Outstanding Vegetables + Parsnip and Celery Beds
6th Oct 1999
It's not often these days that we see something exceptionally good, either on the show bench or growing in the garden. Mel Ednie's bed of heaviest onions at the Dundee show about four years ago was such a sight. The beds produced a number of onions over 30 inches in circumference and also produced the world record onion at 15lb 15½ ounces, a record I"m sure will last well into the next millennium.
The other outstanding vegetables for me were Jack Arrowsmith's parsnips at the Welsh Championships last year. They were superb and when I visited him, I realised that, to grow these really well they must have protection. Years ago I grew some exceptional parsnips in 6 inch diameter pipes inside the polytunnel, so I'm afraid I need to carry out a little bit of reconstruction if I"m going to have a chance of winning at this highest level.
This year I offered the plants some protection by means of plastic tubes made from lemonade and water bottles; these worked well until the leaves started popping out above the edge of the bottle. Unfortunately, the leaves then rubbed against this sharp edge and were severed. The bottles had to be removed and even though I waited for a nice warm calm day, two of the beds had a real check to their growth, to such an extent that I was unable to show any of them.
The parsnips that I grow for Chelsea are all grown in 6 inch diameter, 4 foot long pipes in a large, concrete floored greenhouse, which is heated to 58°F. The result is really superb, particularly when you think that they are harvested during the middle of May. The answer must lie in protection to such an extent that they are never subjected to any direct chill or draft. Jack Arrowsmith's parsnips are grown in drums, one on top of another and the whole area is encompassed in a home-made polythene and timber construction which serves the purpose excellently. The long carrots are also grown in this way and the structure has been constructed in such a way that Jack can roll up the polythene on the roof as soon as the weather warms up. Significantly, the sides are never removed so the whole foliage or top growth is well protected from any chill winds or draft.
The two concrete block raised beds in which I currently grow my parsnips lend themselves well to such a construction as I can secure some timber to them to form a strong structure with a door at one end of the central path. This is one of the tasks that faces me over the next few months.
Another task is to prepare a second celery bed which is necessary because one of the short carrot beds near the Leylandii hedge isn't really producing the standard of carrots that I am after. This is mainly because the bed is sheltered by the hedge as well as by the adjacent polytunnel, a condition that should suit the celery well as it can grow taller to get all the light it needs.
The first bed performed well this year considering I had no real time to prepare it properly owing to the proximity of the Chelsea Flower Show at that time. When Bob Herbert came over, the first remark he made was "You don't want these lumps in the bed"; those lumps were manure that I hadn't broken down properly so obviously, according to Bob, you want to prepare a fine tilth in the top surface of the bed for celery.
The sand will be removed from the second bed down to two feet and a layer of horse manure placed in the bottom. This will then be covered over with some virgin top soil from a field intermixed with some seaweed that I can easily pick up about a mile away from the house. There's no doubt that seaweed is an excellent soil conditioner as I have used it before on more than one occasion on my leek beds. The seaweed is removed wet from the coast line and worked straight into the soil. The salt content doesn't seem to bother the plants as it will be washed away over the coming winter months. The amazing thing about seaweed is the speed with which such a tough plant can break down into the soil. When I utilised it some years ago in thick layers in the soil, by spring, there was no trace of it, only some fine white mycellium where it used to be, a sure sign that it's doing its job.
My new Ideal celery cross has certainly been having an impact on the show benches; the seed was given free to some customers of mine who rate it very highly indeed. I have two crosses and both are available in my catalogue . Unfortunately crossing celery is not easy and this work had to be carried out for me by a commercial company in order to produce the first ever F1 hybrid show celery. Legally I am not allowed to sell this seed as it is currently an unregistered hybrid but I am allowed to sell the seedlings which are in my catalogue. Also available is the first ever F1 hybrid yellow carrot as well as a lilac pepper.