National Vegetable Society Championships
23rd Aug 2001
There's quite a lot of preparation work to be done today as tomorrow and Saturday I shall be at it pulling my vegetables for the National Vegetable Society Championships which are being held this coming bank holiday weekend on Sunday and Monday at Margam Park, Port Talbot, South Wales. If you are a keen vegetable grower or even a grower with just a little bit of interest in vegetables I do urge you to visit this spectacle. You won"t find better quality vegetables anywhere on this planet and contrary to what many people think, they are excellent to eat and far superior to any vegetable sold at your local supermarket.
This was proven during the Chelsea Flower show when the BBC organised a top chef to cook my show vegetables against those from a near supermarket and mine came up on top for taste and texture. The vegetables that you see on display at the National Championships may well make you eyes pop out by the sheer size and quality of them. The fact however is that they have been grown well right from the day the germinated and have been harvested at their peak of perfection, yes they are big but they are big on flavour as well.
This will be my biggest show this year as I wasn't able to stage at the Welsh championships last weekend because I was judging. Sorting everything out so that you have all your boxes and other essential items close to hand will be my major job for today. I have two large onion boxes, one for six onions and the other for four. I shall need both of these boxes as I hope to stage a dish of five, I will need three in the collection of six kinds and two in the mini collection. I may also stage 5 onions in the class between 1kg and 1.5 kg, this has become a very popular class and gives the more ordinary grower, even without tunnels etc. a decent chance of staging a set, so boxes will need to be found for these as well.
It's really amazing how the quality and size of vegetables have progressed onwards, particularly over the last ten years or so. The onions for the under 1.5 kg will probably measure between 17½ inches in circumference and 18inches. Yet about ten years ago if you had a set of onions at eighteen inches you stood an excellent chance of winning the large onion class. I can well remember with my father, competing against one of North Wales's best growers, Mr Roberts from Ruthin or Roberts machine as he was affectionately known. He used to put sup some marvellous collections and I can remember him staging a collection of 6 kinds, a collection of nine kinds and a collection of twelve kinds, and winning both, not bad considering he did it all on his own. His onions were always good with a nice high shoulder and they always caught your eye because he tied the necks thin and quite high up. This gave an illusion that the onions were big, yet when I once measured them they were only 16½ inches around.
From the 24 onions that I had growing in the furthest polytunnel from the house, I eventually had eighteen harvested and all are fit for showing. It just goes to prove a point that, provided you have the right stock of seed, you don't have to grow large quantities. I found that with 24 onions I could allow myself the time to attend to every individual onion, making sure that the base of each one was always clear from any stones and that they were sitting perfectly upright in the bed.
They were harvested over a period of a week or so and they were then left on some dry fine sawdust that had first been sieved through a quarter inch riddle to get rid of any sharp bits of wood that was amongst it. The onions are all in individual trays sitting on a two inch deep bed of sawdust after having been talcked all over using Zinc Starch and Talc. Incidentally this product I believe is no longer available but in my opinion it is superior to the ordinary talcum powder. I purchased mine many years ago and I still have enough left over, hopefully for a few more years.
You might still get hold of some if you can find an old chemist shop who may well have some old stock of it. If you do happen to know where there is some available, please let me know as there are many growers out there who would love to try some. The beauty of it is that it not only dries up the onion skin evenly all over it also imparts a lovely strawy colour to the bulb as you will find out when you look at your fingers after applying it to a few onions.
The onions were covered over with some fleece right through their harvesting period to make sure that that no direct sunlight hit the onions from the shed window. It aslo kept them cool on the few hot days that we experienced, they never had a fan blowing on them yet they still harvested very well. Tonight will be a major job sorting through the seventeen in order to match the best five, three and two. Once I am happy with my selection they will then be taken to the kitchen where the necks will be tied with raffia after moistening the very dry paper thin necks to prevent them from splitting.