Many gardeners, including myself, enjoy entering our vegetables in competitions and get a real thrill out of seeing whether we have been placed in our chosen classes. This tradition of exhibiting vegetables has been going on for many years and shows no sign of stopping soon.
The penalty for this hobby is that with so many classes to enter, and so many vegetables involved, the day of the show can potentially be a hugely stressful and rushed affair. Making sure all of your vegetables are prepared correctly, displayed to maximum effect and in place at the show on time is no easy task. For this reason, I decided to write this article to suggest a few vegetables that can be safely lifted and prepared in the weeks or days leading up to the show, so allowing more time at the last minute for all the vegetables that simply have to be harvested on the day itself.
These are traditionally harvested on the longest day of the year, so generally June 21st. As most shows fall later from about July onwards, this means you have time to allow them to dry out on wire racks before rubbing off the flaky skin, trimming traces of roots away and cutting the remainder of the tops back to about three inches long. Select the sets you intend to exhibit and include a few spares in case you damage any of your set in the final stages. Wrap each shallot in tissue and place in egg box modules or plant tray cells, alternatively, place them unwrapped in trays of sawdust. These can then be stored in a place with a constant temperature, (such as under your bed) until a few days before the show. At this point in time remove the shallots from their tissue or sawdust, and very carefully, using a small amount of force, rub off the first unbroken skin, leaving a complete nut-brown skin underneath. You can then tie the tops close to the bulb using raffia, and trim off the surplus remaining stem. These can then be carefully stored back in the sawdust or trays ready for the day of the show. A display according to the schedule for each show.
These should be lifted about five to six weeks prior to the show in order to ensure they have reached optimum size. Before you lift them peel back any broken skins as best you can and then leave in the ground for a few more days before lifting so that the bulbs can fill out again. Once harvested place on wire racks in the garden to dry, (in the event of rain cover with polythene and then remove once the rain stops). Once the roots and tops have withered you can select your chosen sets and trim away the dead roots, cut back the tops to three or four inches and then wash carefully with a cloth using warm water and a dash of washing up liquid. Once clean, dry the onion bulbs carefully and cover with a liberal helping of talcum powder to facilitate even color once the drying process finishes. Wrap these bulbs in newspaper or tissue and again store in a place such as under your bed until a few days prior to the show. At this point, you can simply wipe the talcum powder away carefully and tie the tops with raffia close to the bulb before trimming away the surplus. If you are concerned the skin around the base of the neck will crack when tied, a little water rubbed around this skin will soften it whilst you tie it and prevent cracking. Stand your prepared sets in trays of sawdust until the show day when you can display them according to the show schedule.
These can actually be harvested up to six days prior to the show date. Select the beans at the length you require them and cut them leaving a long stalk attached. Wrap them in damp cloths and strap them to a wooden batten to keep them straight. Store in a cool shady place such as a garage or cellar. The night before the show trim a couple of millimeters off the long stalk and invert the beans in a glass of water overnight. They will draw up some of the water and this will firm them up if they have gone slightly limp.
These can be picked up to five days in advance. This is especially useful if you have one large cucumber and want the others to catch up in order to produce a matching set. Cucumbers can grow up to an inch a day if given humid conditions and enough water. Once picked store in the fridge. I am also told that wrapping them completely in cling film will help to keep them from dehydrating and going “bendy” during this time.
Cut off any remaining foliage about ten days before the show and protect from rain if necessary. Lift the potatoes from their dry compost or soil a couple of days before the show. Wash clean carefully without scrubbing too hard and then dry them off gently. Choose your seats for the show and then wrap each potato carefully in tissue paper and store in a biscuit tin to keep them in the dark until the day of the show.
Pull these a couple of days before the show. Select your sets and then wash carefully with a cloth, ensuring you wash around the carrot and not up and down it. Pluck off any “hairy bits” from the sides of the carrot and then trim the foliage down to about as much as you can hold in your fist, (four inches or so). Wrap these in damp cloths and store in a cool dark place.
Lift these a couple of days prior to the show and again wash them carefully and remove the hairy bits from the sides of the roots. Trim the foliage down as with carrots, but then they must be dried and kept dry. Wrap in a cloth and keep in a dark place such as a black bin liner until the day of the show.
These can be harvested up to two days prior to the show, although ideally, the day before is better. Select your chosen specimens making sure they have a complete tap root, remove broken, yellow or damaged leaves prior to washing them whilst gently removing any corkiness from the shoulders of the root using a scouring pad very carefully, (practice on a spare first). Soak overnight in a bucket of water to which you have previously added a couple of dozen pinches of salt and a dash of vinegar and stirred in well, (this will even out the color both internally and externally). Rinse well on the morning of the show and dry carefully to avoid puncturing the skin and causing ‘bleeding’ from the flesh.
As for the rest…..
Tomatoes can be harvested the night before and stored in their sets surrounded in tissue in module trays to stop them rolling around on the way to the show.
Sadly most other vegetables such as courgettes (zucchini), lettuce, cabbage, leeks, spinach, etc really have to be harvested on the day of the show itself, so an early start will still be required, but it is certainly easier if you have already prepared the other vegetables in advance of the show itself.
I hope these tips have helped anyone thinking of exhibiting their vegetables in competitions. It truly is good fun and nothing much beats the pleasure of seeing a red card by your entry after all the hard work.