People have been reminding me for the past weeks that the annual village horticultural show will be coming up at the end of August. Heavy hints have been dropped that I should also put up some exhibits of my own. I am not sure how to take this. Maybe they are so impressed with progress on my plot that they are sure I must be able to win at least one prize and this will be just reward for my efforts. This is probably unrealistic. More likely they want to increase the number of “also-rans” to make the point how difficult it is to grow show quality vegetables. This has been at the back of my mind but now I have to stop dithering and make up my mind what I am going to do about it.
I could always chicken out and not enter anything with the excuse that I got started on the plot too late in the season to produce anything worthwhile this year, also that I didn’t really have time to prepare the ground properly before planting, etc. I suspect that would be taken with some accuracy as mere cowardice.
On the other hand if I did enter some of my stuff and it looked really bad beside all the other entries I would lose out twice over. Not only would I risk demonstrating to the village at large what a poor vegetable grower I am, but with the added embarrassment of naively believing my pitiful efforts could actually be worthy of entry alongside all the other fine exhibits. Public humiliation indeed.
The whole intention of starting the allotment in the first place was to create a stress-free zone where I could expend energy and have something to show for it. I didn’t expect to have to deal with these dilemmas. This is one aspect of the retirement plan I had overlooked.
In an effort to resolve this problem I looked for further information about vegetable exhibiting on the internet. The results were not encouraging. It appears that to grow successful show vegetables I should have started a year early. Also I seem to have selected all the wrong varieties. And I am going about it in totally the wrong way.
Let me give you one example. You would think there could be nothing simpler than the humble spud. You would be wrong. To start with potatoes are susceptible to attack from a whole host of biological enemies, each with its own tactical methodology. On the botanical front these range from potato scab, whose results are purely cosmetic, to potato blight, the ultimate death ray. The zoological foot soldiers include wireworm and slugs (yes, even the slug has one foot).
The problem with most of these is that you rarely see the effects until you start harvesting, and then it’s too late. You can select varieties of potato that are resistant to scab, but that only solves one part of the problem. Commercial growers combat these assaults by almost continuous spraying with a whole range of nasty substances. These are not available to us mere amateurs, and in any event we try to avoid chemical gardening without being fanatically organic.
Even if the potato manages to evade all its natural enemies there are other difficulties to overcome. When I prepared the ground I removed large quantities of stones. Inevitably quite a few remain, mostly not large enough to create any major problems. In any case all the good gardening guides say that you need a few stones to improve drainage. So imagine the perfect show potato steadily growing underground. It has so far escaped the attention of slugs, wireworms, scab spores etc, and seems to be immune to blight. It is a happy potato. As it grows it muscles aside the surrounding earth to make room. Until it comes across a stone, jammed hard in the soil. Of course the potato will continue to grow around the stone, its skin unblemished and it will retain all the desirable qualities of taste and texture claimed on the packet. Only it will no longer stand supreme as the perfect potato on the show bench. More like a mutant alien.
I will not bore you with all the other matters that the would-be exhibitor has to contend with to produce show quality potatoes from an allotment. There is a simple solution. You grow your potatoes in plastic bags filled with sieved and sterilised garden compost, regularly dosed with a prescribed cocktail of chemical nutrients. If you follow all the instructions you will be rewarded come show-time with potatoes of the desired shape and size, free of any blemish. Chose the recommended variety and you’ll be in with a chance for first prize. Gardening is all swings and roundabouts. Your carefully nurtured show potatoes might look great, but they’ll taste like cottonwool and will rot within a month.
So I’ll stick to growing potatoes for the table. Might you, my beans and courgettes are looking pretty good. Watch this space.