When size really matters

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Most of us would be quite pleased to produce enough spuds to feed the family or cabbages that didn’t sport caterpillars but for one group of growers it’s not the quality but the sheer size that counts.

The Malvern Autumn Show has hosted the UK Giant Veg Championships for the past five years and this year sees a bumper entry.

Gigantic squash, enormous marrows and beefy beetroot are jaw-dropping in their scale. There’s out-sized celery, onions the size of footballs and carrots that stretch the length of the show bench.

While the competition is fierce, it does not reach the lengths of the sabotage and skulduggery of other growing contests and seed is freely swapped among competitors.

“It’s friendly rivalry,” explains Cornish grower David Thomas (pictured below), who broke the world record for the heaviest cucumber with a 12.9k exhibit and picked up first places for watermelon, celery, cabbage and squash.

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And it’s the thrill of seeing what you’ve produced as much as the prizes that excites growers, says Kevin Fortey, whose father, Mike, helped start the contests in the 1980s.

“With some things you don’t know what you’re going to get until you lift it out of the ground. You have some surprises and that’s part of the fun,” says Kevin, who helps organise the contest through his giantveg.co.uk website.

David started about 14 years ago, growing a few large veg for fun at home.

“Once you’ve grown one it becomes an obsession.”

The secret is in the seed: “You’ve got to have the right variety to grow something like that.”

His winning cucumber originated from seed from a former record holder, although no one is now sure of the variety.

David started it off in May, chitting the seed over the cooker before sowing and putting in a propagator. The plants were then put into a polytunnel and nurtured to perfection with plenty of water and feed, while lengths of fleece were used to support both the plant and the emerging fruit.

Such is the size of some of his exhibits he has to bring in a tractor to lift them and hires a trailer to get them to shows.

“The first time you transport one you feel every bump in the road,” he says, “now I don’t worry about it. I’ve never broken one yet.”

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