Winning through Inclement Conditions
4th Nov 1998
I'm sure we can all agree that this Summer was anything but grower friendly with constant rain wind and very little sun making things rather difficult for the best of us. However some growers had a good year and I would like to take my cap off to all of them because in spite of the above conditions, some really managed to stage superb vegetables. None better than Peter Clark though who must have had one of his best seasons ever and can produce leeks as if turning them off an industrial production line. I believe that Peter staged a total of 21 leeks in various classes at the Harrogate show and none of them were passengers, every set he utilised came in First, no mean achievement on such a bad year. The mind boggles at what he may be capable of achieving in a good season; probably an even better collection than the memorable one he staged at Wisley a few years ago.
Cauliflowers and Celery
It was certainly not a bad year for Cauliflowers and Celery though with most of the shows that I attended having good entries in both classes. The incessant rain in one sense was a blessing for me as the Cauliflower's that I grow in the field were romping away as I had no need to water them, and after a few feeds of Nitram, a high nitrogen granular feed, the curd quality was superb.
How stupid therefore of me to find on my return to the Welsh branch Championship venue at Brecon after Judging to see that I had the dreaded N.A.S card on my pair of Cauliflowers (Not According to Schedule). As soon as I entered the room the judge, Bob Herbert, made a bee line for me apologising for having to N.A.S them and that they would have been the actual winners of the class.
The reason for the N.A.S was that the schedule asks for Cauliflowers to be staged with a 3 inch stalk attached. In my hurry in the field, and because the stalks of brassicas become like wood immediately below the lowest leaf, I cut them just above with a pocket knife. When you think that I spend hours drumming the computer at home over the year trying tell everyone else to make sure that they read the schedule properly; you can imagine the leg pulling that went on at the show. Well done Bob you did your job perfectly, let's hope I have learnt by my lesson.
It didn"t seem to be a vintage year for potatoes, yes there were a few decent sets here and there, but the sheen wasn't there on most of them, again I have no doubt that it was because of the rain and lack of sunshine. On my way home from the Welsh championships I called in Jack Arrowsmiths' garden and he showed me a row of Maxine that he hadn't even bothered to finish lifting. He put the fork under a haulm and the potatoes coming up looked like they had blight on them. The reason however was far too much moisture in the trenches with the moist damp manure and fertiliser seemingly staining the skin rendering them useless for exhibition.
Jack of course won the UK potato Championships with five dishes of white potatoes and next year I shall show you his method of growing them which is again different to the Charles Maisey system with lots of straw in the trenches and different also to the method of growing them in polythene bags. There's no doubt that I would love to win the UK potato championship at some point, but every year it seems to get increasingly harder as newer varieties come along and growers seem to be more dedicated that ever in their growing methods. Charles Maisey and Bill Hughes, both of them masters at growing potatoes have always said that this particular class is the most difficult of all to win; well I'm not going to argue with them as I have failed on two occasions to get even amongst the cards.
To have any chance at winning the UK title or even the World title you need to grow at least one or two varieties in addition to the number of plates specified in the classes. This takes a lot of space in your garden as well as a tremendous amount of preparation time. I have therefore decide that for next year at least, I shall concentrate only on two varieties, one white and one part coloured, I shall still grow the same quantities as before therefore giving me far more potatoes to select a dish of white from and a dish of coloured. The bankers are going to be Kestrel, a second early introduced in 1992 and Winston also introduced in 1992. Winston is listed as a First early in the Castlemill seed potato leaflet and in the Webster's potato catalogue it matures as a second early.
Kestrel has undoubtedly been the wonder potato over the last ten years being not only a top show potato but really versatile for the kitchen as well and in my opinion makes the best chips of all the potatoes that I grow. It's officially a long oval variety with blue eyes. Winston is a round oval white variety with a beautiful skin finish and having very shallow eyes.
Specialist Potato Firms
For you potato needs here is the address of three potato specialist firms who you can write to or ring for a seed list or catalogue:
A Webster's, Unit16, Ogilvy Place, Arbroath, Tayside, Scotland DD11 4DE. Tel 01241 434 833 - store or 01674 673 473 - residence.
B Castlemill Seed Potatoes, Westfield, Castleton Road, Auchterarder, Perthshire PH3 1AG. Tel 01764 662 930
C G.M. & E.A. Innes, Oldtown, Newmachar, Aberdeen AB21 7PR. Tel 01651 862 333