This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kevin Fortey

I’ve been growing giant vegetables since the age of four (37 years) when my late father, Mike Fortey, developed the giant vegetable movement over a pint and a bit of banter on who could grow the biggest pumpkin and onion in the town of Cwmbran, South Wales. He inspired my brother, Gareth and I to compete against him on his allotment, and gave us the bug for growing.

Dad in the purple jumper

Within two years, the contest had turned into a truly international based competition with growers from all over England and Wales competing to win a share of a potential £10,000 prize fund over in the USA when our Dad teamed up with Organisers and Growers over in San Francisco.  After 2 years, the Pumpkins were getting that big that they needed to find a venue with double doors to accommodate the ever increasing sizes of the Pumpkins.

Kevin with Chris Akakbusi

During the 80’s the contest moved from Cwmbran to locations in Cardiff and as far away as Baytree Garden Centre in Lincolnshire, where we filmed with Chris Akabusi for record breakers and for Big Breakfast with Chris Evans. It was during this time that the Giant Vegetable contests grew in popularity and the contest migrated to places such as Alton Towers, Shepton Mallett and the current home of the UK Giant Vegetable Championships at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern.

Kevin Fortey with Prince Charles

Since our Dad passed on in 1996, growing giants has become a sport, rather than just a hobby, with thousands giving it a go around the world.
We have taken part in several TV Programmes, our first success was filming with the Great British Village Show on BBC1 featuring Alan Titchmarsh, Angelica Bell and James Martin where we had the honour of winning the Crown for the UK’s biggest marrow. This programme also featured with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at their home at Highgrove where we was presented with a specially commissioned Maple bowl, one of only 13 commissions.  Following this, more recent programmes include a three part series with Countryfile Diaries, ITV’s 100 Best Backyard Gardens, NHK Japan, PPTV36 Thailand and recently we filmed with a Channel 4 broadcast and this episode is due to go out at Christmas time. It truly is an exciting time for Giant Veg.

You might still wonder why we do it? Well, Usain Bolt is the world’s most successful runner, and, like Bolt, a giant veg growers highest accolade is  to grow the world’s heaviest, or longest, and secure a place in the Guinness World Records.

In 2015, my brother and I secured our biggest achievement in the Giant Veg world, securing a place in the giant veg history books, growing the world’s longest radish, measuring just over 88in, 2.2 metres. It was the most nerve wracking experience taking the fine tap root out of the long drain pipe.

The world’s heaviest chilli held aloft by Carol Klein

In 2017, we secured our second World Record growing the world’s Heaviest Chili Pepper, weighing 348g, at the UK Giant Vegetable Championships in Malvern. Like all records, they are there to be broken and the above two records have been broken by longer and heavier specimens.

However, in 2019, we secured the Guinness World Record title for the World’s Heaviest Beetroot weighing 23.995kg, just over 53 pounds in weight. This was a great moment for us as a family as our Dad had developed the original record breaking seed that Ian Neale used to grow the former World Record. The seed for our current record breaking Beetroot had been under development for just over 7 years. It’s something of a rarity as it’s the only seed in the world that now has the genetic potential to grow even bigger.

Following on from our record breaking Beetroot, we recently successfully lifted and weighed a ginormous marrow weighing 92.5kg just over 203 pounds in weight. Our former UK Record Marrow weighed 171 pounds in 2011.

UK record marrow 92.5kg

For those thinking or having a go there’s a few simple tips to growing giant veg. These are good weather, the right seed, a little knowledge, and ultimately, a bit of good luck. 

We have developed a hugely successful platform for engaging growers both new and old, male and female and all ages, through our Giant Vegetable Community group on Facebook.  The group has been the catalyst for the expansion of a number of other gardening related groups springing up on Facebook. Within our group, we have gathered over 4,200 growers from across the globe and we really are a giant family.

The main benefit for the group is celebrating both online and offline communities and the ability for growers from all corners of the globe to engage with one another. Growers post their successes, failures and techniques, so we can learn from one another.  Some of our tips include wrapping our marrows in a duvet for the night. This might seem a little peculiar, but we treat the vegetables like our children, nurturing them and talking to them while we watch them grow.

Jamie and giant cabbage

Like most things that involve nature and the elements, growing giant veg is not without its frustrations. Spending five months growing a Giant marrow – nurturing the seedlings, planting it in the ground, growing the plant on, wrapping it up on cold nights, and then seeing it burst open and ruined in a downpour can test your patience.

Of course, all of that is forgotten when you see one of your giants smash a record. The finale of the growing season is taking your oversized produce in cars, vans and trailers to the local village or national shows. It’s a site to behold and a great way to engage with growers that you’ve been following on the Facebook Group – Giant Vegetable Community amongst others.

The shows provide an opportunity to exchange ideas, seeds and, if you are lucky, a few secrets.
When you think you have a winner, someone can come through the door with a specimen that beats you by an ounce, After all, in our sport, size really does matter!

Giant veg grower Kevin Fortey next to the Vauxhall stall.

Anyone thinking of growing giants should make sure they have plenty of space, lots of time, and plenty of passion. You can even get the kids involved and make it a family affair – it is far better for them than sitting in front of a PlayStation or the Xbox.

Many people ask what happens with the vegetables following the shows or at the end of the growing season. Well there’s a new World emerging that has seen the vegetables feature as props in movies such as Pudsey The Movie, Vegan Events in London and more recently we have launched a campaign to celebrate British Growers and the Vauxhall Combo Cargo Van that was used to transport 800kg of Giant Vegetables to create the UK’s largest ever fruit and veg stall, showcased at RHS Hyde Hall, Essex.

Pictured: (L-R) Giant veg growers Ben White and Kevin Fortey next to the Vauxhall stall.

My passion for growing and deep rooted family tradition has enabled me to develop a role as an ambassador for Giant Vegetable growing throughout the World. We have a number of talks and interesting projects planned for the New Year. The first will take place in January where i’ll be heading over to Jersey to visit the Prison Service to talk Giant Veg, and finish the visit off with a talk to a great bunch of enthusiastic growers who I hope I can convert into growing Giant Vegetables.

One final point, I am passionate about promoting the benefits of Gardening and improving people’s overall Mental Health and I was fortunate to visit the House of Lords with a group of clinicians as well as influential figures from around the Globe to talk about Mental Health and diversionary activities. If you are experiencing difficulties with your Mental Health, you might not know this, but soil contains anti-depressant properties so just digging the soil and getting your hands in the ground can play a huge part in your recovery.

Kevin Fortey with Dr. Albert Persaud after a meeting at the House of Lords

Whether you are young or old, big or small,  you can’t beat being out in the great outdoors. Sharpen your spades and start preparing for the coming season. Good luck and Happy Growing.

for more information please visit http://www.giantvegseeds.com/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Jason Baker

Newfoundland Mountains

One of my favorite things to do is botanize in the west desert of Utah.  Besides the off limits army and air force bombing ranges, one of the least visited and more difficult places to reach in the west desert are the Newfoundland Mountains; a desert island mountain range surrounded on all sides by salt flats and playa.

Newfoundland Mountains
Newfoundland Mountains

I headed out to the mountains after work to meet my dad, sister, and dads friend who had left earlier in the day to set up camp. Getting there isn’t the easiest. There are two ways to reach the Mountain, from the south driving on an access road through the air force bombing range and across the railroad grade, or from the north from the Hogup Mountains.

When I arrived, the sun was already going down so I didn’t really have time to do any real botanizing, but I tried anyway. Without adequate light the only flower I noticed was the non-native Storksbill near my tent.

Erodium cicutarium
Erodium cicutarium

Other than interesting wind-carved granite rock formations, and a few common desert shrubs, the only other cool thing I found that night was this Stink Beetle that was expressing just how happy it was to be found.

Eleodes sp.
Eleodes sp.

The next morning we decided to make our way to a canyon on the east side of the range that has a bunch of old mining equipment in it. As we drove on the bumpy dirt road, we made a few stops along the way, the first at this stone monument.

Stone Monument
Stone Monument
Dad and Sister admiring the stone monument.
Dad and Sister admiring the Stone Monument

While everyone was admiring the monument, I went off to find whatever plants I could. This was my first time ever seeing Thorn Milkwort, a spiny desert shrub that leaves a great deal of puncture wounds while trying to collect it for Pscience®.

Polygala acanthoclada var. intricata
Polygala acanthoclada var. intricata

It has small greenish yellow and pink flowers that are very well protected by a stiff fortress of sharp, woody thorns.

Polygala acanthoclada var. intricata
Polygala acanthoclada var. intricata

Although not new to me, this next plant deserves some attention. Nevada Mormon Tea is one tough gymnosperm. It grows out in the dryness and heat of the desert and also puts up being grazed to death by cattle and sheep.

Ephedra nevadensis
Ephedra nevadensis

These are the male cones with the stamens exposed waiting for the wind to carry their pollen to an awaiting nearby female cone.

Mormon pioneers once made what was called an “energizing tea” from the dried branches. I’ve tried it multiple times and didn’t ever feel really all that energized. About all I remember from each experience is drinking down bitter hot water that tasted like dried sticks.

This next plant is a cool little annual called Brightwhite, closely related to Wirelettuce (Stephanomeria spp.). The flower heads are composed of only ray flowers and the stems contain latex like other plants in the same tribe.

Prenanthella exigua
Prenanthella exigua

After taking some time at the stone monument we stopped at a perennial spring to see if we could see any animals or find some arrowheads. No luck with the arrowheads, but I did find a poop fly on a Littleleaf Horsebrush.

Poop fly on Tetradymia glabrata
Poop fly on Tetradymia glabrata

Utah has five species of Horsebrush and all but one are spinescent shrubs found only in the desert.

Tetradymia glabrata
Tetradymia glabrata

Next I encountered Greasewood, a halophytic shrub in the same family as Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album). Greasewood are usually found growing in areas with high water table, such as springs, lake margins and playas.

Sarcobatus vermiculatus
Sarcobatus vermiculatus

And then this happened…

Truck Problems
Truck Problems

As we drove closer to the mining equipment, the truck began to lose power and soon wouldn’t run at all. The Newfoundlands isn’t exactly the best place to have car problems; you’re lucky if you see another human being. This trip, though, we just happened to be the luckiest people as we met two very nice men who were scouting for Desert Bighorn Sheep for their upcoming hunt.

They drove me back to camp to pick up my Xterra so I could tow my dads truck back to the main gravel road. As I rounded the tip of the range to begin the tow, I got lucky again and saw a Desert Bighorn just off the road.

Ovis canadensis nelsoni
Ovis canadensis nelsonii

When we got to the main gravel road at the north end of the range we took a break from towing for a bit before starting the long trek back to civilization and as usual I went and turned over logs and board looking for whatever I could find.

The first thing that caught my eye was a Long-nosed Leopard Lizard as it sped away. They are very fast runners and if you happen to catch one, they like to bite and hang on!

Gambelia wislezenii
Gambelia wislezenii

This next little guy or girl was not nearly as fast, but I was also not as eager to try and catch it as I was the lizard. Northern Scorpions are the most common scorpion in Utah, found in every county.

Paruroctonus boreus
Paruroctonus boreus

Finally, the last cool plant I found as I was being hollered at to tow the truck was Alyssum Evening Primrose. The flowers of this annual are a little larger than a dime, open white and age to a dark pink.

Camissonia boothii var.villosa

After a few hours of towing, this is how the trip ended. Grateful it wasn’t anything worse than a broken fuel pump, but it did cut our trip a day and a half short. Who knows what other cool plants could have been found.

Poor Truck
Poor truck

Jason W. Baker is independent Botanical Consultant specialising in plant identification and botanical surveys in the intermountain west as well as the Great Basin and Mojave Deserts.

Please visit http://www.jasonthebotanist.com

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Lee Betts

Brugmansia for your Garden

Commonly known as Angel Trumpets, Brugmansia are from high altitude, moist tropical cloud forests with specific temperature and humidity. These conditions vary between species but generally speaking a warm day at about 23°C combined with a high humidity will keep them happy. If night temperatures are around 10°C, give or take 3°C, a strong growth rate will ensue. In summer months these temperatures can be easily exceeded, but an average humidity of 70% will ensure optimal growth and full flower colour. The good news is, the UK has the perfect humidity and temperature to support Brugmansia growth, but the more challenging part is overwintering the plant when temperatures dip below freezing, understanding Brugmansia species is key to healthy plants.

There are seven Brugmansia species. These species are then divided into two natural genetically isolated groups, cold growing (CG) and warm growing (WG).

Cold growing Brugmansia include B. sanguinea, B. vulcanicola, B. arborea and all cultivated hybrid varieties of these are adapted to the cool climate of their native habitat in the Andes, South America.

Warm growing species include B. suaveolens, B. insignis, B. versicolor, B. aurea, and hybrid cultivated varieties of these, which all grow well in a UK summer. Each species has slightly different growing conditions.

All warm growing species originate from high humidity warm regions but frosts are unlikely due to the shelter of the rainforest, cloud forest and altitude. In their native habitat these warm growing species require a lot of water and we recommend frequently watering during the hot summer months and regularly feeding to encourage flowers.

It is important to know the microclimate of your garden balancing humidity with sun, wind and shade. Best conditions for warm growing Brugmansia species generally tend to be part shade in summer to stop the root ball drying out and over scorching the leaves or flowers. An enclosed area of your garden with some shade facing south or west will suit best, protecting them from strong winds and hot sunny days.

In the UK during prolonged cold conditions it is necessary to force  Brugmansia into dormancy for the winter, during cold frosts and snow. This is easily achievable by fleecing and storing them in a dry storage room, garage, shed or greenhouse which is frost free and ventilated. The foliage can be removed but this may drop by itself which is perfectly fine. Growth will recommence again when temperatures exceed 8 to 10C.

If you would like to purchase a Brugmansia from Exotic Earth Plants please visit http://www.exoticearthplants.co.uk for more information. Please use the code AUTUMN10 when ordering to get an exclusive 10% discount .