, and as I don’t have a water meter I’ve done exactly fucking that. It has however, meant that I’ve often forgotten it was on, and I’ve buggered off somewhere and come back several hours later to large puddles of standing water and the neighbours complaining about water running through their gardens.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Small collections and big tits

If you’ve had chance to read the first chapter of Carrots at Dawn below I hope it's whetted your 'happy tit' enough to buy it and read the rest of it. There are a few bad reviews left on Amazon by people who objected to Craven Morehead (bloody nice bloke, very handsome too) contacting them direct via their presences on various gardening websites that are all in the PUBLIC FUCKING DOMAIN. Anyone blessed with the gift of laissez faire would merely have deleted those contacts (emails/FB messages/Forum posts etc) if they objected so strongly, but surely there are many more important things in life these days that should get our ganders up. One particularly nasty response came from a Mr. D. Brooks whoever the hell he is, who wrote;

'More than one gardening forum has been spammed by this person desperate to make an odd sale or two. For this reason - the same reason as one of the other reviewers - I would not now go anywhere near it.'

Now, I don’t know who this twat is but he sounds like a very old and miserable wanker with an allergy to smiling and if he ever attempted to write anything gardening/showing/allotment related or otherwise I have absolutely no doubt it would be the most boring and droning document ever written since the Hong Kong phone book, but no doubt he’d get an award for it. A much nicer review (and there are many) came from a Karen Coleman;

 'Absolutely hilarious. Couldn't put this book down. Had me chuckling out loud from start to finish. If you've a sense of humour and like gardening/growing vegetables then you'll love it. But if you're easily offended by swear words then maybe not. I thought it was bloody brilliant.
Highly recommended!

Moving on, I’m a great fan of the small collections at many of the bigger shows such as the 3x2 class which calls for 3 exhibits of two 20 point vegetables. This can often be useful as you usually need to pull many more long carrots of parsnips than you might need for a class, and can often find a good matching pair that would otherwise be left behind. Similarly you may harvest a glut of cauliflowers, or have more celery ready than you need for the regular classes. When the National was last held at Malvern in 2012 I entered this class with a pair each of long carrots, parsnips and celery and was very happy with my entry albeit I was nowhere near the tickets as there was a really heavy entry that year.

At Dundee in 2015 I went for long carrots, parsnips and caulis and was a mere point outside the tickets, so whilst making progress it really goes to show that all 3 dishes have to be top notch.

The winning entry from the great Scot Alistair Gray gives you some idea of the mountain mere mortals like me have to climb.

At Malvern last year for the Midlands Branch Championships I came 4th although quite how the judge awarded me a ticket beggars belief as one of my long carrots had quite a large split near the shoulder where it had got compressed by some boxes during the car journey. I really do wonder sometimes if the judges handle every single specimen, whilst having some sympathy with them as they are under pressure to get the task done in order for the show to open.

The ‘Millennium Class’ was introduced at the National a dozen or so years ago. You need 4 each of stump carrots, potatoes, 250g onions, globe beetroot and tomatoes, the idea being that you don’t need fancy growing facilities to be able to grow any of the crops required.  250g onions can be grown from sowing in February, tomatoes in March, spuds and stumps in April, and globe beet from May, so it really should be open to anyone. In reality it aint that easy and the top growers are usually to the fore, Peter Clark winning for the 3rd time in total at Dundee with this exhibit.

I was an excruciating half point outside the tickets, my tomatoes letting me down for once, the yellow calyces getting me down marked I feel sure, although they somehow scored 15 out of 18, and my spuds only receiving 13 out of 20, but at least I had improved on my 2012 showing when I was actually last out of 20 or so entries!

Note the maximum points available for each crop;

Spuds 20

Tomatoes 18

Stump carrots 18

250g onions 15

Globe beet 15

These are due to the degree of difficulty determined to grow each crop, spuds being the highest, 250g onions and globe beet being deemed the easiest. At the Midlands Branch the rules are slightly different, as you can choose any 4 from 5 of the vegetables, but here you want to be careful that you don’t choose both 15 pointer crops at the expense of one of the 18 or 20 pointers, as you’ll be 3 or 5 points behind before you’ve even started, so you only want to go for one or the other if possible. At Malvern last year I came a very pleasing 2nd, only one point off the red card, pleasing until I realised it was Dave Thornton what had won it. Bollocks!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Carrots at Dawn

Sorry folks, been very busy the past week or so, and unable to post regularly, so in the interim to keep you all occupied that extremely talented and good looking Mr Craven Morehead has allowed me to publish the first chapter of Carrots at Dawn as an appetiser. He tells me that he always wanted to write a novel where the word 'fuck' appears in the first line. I think he nailed it;


Oh to be in England…..

“You can fuck right off” shouted Harry Ecklethwaite as the Chairman struggled to restore order to the annual general meeting of the Allaways-on-Cock Horticultural Society held in the small but well-used village hall. “Big marrers have been on the show schedule of classes since my dad were winning everything afore me and the public like to see ‘em, and you aint gonna delete ‘em as long as I’m around! Am I right George or am I right?” he said gazing down to a rather feeble looking chap in a trilby hat sat next to him, and who was nodding compliantly.

“But Harry,” interrupted John Simmons, the Society Secretary “for the past ten years you’ve been the only entry in the marrow class and we need to make some changes. We can’t keep asking local residents to sponsor classes of vegetables that no-one is interested in growing except you.”

“Bollocks,” screamed Harry again. “Take some o’t domestic classes out of the fucker then. There’s way too many of them twattin’ things. Who wants to see fuckin’ cakes and jams anyways?”

“Actually Mr Ecklethwaite,” piped up Mrs. Dibble, former village postmistress and local baking goddess par excellence, a slim lady of advancing years with grey hair in an immaculate bun (what else?), “all cookery and preserve classes have been well supported with many entries for several years, unlike some of the horticultural classes. They attract entrants from WI members from many miles around and Show day is their biggest event on their calendar. We always have to bunch up the jams and wines to make room for your enormous marrow and no-one can read the labels properly because they’re all so close together.  And might I remind you yet again to moderate your language?” she said with her customary grace and elegance, but firmly and directly.

The Chairman, Bill Grudge, a tall, rotund man formerly the local beat bobby finally managed to make himself heard. “Okay, okay, Harry, we’ll keep the marrow class, purely for educational purposes. But something has got to give so instead I propose that we ditch the class for three onions as grown…..”

“Fuuuuuck ooooff,” roared Harry, standing to his feet and pointing excitedly at the committee on the top table. Papers went flying from laps onto the floor as several others stood up among the assembled membership wishing to make their point. Bill Grudge banged the table furiously calling for quiet, and school bus driver Ted Grangeworthy’s faithful Labrador barked and howled with a loudness that was totally out of character.

Towards the back of the crowded room Jim Lightfoot sat quietly in staggered bemusement at the proceedings cracking off in front of him. He had settled in the village over the winter after several years working in the Emirates project managing large building constructions. Having made a small fortune and now in his late forties, he had decided to move to a quintessentially English village in the Midlands to indulge his passion for growing vegetables and flowers, walk idly in the surrounding countryside and maybe, just maybe find a little light romance. As a teenager he had spent many happy hours during summer holidays helping his granddad out in his back garden up in Yorkshire, and had accompanied him when his granddad entered his own prize vegetables in the local town show some thirty years before. It had not been like this as far as he could recall. He could only remember shiny cups on the presentation table, the smell of newly cut grass in the marquee, a brass band playing and friendly, smiley faces as the winners (often his granddad it has to be said) were politely congratulated on their achievement.

Thus far he had managed to settle into the village with the minimum of fuss and only some mildly annoying interrogation from his immediate neighbours and the landlord of the local pub where he retired each night for a couple of pints of the house ale. He had spent the long winter months renovating ‘Peony Cottage’ which had suffered several decades of decay. The previous incumbent had died the year before, a Mr. Tallboys, for a long time Harry Ecklethwaite’s only serious competition in the annual show. But even he had tired of Harry’s constant moaning and belligerence. Poor health had led to him being unable to keep his garden tidy many years ago which subsequently left the coast clear for Harry to sweep the board ever since.

One evening in late January after finishing decorating the final room to be tackled, the kitchen, Jim’s eyes had alighted on the poster on the pub notice board announcing the AGM of the local ‘hort soc’ and so he thought he might pop along to see what it was all about. Having been made very welcome by Bill Grudge and the other committee members, Jim had settled down at the back of the village hall expecting friendship and camaraderie to flow forth from this assembled group of pensioners, housewives and local bigwigs. When the subject of the annual show was reached on the agenda Jim’s mind went back nostalgically to those sweet days with his granddad and he started thinking it might be nice to wander down the road one balmy day in early September to the village green and throw a few nibbled vegetables onto the table in the horticultural marquee. Then someone had dared to venture that they might omit marrows from this year’s show and the blue touch paper that was Harry had been well and truly lit!

The argument showed no sign of abating, for Harry was not to be turned. “Unyuns as grown are part and parcel o’t village show. You might as well get rid of the class for five coloured tatties and that aint gonna happen ‘cos Lady Belton sponsors that class in honour of her husband who won it one year when me and Dick Tallboys both had a bad dose of potatie blight and couldn’t enter, warren’t that right George?”  George nodded.

Someone ventured to suggest that globe beetroot could be deleted instead, which prompted more expletives from an increasingly apoplectic Mr. Ecklethwaite, more frustrated and urgent table banging from the Chairman, more nodding from a seemingly mute George and just about everyone in the room to rise to their feet seeking a platform to be heard. Jim quietly slipped out of the village hall unseen, into the damp night air, a hard frost starting to creep across the perfectly clipped village green on which the show that was causing so much argument would be held in approximately eight months’ time. He had decided entering vegetables into the show didn’t quite fit into his idyll of blissful village life and resolved to just grow for the kitchen pot instead.

As he walked briskly over to the Dog and Gun for a nightcap he wished he had bought his overcoat as it did not take long for the cold to penetrate his lightweight jacket and start to chill his bones. Upon entering the pub at the opposite corner of the green, landlord Bob Dillage immediately went to get Jim’s pewter tankard but Jim stopped him in his tracks. “Bugger that Bob, whisky on the rocks please”.

“Orty soc tonight was it then Jim?” said the publican, a knowing smile breaking out across his hairy face. “I’ve been here twenty two years and I’ve seen that same look on your face miraculously appear on many other folk after an AGM. Let me guess……they want to change the schedule and Harry Ecklethwaite threatened to stick his cock up the vicar’s arse if they so much as altered a word of it? Vicar’d probably enjoy that mind!” he chortled to himself.

Bob Dillage was a typical publican, loud, brash, larger than life, a caricature almost. Blunt to the point of rudeness, locals took him in their stride but visitors passing through who had just stopped for a bite to eat had often been known to storm out in disgust at an alleged insult. It must have cost Bob thousands in lost sales over the years but he always laughed it off. He was not computer literate or else he might have taken a different view had he known how bad his online reputation was according to those websites that scored an establishment’s performance. He was so tall he had to duck under the several wooden beams that crossed the bar area, his large bushy beard often betraying a morsel or two of the evening’s meal that he had rushed in order to open up in time for his many regulars. Allaways-on-Cock and its environs was a farming community and the local farmers did like to fill their bellies with Bob’s immaculately kept ale of an evening, often falling into the nearby River Cock on their way home. Bob did not much care when a man had had enough, he was quite happy to take their hard earned wages until they could stand no more. He was also a nosy bastard and took great pleasure in finding out as much about the villagers as he could so that he might drop a tasty piece of gossip into a bar room argument to slap someone down. In other words, he could be a bit of a bully.

Bob liked to think he knew everything about the villagers and missed nothing, although he remained blissfully ignorant of the fact that his wife Deirdre Dillage had been shagging Pete Greensleave, a local farm labourer for the past six years. The aforementioned policeman Bill Grudge had witnessed her being nailed by Pete against a combine harvester one afternoon several years earlier when he had been on his rounds pre-retirement. Bill had jumped over a fence into the corner of a field for a crafty sleep, hiding his police issue bike in a hedgerow and was zedding away blissfully unaware that Pete’s one hundred and twenty decibel combine harvester had come alarmingly close to mincing him on a couple of occasions. What had actually woken Bill were the manic cries of Deirdre’s orgasm, a nightmarish noise that several villagers had since heard for themselves. Those same villagers were now keeping their secret trump card close to their chest for when the publican’s verbal badinage became too much to leave unopposed.

Deirdre now came into view in the bar area from their upstairs living quarters. She never appeared downstairs until eight o’clock after her fill of the evening’s television soap operas. In truth her life was a mini-soap opera on its own. Pete Greensleave was in the corner of the bar playing a very raucous game of darts with some of his farming cronies and Deirdre made her way over to collect some empty glasses, making sure she brushed against Pete’s chest with her ample bosom as she did so. The other boys stopped their throwing and drinking momentarily to admire Deirdre’s hard nipples stretching the thin material of her blouse several millimetres out of shape, nudging each other with their elbows like schoolboys.

One of the farmhands cheekily piped up “Oi Deirdre, did you see that quiz show on telly the other night? They got stuck on that question about chapel hat pegs,” much to the amusement of the rest of the puerile agriculturalists.

The landlord remained oblivious to all this as he was too busy pressing Jim for information about his life story. Thus far he had become annoyingly frustrated at finding out any nuggets of scandal about Jim’s existence prior to settling in Allaways.

“This Emirates place then Jimbo”, said Bob, “sandy was it?”

Bob had insisted on calling him Jimbo almost since day one of his settlement in the village, as giving nicknames was something Bob liked to do in the hope it might pique them. Jim had let it wash over him and not shown any annoyance, but it did not stop Bob trying. “Well, it’s a desert Bob, so yes there was a bit of sand about,” he said sarcastically.

“Bet it got in all yer cracks and crevices when you wa’ shagging all them camels eh, then Jimbo?” said Bob very loudly so that all the dart players stopped what they were doing to shout appreciation at their hero landlord.

“Well not really Bob, as a very important foreign worker I was put up in the presidential palace and had my pick of the Sheik’s wives and daughters every night. We left the camels for the local publicans,” said Jim drily, looking down at a bar menu as he nonchalantly took a swig of his whisky.

The pub roared. “Awwwww he’s got you a good ‘un there Bob” shouted Pete Greensleave, as Bob Dillage bristled and turned a shade of embarrassed red that was different to his usual ruddy complexion.

Once cornered, quick-witted comebacks were definitely not Bob’s forte. “Cunt”, he muttered, retreating to the other end of the bar to serve one of the horticultural crowd who were now piling in from their meeting. The voice of Harry Ecklethwaite was once more to the fore.

“I told ‘em Bob, they can’t go around messin wi’ tradition. This show’s been going for nigh on oondred year. My names graced the Cock Cup for most points in show on nineteen occasions, including the last eleven on’t trot, a record I might add, and we an’t messed around wit schedule in all that time so why start now? En’t that right George? Eh…..where the fuck’s he gone now?”

Jim did not wait around to listen to any more of Harry’s triumphalism and for the second time that evening slipped out of a gathering quietly and unnoticed. Peony Cottage was off Cock Side, a cul-de-sac off the Main Street and a brisk six minute walk from the pub. Jim had placed a pin on a map of Britain when deciding where to live once he returned to England and had actually come down upon Tithampton the large town some twelve miles away. Exploring the area for property his eyes had settled on the vacant cottage in an estate agent’s window which had only just come up for sale that morning. At least that’s what he told Bob Dillage. The late Dick Tallboy’s niece wanted a quick sale and Jim had offered more than the asking price without even viewing it, concluding the transaction in record time before anyone else even got the chance to bid for it. It had initially caused quite a stir amongst the villagers as outsiders were viewed with serious suspicion, especially seemingly affluent ones. When he finally got to walk into the place he had been immediately captivated by it and knew this was where he wanted to see out his final years. Dick’s niece, a rather slight yet exceedingly pretty girl, mid-twenties in age, had been similarly captivated by the mysterious stranger and tried flirting with him as she showed him around the dilapidated property. Jim had humoured her as they sauntered from room to room.

“Uncle lived here all his life Mr. Lightfoot, but he went downhill fast after a bout of flu winter before last. He loved his garden so much”, she said as they approached a decaying garden annexe attached to the house and stared out upon a large but greatly overgrown jungle of brambles, thistles and bindweed. “I hope you’ll both be very happy living here.”

“Both?” enquired Jim?

“Oh, yes, Mr. Lightfoot. My uncle is still here. Only last week Jimmy Duggan the village garage owner saw uncle looking down at him from an upstairs window as he passed on his way home from work one evening. I’ve seen him a couple of times. He never says anything these days though, he just waves.”

Jim had been thinking about acting upon the girl’s flirtations and taking her upstairs for a swift knee trembler against a wall, but now hastily decided against such a plan for she was quite clearly retarded and any act of copulation would surely open an almighty can of festering worms.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Celery (soz, couldn't think of a witty title)

For the past few days I’ve been using this little explanation to illustrate the General Election result to the Commytrots at work. In boxing, when your opponent says he’s going to knock you out in the sixth, but in the end he only manages to beat you on points… means you’ve still fucking lost!

Anyhoo, I’m a strong believer that you need to plan your growing and showing to as fine a detail as you can. I have a map of every single bed/border/space in my vegetable garden and each Christmas I will sit back with a drop of the hard stuff and work out which crops I’m going to be growing where, paying attention to things like crop rotation as much as possible so you don’t encourage a build-up of pests that like a particular crop. I invariably drink myself wankered and have to do the whole plan again when I’m sober but that’s by the by. This means when the time comes you know exactly where to plant things and you’re not scratching your head shoehorning things in willy nilly. I’m constantly referring back to the plan and to my diary where I plan all my sowing dates by working back from each show to ensure I sow each crop at the correct time. As a result I currently have several patches of bare ground inviting planting but I know they’re bare for a reason as they are wanted for a crop according to my plans and I’m not tempted to use them for something else. Some crops (such as caulis for which most of the bare plots are waiting) will need more than one sowing. I go even further in my planning and decide which shows I intend to enter, and which classes I want to aim for at those shows. It’s no good planning to go to 10 shows and enter long carrots at every show if you’re not going to be growing enough of that crop for instance, so I fine tune my season so that I know where my priorities lie. I used to try and enter as many classes as I could at as many shows as I could and end up running around like a lunatic so I try to be a bit more focussed these days.

Growing everything I could possibly manage, including some things for the fun classes like heaviest marrows, longest runner beans etc meant I became a jack of all trades and master of none. Ok if you want to be like Harry Ecklethwaite and win most points in show but these days I’m more interested in benching an exhibit as near perfect as I can muster (something that no-one can achieve of course). That entails growing less variety to allow you to concentrate on growing a few crops to a better standard. This was bought home to me about 5 years ago when NVS legend Charlie Maisey saw me running around at RHS Westminster staging all my exhibits and advised me to cut back and grow what I was best at. At the time I semi-ignored his advice but eventually I saw sense and ditched some crops that I’d been struggling with, particularly the time-consuming blanch leeks that I’d had go to seed on me for three seasons running, a common problem with the variety Pendle that I used to grow. Shallots was another that I decided to sideline. Whilst I’d had some success with them previously I was getting more and more fungal problems with them and they were diverting my attention unnecessarily at critical times of the growing season. I still grow them but I don’t fuss over them like I used to.

I now don’t bother growing heavy pumpkins and marrows, or long runner beans as these aren’t for serious growers although I do enjoy visiting the recently revived Giant Veg Championships held at Malvern. It’s really great to see the smiles on the little faces of all those growers that are unable to grow proper veg.

I also gave celery the heave-ho, but have reluctantly succumbed to one last crack at them this season but I’m only growing 16 plants in a couple of beds that are often waterlogged, so I’d figured if any crop would grow well there it would be celery. It also had plenty of dried blood forked into it about 3 weeks before planting as it’s an excellent source of nitrogen. The variety is Evening Star and I planted them all out a couple of weeks ago, fitting a loose collar 10” tall made from damp proof course material. At the time the plants were below the top of the collar but have now poked through the top having been drawn upwards to the light. I’ll be applying another taller loose collar in the next week or so, to do the same thing, but won’t tie it too tightly for now, the idea being to draw the plants upwards whilst achieving bulk.

Celery is one of those classes I have absolutely no chance with at Branch and National level, as there are some phenomenal growers on the circuit, but they can come in handy for the small collections where you need 3 pairs of 20 point veg for instance. I’m thinking specifically of the early autumn show at RHS Westminster where less and less of the top growers are fitting it into their showing calendar sadly. I did manage a very pleasing 3rd there in 2012 with the best pair of ‘sticks’ I’ve ever staged.

Whilst I’m happy with the progress I have suffered some slug damage despite taking precautions. I’ve always found a carpet of slug pellets only succeeds partly, such is the desire of the snotty little fuckers to get to celery for a nosh up. Therefore I do use Slugclear watered into the heart of the celery as well as a calcium feed at the same watering, although in the past I’ve found this double treatment is also no guarantee of total control, certainly not in my garden. Celery heart rot is not something I’ve suffered personally but once it takes hold your plant is soon rendered useless, and it is reckoned that slugs nibbling on the centre shoots can help to bring heart rot on, so it is important to keep them at bay…or at least try.

Leaf miner can also be a problem on the leaves so a systemic insecticide is needed, otherwise the foliage gets networked by a criss cross of unsightly markings where the grub tunnels between the layers. I’ve had good success with Decis in the past but now use Hallmark when I’m spraying my carrots against carrot fly. An exhibit of celery with no slug damage to the sticks, with fresh, green foliage stands out amongst others with the odd nibble so it is worth going the extra mile.

Friday, June 09, 2017

What a momentous night....

.......Jeremy Corby wins the election, which means following the deluded wankstain’s logic, Tottenham Hotspur are this season’s Premier League Champions, Hilary Clinton is the President of the USA and David Thornton beat me in the parsnip class at Malvern last year.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Cauli wally

Strange, unexpected things will always happen. Not a Labour win in the election tomorrow obviously, the British aren’t that stupid. Nor even Liverpool winning a cup, the Klopp bottlers will always be second best from now on. No, I am of course talking about the World’s worst cauliflower grower getting a ticket at the National Championships. This really happened to me in 2013 when I was placed 5th at Harrogate. Prior to then I hadn’t grown a cauliflower worthy of the name. Every plant I’d ever put in the ground had succumbed to club root or cabbage root fly, often within days of them being planted out. I’d tried collars at ground level and various insecticide and fungicides all to no avail. I was about to give up attempting to grow caulis ever again when I heard about a product called Perlka at an NVS talk which was supposed to combat club root. A natural by-product of industry it claimed to sterilise the soil and was also a source of nitrogen, so I duly purchased some from Medwyns and decided to give it a whirl.

You have to be sure to apply it to the soil at least two weeks before you plant out your caulis so I’ll be doing my first bed today, doing the 2nd/3rd/and 4th beds where I intend to grow successional crops over the ensuing weeks. I dig a hole where I intend to plant each cauli and sprinkle a spoonful of the Perlka granules in it, marking each position with a label. When I did this for the first time in 2013 the growth was immediate and unprecedented for me. I’d personally never seen such big caulis, they were actually bigger than my cabbages so it was an amazing turnaround. Being able to stage a set of 3 at the National Championships was something I could only have imagined previously, to actually get a placing and beating a multiple ex-Champion in the process was totally mental.

The problem with caulis is getting them timed for a particular show. Often you’ll get them hearting up the week before and they don’t last long before they start blowing, but all is not lost. After advice from a fellow grower I cut them with a 3” stalk, and trim the foliage so it’s an inch or so above the curd. The final trim level with the curd is done at the show. After a good wash with a hose jet to remove any dirt I immerse the whole thing in a sink of salty water. This causes any hidden slugs and snails to come to the surface gasping which can then be disposed of. After an hour in the water place them face down on dry towels for all water to escape. Once dry place a couple of sheets of kitchen towelling over the curd, wrap the whole thing in clingfilm but leave the stalk exposed. Then put it in your fridge, but not too cold as they can freeze if you’re not careful. You’ll need a very understanding better half as the fridge fills up with caulis in the days leading up to a show! They’ll last in good condition this way for a week or more.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Carrots at dawn. And dusk. And lunchtime. Great book, buy it.

It’s a long time since I’ve been this excited by my long carrots so early in the season, and it’s an excitement bordering on a semi, a hurdle that Liverpool seem to fall at these days. My long carrot tops are contained within a wooden frame with plastic sheeting stapled to the sides, and enviromesh to the top and bottom. The mesh allows air flow and rain to get through and the polythene creates a wind free, cosseted environment that the carrots do seem to thrive on. We had strong winds yesterday that have absolutely battered my parsnips but the carrots are safe and cosy in their enclosures. I have a total of 8 drums with 7 carrots in most of them. Looks like Steptoe's yard but the carrots don't seem to mind.

This season’s crop are from my own seed from roots I put down to seed after they came 5th at the Dundee National in 2015. They were big heavy roots, noticeably the biggest in the class, but in actual fact not that refined, so I was ecstatic with a  5th,  but I’m hoping I can grow them a little more carefully this season.  I’m growing more than I usually do as I really want to get an entry into the National at Malvern where there is sure to be a lot of top class competition.

Since I started showing I’ve always loved the long roots in particular. It’s that not quite knowing what you’ve got for months on end until the night before the show when you find out if you’ve got something special or else whether you’ve wasted several months growing. You always have an idea whether they’re going to be good or not from the way they’ve grown, whether the foliage has been good, what diameter the shoulders are when you have a bit of a ‘furtle’, but until you extract it from its dark borehole you never really know for sure (p.s. I wouldn’t recommend having a ‘furtle’ if your roots are grown outside as it can attract carrot root fly …unless you use a systemic insecticide like me).

My fascination for long roots stemmed from a visit to my Uncle’s in County Durham in the late 80’s. One evening he announced we were going to the local pot leek show at the local working men’s club. At the time I certainly wasn’t into showing or even gardening that much, and tagged along reluctantly to show willing. As I now know, it was an incredible sight but at the time I was bored shitless by benches and benches of prized northern pot leeks, several little groups of men (no women allowed back then!) all standing around discussing their season and the relative merits of each set of leeks. However, I do remember being highly impressed by a couple of tables literally shoehorned into a corner on which were piled all the other classes in the show, and on that table was a set of long carrots which mesmerised me and I wondered how they might have been grown. In the early 90’s there was an episode of Gardener’s World where Medwyn was pulling his long roots for the British Championships so I now knew how it was done, and when I got into showing long roots were always going to be something I wanted to grow.

I still remember pulling that first set of parsnips in 1996 that won me my first ever red ticket at a local show and the way I held my breath as the tap root just kept coming and coming, and it’s a feeling I still love. There’s also the sense of wonder/bewilderment/pity on the faces of bystanders when you walk into the marquee or village hall with a 4 or 5 foot long set of long roots that still gives me a buzz to this very day. And I do like to stand behind people when the show is open and listen to their comments about them. I remember one woman going to great lengths to tell her husband that ‘the grower would have grown those long carrots by drawing up the soil over the course of the season as it grew in order to draw it upwards’. She must have somehow had visions of all these termite mounds like stalagmites littering my garden!

Over the years I’ve tried all manner of borehole mixes for my long carrots and chopped and changed them many times to try and improve the results. In 1998 I won a local show with this set that also got me on the front page of Garden News.

At the time I thought I was a total genius, which is not uncommon when you have a bit of good fortune like that so early in your showing career when all you’re doing is copying what others way more experienced have told you to do. Any tit can do that. Truth is I just got very lucky that season and I never grew such good long carrots for several years. But at least I quickly realised it and didn’t go around passing myself off as an expert in search of undeserved or false accolades. By 2011 I was seriously struggling to get any sort of weight or skin finish despite using the very best seed. Having witnessed how good Ian Simpson’s were at Harrogate that year I cheekily emailed him and asked him what his mix was and it was to his great credit that he had no hesitation in telling me. However, when he said it was just sieved Levington F2S with added calcified seaweed I was amazed as there didn’t seem to be enough nutrient content in it, but Ian was adamant that carrots don’t need a lot of additional nutrient so I decided to give it a go as I felt I simply had nothing to lose. Therein was the first problem, I couldn’t source any F2S, the ‘S’ standing for silver sand, so I mixed F2 and silver sand separately at a ratio of 4:1 and ran with that. The carrots I had in 2012 were the best I’d grown in many years and bought me a 5th in the UK Carrot Championships at Harrogate, with Dave Thornton a place behind me much to his disgust. I was greeted with the following email on Monday morning “Who grew those fucking carrots for you?”

Buoyed by my first ever success over the Derby Cockwomble I went on to beat him again at RHS Westminster 2012 with another decent set.

I now felt I was starting to understand what makes long carrots tick. Watering is always going to be key and it’s easy to get it wrong. Too much and you get disproportionate roots as I did in 2007 when it seemed to rain non-stop all Summer and even the sand in my drums were permanently waterlogged. I had big shoulders that I got really excited about but when they were pulled they were very squat roots and only carried their weight for a foot or so and looked a bit odd as a result. As I write it’s pissing down and forecast to do the same for several days so that’s not great news. Water too sparingly and the skin finish is wrinkled rather than smooth and you are liable to get large side roots developing.

In 2013 I grew some carrots in long pipes as an experiment and it was these that I exhibited at the Harrogate National of that year. They were heavy roots, but didn’t have great uniformity and were a little ‘wavy’, but I decided to throw them in rather than risk those I was growing in drums as I didn’t have many of them at the time. Whilst I didn’t get in the tickets and didn’t expect to, it did at least allow me to get a set on the bench at the highest possible level of showing and I felt they looked ok if nothing else. It certainly convinced me not to try long carrots in pipes again.

It was later in the month when I pulled those growing in the drums for Malvern that I had my best result to date for long carrots, winning the Midlands Branch Championships and beating the likes of Mark Roberts, Andrew Jones and Jim Thompson in the process. I remembered back to those early roots I’d grown in single height drums and how it had been my ambition to compete with and beat the very best. It had taken me nearly 20 years but I had done it so now the trick was to try and repeat it.

At Westminster 2013 I took some even better long carrots down but had to settle for 2nd behind Dave T which he was ridiculously pleased about but as it happens it’s turned out to be the last time he’s beaten me with long carrots.

In 2014 I took a year out from showing, a prelude to my decision to give it up for good after this season. It was a nice break from the incessant routine of a showman’s year. In 2015 after coming 5th at Dundee it was onto the Midland Branch Championships at Malvern where I was hoping for ‘2 in a row’ with long carrots. I pulled 2 absolute corkers but could only find a slightly smaller third to make up the set and so was beaten into 2nd place by Ronnie Jackson. His set is the other one in the picture.

I actually had a matching 3rd root which would have given me the win in my opinion but sadly it had a huge hole in it which wasn’t apparent when first pulled. I went from a massive high to rock bottom within seconds but that’s showing for you and you have to be prepared to take disappointment on the chin. Worse things are happening in the World as events in Manchester and London recently have shown us.

By the time I moved onto RHS Westminster I only had slightly smaller roots left but this set was good enough to put me ahead of Mr T once more.

Last season was a mixed bag with long carrots for me, I think I probably neglected them and I just couldn’t pull any decent sets, erratic watering the probable cause, although I ended the season very well with virtually my last three decent roots from the drums winning me a red card at Derby show in October 2016. These were fairly slim but did carry their weight really well down the root and were perfectly proportioned.

There’s not a lot you need to do now all the hard work has been done, but one vital task I would definitely recommend you keep on top of is making sure any side shoots are picked off when they’re still small. Left to grow on these will render your roots useless for showing as they tend to make them oval in profile. Great if you’re a cricket ground but wank if you’re a show carrot believe me. New Red Intermediate does tend to want to throw out these extra shoots from the carrot shoulder, but if you pick them off when they’re small the scar will not be noticeable come harvest time.