✦ Welcome to February everyone
As we now in 2022 begin to assume normality, we will charge on responsibly and encourage our re-engagement with what we have done year after year, for many generations prior to ours. All I ask is to please be responsible and protect all of those around you and trust our health care response as we begin to re-engage with our normality.
So, with that normality, we will see the return of all those lovely fairs, markets and shows. These are the events many communities have been desperate to get back into as they bring happiness to all that are involved with them.
You can simply attend these events as paying customers coming through the turn-styles ready to enjoy a day and evening of fun or if you would like to add that extra element to the experience you could enter one of the many competitions that are run over the duration of the event.
In particular for us avid gardeners, please do consider entering a horticultural competition, trust me you will love it. You will meet like-minded people and become addicted to the thrill of the competition. Read on as I share some of my experiences, give you some tips and explain the process.
It really all began with Mum
When I was young, I was fortunate to have a family around me that had various horticultural interests. My Nan loved native rock gardens. Grandma loved spring colour all through her gardens and Mum was always trying anything in the garden.
She would trial different plants she found at the local nursery, as well as organising and planning various garden beds. Mum provided us with chickens in an urban environment and always allowed us to take ownership of a garden bed and plant seed or plants we had found at our neighbours, weekend markets or local nurseries.
This great upbringing of plants, soil, fertiliser and of course garden confidence, began to rub off on me. In my early years of life away from the homestead I was always vegetable gardening with housemates and creating green environments wherever we could. Sometimes we would re-use large water tubs and replant them with veggies on the veranda or even plant herbs in used beer cans. My friends, while young and ‘hip’ really took to the process and helped accelerate my interest in the amazing phenomenon of horticulture.
Champion by complete chance
After living many adventurous years with my amazing friends in various properties and units, where we trialled different fruit and vegetable growing techniques, I eventually ran into the love of my life and began settling down.
The property we initially rented together had a concrete backyard and a small grassed area out the front, things had to change. And they did, we immediately set up raised planter beds in the concrete area and tore up all the grass in the small front yard and turned it into a complete vegetable oasis.
The thing about a good vegetable garden is to visually bi-pass all the minor inconsistencies and enjoy the variety, the daily growth and the current and imminent harvest. Patience is learned via many disciplines, gardening is one of the most rewarding ways to do so.
I obtained through a friend some trombone zucchini seeds. Once planted they went crazy. It was a very aggressive type of rambling zucchini. I allowed it to do its thing and grow along a sloped embankment in front of the property. The emerging fruit did exactly what the name suggested, they would spiral around and resemble a trombone trumpet when they were on the ground.
However, to my surprise a part of the vine had ’escaped’ and grown into a neighbour’s overhanging tree. The fruit that formed in this position had gravity to assist it. It did not curl over itself like it would on the ground, it stretched out and grew, and grew and grew straight. I recall watching it and being amazed not only at its size but the strength of the vine to hold it. It eventually got approximately 170cm long, was firm, fresh and strong. When it changed colour slightly I picked it and took it into the nursery I was working with at the time to show the other staff (it was the iconic Engall’s Nursery, opposite Swane’s Nursery in Dural).
The nursery was fortunate to have industry legends working there at the time. As a young rookie, I took the vegetable in and was greeted with great surprise. ”This is a season winner”, “haven’t seen this for years", were examples of comments I was greeted with by some of the elders at Engall’s nursery. Little to my knowledge at the time, Engall’s nursery had a long affiliation with the historic ‘Castle Hill Show’ which had been running for numerous decades. “You need to store this correctly and enter it in the show asap, this is special,” I was told.
And so, my initiation into a show demonstrating produce began. I won by 80cms, the nearest was a long crop of silverbeet. The judge who awarded me the ribbon on collection of the vegetable stated that he thought it was the longest current vegetable in demonstrating show produce this season, he advised me to store it well and dominate the show season. At the time I was too hung over with the feeling of victory to take him seriously. I was young and didn’t have the appropriate finances to hit the open road and chase the show season. Unfortunately, I retired the vegetable immediately and let it become compost, but what could have been!
An easy process with many categories
Most of the show societies produce entry forms many months prior to the main event. In the old days you would pick up an entry form from the club secretary and return it once completed. Some organisations ask for a small administration fee, some don’t, it is more of a donation really.
Obviously, these days a lot of the forms are online and you can enter and pay this way. If ever in doubt just make contact with the appropriate show secretaries who are incredibly organised and helpful. I personally entered a lot of the fruit and vegetable categories over the years. There are so many categories for fruit and vegetables at these shows, however they cater for all things horticulture.
Numerous flower display competitions, bonsai, potted plants, indoor plants and even grain exhibits, just to name a few. I promise you that you will find a category that suits your gardening interests.
Tips and hints for vegetable competitions
I thought that I would take the following information to the grave. Once you get into the heat of competition you hold your cards very close to your chest, but I have personally grown, relaxed and won a lot, so am now ready to share a few methods.
Always harvest as late as possible.
One of the main attributes the judges will score on is freshness. Freshness accounts a lot for the appearance of a vegetable or fruit.
The classic case is that of a lettuce, when displaying your lettuce it is normally with its full root system, placed into a glass vessel with water. If you have picked it the night prior it will already have begun to wilt. The Sydney royal easter show would have a set time of 8am to have all produce on display. On show day I was always in the garden early, picking the produce before sunrise with a headlight on my brow, ready to make the mad dash to Homebush.
Over the years I even developed a method of growing my leafy greens in foam boxes that I would fit into the car, this way I didn’t have to pick until I was in the carpark. Some of those greens weren’t picked until 7:45am and they usually did very well in the competition. My only mistake was to allow rivals to see me doing this - next year there were more foam boxes at Homebush than at the Flemington Sunday fruit markets.
Grow numerous crops and stagger their plantings.
This method allows you to account for seasonal variations that may either ripen your fruit too early or late. With these numerous crops dot them around different places in your garden to disrupt pest and disease issues.
On display day take in a kit of various preparation items.
Scissors, cleaning cloth, water and washing tub. These items will allow you to work out of your car to prep your items at the last minute to gain that extra level of perfection.
So do some research and find your local show.
Get involved. Start with what you do best and then push your boundaries by trying more and more events each year. The displays always take on more interest when there are more entrants involved.
Your local nursery like Greenbourne nursery in Wauchope will always be able to get you started with seedlings, natives, roses, indoor plants, etc. They have the fertilisers and pest control to help you produce that show winning item.
Hopefully I have inspired you to give it a go - you will have a ball, I promise. When entering, let all your family and friends know and encourage them to either participate or get out and support your items.
Thanks for reading! See you in the nursery for some advice (more secret tips) or just for a friendly chat.
Happy Gardening, Daniel “Chook” Fowler
Ph: 02 65 85 2117
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