Growing Show Vegetables - Large Exhibition Onions
16th Dec 1999
Large Exhibition Onions
Anytime between now and the new year you can sow your large exhibition onions for the quality classes. Use top quality seed compost such as Levingtons F1, fill a seed tray to the rim and gently flatten level. Place the seed tray in another larger tray with water in it and no holes in the bottom so that the compost can soak up the moisture from below. When fully charged remove from the water and carefully sow the seed making sure that each one has sufficient space between each other to prevent them growing leggy.
Cover the seed with about quarter inch of fine sieved compost or better still cover them with fine Vermiculite, and use a fine sprayer to moisten the Vermiculite. Place the tray in a warm place for germination, a warm room will do until they germinate but an electric thermostatically controlled propagator does the job a lot quicker. The seed should germinate at the latest within days or so and I shall cover the pricking out stage in two weeks time. While in the propagator I prefer not to cover them with glass but rather to inspect them daily giving a fine spray with warm water in a 1 litre sprayer.
Without a doubt it takes a great deal of skill to grow onions to the extremely high standard of Derek Raw and to grow a heavy onion such as the World Record breaker from Mel Ednie but it also takes one other thing, and that's dedication. You must have that 'need to win' feel in you that makes you go to the greenhouse many times during the day just to have a look at the plants in progress. The best winners are also the thinking gardeners, those that come up with new ideas and innovations that either increase size in plants or improve their quality.
Days Gone By
Just to think back over the years to those gardeners that have had an effect on me regarding growing and staging show vegetables. My mind immediately goes back to Martin Robinson and the wonderful; displays of vegetables that were, and still are evident at most major shows. So taken was I with these mind boggling displays that I vowed one day to have a go at the same type of displays myself. I was so keen then, twenty five years or more ago, that when we went on holiday with the two children pulling a caravan up the M6 to Scotland, that I had to stop at Martin Robinsons' nursery to have a look at his wonderful onion bed.
Immediately there would be groan of dismay from the kids, but I always told them 'I wont be more than five minutes", two hours later I would leave contented that I had gleaned some more information from Martin who was always willing to impart little snippets of information and to whom I shall always be grateful.
Bob and his brother the late Bill Rodger took the growing of onions even further by constructing temporary covers and using clear polythene to cover the soil, this was later changed to Black and White polythene which is what we all use today. In 1975 the first Kelsae onion festival was held at Sinclair McGill Ltd Boston and the winner of the heaviest onion was A.C. Breed Snr of St Boswells Roxburghshire with a weight of 4lb 15.75 ounces.
It was won by Jack Whieldon of Brimstage Wirral in 1976 with an onion weighing 5lb 10 ounces, Jack was not only a good grower of heavy onions he also staged some superb onions in the quality classes. 1977 it was won by Bob Rodger of Crail Fife with a 5lb 13.5 ounces, an onion in those days considered to be really huge. Bob won it again in 1980 with an onion weighing 6lb 0.5ounces, the first 6lb onion. He won it again in 1981 with a 6lb 7 ounce monster which beat the previous record of 6lb 7ozs held by Tom Fenton, another one of the great vegetable growers. Later that year Bobs record was truly broken by S Hill of Galashiels at 7lb 6 ounces.
It was in 1984 that Bobs brother Bill broke the World record with a 7lb 11.75 ounce onion measuring 25 inches in circumference. Bill has no doubt influenced many of us who grow onions, his love of growing them was infectious and large groups would always be listening to his excellent advice at flower shows. He was always willing to freely part with the enormous amount of knowledge that he possessed from years of growing, not just heavy onions, but quality vegetables as well.
The next man to influence the leek and onion scene was my friend Ivor Mace, he smashed the world record with his 8lb 13.5 ounce onion ion 1987. As important as that event was I still think that Ivor will be best remembered for introducing the Welsh seedling blanch leek onto the show scene ten years ago. This leek changed the pattern of leek growing from that point with it's increased girth making hard to beat even today. Prior to Ivor winning the heavy onion Vin Throup was also at it smashing records, he was also winning all over the country with his own strain of blanch leeks. Vin was also instrumental in getting growers to blanch their leeks using builders damp course instead of clay or plastic pipes that most of us were using up to that point.
Robert Holland from Cumnock Ayrshire is another thinking gardener, always trying to improve on his growing techniques. When I first called to see Robert and was invited inside his growing area I just couldn't believe what I was seeing, the growth rate on his onions were phenomenal, and this was when they were in the growing cabinet in January! That year Robert gave me 10 large plants to come home and those were the biggest onions I have ever grown, over 8lbs in weight and I came 10th in the Kelsae onion festival.
This article to be continued next week (see article 23/12/1999).