Staging Vegetables on the Show Bench - Peas
1st Sep 1999
There's no doubt that the actual growing of the vegetables for the show bench is the main challenge but there are other factors of nearly equal importance to be considered between the harvesting period and staging them on the show bench. These factors are extremely important and failure to look after the vegetables properly during the critical period of harvesting can often ruin a whole season's work.
Washing and Storing
It's very important that you think things through, right down to the last detail: where for instance are you going to wash the vegetables, where are they going to be stored prior to packing and how are you going to carry them unmarked to the show? Washing for instance needs to be carried out as quickly as possible before any soil dries hard on the skin. After washing they need to be kept somewhere until you are ready to pack them; make sure that you have a clear table close to hand where they won"t be damaged and will certainly be out of immediate daylight.
Handling and Packaging
Prior thought to carrying the various vegetables unmarked to the show is important. It's no use deciding at the last minute that you haven't got a box big enough to carry them. It's at this point in the showing game that you are at your most stressed so the fewer last minute hiccups you have, the lower your blood pressure will be. When you become stressed out, it is at that point that you start to make mistakes; how often have you said when you can"t find the right thing at the last minute, "oh well it will have to do". I learnt a phrase from my son, a phrase that was drummed into him in the Army and it's called the six 'P's, I have quoted it before but on this occasion it's definitely well worth repeating, "Prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance".
Peas are a good example of a vegetable that's easily destroyed by careless handling and poor packaging; they should be cut off the bine on the morning of the show if at all possible while the plant is still fully charged up with moisture. Hold the peas up towards the sun so that you can actually see if there are any gaps in them. Remove the best looking peas using sharp secateurs with approximately a two inch stalk attached and lay them down on some clean tissue on a large tray. When you think you have selected all of those that appear to be at their peak condition, take them to the house to carry out your final selection. Have a strong source of light at hand (an inspection lamp with a 100 watt bulb or a powerful torch will suffice) and then pass every pea slowly over the light so that you can clearly see if there are any gaps in the pod as well as being able to count the number of peas per pod. Grade them on the table by the number of peas per pod so that when you come eventually to your final selection you can match up a set bearing in mind the following criteria - long, fresh, smooth well-filled pods with good bloom and colour, they should be pest and disease free and uniform in shape, length and colour.
An important criteria to remember is uniformity; this is really the first criteria to hit the judge, so don't be tempted to put that 12 seeder in a set of nine 11 seeders as if it's an inch longer than the other eight, he will only down point you.
The other important factor to hit the judges between the eyes is the condition of the pods, in particular a set with unmarked bloom. The pods ideally should have no mark on them and the best way to carry them to the show has traditionally been on a bed of nettles in a box or tray.
Gathering the nettles is a thankless task and one for which you would most certainly be wise to wear gloves and long shirt sleeves. Try and select some fresh young nettle shoots with soft leaves as they are a lot better to form a bed in a seed tray than stiff rough old stalks. Once you have made your final decision, lay the pods carefully down on the soft nettle leaves making sure they don't touch each other and cover them over with more leaves. The nettles will keep the peas in good condition and actually seems to improve the depth of bloom on the pods. Whilst laying the pods on the nettles, make sure they are laid in exactly the same manner as you had them laid out on the table. This will save you a lot of time and prevent any errors when you arrive at the hustle and bustle of the show.
Always stage the pods side by side on some neat black cloth or on a tapering matt black board, but do check within the schedule that there are no restrictions regarding the staging of exhibits. In my opinion the above method is the only proper way to stage them in competitive classes; if they are a good set, they will most certainly look the part. There is a tendency by some exhibitors to stage pods in a circle or a wheel formation, I have never found this to do anything but detract from a good set of peas; the reason for suggesting such a style of staging is to prevent the judge from noticing how much discrepancy there is between each pod in a set. This is really a fallacy as any judge worth his salt will lay each pod out in a row anyway to check for this particular criteria - Uniformity.
Keep the peas dry and never spray them with water in an attempt to make them look fresher as moisture on peas in a humid tent will soon rot off the calyx on the pea. Cover them over with some clean white tissue paper prior to judging.