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How to succeed at horticultural shows

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Some horticultural shows are bigger than others. Ours is a more modest affair.
Some horticultural shows are bigger than others. Ours is a more modest affair.

Yesterday was the big day for our allotment association. Local horticultural shows have been held every year and this is the 39th.

As a new member of the association I have felt honour bound to put something into the show and with numerous classes available I was thinking of my potatoes, beans and runner beans as potential contenders. Unfortunately I was not able to put together the requisite selection of 5 unblemished spuds of same size, shape and colour but decided to persevere with my beans and courgettes.

Accordingly I picked the beans hard about a week ago and have been checking progress regularly since.  The objective was to be able to select 6 runner beans of the same length, and all as straight as possible, and 6 french beans of the same length and curve. Obviously they should be unmarked and on the point of perfection.  Unfortunately Saturday clashed with another event, so I had to pick the beans on Friday and find a method to keep them fresh until Sunday morning judging.  The internet provided guidance on overcoming the timing problem. You can find a mine of practical advice on sites like this one.

So on Friday I had a mass picking, and was full of confidence that out of the considerable pile I had gathered I would be able to pick out 6 of each variety.  4 was easy, the 5th took a bit of finding, but the 6th was really tough.  Finally I made my decision, guided by expert advice that I found here.  Courgettes were not a problem because they can be harvested in advance of the show.

So, what was the result?

1st prize in the French Bean category, and 50p to go with it.
1st prize in the French Bean category, and 50p to go with it.

I am proud to say that my french beans won first prize of £0.50 in a field of 6 entries, and my runner beans (which were

Only 2nd prize for my courgettes, but next year I'll be able to get them going a lot earlier in the season
Only 2nd prize for my courgettes, but next year I’ll be able to get them going a lot earlier in the season

always my biggest cause for concern) and courgettes 2nd prize.

2nd prize for my runner beans. They struggled after a cold wet start to the season, so better luck next year.
2nd prize for my runner beans. They struggled after a cold wet start, so better luck next year.

On top of that I received 3rd prize for best kept allotment (which was a bit of a swiz because all the other awards went to people who had been working their plots since the beginning of the year). So 4 prizes – not a bad start, and a lot better than I was expecting last time I posted.

On rather a sad note the organiser of the show for the past 16 years has decided that she is unable to carry on any longer, and so far there have been no volunteers to take over the task. I am probably ruled out because we live within the neighbouring parish.

The village has grown considerably over recent years with new housing development. However, in spite of no little effort, the horticultural show still seems to be regarded as the preserve of the traditional village people.  As the older generation become less active, local activities like the horticultural show will lose support and fade away unless newcomers become more participative. Village gatherings are important informal meeting points where small local communities can come together and retain a common identity. More important they are a forum for all residents to exercise a common voice and influence decision-making at district and county level.

Newcomers often complain that local communities are unfriendly and are reluctant to reach out with a welcoming hand. We see this all over the country and especially in areas where a significant proportion of housing is used as second homes.

Our own experience moving into the county from the other side of London has been that very little effort is required to make acquaintances which can develop into friendships. One of the objectives of taking over the allotment was to meet people and start to develop a circle of friends in the area. South Suffolk is characterised by a scattering of small villages separated by areas of arable land.  If the people who live in these villages are unable or unwilling to retain a local identity and community life, the villages themselves will simply become picture postcard museum pieces for the heritage tourist industry.

We need to find a way to keep the horticultural show safe for the next 39 years.  It is an important part of village life.

And I want the opportunity to win more prizes next year!

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