The path towards winning the highest awards at the shows is never a smooth one
19th Aug 1998
The path towards winning the highest awards at the shows is never a smooth one. There are always pitfalls along the way and these usually become more noticeable as the season progresses and the vegetables are approaching maturity. It's at this time that the amount of work you put into the preparations earlier on in the year will either reward you with excellent specimens or conversely tax your resources if you have missed out on some minor detail; in my case it is too little moisture in the leek beds that has set me back.
The blanch leeks are now on 21" collars and I"m reasonably confident that I will have some decent specimens to stage on the show bench by mid September. I say reasonable because during the first week in July the whole lot split deeply, right down the barrel. So bad was the splitting that I actually filled up two 75 litre compost bags with the spent flags. The leeks at that time were probably the best ever with a girth of nearly 9 inches on one leek and all the remainder were approaching the 8½" around with a length approaching 14" to the button. If this had happened within a few weeks of a show, then my chances of exhibiting any would have been remote, but as I still had just over two months to my first major show, I was optimistic of getting a few good leeks in the end. Immediately after they split, the leeks were reduced to between 6½" and 7" around with a length of over 18" to the button. This means that even though the deep splitting is an obvious setback, I already have a good length and all they have to do now is to fill out. One thing that happens when the leeks split is that the button becomes very much longer and deeper forming a long V shape; this will correct itself over time.
During the middle of July, I had a visit from a group of very keen Scottish growers who have visited, over many years, a number of vegetable growers during this period in the growing season. One of the group was Alan Manning who is one of the top growers and he also had some terrific leeks; his hadn't split at all at that time. We seemed to be growing them very similarly to each other but the important difference between Alan and I seemed to be the amount of water that the leeks were given. Alan keeps his beds moist throughout the season whereas my beds are somewhat on the dry side with most of the water being applied around each individual planting hole. and periodically through the seeping hoses. Alan's reasoning is that if the water is there in the beds, the plant can only take out what it needs, so in raised beds with good drainage, it really does seem to make sense. The day after the visit, my three beds were really given a good soaking to fully charge them up and they will now remain that way throughout the remainder of the season. As they have already split deeply, the sudden surge of water should not have any adverse effect on them, but be careful with your watering if your leeks haven't split and the beds are on the dry side. Just think what happens to tomatoes when the fruit are maturing; if they have been kept on the dry side, then given a good watering, they inevitably split.
One aspect of the leeks this year that I do like is their form; they are very straight without a sign of bulbing at the moment and I'm still convinced that the bulbing occurs as a result of stress on the plant. This can occur by under-watering around the root plate with another possibility (again mentioned by Alan) that it can be induced by keeping the pipe lagging material around the leeks for too long. The idea of using the pipe lagging in the first place is to try and make sure that the leek doesn't bend at the bottom end but Alan thinks that if the pipe lagging is kept on for too long and too tightly, it could force the plant to go bulbous. Imagine the stress at the base of the leek if the bottom section is kept under continuous pressure. It's certainly a possibility and as I didn't use the pipe lagging for long this year, I just wonder if it could be a combination of both factors.
It's certainly been a strange season this year. We have had very little sunlight in North Wales and some of the plants are certainly developing later, particularly the short carrots that I grow with no protection at all - they have much shorter tops than usual. The other disaster that has happened seems to be the high level of willow or carrot aphid (Vacariella Aegopodd (Scop ) ) attack on the carrot foliage. It seems to be spread widely all over the country and everyone I have spoken to has either had some damage or, in many cases, has lost over 70% of their crop. The aphids appear around late May to June and kill off the centre growth of the plant whilst at the same time transmitting the motley dwarf complex of viruses which show up as a reddening or yellowing of the outer foliage. No doubt the sudden upsurge of this pest is down to the very mild winter that we had, allowing the aphids to multiply on a vast scale.