The Top Growers in the Country
22nd Aug 2002
I am very confident that we shall see some excellent produce on the show benches this year, particularly at National level. I was recently on my travels around the country and was amazed at the sheer quality of John Branhams' vegetables, he will almost certainly be picking up quite a few red cards this year, provided the weather stays reasonable. I say this because John lives Just outside Aylesbury and this location can be extremely hot should we have a few proper Summer weather days. There"s no doubt that John has a marvellous set up at home and only a few very hot days could bother him between now and show time.
Welsh Branch Championships
This weekend John will be up to his eyes in it preparing for one his biggest shows of the year, the Welsh Branch Championships of the NVS. This is being held on the Bank Holiday Sunday and Monday in a marvellous setting within the Orangery at Margam Country Park Port Talbot through the kind sponsorship of Port Talbot Town Council. There's no doubt that if you really think you are a good vegetable grower, then this is definitely the venue for you to prove it. You won"t find better quality of vegetables anywhere, the standard is exceptionally high and if anything, is improving year on year.
NVS Championships at Malvern
John's growing facilities are next to none with most of the top 20 pointed vegetables, with the exception of celery and potatoes, being grown under covers. These covers have been constructed specifically to Johns requirements and he is always able to ventilate them when the temperatures get too high. His leeks were looking very good and looked as if his first batch of the Welsh seedling leek would peak at just the right time for the above show.(picture attached). He also has another batch of the Peter Clark selection of leek and though this looked to be well behind the former, it should do well by the end of September for the National Vegetable Society Championships at Malvern.
There is no doubt that the top growers of Vegetables in this country have got to where they are because they have one thing in common, they think about how to grow them as well as how to improve their methods. The good thing also about these growers is the fact that they are always prepared to share this knowledge with all other keen vegetable exhibitors. One new innovation at Johns, an idea that he has worked on from the way Peter Clark supports his leeks, is the use of steel supports suspend from above each leek.
Uniformity and Shape
One difficulty that a lot of growers get is keeping their leeks bolt upright as they grow on so that when you eventually harvest them, each and every one will have barrels as straight as a gun. When you can repeat this with every leek, like Peter Clark always seems to, the question of the judging criteria - Uniformity and Shape is inevitably easier to comply with. I have always used a four foot long cane positioned close to the growing leek and at a distance that will mean I don't have the need to move it as the leek swells. This however means that the leek when younger has a tendency to lean against the cane therefore it's not bolt upright with the inevitable risk of it bending slightly.
Steel Pipes and Rods
What John and Peter have, in varying degrees of style and design, is a system that is movable as the leek grows but also maintains it perfectly erect all the time, whatever stage it is growing at. The idea is relatively simple, you run a steel pipe along the centre of a row of leeks, suspended from the pipe will be a steel rod that is movable along the top rail or pipe. Welded or attached to the bottom of the steel rod is a ninety degree piece of angle iron or Dexion measuring approximately 12 inches long with each side of the angle being about two inches wide.
The idea is that that one of these rods is suspend by the side of each leek and about two inches above the soil. When you plant the leek you have to position it so that it is bang on centre with the suspended rod when the rod is vertical. When you come to collar the leek using Damp proof as well as Pipe lagging material, you move the rod and the attached angle plate up to the D.P.C. and tie it around which keeps the whole thing upright. You nee to make sure that it is tied up firm, string is not good enough and you either to have some strong plastic coated wire or as John uses, some commercial quality Velcro.
Though I haven't seen Peter Clarks' set up, I believe the difference is that he uses a half pipe instead of the angle so that the leek barrel sits or nests inside it. It is certainly a novel way of keeping them upright and one that I am hoping to develop further myself for next season, perhaps I shall call it the Mark 3 version where my past tool making skills could well come to fore.