Growing Quality Exhibition Celery and Onions
10th Feb 1999
This coming weekend I shall sow my second batch of exhibition celery, this will follow the first sowing at the end of January and will hopefully cover shows from mid August to mid September. The weather though this coming Summer will have the last say because if we have a real scorcher, then there is every chance that a few heads will succumb to heart rot. In preparation for such an eventuality I am therefore sowing another batch during early March so that one or the other should provide me with heads for the early to mid September shows.
I broadcast sow the seed sparingly on some Levington F2 seed compost, press the seed lightly into the compost with a flat board and leave them uncovered after having sprayed them well with tepid water. The celery is then placed in my electric propagator until germination takes place which can take anything up to three weeks.
The variety that I shall sow will be my reselection seed of Ideal which has undoubtedly proven itself on the show benches for more years than I can remember.
Another two sowings will be made of the two F1 crosses that I have had bred for on trial. The main parent being Ideal but crossed with two taller self blanching varieties that were also very compact and who knows, we could be on to a winner. What is important with such new breeding material is not to put all your faith in the seed for the first year. Very often the end result may well not turn out to be anything like you intended, sow a tiny amount of seed and prick out perhaps eight seedlings to eventually leave you with six. Plant those six in the same bed as you would the normal Ideal and treat them in exactly the same way, six should be enough not to waste to much of your bed space should they turn out to be below par. On the other hand if they are really good then you have enough to show two heads and possibly three with some seed left over for the following year.
Some growers have had this, and other seed free from me when they ordered a certain quantity of seed from my catalogue; at the end of the season I would really like to know how well they performed so that I can make a decision whether or not they are worth continuing with.
Once the celery seed are just showing their first proper leaf, or rough leaf as some growers call it, they can then be transplanted into small pots. In my case I use Plantpak 24s which are 24 cells moulded together to fit into one standard size seed tray.
Bob Herbert who has a reputation for growing top quality celery, firmly believes that the young plants should be grown in a soil based compost in preference to a peat based one. In this case, for the early potting, Bob will use his own mixture made up to the John Innes N°1 formula, as they are potted up he will increase the mixture to N°2 an the final potting will be N°3. Bob believes that a lot of the heart rot that a number of growers experience when in the pot stage, me included, is because there's insufficient body and food in the peat mixture to prevent the young plants from developing this symptom.
Large Exhibition Onions
Reducing Artificial Lighting
For those of you that have been giving your large exhibition onions artificial lights for a twenty four hour period, it is now time to reduce the light period down to 16 hours. In my case, both the leeks and the onions have been grown in my growing cabinet under a sixteen hour light period and this will now be maintained throughout until planting time in the polytunnel.
The onions in particular at this time of year, when they are on anything over three leaves per plant have a tendency to flop about on the bench and this can eventually be the start of misshapen onions later on in the season. It's very important from now on to keep your plants as upright as possible, in particular the stem between compost level and the first leaf joint. If this section is upright throughout it's growing period, then you will eventually harvest onions that are not only well shaped but also have good form.
Form and Condition
Form in my book with onions is very important if you are to win at the highest level and there is no better master of this craft than Derek Raw who has won at the highest level with some astounding quality onions. Derek has proved over the years that size isn't everything having beaten much larger onions because of the sheer quality of his exhibit and in particular Form and Condition. It wouldn't matter which way you staged his onions the body weight would be evenly distributed around an imaginary vertical line drawn through the centre of the neck and down through the centre of the base plate. This can only be achieved by constant attention to detail from day one and this attribute has most certainly paid off for Derek Raw, the onion grower that we all have to beat at the moment.