You may never have considered growing vegetables to show, but all over the world, clubs, allotments, community gardens and residents associations are setting up new produce shows to encourage people to grow their own. This level of competition is fun and not too serious, and may give you enough of a buzz to get you to enter the more formal and longer established shows run by the counties and agricultural associations.
What is a Produce Show?
Almost any type of vegetable or fruit of any size, weight, colour and shape can be entered in a produce show although some associations are now limiting people to growing vegetables that are ‘native’ or ‘local’, both of which terms are open to interpretation.
A panel of judges will be chosen for their expertise and they will award points to each entry against a set of criteria agreed and printed in advance. Many competitors fail at this hurdle, as they have not fully read or understood the way that their produce should be displayed.
Growing Vegetables to Win
There are as many secrets and arcane practices in the vegetable growing world as in any other competitive industry, but some tips and hints are universal:
- Prepare your growing area. You need the best possible conditions for your crop, but that can vary widely: too much manure can make carrots and parsnips become forked or ‘fanged’ as horticulturalists say, while too little can cause runner bean pods to twist. Understand the conditions required for each plant and adjust your soil accordingly.
- Start with the best seed you can – this may mean sourcing it from smaller seed companies that specialise in ‘mammoth’, ‘exhibition’ or ‘giant’ seeds, which have been specially selected to be the largest possible while maintaining appearance, taste and condition.
- Once seed has germinated, be ruthless about choosing only the best plants to grow on. If you have too many, too close together they will be smaller than plants given the space to expand and crowded plants are more prone to blights and infestations.
- Always protect competition entry plants against disease and pests – this may mean covering with mesh, growing under glass or spraying to kill pests. Check the rules to see what is allowed though – organic vegetables must not have been sprayed with many commercial treatments.
- Take care when watering. Depending on the temperature and stage of growth, your plants may need to have their watering adjusted on a daily basis.
The rules are always strict. Many excellent entries fail to take the top prize just because they haven’t been properly prepared for the show. Ensure you’ve read the criteria carefully and – where possible – attend the show for at least a year before you plan to enter so that you can see what the judges look for. A digital camera can be very useful to photograph the exhibits so that you can analyse what made the winner stand out at your leisure.
Generally any entry must be true to type – which means exactly like the photograph and written description of that fruit or vegetable – if your biggest tomato is still yellow, don’t put it in a show if the variety is a red one, as you will lose marks for it being ‘not true’ to the type. Winning vegetables are always in prime eating condition – not too old or young, not scratched, soft, bruised or too tough and they never have any evidence of insect damage or disease. They should not be scrubbed, but they should be clean.
There will be strict rules about the entry card (which shows the kind and variety of the vegetable or fruit) and the plate or paper on which the entry is displayed.