Growing Your Own Vegetables - Exhibiting
17th Aug 2002
Undoubtedly the highlight of my gardening carrier happened this June when I was awarded the Lawrence Gold medal by the Royal Horticultural Society for the best Horticultural display during 2001, this was given for my display of vegetables at Chelsea. At home however I have an equally prestigious award, made from some cheap plastic without which I would probably never have been spurred on to win such a prestigious award. You see this plastic little trophy was awarded to me by my local show over 35 years ago for the best vegetable exhibit staged by a novice.
Show Dates and Schedules
Believe me there is nothing more enjoyable and satisfying than growing your own vegetables and then having a go with them at your local show. If you are not sure whether your town or village has a show, then contact the local Post Office and enquire if the have a gardening club, they often host a show. Summer shows are a vital part of our British heritage, most towns have them, and believe me they nearly all could do with your support. The problem most growers have is 'what do I do' well the first thing is to get hold of a schedule for the particular show that you intend to participate in.
The next step is to read it carefully, the schedule on show day will be the bible for the judge, so every word and sentence has to be thoroughly familiar to you. One of the worst things that can happen to a novice exhibitor is to find on his return to the show that the judge has left a piece of paper by his dish (a term used for a specified number or quantity of vegetables constituting one item which my be displayed on a table or stand) with the letters N.A.S. (not according to schedule) More often than not this usually happens because the grower hasn"t placed sufficient quantity of a particualr vegetable in a dish.
The Horticultural shows today are nearly all judged under RHS rules and all judges and exhibitors should have a copy of the RHS ‘Horticultural Show handbook'. Some vegetable sections within these shows can also be judged under the rules of the National Vegetable Society, in such cases it would be wise again for both judge and exhibitor to have a copy of their ‘Judges Guide'. The parameters expected for the exhibitor are clearly laid out in these books and the exhibitor should at all times try and comply with them.
All vegetables are awarded points, these are given for the degree of difficulty in achieving a perfect entry. For instance the maximum number of points for any vegetable is 20, which applies to celery, leeks, and exhibition onions. On the other hand because it isn't that difficult to produce a perfect dish of Courgettes, pickling onions or Rhubarb, they only have a maximum of 12 points. These points are then broken down into categories such as ‘Condition' ‘Uniformity' ‘Size' ‘Colour' etc. The judge therefore has to take all this in mind when sorting out the different dishes so that he can arrive at the best dish in a class.
One word of warning though, don't be blinded by size, size is only meritorious when accompanied by quality, the old saying ‘a good big one will always beat a good little one' is as true as ever. Concentrate therefore on quality first, this will come under the criteria ‘Condition' and with vegetables it naturally has to be paramount. The NVS has a saying, ‘if you can't eat it - you don't show it' and that is perfectly true
The evening before the show, start to harvest your vegetables and I would suggest that you try some of the easier ones first. Broad beans are reasonably easy to grow well and these should be picked whilst still young and fresh. No brown or black marks on the pods which can be a sure sign that the beans are getting old. Gently press the outside of the pods prior to picking, this way you can count the number of beans in each pod and pick only those with the most beans in.
Pick your peas in the same way but don't press the pods to count the peas, the pods must have the bloom intact on them, so handle the peas carefully by the stem and turn them up to the sun, you can then easily count the number of peas per pod as well as any gaps that are evident. With Peas and Broad Beans the judge will open up one pod in each dish to see if the peas have filled up enough, that there is no evidence of the pea maggot inside as well as how many peas there are in the pod. A good way to carry the peas to a show, believe it or not, is to lay them on an bed of fresh nettle leaves and cover them over with the same; it's supposed to enhance the bloom somewhat.
The same thing will apply to Broad Beans but the judge will also have a peep at the eye of the bean, if fresh, they should be nice an green, when old the eye turns black. With Runner Beans and French Beans the judge will snap one pod in each dish to check for freshness and to ensure that the pods are not stringy. ‘Uniformity' is certainly a criteria when coupled with ‘Condition' to make a dish of any vegetable stand out. ‘Uniformity' is the term used for the state of being alike in size, shape and colour with the latter often being forgotten by some exhibitors. A good tip with any spare peas or beans is to emulate what the judge will do, so open up a few pods yourself as well as snapping a few beans.
Small onions and shallots can be picked a few weeks prior to the show but do make sure that the schedule has once more been checked out, very often in the small onion class, each onion needs to weigh in at under 250 grams. To be on the safe side, the onions need to be harvested when they have been cleaned down to the one last skin and measuring 10¼" in circumference. Immediately after harvesting both shallots and onions, wash them down with a soft sponge, dry them with some soft kitchen roll and then, wait for it, powder them over with talcum powder. This is one sure way of drying out the skin of the onion uniformly so that it eventually harvests to a beautiful even colour.
Finally have a go with some Cabbages and Cauliflowers, cabbages are easier to grow to perfection than cauliflower, this is reflected in their maximum points value of 15 where as the latter are given the maximum 20 points. Make sure that the foliage of the cabbage is free from pest damage and as the schedules very often ask for a 3" stalk with brassicas, just to make sure that they have not been bought in a shop, make sure that you comply!
Some good varieties to consider for exhibition as well as for the kitchen -
Cabbages - Ramco and Globemaster
Cauliflowers - Virgin, Beauty and Memphis.
Shallots - Aristocrat and Hative de Niort
Peas - Show Perfection and Greenshaft
Onions - Buffalo and Toughball
Broad Beans - Exhibition Long Pod
Runner Beans - a re selection of Enorma
French Beans - The Prince