Friday, June 30, 2017
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.