All views expressed are the opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of the Society
January 28th, 2019
Lichfield & District Allotments Society
Show Hints and Tips
For a number of years, a lot of people have asked for some help and advice on what to do about the show. This special newsletter should provide you with a starting place. It is intended to be, at best, a very simple guide to growing and presenting for the show. It is most definitely not intended to be a substitute for your own research, experimentation and happy accidents and is simply a reflection of your editor's views and experiences.
The show is in three sections
There is a different judge for each section and they judge according to specific sets of criteria. The flowers judge uses Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) criteria, the veg judge uses National Vegetable Society (NVS) criteria and the domestic judge uses Women's Institute (WI) criteria. The RHS publishes a book called "The Horticultural Show Handbook" (ISBN 1-874431-98-1) which covers vegetables as well as flowers and it gives you loads of information on what to show, how to stage and what the judge will be looking for. The RHS criteria for veg are very similar to the NVS criteria, so one book will cover both areas. I think the RHS book costs about £10. The NVS judges guide is only available to NVS members but you could always join, like I have. The Women's Institute guide called "On with the Show" is available from the WI. I got my copy by phoning Denman College, the WI home economics HQ (01865 391788)
- Domestic, including children's classes
Simple and obvious stuff
- Read the schedule. The schedule tells you the absolute minimum requirements and if you don't meet these requirements, you'll be excluded. This is to ensure that everyone starts from the same place. If it says "6 off" and you show five or seven, it won't be judged. If it says, "use the recipe provided" and you don't, it won't be judged. Every year two or three people get this wrong and their time and effort goes unrecognised. I've even seen this happen at national championships where there is really serious competition.
- The most important judging criterion is condition. You can do what you like, if your exhibit is wilting, stale, wizened, caterpillar riddled, full of aphid or just plain manky, it's unlikely to win. For the last two years judges at our show have decided not to award prizes to classes where the quality of condition of the exhibits was not good enough.
- Make sure that things are uniform. One big one and three medium ones is never as good as four medium ones that match. If you are exhibiting more than one thing, e.g. three dalias, four squares of tray bake or five potatoes, try to get all specimens to look broadly similar. This rule applies to all classes without exception.
- Size isn't everything but bigger is usually better. This also applies to flowers and veg, if the schedule doesn't state a maximum size, a good big one, will often beat a good medium one. There are few exceptions where optimum sizes are:
Cauliflower 200mm diameter
Courgettes 150mm length
Marrows and Squash 400mm long or 200mm diameter if round
Potatoes individual weight 200 grammes
Tomatoes small 30mm diameter
Tomatoes normal 60mm diameter
Remember these are optimal sizes and if yours are bigger or smaller you should still show them.
- Don't let ignorance be an excuse. Buy or borrow a book, look at the internet, ask other growers and showers, go to other shows. Think about what you want to achieve and how you can get the information you need. While some people may have their "secrets", you'll find that 90% of people are only to pleased to give you the benefit of their knowledge, the problem is how to stop them once they have started
- Get to the show as early as possible. On show day, if you start early you can ask others about how to stage your exhibit. If you leave it until just before the staging cut off time, everything becomes a panic and that's when mistakes are made.
- Have some fun, it's a little local show not the Chelsea flower show. This show is there for all of us. We can all dig stuff up and plonk it on a bench, or cook something and let other people try it first. If you think that people who put something into the show take it far too seriously, you are making a big mistake.
General Guidelines for Flowers
Two to three weeks before the show.
Identify those plants that you intend to take to the show. Check the schedule to see the exact class details. Keep the soil well watered and mulched, especially if the weather is hot and dry. Remove unwanted side shoots and buds to aid the development of the main bloom. Protect blooms from damage by pests, rain, hail, small children, partners and pets. Turn pot plants regularly to avoid lop sided development
The night before or the morning of the show.
Check the schedule to see exactly what you need to take to the show. Cut your stems in the cool of the evening or early morning. Cut the stems as long as possible, making a slanting cut to help with water uptake. For Chrysanthemums slit the stems 75mm up from the base or dip the ends in boiling water, this will help water uptake on the woody stems.
Write labels for everything that you intend to show, earlier in the week and tie these labels on your exhibits as you prepare them. This is guaranteed to make things easier when you arrive at the show.
Handle the show material as little as possible, carry cut stems bloom downward and store away from strong light, draughts and heat. If possible try to cut a couple of "spares", this avoids the swearing, cursing, tears and violence that can occur when a flowerhead drops off because it got caught in the car door.
When your stems have been cut and labelled, remove the lower leaves and unwanted side shoots and plunge them up to their necks in water, cover to exclude light but don't squash the flowers. If possible do this the night before the show as it can encourage the blooms to expand before the show.
If you want to put in supports for your pot plants or blooms, it's a good idea to try to do this now before you get to the show.
Staging at the show.
All vases are provided at the show so you don't need to bring your own.
Remove all flowers, leaves, shoots etc that were damaged in the journey from home to the show. Cut the bottom off the stem to help water uptake, making sure that the length is still appropriate for the vase or container that you are using. Don't forget to put water in the container. Your exhibit should have a good balance with flowers of even size and quality in an appropriately sized container. Some people give their exhibit a final spray with clean water to freshen it up. Write a label stating the variety of the plant if you know it.
General Guidelines for Vegetables
To give yourself a flying start you could get your seeds from a specialist seed merchant such as Medwys of Anglesey but expect to pay a lot more. Typical prices are leek seedlings £1:90 each, tomato seed £4 for 10, shallots £15 for 10, runner beans £2:40 for 10. These seeds and plants are the very best that you can buy and have usually been grown and reselected over many years to achieve such high standards. Medwyns also has extensive experience of growing to show having won 10 consecutive Gold Medals with their vegetable displays at the Chelsea Flower Show. The Medwyns web site has loads and loads of information on growing for showing and it is definitely worth having a look at it. www.medwynsofanglesey.co.uk. You can also try Robinson's seed at www.mammothonion.co.uk. Also try www.nvsuk.org.uk for the NVS website.
The next thing to consider is how you feed your veg. Even if you are completely organic, you are still allowed to use certain fertilisers. Consider what your plants need in order for them to provide the best results:
All vegetables require some preparation before showing, so give yourself time to prepare them properly. The more you intend to show, the longer you will need, some people start as much as a week before and that's not as obsessive as it sounds. If you'll allow me a cliché, failure to prepare means preparing to fail.
- Nitrogen is essential for leafy growth and it can promote rapid growth in spring and summer.
- Phosphorus is necessary for good root development, and it encourages crop ripening.
- Potassium prevents soft growth and hardens the plant to drought and draughts.
- Acidity, some plants like cabbage need a higher PH than others like potatoes.
The thing that I've found most difficult is cleaning the root vegetables. You should attempt to get the roots as clean as possible without damaging the skin. I use a sponge and a soft flannel and loads of water. If your roots are too big to wash in the sink, use the bath. I have seriously considered getting in the shower and washing the roots but I'm put off by the thought of the cold water and the humiliation of being caught in the shower with a large muddy parsnip. However you do it, remember not to rub too hard or the skin will be scratched and the appearance will be spoilt.
Something often not appreciated is that the judges like to see the veg have its natural "bloom". Look closely at a tomato fresh from the vine, it will have a very fine coating, a fresh pea has a coating of a waxy substance. The more you handle and clean vegetables the more this natural coating disappears. While this is significant at National Championship competitions and much less relevant at our show, I thought that it would be worth mentioning.
When it comes to staging your veg, do it as neatly and attractively as you can. A judge will ALWAYS find the blemishes that you tried to hide or the one tomato that's bigger than the rest but you don't need to make it obvious to everyone else. All plates and sand will be provided at the show so you don't need to bring your own, you will never get a better result because the plate or stand you used was better than other competitors. You will see that some competitors like to stage on a bit of black cloth to make the exhibit look a bit better, it is believed that this will " catch the judges eye". It won't make any difference to the judge but it makes the exhibitor feel better about what is being shown.
On the day of judgement, if your exhibit is better than all of the others, if it's clean and in good condition, if it's displayed according to the schedule, you will win a prize.
Top Tips by Type
Beetroot. The judge will cut one beet from each exhibit to see if there are any prominent white rings, try to choose a variety like Pablo, Libero, Red Ace, Bikores, where this ringing is less prominent. Optimum size - tennis ball. Select beets with only one tap root and try to remove the fine side roots.
Beans, runner. Cut from the vine with scissors leaving the stalk attached. Check to make sure that the beans are not stringy, the judge will snap one bean from each exhibit to check. Best varieties, Enorma, Stenner.
Beans , other than Runner. Again, leave the stem on the bean. Try growing variety Prince in 10-inch pots, but so long as they match, it's worth putting anything in this class
Cabbages. Difficult to keep clean, you always have to keep these covered to keep out the pests, slugs can also be a big problem. Remove the minimum of outer leaves if they are discoloured. Try growing in large pots. Varieties Red - Autoro, Green - Ramco, Brigadier, Globemaster.
Cauliflower. Same as cabbage but needs lots of water when the curd is developing Varieties, Tetris, Beauty, Valtos.
Courgettes. Try to get a pair between 10 and 15 cm long of any colour. The flower should be on the fruit but if it drops off at the show, leave it on the plate. Varieties, Defender (green), Orelia (yellow).
Carrots. Keep carrots covered with fleece from the day you sow the seed to the day you lift them. Be really careful when you remove the fleece to weed and replace ASAP. This is the only reliable way to avoid carrot fly. Try to keep the carrot shoulders covered to prevent green tops to the roots. Carrots thrive if you dig a V trench and fill it with a mix of sharp sand, molehill soil and finely riddled compost. NEVER put fresh manure anywhere near carrots as this causes "fanging" where there are two or more tap roots. Fanging causes the amusing but rude shaped carrots that are sometimes seen in tabloid newspapers, being held by respectable looking women. This is schoolboy humour and should not be encouraged. Varieties; Chantenay red core, Flyaway (this is also resistant to carrot fly), Gringo, Adonis, Ulysses.
Cucumber. Best if grown in the greenhouse as they are usually bigger. Keep the flower on the fruit. Varieties, Carmen, Femdan, Marketmore.
Leeks. These are really easy to grow but really difficult to grow really well. If you want to grow these to show, I suggest that you buy a book. For the ordinary exhibitor, I suggest getting a good variety, grow it well, keep the stem covered to ensure that it is white. Be careful when you dig the leeks up, remove the minimum of outer leaves and wash the roots well. Varieties, Newton, Upton, Autumn mammoth.
Potato. Dig your spuds up to a week before the show, select 5 matching tubers and store in damp peat type compost. You might need to dig a lot of potatoes to get your matching set and don't forget that if they have coloured eyes, that also has to match as much as possible. Some people are now growing their potatoes in large pots or bags so that they can get sufficient water onto them when the tubers are developing. Even if you don't show, it's worth getting a couple of plants in bags to give it a try. I guarantee that you'll be surprised by the amount of tubers that you can get out of a bag of compost. Varieties Winston, Nadine, (both white), Kestrel, Maxine (both coloured).
Peas. Very difficult to grow for the show because by mid to late August, the weather is too hot and the peas succumb to mildew. Variety, Show Perfection, but any variety that you can get to the show has a good chance of getting a prize.
Onions under 8 ounce. Lift them in very early August and allow the skins to dry. Find your matching onions. Peel off the minimum number of damaged skins. Carefully rub off the dry roots and tie the tops with a bit of wet raffia, when it dries it shrinks a bit. Varieties, Buffalo, Carlos, Toughball.
Onions over 8 ozs. The choice of seed or plants will make all the difference with the big onion class. There are no real tricks, just start them as early as possible, get the correct variety and lift in early August. Then treat in the same way as the under eight ounce class. Varieties Kelsae, Mammoth, Ailsa Craig.
Spring Onions. Just get a matching bunch without too much bulbing at the base. Any variety will be OK but try, Guardsman, Ishikura, Parade
Lettuce. Any lettuce that looks fresh and clean on the day of the show will do well for you. Pull it carefully and don't turn it upside down until you have wrapped the rootball in a plastic bag. Wash the roots, trim off the minimum of damaged outer leaves and put the roots, wrapped in wet kitchen roll, back in a plastic bag. Leave the lettuce roots in the bag until the last possible minute to keep the leaves crisp and fresh. You could even give the head a spray with water. The lettuce can be picked the previous evening, be prepared and kept in a bucket of cold water somewhere cool until you take it to the show.
Tomato, small. This is a tomato of up to about 30mm diameter, they can be cherry or plum shaped. Cut the fruit from the vine with a bit of stem and the calyx attached. Varieties, Gardeners Delight, Sweet Million (red), Sungold, Golden Peardrop (yellow)
Tomato. A tomato of around 60mm, again cut from the vine with the stalk and calyx attached. Varieties. Goldstar, Cedrico, Shirley.
Parsnips. To grow a long Parsnip requires a hole about a metre deep made with a 150mm drain pipe in either a barrel or in the ground. The hole is back-filled with a finely riddled mixture of sharp sand, mole hill soil, compost and various fertilisers and secret ingredients. Fresh, special, exhibition, parsnip seed is sown on the surface and covered with sand. The resulting seedlings are pinched off, not pulled out, leaving the strongest to survive. The subsequent months are spent covering the plants, watering the plants, talking to the plants, feeding the plants and sometimes just looking at the plants. Three to four weeks before the show stop watering or the shoulders might split when the roots are lifted. The day before the show gently dig a hole next to the root and pour in an enormous amount of water and gradually ease the parsnip out of the ground. Sometimes the root is split, sometimes it is disappointingly short, but sometimes it is fantastic. Get three roots that match and put them in the show. It's easy! Varieties, Gladiator, Javelin, Albion
Shallots, over 1" diameter. Just like the onions, except that you have to match 10! Varieties Hative de Niort, Aristocrat
Shallots, under 1" diameter. Just like the shallots except they have to be less than an inch across. Every year exhibits are excluded because the shallots are too big. Varieties as with shallots
Marrow up to 15". These are usually overgrown courgettes so if you can grow a nice variety that's a bit different you stand a good chance of getting a prize. Varieties, Any courgette, Badger, Table Dainty
Marrow over 18". Allow one courgette plant to grow a couple of courgettes as big as possible. Try to keep them off the soil and evenly coloured.
Calabrese. Difficult to get the timing right with calabrese. No prizes have been awarded for the past three years, so if you've got some, it'll probably win a prize. Varieties, Chevalier, Kabuki, Fiesta.
Fennel. Easy to grow, but you must keep this well watered to prevent bolting. Costs a fortune in the shops but you can grow a thousand for just over a quid. Varieties, Rudy, Rondo, Romanesco
Sweetcorn. Increasingly popular on the plots where it is sometimes seen growing as high as an elephants eye. Grow it in a block and check it by waiting for the silks to go brown and dry then by pushing your thumbnail into a kernal, if the juice is cloudy, pick them and eat them. Varieties Lark, Swift, Earlibird, Prelude
Collection of three vegetables. Regarded as the crème de la crème of the vegetable show classes. Just do what it says in the Schedule
Unusual Vegetable. This doesn't have to be that unusual. Just show something that isn't in the rest of the schedule. Recent winners - Summer squash "Cream of the Crop" and "Turks Turban". If you grow something that's not elsewhere in the schedule, put it in. Suggestions, Globe Artichoke, Aubergine, Garlic, Tomatillo, Dandelion, Kohl Rabi, Squash, Pumpkin, Melon, Okra, Sweet Pepper. Hot Pepper, Radish, Turnip.
The Biggest. This has to be big for its type so a big tomato wouldn't have to be as big as a big cabbage for instance. Recent winners have been Squash "tromboncino", and a very long and heavy Beetroot.
Dish of soft fruit. Just get 10 soft fruit at their peak of perfection, crop them and leave on a bit of the stem. Arrange them around a plate and hope for the best. Mostly won by raspberry or blackberry, but strawberry, currants, gooseberry, loganberry, or any fruit with a soft texture and numerous seeds will be acceptable.
General Guidelines for the Domestic Classes
With the domestic classes more info will be given nearer to the show date. However you should practice using the recipes that are given and try to find a good recipe where one is not given. Then it's a matter of practising, I'm sure that you will find someone who will be prepared to help you eat the results. With jam, remember to put on a label with description and date, then a waxed disc and cellophane top or a new twist top.
The mixed herbs should be a good selection for a cook to have to hand on a windowsill, Marigold, Chives, Sorrel and Parsley might not be as good a choice as Basil, Sage, Marjoram and Parsley.
The Tray of Vegetables should be a nicely presented tray of veg for a meal. Potato, Fennel, Calabrese, Tomato and Beetroot might not be as good a choice as Potato, Turnip, Leek, Parsnip and Celeriac.
The Two Children's classes
I saw a show in Derbyshire last year and this was the class for children and I was amazed at the ingenuity, thought, skill, hard work, and humour that had gone into the creations. Please try to get someone that you know to enter. I'm sure that it will bring a lot of fun into your life.