Size, Quality and Uniformity for Show Vegetables
28th Mar 2002
I had an interesting phone call the other evening by an up and coming grower who was basically enquiring what sort of size his vegetables should be for the flower shows. To be honest I was quite taken aback at first as, apart from Pickling shallots and onions under 250 gram, I have never really looked at show vegetables as having any particualr size. I told him about the two above criteria and then he asked 'but what about long carrots and parsnips'.
This set me thinking that there must be growers out there who are convinced that vegetables for exhibition have to be up to a certain size before they can show them. Of course this is all a fallacy, as is the notion that show vegetables can not be eaten. For any up and coming young (or even young at heart) show person, my initial advice at first would be to forget about size and concentrate on growing high quality produce. Once you have grown quality specimens, you can then select them for the next most important element, the criteria ‘Uniformity" within a selected set, or ‘dish' as they are often called in show terms.
NVS Judges Guide
On checking in the NVS judges guide I found that of all the twenty pointed vegetables (of which there are now ten with blanch and pot leeks counting as two kinds) Every vegetable has been awarded most points for ‘Condition' with ‘Size' trailing in third apart from leeks and Onions where size is still second to ‘Condition' Indeed, in the majority of cases appertaining to 20 pointed vegetables only, ‘Size' trails in at only 50% of the total possible points. It's therefore very important for a novice grower to bear this in mind and not be ‘blinded' by size. Over more years than I care to remember of growing vegetables for the show bench, each time I have grown some really top quality produce, the size has always been complimentary with it.
Never forget the old saying, ‘Size is only really meritorious when accompanied by quality' and this really is true. If you set your stall out to grow quality show vegetables, I guarantee that together with neat, clean and tidy staging a matching fresh set of good size (not giant or over large) will always be amongst the cards. Don't forget, it takes a lot more skill to cultivate a quality vegetable harvested at it's peak of freshness than to grow large rough specimens. In this instance I am talking about quality vegetables for the show bench and not the largest or heaviest vegetable competitions.
Harvesting larger than normal vegetables isn't that difficult at all, just give them plenty of organic matter and feed them with high nitrogen feeds to get a lot of growth initially, you will almost certainly get them big. I tell you what though, you try matching a set of them, almost impossible. My advice therefore can not be better than the old slogan often heard repeated by members of the National Vegetable Society ‘If you can't eat it, don't show it' believe me it is true, always go for quality first, good size will naturally follow.
Join the NVS
Keen or novice vegetable growers, including children, who are really hungry to learn about growing a vast range of vegetables could do no better than join the National Vegetable Society. Annual membership costs as follows - Single £10.00, a husband and wife costs £12.00, and a junior member costs £3.00; Affiliated Societies can also join for £13.00. For this you get regular News Letters as well as four quarterly bulletins. You also have the opportunity to join a local District Association who usually meet once a month where they have various lectures etc. This offers a marvellous opportunity to, not only expand your knowledge, but also your circle of friends. Send your Cheque made out in the name of the ‘National Vegetable Society' to the General Secretary, Mr Len Cox FNVS, 33 Newmarket Road, Redcar, Cleveland TS10 2HY.
My first sowing of Celery went in during the first week of March and this weekend I shall sow my second and last sowing. As I said in an earlier article, now that I have five different F1 hybrid varieties crossed for me by Dr Peter Dawson, the choice takes some more thinking through. They are all crosses with the excellent show bench variety ‘Ideal' but each one is subtly different. For the early March sowing I went for ‘Topstar' which is Ideal crossed with the old trench variety NDW which stands for New Dwarf White. The sowing this weekend will be ‘Redstar' an Ideal cross with Red Lathom which can put on a lot of weight and looks really good on the bench with a splash of sparkling red around the base of each celery head.
When you think that you can get 25,000 celery seed per 10 gram, it makes it the tiniest of all the vegetable seed so do sow it careful and sparingly trying as best as you can not over sow. Use some seed sowing compost in a shallow seed tray, cover the seed slightly with some fine Vermiculite and really moisten the compost through. Place the shallow tray in a propagator and never allow the seed to dry out. I like to have a small sprayer full of water kept close to the propagator and the tray will given a daily mist over to ensure an even germination.
Once the seed have germinated, wait until they are large enough to handle, the seedling leaf should be between three eighth and half an inch across and just about to show it's proper leaf. (Picture attached) Pot them up into small pots, I like to use Multicell 24 for this purpose and some Levington M2 as compost. Later on there is no doubt that celery likes some soil in the mixture and this will introduced in a similar ratio to the John Innes formula.