Summer show, 2017

Every year it seems that the summer show can’t get more colourful or more inspiring, and every year it does. There were some beautiful blooms,

like this hydrangea (which won best in show for its section, unsurprisingly), some perfect vegetables, amazing flower arrangements, amd mouthwatering cakes, bakes, pickles, jams, wines, fruit spirits…

It was, yet again, impressive just how so many of the entrants in the vegetable, fruit and flowers classes had achieved such good results given the rather peculiar weather we’ve been having.

But it’s still worth entering, even if you think your geranium or dahlia or marrow or garlic is not up to scratch – you might just be expecting impossible levels of perfection. The only thing we would prefer not to see is wildlife – caterpillars, basically, though slugs are also unwelcome. And, of course, there’s always the produce table to tempt!

Here’s a gallery from the day; just click on an image for a slideshow. Huge thanks to everyone who made the day such as success, and congratulations to all the entrants!

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Growing by the moon

At first sight the subject of our October meeting might have seemed a bit esoteric, possibly a bit ‘hippy-dippy’, but in fact gardening – more specifically, growing food – in line with phases of the moon has been in use for millennia: it was, for instance, done by the Romans.

It’s also done by two of our local gardeners, Mary and Dennis. Very, very effectively.

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They outlined the basics for us: a waxing moon (one going from new to full) is supposed to be good for flowers, annuals and above-ground fruiting veg; a waning moon (from full to new) is good for roots and for pruning. This is narrowed down to three days centred on the day of the full or new moon itself. And that’s why a copy of Old Moore’s Almanack was on the table – in amongst all the wild predictions is a single page which lists moon planting days. Several people remembered their grandparents working like this, too, as did our speakers: in their case, one grandparent used the system in the States, and another used it in the South Wales valleys. It works best when the garden is organic.

But how did Mary and Dennis come to this way of gardening themselves?  They were right in the middle of an appalling industrial accident in Michigan in 1973. A fire-retardant chemical was accidentally mixed into cattle feed, but it didn’t just poison the cattle: it also affected pigs and over 1.5 million chickens; 500 farms were quarantined and about 9 million people consumed heavily contaminated food before anything came – reluctantly – to light (it still affects people today). At this point they decided that ‘never again were we going to trust the food system’. They moved initially to the Isle of Man, and then to Harlech. They now grow their food on a plot of land between Dyffryn and Talybont, where they produce some very impressive crops.

But they were careful to stress that their success isn’t just about planting with phases of the moon, even though that can be very effective (seeds planted on one moon usually come up by the next one, and with a 90% germination rate too – I’ve tried this, and it worked). It’s also about caring for the soil, and they described our soil as the ‘best we’ve ever grown on’. That’s not to say it doesn’t need work, of course – manuring, digging up stones, warming it up with black plastic (which also helps with weed restriction). They follow a three-year cycle which matches their crop rotation: year one, lime for brassicas; year two, compost for peas and beans and year three ‘muck, muck, muck’ for potatoes.

Here are some tips:
* Moles can be problematic, but they hate castor oil. Make a hole in the mole hill with a cane, dribble a bit of pure castor oil down and it seems to make them go away.
* Working by the moon can have another advantage: it organises you. It gives a definite timetable, whatever the weather (‘that’s what they make waterproofs for’).
* Other things can be done when convenient: ‘I manure whenever I have time’.
* Manure from Welsh cobs is perfect
* Slugs don’t like wood chippings (or at least Mary and Dennis’s slugs don’t).

And the mystery green-and-white object in the photo? It’s a Chinese Melon. It’s not sweet but is rather like a watermelon inside – now you know!

Summer Show, 2016

It’s been a very strange gardening year, and it’s continuing to be rather odd – so it was somewhat surprising that the show looked every bit as spectacular as usual last week. Or maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising: we have some very talented gardeners in the area, after all.

This year we had a new layout in the Hall, which was much appreciated. The appreciation started as we were setting up, when we realised just how cramped some things had become. Much more space!

setting up

It also was much better for the flowers, enabling everyone to get up close and personal to some wonderful things – and it was better for the judge and the steward in that section, as they no longer had to reach over plants and vases, or kneel down to get an adequate view. As usual, the hydrangeas were magnificent.

lacecap

The vegetables and fruit were in the middle of the room as usual, and – as usual – there were some stunning exhibits. These gorgeous onions not only won their category, they also won best in show for the fruit and vegetable section.

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Then there’s the flower arranging. We had slightly fewer entries, but the standard was just as high.

elegant

The produce section is always popular, covering as it does everything from marmalade to wine and pickle to (this year) treacle tart. The judge was so blown away by the standard of the jams that he left a special note:

jam appreciation

and let’s not forget the crafts, where some competitors continued the floral theme:

flowers embroidery

A lovely show, and a lovely afternoon – even if we did emerge into rainy conditions worthy of October.

produce and flowers

Huge thanks to everyone who helped, especially to Bryan and Anita who are retiring as show organisers this year, to all the judges and stewards, to everyone who helped set up the night before, to the advertisers whose contributions helped pay for the programme – and, above all, to every single person who entered and visited our 2016 Summer Show.

Here’s a gallery of the day. Just click on an image for the usual slideshow.

How to win at the summer show…

Or, indeed, any show. We can’t promise anything, mind!

After the judging of our Summer Show was complete, all the stewards took some time to talk to the judges they’d been accompanying and ask for some hints, tips and comments. The main comment was how wonderful everything looked, followed up very promptly by surprise that we had managed such a good show, particularly of vegetables, in such a difficult season.

veg display

It was impressive, but there are still some tips that can help. They apply to all of us, but they’re really useful for anyone who has never entered anything before. One thing, which was particularly relevant this year, was that it is always worth entering. Even if you think your courgettes are a bit poor, everyone else’s may be equally poor – or maybe worse. Give it a go anyway. Right, now for the hints and tips.

(And all the photos here are to show the fun of the show, not to illustrate any problems, incidentally.)

The major tip, from all the judges, and for all entrants whether they’d been doing it for years or not, was this: read the schedule.

Almost every class included something which didn’t match the schedule’s specification, whether that was presenting seven tomatoes instead of six, having a flower arrangement that was too big, a courgette that was too small, baking which had involved more than the two eggs specified or too big a tin, or a jar of preserves without a date on the label. And it’s a maximum of two entries per class, as well – it’s a popular show, so we need to make room for everyone to have a go if they wish.

It’s a shame when good things can’t be judged because they don’t conform to the schedule. So…

Check and double check. If you’re entering a flower arrangement like this wonderful one,

show 2

does it measure what it should, both height and width? And you should include the stand or plate in your measurements, too; they apply to the whole thing, not just the flowers and foliage. The stewards will go out of their way to help, but sometimes the measurements are just too far out.

The next universal point was display.

This doesn’t just apply to the flower arrangers, or indeed to the flowers in general. But if you are entering a vase of flowers or even herbs, like those in the ‘mixed flowers in a jam jar’ class (schedule says ‘max 2 lb jar, maximum of 15 stems’, note), or these ‘six named herbs in a 1 lb jam jar’ (note the ‘named’),

named herbs

don’t just make sure what you enter conforms to the schedule, but make sure it looks good too. A clear arrangement in which the individual items can be seen is better than a cluttered one. Tip? Use oasis or kitchen roll in the vase, or sellotape the neck of the vase in a grid to hold the stems in place.

(And as a health and safety tip, please make sure your vase is stable. This may mean weighting it, if necessary, with marbles or glass beads. An overturned vase and a judge with wet trousers does not a prizewinner make… oh, and please try and remove any additional wildlife, whether that’s caterpillars on geraniums or earwigs in dahlias. Unlike one driven-to-desperation garden club in North Yorkshire, we do not have a class for slugs.)

Ahem. Next point: uniformity.

This doesn’t just apply to vegetables, but to any class where you enter a multiple of something, whether that’s dahlias, bread rolls or shallots. Try and make your selected specimens match as closely as possible.

show 4

The middle ones at the back won (they were beautiful shallots, but they also match beautifully). Second was the plate to the left of the winner, and third was the one at the right.

This also leads on to another important point: displaying vegetables.

It’s not always obvious to the novice, but there are some things which don’t take long and which make a lot of difference when entering the vegetable classes:

  • Wash your vegetables carefully and present them as cleanly as possible – check out those potatoes at the top of the first photo in this post. There should not be any visible soil on your entries.
  • Trim roots of onions and shallots neatly; use stands for onions if appropriate, and bind the tops. Display shallots on sand.
  • Leave the flowers on courgettes; if that’s not possible, be very careful when trimming.
  • Put a damp kitchen towel over your vegetables; the steward will remove them before judging and it keep them fresh.
  • Don’t forget to check underneath marrows – they can often be rather scarred.
  • Display is really essential with soft fruit – it can make all the difference.
  • And if you’re entering something like an artichoke, cut a long enough stalk to make it obvious it didn’t come from Waitrose and display it well, standing up in this case:

show 5

Finally, remember to make sure your card is with your exhibit – the stewards can do a certain amount of guesswork and/or trying to recall who put what where, but there’s always something which is absolutely beautiful but which lacks its label. It can’t win if we don’t know who grew or arranged or baked or bottled or cooked whatever it is. And give yourself plenty of time.

That was ‘finally’? No, finally, finally: remember to stick to the schedule!

With huge thanks to all our judges, stewards and organisers – and roll on next year.

The big day!

Wednesday, 12 August (otherwise known as yesterday) saw the annual Summer Show in the village hall, and it was still spectacular in defiance of one of the most peculiar growing seasons in recent years. But it didn’t seem to have bothered the local gardeners overmuch, judging by the display they put on – even in the first section, that devoted to vegetables and fruit, the one where there should have been a distinct lack of entries.

Wrong.
vegetable surprise

We’ve all been complaining about poor potatoes, rotting onions and courgettes, and tomatoes which are failing to ripen, but you would never have guessed that there had been problems. In fact, the judge for this section specifically commented on it – he said how wonderful the selection was, and that other shows had been very poor in comparison!

We had more entries for flower arranging than we usually do, as well – and the arrangements  looked quite spectacular (especially the one with the biggest leaf in the world – no comment).

wow!

And, of course, there’s the bear. He’s not a prop; he was a competition – guess the name of the bear and take him home. We can say ‘he’ now with confidence, because his name was revealed as Sydney, and the person who named him confirmed that he was, indeed, a boy Sydney and not a girl of the same name (just in case anyone wasn’t there for the draw).

But it’s not just about veg, guessing the name of a teddy and transporting unfeasibly huge leaves to the hall without damaging them. It’s also about flowers, produce, cookery and crafts. The flowers were stunning, especially the beautiful fuchsia which won best in that section and which, unfortunately, was impossible to photograph. That’s a shame, because the judge described it as ‘pretty much perfect’ – huge congratulations. And the produce and the rest – aaaaappetizing. And that includes the crafts (lovely sewing, as you’d expect from a village with not just one quilting group but two).

First, since they were particularly impressive given the conditions, here’s a selection of the vegetables. Just click on an image for a slideshow.

Now for the flowers and, something we’ve not concentrated on particularly in the past (apologies), the flower arranging.

What a lovely day, and a huge thank you to everyone who helped – and especially to Bryan and Anita, who are the show organisers and who do such a fantastic job. Thank you to the judges, the stewards, the competition and raffle organisers, the committee, all the exhibitors and all our appreciative visitors. Thank you!

(And if you’re wondering about entering next year – please do. In the next post there’ll be some extremely useful tips and hints, wheedled out of the judges as they enjoyed their lunch. Interestingly there was a common theme… wait and see what it was!)