Come With Me to the World of Giant Veg...

I partly solved my book problem a couple of weeks ago by joining my local library where I was delighted to find 2 books on my Amazon wishlist. The first was The Biggest Beetroot in the World: Giant Vegetables and the People Who Grow Them by Michael Leapman. I've found this subject most intriguing since seeing them for the first time at Malvern with PatientGardener last September. I've finished the book, so here's my review:

The most frequently asked questions when giant vegetables are displayed are how and why do they do that?

This book explores both these questions in some depth and introduces us to some of the characters (both male and female) who grow some of the largest vegetables in the world. It turns out it can be pretty much a full time occupation with some of the competitors not taking a holiday for years.

It isn't a hobby for reducing your carbon footprint. In order to succeed, vast amounts of heating a lighting during the winter months are needed. Ingenuity is also required, with a variety of structures constructed in which to support and nurture potential veggie champions and perhaps achieve the ultimate goal - a coveted Guinness World record. The competitors are dedicated to their work - always seeking out a vital tweak in their nutrient, compost, timing etc. to eke out that winning ounce or part of an inch to give them an edge over their rivals.

Each show with giant vegetable classes is visited, over the six week window for exhibiting. Some have many classes such as Malvern or Shepton Mallet, others are more specific such as the world onion and leek championship in Ashington. Some of the vegetables are shown at more than one show and the best will also be saved for seed, to hopefully provide the champions and record breakers in future years. Don't think that this eccentricity is confined to Britain, there is a thriving giant vegetable competitiveness in the USA* too and a strategy to wrest the world record giant pumpkin record from there (at over 1,600 lbs) and bring it home to Britain is outlined.

Whilst the subject is covered in great depth by the author, I found its structure a little too repetitive. I found it hard to distinguish between most of the characters - I suspect most of their growing secrets weren't disclosed, thus leaving us with their similarities rather than differences. The descriptions of each of the shows were quite samey too and the passion these growers obviously have for their monster vegetables just didn't come across on the page.

A book that doesn't quite live up to its hype nor the characters which inhabit this eccentric hobby.

As you can guess I won't be buying it to add to my book collection - which means my library strategy is working already - it's saved me some bookshelf space for a little while longer at least :)

* = in Alaska they're so keen on giant vegetables apparently it's not unusual to find kale, cabbage and other veggie items included in the public planting on the streets.

Helen - do you remember these two guys we saw at Malvern and our speculation they might be growers of giant vegetables? Well, the one on the left certainly is - he's Peter Glazebrook, one of the characters followed in the book and was the world record holder for the longest carrot (over 17ft) until just before Malvern 2007.


  1. I remember looking at the same specimens at Malvern too VP, as well as the giant pumpkins at the entry to the marquee :) Growing giant vegetables still seems to very much a male preserve in this country. Come on the girls although I am not going to give it a go ! I have seen some vegetables used amongst flowers in French public plantings. I will see if I can dig out a photo and send it to you.

  2. I think it is a male thing - size matters! I just can't see the point of it - what for ?

  3. I remember that day well and those two guys. Are you still thinking of entering apples etc this year? You did appear to be on the brink of getting the competing bug - albeit not for giant veg.

  4. A 17 foot carrot?? Did I read that right?? Sorry, that just struck me before I could say anything else. A blogger living near me kept us posted this summer and fall about the development of a giant pumpkin growing nearby. It was really fascinating to watch it and all the trouble the gardener took to protect it. But I'm with Hermes:) I just want edible vegetables, not something for a contest.

    Glad you solved part of your space problem--I like to check books out of the library, too, before buying them.

  5. I just don't get the whole giant veggie thing. I find them kind of creepy... :-0 Ha!

  6. Oh yes - giant veg. Very strange. The thing about the longest carrot is that most of its length is an extremely fine tap root about 1mm thick. Fair play to the growers for getting the thing out of the ground and to the show without breaking it, but it's not exactly substantial enough for a nice bowl of carrot & coriander soup. Still, it is always one of the first places I stop at the Malvern Autumn show - fascinating!

  7. I live in the town where the world's largest pumpkin was first developed, so we're using to the hype of gigantic gourds. But a 17' carrot? Wow!

  8. takes an awful lot of patience to grow a giant veggie. still trying to picture a 17' carrot.......

  9. My those ARE huge! Reminds me of a real-life 'Alice in Wonderland' garden. My hometown in Michigan hosted 'The National Pickle Festival' ... as you can imagine, I saw some monster pickles growing up!

  10. That has no appeal at all to me, and as others have said can see no point in it.

  11. They do seem rather cartoonish. Something out of a Bugs Bunny dream. gail

  12. Hi VP,

    I agree with Lily she took the words from my mouth.
    I don't get the whole giant vegetable thing either...

    17 feet long carrot its ludicrous.


  13. Sorry wrong name Susan not Lily...

  14. A weird hobby that I just don't get. Some women may get involved but, as with train spotting, I bet 99 percent are men!

  15. Anna - thanks for sending the photo, it's great. The book does have one lady competitor amongst the hoardes of males.

    Hermes - that's exactly the conversation Helen and I had at Malvern

    PG - I'm not sure whether I'm eligible as I think most of the show is a midlands championship. The giant veg is a national chamionship, but is separate. I'd love to enter my apples and raspberries though...

    Rose - yes 17ft! The grower uses guttering leant against the side of his house to grow them in. 1 carrot/gutter length. And he doesn't know how long they'll be until he carefully takes the carrot out from the very fine potting compost used.

    Susan - so do I. Most of the veg are ugly when they reach those outsizes.

    HM - Absolutely! In the book the author visits the giant carrot a few weeks after it beat the world record. It was a shrivelled couple of feet.

    Nancy -with that info I thought you'd be a bit blase about it! What amazed me was the twins planning to beat the pumpkin world record bought a single seed from the champion pumpkin at a cost of over £400!

    Petoskystone - just get a large carrot and make up the rest with some string. That'll give you an idea...

    Joey - the monster pickle festival? I must add that to my list of gardening events to investigate!

    Flighty - I wouldn't go out of my way to see it, but it was fun in a strange kind of way at Malvern

    Gail - you're quite right!

    Tyra - and most of the giant veggies are inedible too, so what's the point?

    EG - I suspect it might be closer to 99.9%...


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