What to do in the week leading up to a vegetable show or competition.

It is now only a week until our local show where I am planning on entering a number of different vegetables that I have grown this season. Like most gardeners who exhibit their vegetables I am now rushing around trying to get the final bits and pieces in place and work out what vegetables I can harvest in advance of the show to save time on the day. In addition to this I am making sure I have all the equipment I will need for the show itself. “What equipment could you possibly need for a vegetable show?” you might ask, well, you will be surprised when I tell you the kit I put together and the items I must have to be able to enter at all.

This article is going to be a day by day diary of what I need to do in the week running up to the show, and on the day itself. I hope it will help any gardener entering their vegetables into a show for the first time to plan their own week leading up to the vegetable show, and minimise their stress levels on the final day when the vegetable competition takes place.

Tuesday 10th August

Cut foliage off the tops of my potatoes grown in containers so that the skins have a week to harden up under the compost. Also covered the containers in black polythene to keep out any rain as I don’t have a shed or garage. Ideally you should move the containers into a garage and leave uncovered for this final week.

Gave all vegetables grown in containers (apart from the carrots) a final liquid feed to give them a boost prior to harvesting.

Earthed up carrots to avoid any exposed ‘shoulders’ going green.

Purchased a large roll of cling film to wrap any cucumbers I harvest early in so they don’t go ‘bendy’ with dehydration before the show.

Purchased white vinegar and table salt ready to soak my beetroot in a solution of the night before the show.

Checked that I still had raffia from last year to tie the tops of my onions and shallots with.

Filled in entry form ready to deliver to the show organisers on Saturday evening.

Wrote myself a full list of exactly how many of each vegetable I needed and for what classes so I ensure I have enough harvested and prepared on show day.

Wednesday 11th August

Took delivery of appropriate sized wooden boxes to exhibit onions, shallots and various classes of mixed displays of vegetables and salads.

Went to local garden centre and purchased small plastic clear tubs for growing cress in to form a part of the vegetable displays.

Purchased a number of rolls of kitchen towel with different patterns on so that I can wrap certain groups of potatoes, tomatoes etc in different coloured rolls and can then easily determine which are the “sets” that go together that I am entering in each class.

Purchased a number of dish cloths that I shall dampen later in the week to wrap my harvested carrots and beans in so that they stay fresh for show day.

Purchased a couple of extra packets of cress seeds so that I can stagger sowing over several days to ensure I have a good selection at exactly the correct stage of maturity for the show day.

Thursday 12th August

Sowed 24 individual tubs of cress ready for the show. Decided not to stagger the sowings and to take my chances that they would all be ready bang on time.

Gave my cucumbers and tomatoes a feed to try and boost their development.

Friday 13th August

Went to garden centre and bought a bag of play sand to use in the onion boxes and on the paper plates the tomatoes would be exhibited in.

Harvested three cucumbers and washed them carefully before wrapping them in cling film and storing them in the fridge.

Saturday 14th August

Took entry form and fees to the parish hall. Now I have to achieve the right amount of quality vegetables to fulfill my entries.

Made a list of what I needed to do day by day now until the show days on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sunday 15th August.

Emptied out my potato bins. A couple of days early really, but decided I needed to make sure I could produce some decent matching sets. Selected the appropriate potatoes I needed for each class and then wrapped these sets up (unwashed), in matching kitchen roll sheets. Placed the sets in containers labeling each set with the class number they were destined for. I then stored the container in our old furze oven where it is both dark and cool.

Monday 16th August

Now things are starting to speed up. So much to do and so little time. Try as I might I can’t quite bring myself to pull certain vegetables earlier than two days before judging, even though I am assured by fellow exhibitors that if stored correctly they will be fine. Instead I visited the allotment to see if things were looking promising in terms of potential vegetables I would be able to harvest. Worryingly I think I planted many of my crops too early in the year, therefore crops such as Lettuce, Runner Beans, French Beans, Haricot Beans and Mange Tout Peas are already starting to either die off or succumb to diseases, (I grow organically). Regardless of this I am going to go for it tomorrow and hope I can scrape together enough decent examples of each to exhibit at the show.

Removed my onions and shallots from under the bed, unwrapped them from the newspaper and wiped them clean. I then tied the necks with raffia and trimmed away the exposed remains of the foliage. Once this was complete I put an inch of sand in the bottom of the wooden display boxes and laid out the bulbs ready to deliver to the show bench.

Tuesday 17th August.

Up early today as tonnes to do. Fortunately my lovely Husband has taken the day off in order to help me. I doubt I could have achieved what I needed to without his help.

I went up to the allotment and picked as many beans, spring onions and beetroot as I could before returning to the house to sort them out.

Sat on the kitchen floor and laid out all my spring onions in order to produce as many matching sets as possible. Once sorted into groups of six I set my Husband to work washing them carefully, paying special attention to the roots to get rid of all the dirt. As each set was completed I trimmed off any yellowing tips to the foliage and trimmed the very ends of the roots so they were an even length. I then tied the bunches of spring onions at several points up their length using raffia. The resulting bunches were then wrapped in dampened dish cloths, placed in polythene sandwich bags, labelled with the class numbers they were destined for and then stored in a large cool box complete with frozen ice blocks inside to keep them cool.

The various beans had virtually the same treatment, i.e. they were laid out on the floor, sorted into sets and stored in damp cloths within labelled sandwich bags in the cool box. I didn’t wash the beans however as they are already clean from growing away from the ground. They also look better with a more natural bloom if they are left unwashed.

The Mange Tout peas for the ‘any other vegetable not scheduled’ class were given the same treatment as the beans above.

My long suffering Husband was then dispatched upstairs to wash the beetroot in the bath using the shower attachment.

Meanwhile I went outside and picked a good range of yellow and red cherry tomatoes. I sorted through these and produced enough for two good sets of ten which I then wiped clean making sure the stalks were left on. Using paper plates I laid these out in their display positions and placed them with the onions and the shallots.

Richard (my Husband), returned with the washed beetroot which I then put to one side as they would be delivered to the show on the Wednesday morning after soaking in salt and vinegar solution. Other crops were more urgent as they were to be delivered to the show tonight.

Set Richard to work carefully washing the potato sets next. Being careful he did each set one at a time, wiping with a cloth under running water before wrapping back up in the pieces of kitchen roll and returning them to their containers with class number labels still clearly on show.

I had gone outside and begun pulling my carrots and sorting them into groups suitable for the show. I began the washing process myself, making certain to only wash around the carrot and not up and down it. Once I had them mostly clean I passed them on to Richard to complete the process by making sure no little bits of dirt were still trapped between the remaining foliage (which had been trimmed to 7.5cm long). I then waited for them to mostly dry off before plucking any ‘hairy bits’ from the sides of the carrots whilst still leaving the long tap root intact. These were then wrapped in damp cloths, placed in labelled sandwich bags and put into the cool box with the other vegetables. The only carrots that wouldn’t fit in the box were the long intermediate carrots, so they had to be left wrapped in their damp cloths on top of the box instead.

My next task was to round up a few more cucumbers from outside to add to the others I had picked on Friday. Not many left but managed to round up an extra three slightly odd shaped ones that I could use for the displays.

By now it was getting towards 6.00pm, and I wanted to start taking some of the vegetables up to the show soon. After a bit more frantic rushing around we finally made it up to the show by about 7.00pm. The next two hours were spent laying out all the vegetables we had prepared as above, checking each one before displaying it on the show bench to make sure all traces or dirt had been removed and each class had the correct amount of each vegetables as per the schedule, e.g. beans had to have exactly 9 pods of each, enter 10 by accident and no matter how good they were they would be disqualified and the dreaded NAS (not according to schedule) would be written on the card.

Of course it wasn’t over yet as once we left I knew I still had the beetroot to sort out and soak, the displays of vegetables to make up and the last minute vegetables to harvest such as the lettuces and the courgettes. In a rash decision I decided to take a chance and to drive up to the allotment in the dark and harvest the lettuce and courgettes using my headlights and a neighbour’s torch. It was a risk as there was always the chance the lettuce would wilt and the courgette flowers would fall off before the morning, but I decided that it would be better than the last minute panic of trying to achieve this in the morning as well as the five displays. Having harvested these I took them back to the house, trimmed the courgette stalks to an even end and then inverted them stalk down into tubs of water to hopefully keep the flowers fresh until morning. I washed most of the dirt off the lettuce roots and then wrapped these in damp cloths before covering the cloths in aluminum foil.

Sorted out the beetroot into two groups of three, one set for the cylindrical beetroot class, one set for the globe beetroot class and the remainder for the display boxes and the 6′ x 4′ run of table display. I trimmed the foliage on each down to 7.5cm and then used a non-stick pan scourer to gently rub away any corkiness from the tops of the roots whilst holding under running water, (this has to be done very carefully to avoid puncturing the outer skin and causing the beetroot to ‘bleed’). The two sets for the beetroot class were soaked in our washing up bowl in a solution of cold water, twenty four pinches of table salt and a teacup of white vinegar, (this to to even out the colour so they look better when being judged, especially if the judge opts to cut one beet from each set in half). I gave the same treatment to the remaining beetroot, but soaked them in a bucket to avoid mixing them up with my two sets for the actual beet classes.

My remaining vegetables were all the ones destined for the displays which I was going to prepare up at the show itself on the Wednesday morning. We finally went to bed about 02.00am having set our mobile phone alarms for 06.30am.

Wednesday 18th August

Got up at about 06.45am.

Removed beetroot from soak and rinsed thoroughly under a running cold tap.

Courgette flowers were still intact and fresh much to my relief.

Placed the largest of my display boxes in the car along with the cool box full of display veg, black cloths for the small 18″ x 18″ displays, the tubs of water containing the courgettes, the beetroot for the beet classes and two lettuce destined for the cabbage lettuce class.

Drove to the show and displayed the beetroot on paper plates as per the schedule.

Displayed the cabbage lettuce as per the schedule.

Selected two sets of three courgettes with flowers on for the courgette class.

Set out my two entries on black cloths. This class required three distinct vegetables to be exhibited on black cloths no larger than 18″ x 18″. I put two entries into this class.

I then moved on to my 3′ x 3′ display of six varieties of vegetables in a box. For this class I used surplus vegetables that I had not needed for the main classes. Unfortunately I didn’t really have enough of each vegetable to make an impressive display, plus I could have done better if I had lined each box with either black cloth or possibly green carpet as the ultimate winner did. Another option would have been to grow loads of curly parsley in advance of the show and used this to fill in the gaps between the vegetables and cover the exposed parts of the wooden box.

Husband and I then rushed back home and placed my smaller 2′ 6″ x 2′ 6″ display box for the salad vegetables into the back of the car. On a spur of the moment decision I decided to organise the salad display there and then, and deliver the box straight to the benches already completed. Having done my best with the salads I had available, we delivered the box to the show and carried it to the benches between us. Again the display would have been better if I had used more salads and stuffed the gaps with curly parsley, but due to the fact I had planted my vegetables rather too early for the show I had barely any usable lettuce etc left by show day and I had neglected to grow any curly parsley to fill the gaps.

I now moved on to the large 6′ x 4′ display of not less than six vegetables. This was daunting, but I did have a fair amount of odd vegetables left I could use. I did my best to display them in an artistic fashion, alternating yellow and green courgettes and alternating purple, orange and yellow carrots in the same way. I even managed to find three spare beetroot I could include. This was the first time I had entered this class, and taking one look at the chap next to me setting up his entry was enough to convince me that he was the definite winner. Still, this would be a useful learning experience for me. The mistakes I had made were simply relying on using the white background of the table as my backdrop and naming each vegetable with small handwritten individual tags, rather than a neatly printed list on one side of the display as my fellow competitor had. My competition had also used a large piece of black cloth as a background and a raised vertical frame that the black cloth was additionally attached to as a backdrop, (see photos). The end result was that his display was stunning, and ultimately won the trophy for the “Best Exhibit in the Vegetable Section”.

Having finally delivered all my vegetables safely to the show I returned home for a few hours sleep before going back to the show later to find out how I had done. I was delighted to see I had won a trophy for “Best Root Vegetable in Show”, as well as having a number if other first, second and third placings. Overall my results were as follows:

Five potatoes on a plate early crop, 3rd out of 10 entries

Five potatoes on a plate late crop, 3rd out of 6 entries

Fifteen potatoes, five each of three distinct varieties, 2nd out of 2 entries.

Nine pods of runner beans, no placing out of loads of entries, (forgot to count how many).

Nine pods of flat French beans, no placing out of 3 entries, (mine were awful though LOL)

Nine pods of French beans round, 2nd out of 4 entries.

Nine pods of  Haricot beans any variety, 2nd out of 2 entries.

Three carrots Intermediate, 1st, 2nd and 3rd out of 4 entries, all of which were mine. Also won trophy for best root vegetable in show for this class.

Three carrots Nantaise, 1st out of 7 entries.

Three carrots Shorthorn, 1st out of 1 entry.

Three table beetroot round, 2nd out of 13 entries.

Three table beetroot cylindrical, 1st out of 1 entry.

Two cabbage lettuce, 3rd out of 3 entries, (mine were really manky though, but they were all I had so I showed them anyway).

Six onions globe, 3rd out of 9 entries.

Three bunches, six per bunch of spring onions, 1st out of 3 entries.

Three courgettes, no placing out of about 12 entries, (not certain of entries, might be more obvious from the photographs).

Ten shallots in a box, non-exhibition variety, 3rd out of 4 entries.

Three cucumbers, outdoor grown including cloche grown. No placing out of about 10 entries.

Any vegetable not scheduled, 1st out of 3 entries using my Mange Tout.

Collection of six salads in a box not exceeding 2′ 6″ square, 2nd out of 2 entries.

Collection of six vegetables in a box not exceeding 3′ square, 2nd out of 2 entries.

Collection of three vegetables displayed on black cloth no larger than 18″ square, 3rd out of 7 entries.

Display of not less than six vegetables, named, arranged for effect, space not to exceed 6′ x 4′, tomatoes beets and salads allowed, 2nd out of 2 entries.