With just 58 days to go before the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show's Giant Vegetable Competition, there's still time to get your tomatoes and other garden veg into prime show condition
’tis the growing season, good and proper, and mealtimes across the land are rich with the fresh fruits and vegetables of our gardening labours. Crops of cucumbers, lettuce, broad beans and peas, carrots, cauliflower, spinach, raspberries and strawberries should all be ready to be harvested and eaten now, with waves of these and more continuing to grow and ripen, all through summer and on into the autumn.
Not every piece of fruit and veg will end up on the dinner table, however. If it is big enough, heavy enough, strangely mis-shapen enough, or just simply perfect in every way, then there is a chance it could be a winner at one of the national or local fruit and vegetable competitions and championships this year.
Your choice of seed is crucial when growing produce for competition and at this year’s Autumn Flower Show at Harrogate (18th-20th September), the Giant Fruit and Vegetable Competition includes a new category intended especially for those people who have been growing the Gigantomo from seed. The beefstake tomato has been bred by the late Paul Thomas, in America, and British grower Simon Crawford to be not only disease-resistant but more unusually, to be both tasty and large (it can weigh up to 3lbs).
Entries for the competition should be growing well by now, but the experts at horticultural mail order company Van Meuwen have got some top tips on how to grow giant show-quality tomatoes:
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1 Keep only four trusses on the plants and thin these down to one fruit per truss.
2 Keep the largest flower (actually, one flower made up of multiple blossoms) growing on each truss. Pinch off the others.
3 Apply a mulch of manure around your plants. Up to 10cm (4in) deep around plants grown in the soil, or as much as you can fit on top of container compost.
4 Support your plants with stakes, or cages made of chicken wire.
5 Create a hammock for each individual fruit, using an old stocking, piece of bedsheet or similar
6 Watering should be steady and constant, but appropriate to your soil, site and situation; erratic watering can lead to blossom end rot (black legions will appear on the fruit base)
7 Feed plants once a week with a liquid or granular tomato feed, and twice weekly, apply a foliar feed of seaweed solution using a spray bottle to coat all the foliage. Do this late in the day to avoid sun scorch.
8 Measure the circumference of each fruit and when they stop swelling, pick them. Do not wait for the fruits to ripen; they should be pinkish, not red, in colour (unless you are very close to weigh-off time)
9 If ripening occurs well ahead of time, all is not lost; a tomato will keep nicely in a fridge for up to three weeks at 8C to 10C.
No weight will be lost.
10 For show purposes, giant tomatoes are not about looks or flavour; get them to the show in the best condition you can by packing them in soft material in a box that is just large enough to fit them comfortably.