Vegetables for Home and Exhibition
30th Dec 1999
In those days of course all the vegetable varieties were open pollinated and therefore to stage an uniform display meant that they had to grow a great deal more of every variety that they wanted to stage. It must have been a treat in those days to enter one of the large flower shows such as Chelsea, Westminster, Southport, Chiswick, Belfast, Elstree, Reading and Holland Park Hall to see the vast displays that Edwin Becket staged. In those days of course other large companies were also evident and the competition must have been intense.
Reading the adverts within the book brings back to mind the seed catalogues that my father used to mull over during the Winter months, some seed merchants such as Suttons (who have by now incorporated some of the other firms) are still with us; sadly though most have now finished. Carters, (their blue book of gardening is still sought after), Toogoods Seeds from Southampton used to supply my father with some seed as did Ryders of St Albans. Other familiar names at that time were Joseph Bentley Ltd Barrow-on-Humber, Barr and Sons Covent Garden who were awarded seven Gold medals and seven Silver Gilts by the RHS; R & G Cuthbert Southgate and Robert Veitch and Son Exeter.
The introduction of the F1 hybrid varieties with their more consistent shape and vigour is another advantage for todays keen show grower and if one looks along the benches at the highest level of competition, most varieties, with the exception of a few, will be F1 hybrids. When greenhouses first came available extending the growing season immensely, the quality of vegetables improved no end. I well remember my father having his first wooden greenhouse as a gift from his farm employer. This of course allowed him to grow better varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers which prior to had to be grown outside and were of inferior quality for the show bench.
The introduction of paraffin, gas and electricity in the greenhouses certainly advanced the growing season and techniques even further, to have heating of some sort was a thrill, even though you had to keep cleaning the paraffin wick regularly to prevent your plants from dying back. Getting electricity into the greenhouse was a further boon as the temperatures could be much easier controlled with the aid of thermostats hence the growth rate of the plants increased considerably.
At the same time as all this development we had automatic vents on the windows, Maximum minimum thermometers as well as fans to control the temperature and cables to warm up the bench giving you an excellent propagating medium and lately artificial lighting.
The onion and leek plants were generally hardened off and planted outside anytime from mid April onwards, but now of course top growers have moved on to polytunnels which have extended the growing season even further. With raised beds, soil warming cables underneath the plants, irrigation lines laid down and black and white polythene on top of the soil, the twentieth century has given us state of the art growing techniques to the extent that we can now produce onions and leeks such as has never been seen before.
What's the future got in store then?
One would think that we already have most of what we need but there is one development I'm sure will affect all of us in the next few decades and that is Genetically Modified Crops. The three words that initially really worried me, particularly regarding the introduction of genetic material into crops from animals, microbes, viruses or unrelated plant species. However much we express concern, genetic modification will form part of modern biotechnology and this promises to be the dominant science of the 21st century.
The fact is that we were equally concerned many years ago regarding the first work done on hybridisation, by today however hybrids are part of every gardeners life and will continue to be so. The concerns for most of can be summed up as:
Genes spreading to closely related wild species and other crop varieties of the same species - Pathogens and pests evolving to overcome genetically resistant crops - Exposure to allergens - Uncertainties about how new combination of genes will behave - Potential for generating plants with undesirable or unstable traits - Effects of pest resistant traits on non-target organisms - Effects of herbicide resistance on management practice and plant biodiversity - Erosion of crop biodiversity through domination of production systems with one or a few closely related varieties. Introducing genetic material into crops from animals, microbes, viruses, or unrelated plant species
The possible plus signs are:
New antibiotics - Gene therapies - Better foods - More productive crops - Biodegradable plastics - Healthier livestock - Safer vaccines - Animal organs for transplants - Bacteria to measure water pollution and degrade toxic waste.
Personally if, through modern science we can get plants to resist pests and diseases through their own make up, that must surely be far better than pumping chemicals onto the plants in an attempt to keep them pest and disease free.
Why I say it's going to affect each and every one of us is because it's already happening. To date there are no GM crops grown on a commercial scale in the UK, but and it's a big but, the number of countries growing GM crops has increased from one in 1992 to nine in 1998 and the statistics for that year is as follows: USA (20.5 million hectares) Argentina (4.3 million hectares) Canada (2.8 million hectares) Australia (0.1 million hectares) China, France, Mexico, South Africa, and Spain (each less than 0.1 million hectares.
Whatever happens let me wish you all a very happy New Millennium and good growing during 2000