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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/

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