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Monday, July 10, 2017

Stay firm and resolute!

It’s around about now that the mind games will begin. Your fellow competitors and showing pals will be texting/emailing/messaging you on Facebook etc saying that they have the best veg they’ve ever grown and that you don’t stand a cat in hell’s chance of beating them at this year’s shows. Some will even try and put you off by texting you semi-naked photos of themselves (see previous post) so the best thing you can do is to remain calm and keep quiet about your own stuff. It’s easy to become nervous and doubt the quality of your own stuff if you let them get to you, but the judge will ultimately decide whose stuff is best, and more often than not your competition isn’t as good as they would have had you believe.

In truth I love all the pre-show banter, not to mention the put downs at the show itself. I well remember one of my first ever shows where someone remarked of my cabbages as I entered the marquee “They’re big brussels lad”. Other common ones you’ll hear are;

“Did you pull those carrots in the dark?”

“You’ve left the price sticker on those caulis”

“I reckon your radish will be up for best in show”

“Did you not bother feeding your onions this year then?”

“Judging by all the caterpillar damage on those cabbages you’d be best entering them in the livestock section”

A couple of weeks ago I was starting to become quite concerned about my parsnips, as they appeared to be throwing up weird side shoots not dissimilar to the way that long carrots do. This was not something I had ever have happen before so it threw me at first. I assume it was caused by the extreme hot weather we have been experiencing although I have been watering regularly. I pulled them off sideways after pushing my fingers down towards the crown (parsnip crowns tend to be much deeper than carrots) and they did come away quite easily so hopefully there will be no lasting problems, but I’ll only know for sure come harvest time. Until then they are looking otherwise pretty good, with strong, thick stalks signifying that there should be some decent roots growing down below. However, from photos posted by other growers on various Facebook pages it’s apparent that there’s going to be a lot of good parsnips on the benches come September time. You see, I am already starting to doubt myself! Bollocks.

My long carrots continue to grow well, the foliage now pushing up against the enviromesh top of the frame. It’s all a lovely deep green and because they are totally enclosed on all sides by polythene, top and bottom by mesh, it means that the dreaded carrot fly can’t get in to lay their eggs, although I also use a systemic insecticide as belt and braces. You simply can't afford the slightest chance of any damage, no matter how minute. I also make a note of going through each station every week, making sure that the crowns are covered with more compost as they will turn green otherwise and cause you to be downpointed. The only feed they get is a weak solution of Maxicrop at every other watering which I hope will enhance the colour.

My stumps Sweet Candle are also looking pretty uniform from the tops at least, and a few weeks ago several even started to push their shoulders above the surface. In one way this is good, as it means they have probably started to form a defined stump end which is something I have often struggled to achieve, so it could mean that my gamble of a simple cored hole 12” deep has paid off. On the other hand it means I have to be extra vigilant and ensure I’m ready to cover any exposed root otherwise it will go green and never turns orange again, so you have to make regular checks. Taking advice from other good stump growers I really need to make sure the bed is never allowed to dry out so I am watering every day in this hot weather. Ever since 2010 when I pulled over 100 forked Sweet Candle which I put down to insufficient water I’ve been very careful to make sure they never go dry. Remember, they are growing in free draining sand and we need to give them much more water than if they were growing in the ground.

Over the weekend I harvested the first Tasco onions for the 250g classes, pulling them when the tape measure had them at 10 ¼” circumference or 3 ¼” diameter. From the photo you will see 5 bulbs all pulled at the same diameter, but I’m fairly sure the bottom two will weigh well in excess of 250g because they are much rounder in profile. These were growing a bit deeper in the bed and so I hadn’t noticed they were swelling mostly below ground, their true size only becoming apparent when I exposed them a bit by grubbing out the soil from around them. The top three should be bang on size once the necks have dried out so the trick now is to harvest as many as I possibly can before white rot ruins everything, as I have now lost a total of 4 bulbs to this disease.

Once thoroughly dried off I’ll rub some talc on them and store in wooden boxes of sawdust in my garage, which is cool, dark and airy, ideal for ripening onions. The problem is you need a big selection as they will all ripen to slightly different hues, some will develop the odd wrinkle and need re-skinning, some may be marked in some way etc etc. In fact, of the three the one on the right has slightly lower shoulders if you’re being critical, which just goes to show how difficult it is to match veg up for showing. In fact, I'm now starting to worry about all of my veg, so I may have to start some mind games of my own. I'm just off to take a photo of my arse to text to Mark Perry.

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