Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Mangel Wurzel and Pumpkin Silverware

While I was away in Shetland I entrusted Sue with the onerous task of choosing the heaviest mangel wurzel to take along to the Fenland Smallholders Club meeting.
Mangel Wurzels are a kind of beet crop which I wrote about in a previous blog here.
In the past the Fenland Goatkeepers and Smallholders Club (as it used to be known) used to have an annual competition, the prize being the Jeff Yates trophy. By the time I joined the smallholders, this annual bit of fun was dying out. Nobody was growing mangels any more and the committee were even considering ending the competition.
But it was still running, just, and I won it in two consecutive years. I faced competition from just one other mangel wurzel in that two years!

Hollow Victory
When I founded the Veg Group it seemed like an ideal time to resurrect interest in this light-hearted annual competition, so I purchased seed for everyone and threw down the gauntlet.
I have to say that I was highly disorganised and didn't get my mangels sown until way too late in the year, with the result that by competition time they were puny!
Steve walked off with 'my' trophy and the veg group never heard the last of it all year.

This year I got serious. I sowed my usual patch of mangel wurzels to be used as animal fodder, but I reserved a patch in the main veg plot for some lovingly nurtured baby mangels raised in modules.
This gave me just the headstart I needed and when I left for Shetland many of the mangels looked like they had a chance of scooping the trophy. But the opposition were being cagey, with tales of monster mangels meant to scare the opposition away, or tales of abject failure to lull into a false sense of security.

So, on the evening of the competition, I  phoned Sue to find out whether I had reclaimed my trophy.
It turns out that competition had been much stiffer than in previous years, with six entries and four weighing in at over 15lb.
Of these, two had been 15lb something, one had been 17lb something and the winner was just short of 20lb....



But that's not the end of my story. For the Veg Group have had a private competition going throughout the year to grow the heaviest pumpkin. Everybody was given several seeds at the beginning of the year, but germination was poor. Some even claimed that theirs grew into other vegetables (and so marrowgate was born).

Just one of my seedlings came through and I nurtured it in the polytunnel until it was time to go out into the big wide world. I was worried, as one of my competitors had posted pictures of his with developing fruits when mine was at the two-leaf stage! But had he gone too early? Only time would tell.
I chose a rather special spot for my pumpkin, on top of the manure pile where it could get all the goodness a pumpkin could wish for. First grew the leaves, giant leaves trailing all over the heap, and then came the first fruits. I couldn't decide whether to let several fruits develop or just to go for the one. In the end the plant decided. As one pumpkin grew and grew and grew the rest of the fruits gave up the ghost and all the plant's energies went into the one fruit.

And so this last Sunday I finally severed the stem and lifted the pumpkin. I had joked with the others about needing a forklift, a new trailer and a reinforced suspension, but disappointingly the pumpkin felt rather light for its size, as if it had filled with air inside.

When I reached the veg group gathering, everybody was being very secretive. Pumpkins were left hidden in cars and Steve (yes, the one who wrestled the mangel trophy from me for a short period) had even left his growing in the garden right up until the final seconds of the weigh in.

The weigh in was tense. 500g (a joke one, a button squash actually), 5.8kg, 6.1kg, 9.98kg. No-one had yet broken the 10kg mark, but the three biggest pumpkins were still left on the table. 10.5 kg.
It was down to two. 11.9kg. The mark had been set.
I heaved my pumpkin up. It certainly looked the biggest, but was it all hot air?
But then the scales told the story. Over 21kg!!

A clear winner. More silverware and all round bragging rights for a whole year!!!!!

I'm now looking up how to grow LONG CARROTS in preparation for next year's competition. I'll be ordering my mangel seed soon too.
Hopefully I'll find time to keep the smallholding going in between polishing all the silverware.

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