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Friday, August 18, 2017

Scabby dabby not so do

It was as I feared and suspected. I emptied my spuds out last night and immediately it was evident I was going to be struggling to stage any spuds as bag after bag revealed spuds that were decimated by scab. Good size, nice shapes, but scabbed up to sheer fuckery. I’m now at a loss as to what caused this, I’ve used the same compost as previous seasons and the bags were never allowed to dry out. Or were they? Tuber initiation occurred at around about the time of the heatwave so perhaps the water never really penetrated to the bottoms, and indeed a few were quite dry whilst others were wringing wet. I did managed to salvage a few showable sets, some with very minor scab lesions, but at least I’ll never have to fuck around growing spuds this way ever again. My hat goes off to those growers like Sherie Plumb who stages umpteen incredible dishes every season.

On Facebook pages I’ve noticed some growers bemoaning the recent downpours as their long roots ‘will be ruined’. What they mean is that the sudden deluge of water into a dry-ish growing medium will make their roots take up a lot of water very quickly with the potential of splitting. This is the reason I water my long roots frequently, ensuring the sand is kept moist a few inches down from the surface. Doing this means you’re less likely to suffer splitting in my opinion although I did lose this otherwise superb carrot last season.

Also on Facebook a discussion was taking place about a set of onions that had been disqualified at a recent NVS show for being a few grams too heavy, and how this was perhaps a little unfair. I have no sympathy for the exhibitor, a very experienced one, but the same would go for a less experienced one too. If a rule states 1kg-1 ½ kg then if you’re over then the judge has no option to but to disqualify you I’m afraid. Discussion commenced on whether the judge’s scales would have been calibrated and whether some leeway should be applied, but if you start going down that route then it’s a dangerous game, for how much leeway do you apply, and what if an exhibitor is a few grams over that, do you apply leeway on the leeway? No, the exhibitor should have harvested his bulbs smaller to ensure he was under size. If you measure them at home and they are bang on the weight you are running the risk of being NAS’d if the judge has you a gram or two over, so it pays to give yourself some wobble room. Someone else commented that you could not expect an exhibitor to weigh his onions to within a few grams which struck me as a contender for the wankiest statement of the week, for a decent set of digital scales doesn’t cost much and you should have a set if you’re serious about the hobby. I have my own set of digital scales which I’ll be taking with me to judge a show tomorrow afternoon. When I say I have a set of scales, they’re my wife’s kitchen scales but they’re very accurate and I’ll test them with a weight before I leave to make sure they are still on the money. She’s away on a hen do this weekend so she’ll never know.

Last weekend I increased the collar length on my celery to 19” and that will be that for this season. They are currently around the sort of size I have shown them at in the past so with 4 or 5 weeks to go until I need to lift them I’m happy I’ll probably be exhibiting the biggest celery I’ve ever shown, all I’ve got to do now is keep them clean. I’d not grown any celery for a couple of years because of a comment my wife had made, which was, and I quote, “why are you bothering with celery, you’re shit’. This was a tad demoralising I have to say, but when I dragged her down the garden the other day for a look she was quite impressed so that’ll do for me! I do have one claim to fame with celery, in that I once beat Trevor Last, a top celery grower, at Malvern. I was placed 3rd and poor old Trevor was disqualified. The reason? Apparently, he hadn’t even entered the class and therefore couldn’t be judged! My pathetic specimens did look a bit stupid next to Trevor’s rather good ones, but fuck it, I got the ticket and he didn’t!

At most local shows there will be the lucky dip class, usually termed ‘any other veg’. I say lucky dip because you ask 10 different judges and you’ll get 10 different answers as to how they might judge ‘aov’, because you might see radish against caulis or pot leeks for instance if the latter two don’t appear in the main body of the schedule. It has been suggested that you mark according to their points value, then use a ratio to work out a percentage score. For instance a judge may mark the radish at 8 out of the 10 points on offer, giving it 80% of a perfect score. You might then score the caulis at 15 out of 20 thus giving it only 75% in which case the radish wins. This isn’t a system I would employ as it doesn’t make allowance for the degree of difficulty in growing the cauli, and it would have to be a very poor specimen indeed for the radish to beat it if I was judging the class. However, 18 pointer veg and even 15 pointer veg would certainly be able to beat a 20 pointer if they were grown well and the 20 wasn’t. One vegetable often overlooked is the humble aubergine which, like tomatoes, cucumbers and runner beans is classed as an 18 pointer and can be a useful ‘go to’ for the aov class. I do find it difficult to get a matching set as it quite a difficult crop to grow, the main problems being that you need to grow several plants to get sufficient fruit for a match which can be difficult on an already crowded plot, and the spiky stems which often pierce your fingers quite painfully when you’re tending to them. I’ve been picking the embryo fruits off my plants all Summer as I didn’t want them too early but I’m now leaving them to develop in the hope of having a few for the September shows. At Derby Show last season I exhibited this one in a collection class that only needed 6 single specimens.

Finally, if you’re into showing I can think of nothing better than a whole weekend in a hotel discussing the hobby with like-minded growers at Medwyn’s annual seminar in November. This year yours truly is giving a talk, details below, and if anyone wants the full costs and arrangements drop me a line and I’ll forward them on. I may try and persuade my good pal Craven Morehead to accompany me but the vain twat doesn’t usually like to be seen in public with me as I’m the only person in Britain who is as handsome as him.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Patience is a virtue, envy is not

This time of the year for the veg showman, and the growers of long roots in particular, is like that scene in Braveheart, the one where that fine Scottish fella Mel Gibson and his clan of tartan bollock brains are waiting for the advancing English. Many of them want to reveal their dastardly plan early but Gibson makes them wait until the last possible moment before pulling up their row of spikes and piercing the gallant Englishmen’s horses and basically cheating their way to victory, as is their way, especially when it comes to cake competitions. At this time of year the temptation to pull the odd carrot or parsnip for a looksee is unbearable, especially if you think you may have some decent specimens, but it is an urge you should resist at all costs, as you may pull one of those roots you might be relying on to make a set in a few weeks’ time. Once pulled, a long carrot or parsnip can be replanted but they will lose freshness and won’t grow anymore, so don’t do it, you have been warned!

Having said all that I did pull one of my long carrots at the weekend. It was a very small one that had developed a double crown so it was never going to be any good for showing, so I decided to get it up to see if it had travelled all the way down, without any forking, and to gauge the skin finish. I must say I was very happy on all accounts. If all my others are this shape and finish, albeit much bigger, then I shall be a happy bunny come show time and will hopefully have a chance of being in the tickets at the biggest shows in the country. My long carrots are looking quite heavy shouldered already so all that remains to be hoped for now is that they carry their weight evenly well down the root. Of course without x-ray vision and for all I know that might have been the only decent carrot in all the fucking barrels!!

After the piss and panic last week over the stump carrot crown rot problem, all appears to have calmed down. Getting any diseased ones up and spraying the remainder with Signum  seems to have arrested the problem, and the bed now looks healthy. They aren’t the biggest but I’ll be happy if they’re at least stump ended, as the fresh sand I used this year should at least mean I don’t have any cavity spot, a problem I experienced for the past couple of years.

All my onions for the 1-1 ½ kg class are starting to ripen on wood shavings in my garage. I managed to get 9 all at just over 17 ½ “ circumference so now it’s a case of seeing whether they all look the same once ripened, but I am hoping to have a set of 5 at the National. It’s highly unlikely I’d be in the tickets as I expect that most classes at Malvern will have at least a dozen entries, and this’ll be one of them. Despite not harvesting until late July I didn’t suffer botrytis because the double pot system meant I could water the bottom pot and keep moisture away from the bulb in the upper pot.

My Tasco onions for the 250g class are also starting to colour up nicely, but this is a class that will have anything up to 30 entries at Malvern so you really do have to have perfectly matched little bulbs, and despite growing over 100 I only have about 40 to choose my sets from, the remainder either being too small or not a good enough shape.

I will probably be looking for my best set of 4 to keep back for the Millennium Class at Malvern, that is assuming I can also find 4 potatoes that aren’t scabbed up to buggery. I will be emptying out the bags this coming weekend, once they have been out of the ground for a fortnight meaning the skins are now hardened and there shouldn’t be a risk of them skinning during handling. The Millennium Class calls for 4 each of 250g onions, tomatoes, globe beet, potatoes and stump carrots and is a class I would love to win a ticket in. With this in mind, and with a little under 6 weeks to go my tomatoes are starting to ripen like never before, not something I’m too chuffed about as I’m usually waiting my first red tomato at this time of the season, but they’ve come very early for some reason. I picked a large tray last week and ‘staged’ the set below on my kitchen table. Just to keep my eye in you understand.

This means my competition ones are going to have to come from the 4th truss and above in all probability, so I shall be thinning out the trusses over the next few days, getting rid of fruits with the potential to cause neighbouring ones to have flat sides. It’s a bit of a leap of faith to sacrifice perfectly good looking fruits but it does reward you with better shaped ones come show time and I guess as I’ve ticketed in the last 2 Nationals it proves I do know my tommies! Below you can see how a truss is thinned, before and after.

I thought I also knew my cucumbers but this season has been a baffling one thus far. My plants have been very slow indeed to get going, just sitting and doing nothing for what seemed like several weeks after planting. I’m usually chopping them back to keep the sideshoots in check by now but thankfully they are now starting to get to the eaves of my tunnel when I will start to train them horizontally so I am still hopeful of getting some cucs on the bench at Malvern. All fruits forming on the vertical vine are picked off before they have chance to develop, and it’s only once they are able to hang down from above that they’ll be allowed to swell and grow. A big plants means the fruits develop quickly, from a 2” long cuc you should have one of showable size in about a fortnight.

At the weekend I’ll be judging my only show booking for this season, at Burbage near Hinckley, Leicestershire. This will be the 5th year I’ve judged the veg here and it’s always a nice little show to judge with several classes taxing the brain, especially tomatoes, runner beans, onions as grown and rhubarb. With that in mind I’d like to appeal to all growers to show a little decorum after judging rather than throwing a hissy titfit befitting of a small child because a result may not have gone your way. Judging of vegetables is not and never can be an exact science, despite the written guidance of the NVS and RHS, especially at the highest level when the very smallest of faults can be the difference between first and second. Some days it may go for you, others it might not, but proper men (and women) will take defeat on the chin with good grace and think forward to the next show with a smile. Sometimes growers are blinded to the faults on their own exhibits and prefer to concentrate on the faults of those that have beaten them, sometimes justifiably, but more often than not the correct decision has prevailed. Either way, it happened, get over it. To question a result and try and denigrate someone in their moment of glory, or to issue veiled threats over the internet just marks you out as a total cock, not the experienced and helpful older showman you might pretend to be, and it’s nasty old tossers like you who are one of the reasons why I’ve decided to walk away from showing.

Shrewsbury Show 2017

I really am going to have to quit some of the gardening pages on social media that I am a member of, due to the incredible stupidity of many of the idiots that dwell there, they really do wind me up. Over the weekend I saw someone spell potato haulms as ‘orms’, leafs instead of leaves, and Jurgen Klopp instead of big, poncy, clueless Kraut.

Anyhoo, over the weekend it was Shrewsbury show where the Midlands Branch of the NVS held their annual Branch Championships. I’ll just let the photos tell the story for this post. Incredible quality and don’t forget this is an early show. There’s going to be some incredible stuff on the benches in September, that much is certain.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


Just when you’re thinking everything is looking tickety boo on the showman’s plot something always seems to happen to bring your hopes and dreams crashing back to reality. Imagine watching ‘An Audience with Ken Dodd’ on the tellybox, laughing away, not a care in the World then some fucker pulls the plug and replaces it with Coldplay in concert. That’s the sort of extreme swing in emotions I suffered two nights ago, from happy to suicidal in seconds. I’d noticed a few of my stump carrots were starting to look less than perky, in truth something that occurred last season but they soon came round after a feed. This time they hadn’t responded so I decided to expose a few shoulders and discovered quite a few were suffering from crown rot, a new one on me.

I had to pull a total of 11, leaving me about 100 or so, which sounds a lot but if any more of those succumb then I’m seriously depleting my chances against guys who grow several hundred. Doing my research crown rot is prevalent in warm and damp conditions which we’ve certainly had a lot of this summer. For the past couple of days it has bucketed down which isn’t going to help the situation that’s for sure, but it is due to brighten up later when I shall be giving them a spray of a product called Signum which is supposed to offer moderate control (on this and many other conditions for different veg), so I hope to stop it getting any worse at the very least. Hey ho, there are worse things that can happen in life, such as…..

Growing 40 bags of potatoes that all appear to be completely covered in fucking scab. I got the first 20 bags up over the weekend so they could dry off in my garage for a couple of weeks to allow the skins to harden before emptying out. I did have a crafty peek at some of the tubers and whilst the size and shape appeared to good I was really struggling to find any that weren’t badly infected. A similar thing happened last season but then I discovered there were clean and infected tubers in the same bags so I’m hoping  for a similar outcome this time. Scab thrives in dry soil conditions so I can only assume the bags have dry spots and any tubers growing there are affected whilst clean tubers can grow away side by side with them in damp areas. Just a theory but keeping the growing media uniformly moist in growbags can be more difficult than you imagine so I think there may be some mileage in the idea. If there are some tubers with only minor markings I will try and use them as they can be rubbed off if care is taken. Indeed, the set that won me a 3rd at Malvern last season did contain a couple of tubers with minor scab lesions that were almost invisible after cleaning. Invisible to the judge at least!

I’ve now planted all my kohl rabi for the National Class 26, over 100 plants. If I don’t manage to stage a set of 5 after that then I may as well give up growing for showing. Oh, hang on, I am! These need to be protected from pigeons as they will nibble the new leaves (hence the pea sticks at random angles), and a carpet of slug pellets is also essential. I have 2 varieties, Kref growing in the tunnel and Kolibri growing outside, and with 6 and a half weeks to go to Malvern surely one of my 4 sowings will be timed to perfection and I can be crowned National German Turnip Champion, which will be a wonderful thing to have inscribed on my tombstone. Just below World’s Most Annoying Twat.

My long beet in pipes seem to be growing well but they are now on a weekly feed of Chempak 8 as they need to start bulking out, the roots only being about an inch in diameter currently. As with long carrots you need to check the crowns for any side growths, and I have been making sure they are watered often as long beet do like to be kept moist. Other than that this is one crop that has grown relatively trouble free thus far.

Which is something that cannot be said for globe beet. For as long as I can remember globe beet have always grown at vastly different rates from the same supposed F1 seeds. From the same sowing you can get roots that reach size in 6 or 7 weeks whilst the rest can take up to 15 or even more, so it does mean you can be several weeks from show date and have lots of good show size roots that can only go into the kitchen. A couple of weeks ago as I was bemoaning this fact once more, staring at several that already needed harvesting, I wondered whether they could be saved for a few weeks at the size they’d reached. I decided to experiment by lifting them, thus effectively stopping their growth, cutting off much of their foliage and replanting them in deep holes to see if they would be any use come show time. I’ve done this at the end of the season when I’ve been faced with several dozen roots and basically just heeled them back into the soil until required for cooking, and I’d remembered that they don’t grow any more in size but central leaves do regrow. We shall see if this proves successful, but I’m fairly confident it will be good enough for local showing at the very least. As more roots reach size I’ll continue lining them up and them pull them out just before the show to make the sets. At the moment I don’t see any reason why this can’t work.

One crop I am quite pleased about this season is celery, which has responded well to a compost top dressing (thankyou Mr. McLeod) and is now starting to bulk out nicely. I’m only growing 16 plants and this weekend I will be wrapping black plastic around the cardboard collars to aid the blanching process. Next week I will switch from a high nitrogen feed Chempak 2 to a low nitrogen feed Chempak 8, a couple of scoops every week until showtime. The key to growing decent celery I’ve recently learned is when to strip your outer split sticks back in order to keep the plant swelling and to ensure it’s as rounded in profile as possible. For now, I’m taking them all out, all around the plant to keep it even, but a couple of weeks before the show I’ll leave them on to act as buffers. These will be taken off at lifting, the idea being (hopefully!) that there are no split stalks underneath those. Something I’ve not always found to be the case. I may be relying on celery for some of the mini-collections I’m hoping to do this season so I’m devoting a bit of effort to these from now, just in case my spuds let me down. Who knows, I may be able to get my tickling stick out again before the end of the show season.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Cosy Powell drumming home

I was talking to my good mate Craven Morehead the other day (great looking bloke, superb grower, massive cock) and he has asked me to help him do a book on growing to show as there isn’t a decent one out there that appeals to novices and experienced growers alike. Admittedly there is one by a chap called Derek Brooks (hey I wonder if he’s the same arsewipe ‘D Brooks’ who put negative feedback on Craven’s Carrots at Dawn reviews on Amazon?) but quite frankly I’ve had more enjoyable and interesting days watching a freshly painted wall dry whilst having Hitler’s Mein Kampf read out to me. I did have a copy of it but it really was so shit I gave it away so there’s a definite market out there for a book on the hobby that isn’t coma inducing.

All in all we haven’t had too bad a Summer I reckon, although there will always be someone in deepest, darkest Ingleton that will never be satisfied with the weather. In fact, if wet fannies were falling from the sky and landing on his face he’d probably moan about the taste. Yes, we had that really hot spell in late June/early July when the whole country was sweating like a Scotsman watching Crimewatch, but we’ve also had some decent rain showers so there should be some good stuff at the shows over the next few weeks. This is sure to make winning a ticket at the highest level shows even more difficult so growers will have to be really critical about their exhibits. If there are any faults then you’ve probably got no chance as the judges at that level will be micro-analysing every last vegetable in their deliberations. A tiny scratch on your cucumber could be the difference between first and second or even no ticket at all so whilst everything is now growing well in all probability, there are still things you can be doing to make sure your stuff is as perfect as you can make it. This involves daily checking, constant vigilance and attention to detail. At lots of village shows and certain NVS shows just north of the Isle of Wight you can probably chuck any old shit down and win however.

I visited Marcus Powell’s allotments in Buckinghamshire last night and he is most definitely going to be in amongst the tickets as he has some fabulous looking stuff. Last season he won the prestigious collection class with this display, so apologies in advance if you’re eating.

His blanch leeks in particular stood out yesterday, and his celery weren’t far behind, with several sowings at different levels of progress to cover the many shows he does. It was interesting to listen to him as we went through his different crops talking about what he does with each one, we all do things slightly differently but there’s always something we can learn to make things better, so listening to another grower is one of the most worthwhile things you could do if you want to win that elusive red card.

I was gratified to see that his caulis and runner beans for Malvern were at the same stage as mine, as my caulis had been decimated by pigeons shortly after planting out but have now recovered pretty well. My runners seemed to be painfully slow this season, but again were on a par with Marcus’. However, he had some superb runners just starting to crop for the Midlands Branch Championships at Shrewsbury next week and the thing that struck me most were the length of his flower trusses, they were well over a foot long. Mine get to 8 inch if I’m lucky. Must be different soils, or the half strength Viagra he feeds them on. He takes the other half to stop himself falling out of bed.

One of the many jobs I shan’t be missing from next year is growing quality marrows to show. This involves tying them up canes inclined at an angle so that the developing fruits hang down away from the coarse foliage, much as you would do for cucumbers. Making the framework for the canes is a job I invariably rush, which means they often collapse at inopportune moments. After high winds yesterday I suffered a breakage in a couple of the canes high up which will require fiddly repair work whilst getting scratched up to buggery from the plants themselves. However, it hasn’t affected this rather superb looking fruit (var. Blyton Belle), which is rugger ball sized, and I have several others grapefruit sized which should give me a matching set for Welsh Branch in early September. Growing like this means they colour up all the way around and you don’t get that flat discoloured side you do when they grow on the ground.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Lukaku Pogba Lindelof Matic

Another thing that winds me up about social media gardening groups is when you advise someone on a particular insecticide/fungicide for a problem and some new-age, ecowarrior, knobthwaite cockfondler pipes up about making sure you have a valid sprayer’s licence, full body protection with nipple softeners and plastic cocksock etc etc etc. Oh do me a favour, go put your head between two rounds of bread and make yourself a cunt sandwich. I actually know someone who has a sprayer’s licence and I have serious doubts that he manages to put his own fucking shoes on each morning, so having a licence is no guarantee that you’re able to use chemicals wisely. If I want to use chemicals I’m gonna use ‘em so unless you’re gonna get the PC Police out to raid my potting shed keep shut yer fecking cake’ole. There’s also nothing quite so good at getting the organic keyboard warriors going off on one than to mention a glyphosate based weedkiller manufactured by the apparent evil corporate bastards at Monsanto, it really is great fun winding the twats up. However, they will often recommend their own home-made concoction that has had no scientific testing done and which, as far as I can tell, is an acid. I think I’ll stick to Roundup personally. Gallons of it. So fuck off.

Moving on, Epsom salts are fast becoming my ‘go to’ solution in the garden when a plant looks a bit out of sorts, especially when it comes to greenhouse tomatoes. A couple of months ago my plants were almost yellow but daily sprays with an Epsom salt solution have somehow greened them up into decent looking plants with heavy crops of fruit promised for show time. However, I’m not stupid, this is the 2nd season in a row that this has happened. Despite flooding the soil prior to planting to mimic winter rains and flush through any excess fertilisers there is obviously an issue with the soil in the border that the tomatoes grow into, so I’ll be sure to change the whole lot before next year. I may look to have a crack with some compost tea as an alternative, something that Gareth Cameron has had brilliant results with and which would be preferable to lugging a couple of tonne of soil around.

Before the season started I was wondering what small fruited tomato to grow for show, having grown Marshalls’ Montello for a one off competition at Malvern last year. I’ve grown various varieties down the years with varying degrees of success, including Harlequin, a small fruited plum variety, to gain a 3rd place ticket at the National. Unlike other vegetables there appears no single cultivar that rules the roost so this season I plumped for Strillo which I had seen win at the highest level before. And I’ve been picking fruits for the kitchen for a few weeks now, but the plants still have many to come so I’m hopeful of having some dishes to show during September, including my local show where the small fruited class has, in brackets, (not plum), so I could never enter Harlequin. The only downside I’ve found with Strillo is that is does have a tendency for the fruits to split, even before they’re fully ripe so we shall see.

My Evening Star celery are progressing reasonably well aside from the usual slug issues. On advice from a former celery National champion Paul McLeod I’ve top-dressed around the base with some fresh compost to encourage further rooting, and this weekend I’ll put some black dpc collars around the cardboard ones to shut out all light. At the moment they’re on 18” collars. I haven’t decided whether to put a 20” collar on yet, as I may just leave them as they are and try and get them to bulk out. From now on they just need water, water, water, but I will start feeding with Chempak 8 in a couple of weeks time, plus a feed of sulphate of potash 3 weeks before the shows to harden them up a bit.

And it’s taken a few years since the retirement of the great Sir Fergie but it now looks like Manchester United will shortly be back ruling the roost if recent signings are anything to go by. Despite a few relatively barren years when, to be quite honest, United have been playing completely wank, they still managed to win more trophies than Liverscum, Manchester Shitty and Totteringham Hotshite combined, to become the most successful club in English football history.