GROWING FOR SHOW
Growing your own food is one of life's great pleasures, and like most good things, it's worth doing well. A great way of measuring your progress is to pit yourself against the old-timers - producers of football-sized onions and metre-long carrots.
It takes courage to exhibit your produce, but it's a lot of fun. Once you take the plunge and enter your first show, you'll be warmly welcomed in, with lots of advice and if you're lucky, hints on how to grow bigger and better next year.
Your local gardening club is likely to hold annual competitions, and many allotment sites have much-anticipated shows for plot holders, too. Or try your hand at the amateur growers' competition at the RHS Malvern Autumn Show, now including the National Giant Vegetable Championships.
So here are a few tips to help kick off your glittering career as a champion veg-grower.
Choose the right variety: For competition veg, it's all in the genes. You'll find plenty of veg seeds with a big reputation in your favourite garden centre: try 'Ailsa Craig' onions, or 'St Valery' carrots.
Start early: Champion growers traditionally sow their onion seeds on Boxing Day – giving them the maximum possible time to swell into those ginormous bulbs.
Use crowbars: Not to sabotage the competition, but to make long, deep holes where you're going to grow your giant parsnips or carrots. Fill with compost and sow on top for super-straight roots.
Grow in containers: The legendary Medwyn Williams, winner of multiple Chelsea gold medals, grew all his parsnips in drainpipes. Use a sandy compost mix and just tip out at competition time.
Feed, feed, feed: Whether it's giant pumpkins, marrows or runner beans, all that growth requires a lot of fuel. Plenty of manure before you start, plus regular liquid feeds pump up the volume to the max.
Please ask the staff in our Mullingar garden centre for more information and advice about a container vegetable garden.