The big­ger the bet­ter

Colos­sal cab­bages and out­ra­geous onions? A triple world record holder tells HAN­NAH STEPHEN­SON how to pro­duce whop­pers

Burton Mail - - Your Garden - Malvern Autumn Show takes place on Septem­ber 29-30. For de­tails go to malver­nau­tumn.co.uk

GROW­ERS of gi­ant veg­eta­bles will be gath­er­ing at this year’s Canna UK Na­tional Gi­ant Veg­eta­bles Cham­pi­onship to show off their mam­moth mar­rows, colos­sal cab­bages and out­sized onions in the hope of set­ting world records.

Cor­nish farmer David Thomas holds three world ti­tles – for the heav­i­est red cab­bage, the heav­i­est cu­cum­ber and the heav­i­est parsnip – and is chas­ing the ti­tle for the heav­i­est green cab­bage at this year’s Malvern Autumn Show, where the cham­pi­onship is held.

He has to har­vest his gi­ant cab­bages us­ing a very sharp saw to cut the stump and a mini dig­ger to winch the cab­bage out. He of­ten gets his neigh­bours to help him. His cab­bage fills up his truck and when he grew pump­kins, he needed a trailer to trans­port them.

Some gi­ant veg prove pretty ined­i­ble once they reach their max­i­mum size – the long­est run­ner beans are stringy, weighty cu­cum­bers go bit­ter and the heav­i­est parsnips are woody and tough. Other gi­ant veg such as cab­bage, leeks, toma­toes and onions are fine to eat.

David says that with the right seed and the right ad­vice, any­one can have a go at grow­ing gi­ant show veg­eta­bles.

“Go and speak to a top grower. Make sure they’re win­ning ,” he sug­gests. “Take what you’ve grown to the show – it doesn’t mat­ter how big it is or how small it is – and you’ll get talk­ing to peo­ple. You’ll never get crit­i­cised for hav­ing the small­est cu­cum­ber.”

He sug­gests the fol­low­ing guide­lines to gi­ant-veg novices.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT SEED

WHICH­EVER va­ri­ety of veg­etable you are go­ing to grow, you need the right ge­net­ics to grow some­thing big, so re­search your seed care­fully. Some can be pur­chased at gar­den cen­tres, oth­ers are avail­able from spe­cial­ists.

David sug­gests va­ri­eties such as the mooli radish April Cross, Pi­cador parsnips, Red In­ter­me­di­ate car­rots and Kon­dor pota­toes. Go to a spe­cial­ist grower for onions.

“For things like pump­kins, mar­rows and cu­cum­bers, go to some­one who’s win­ning and ask them for some seed,” he ad­vises. “Some grow­ers might be cov­etous but most aren’t.”

There’s a lot of gi­ant grow­ing in­for­ma­tion avail­able through web­sites such as gi­antveg.co.uk, grow­ing fo­rums and or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Euro­pean Gi­ant Veg­etable Grow­ers Association (egvga.eu/).

GIVE YOUR­SELF PLENTY OF SPACE

“THE gi­ant green cab­bages I grow are spaced out 8ft each way,” says David. “They span around 6ft which gives you a bit of space to walk around them and check them.

“If you’re go­ing to grow a de­cent pump­kin, you’ll need 1,000 square feet of ground. But with parsnips, car­rots and onions, you don’t need so much ground. A parsnip will take around 3ft.”

CHECK YOUR SOIL

SOME grow their veg in raised beds and bar­rels of com­post, oth­ers go­ing for records for the long­est veg such as car­rots and parsnips, will grow them down gut­ter pipes placed di­ag­o­nally in the ground and some grow to around 30ft in length.

“Add plenty of well rot­ted farm­yard ma­nure or com­post to the soil be­fore you start. A lot of peo­ple use green ma­nure – coun­cil de­pots com­post gar­den waste which you can buy to en­rich your soil.”

“Ev­ery soil is dif­fer­ent,” he con­tin­ues. “If you have a re­ally heavy clay, the more or­ganic mat­ter you can add, the bet­ter.”

CHECK SOW­ING DATES

SOW­ING dates will de­pend on the veg grown. Gi­ant green­house cu­cum­bers can be sown in May, while David sows his cab­bages in Novem­ber and over­win­ters them in a frost-free green­house to plant out in the spring. He sows pump­kin seeds on April 1.

WA­TER­ING REGIME

GI­ANT veg need to be watered reg­u­larly and are not as tol­er­ant of spo­radic wa­ter­ing as nor­mal-sized veg. They need to be kept moist but not wa­ter­logged and you need to wa­ter them deeply to get to the roots.

Many grow­ers use drip ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems on a timer which com­pen­sate for rain.

FEED­ING

BE aware that dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles need dif­fer­ent fer­tilis­ers. Plants grown for the fruit, such as toma­toes and pump­kins, will need fer­tilis­ers high in potas­sium and phos­pho­rous, while leafy veg will need a higher nitrogen mix.

PROP UP YOUR VEG

GI­ANT cu­cum­bers should be grown up a sin­gle stem, taking out the sideshoots so you just have one cu­cum­ber per plant.

A stake in the ground, with strong ny­lon string at­tached to a pole above, will al­low for the cu­cum­ber to grow ver­ti­cally. Cu­cum­bers need to be wound around the string.

Thomas sup­ports the fruits with some fleece tied around the mid­dle of the cu­cum­ber as it be­comes heav­ier, at­tached to string which is se­cured ver­ti­cally to a frame above. The stem it­self won’t hold the weight of the cu­cum­ber.

He has square steel frames to sup­port his cab­bages, which sit on top of the frame, taking the weight off the stump.

MAIN­TAIN THE CROPS

“KEEP your crops weed and pest­free. Some crops, in­clud­ing pump­kins and mar­rows, don’t like too much wind if you grow them out­side. They may need a wind­break around them. Some things are grown inside in tun­nels, with au­to­matic wa­ter­ing sys­tems un­der­neath them.”

Give them plenty of space, wa­ter and good soil and there’s no telling how mas­sive your veg might get

At Malvern Autumn Show, this young­ster dis­cov­ers how com­fort­able a gi­ant pump­kin can be David Thomas with a gi­ant cu­cum­ber

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