The secret of growing Giant Veg is careful re-selection. It is not only important to save seeds from the best stock, but important to look after the seeds for the next season. On fruits, the best seeds are obtained from the flower end, where they will generally be more plentiful as well.
Once you have taken the seeds out, dependant on the vegetable where the seeds are derived, you will have to wash the seeds to remove the membrane around them. This can take some time, especially with cucumbers, but be careful not to damage the seeds when washing them. Then pat them dry and place on tissue paper or some other absorbent material. Leave the seeds to dry in a cool part of the house, the airing cupboard is often a good place for the seeds to dry and harden off.
Once the seeds have dried off, place them in an airtight container, we generally use a pectin dish. If you can't get hold of pectin dishes, place the seeds in a small envelope and then place them in an airtight container such as an ice-cream container. The seeds will then have to be stored in a cool, dark area.
It is always better to hand-pollinate Giant Veg. This ensures that there is no cross-pollination and ensures the female flower has the best pollen source. Poor pollination is often a source for growth defects.
Of course it is very difficult to prevent natures pollinators from doing the job for you. The majority of our Giant Veg is grown in a Polytunnel and thus it is easier to achieve this, but regardless of whether you grow outdoors or under glass or a Polytunnel, there are certain things you need to do to ensure the best pollination.
In order to beat the bees, ensure you pollinate your plants first thing in the morning. You should nip the male flower off the stem and peel away the petals, exposing the stamen and fresh pollen. a and gently swab the stigma (internal parts) of the female flower with the pollen-laden stamen.
Now gently rub the stigma (internal parts) of a newly opened female flower with the stamen, ensuring that as much pollen gets on to the female flower as possible. You should repeat this once more with another male flower. Then to ensure that no other insects can pollinate the vegetable, and to maximise pollination, leave the male flower in the female flower. This can often be difficult depending on the type of vegetable you are trying to pollinate, the smaller the female flower, the more likely it is that the male flower will fall out.
At the start of each season, about February, have a soil test carried out. This will give you an indication of what needs to be done to the soil before you plant out in April. A soil test will generally measure the pH, the salts in the soil, and the three main nutrients Potash, Phosphates and Potassium. If there are too many salts in the soil you may have to flood the ground to remove the excess salt. You may also have to adjust your pH. A good pH level would be anywhere between 6.5 and 6.8. If you need to lower the pH add sulphur, and if you need to raise it add lime. A soil test will also provide you with advice on what fertilisers to use to maintain the nutrient levels or to improve them.
Watering - Irrigation pipes and dilutor
Setting up an efficient and labour saving watering system is an important part of growing Giant Veg. In the height of summer, even in the inclement climate of the UK, the Vegetables will need watering every other day. When we used to water by hand it took over an hour to water all our plants.
We invested in a drip feed irrigation system several years ago. Every couple of inches there is a small incision in the pipe and the water will drip out. This drip feed irrigation system is connected to a dilutor. We put our feed in the dilutor and this ensures that all the plants receive the same levels of feed.
The benefit of the drip feed and dilutor system is that the constant dripping ensures that the deep roots are watered and the feed gets to the roots. The problem with purely hand watering is that you compact the soil and the deep roots do not get sufficient water and feed to maximise their potential.
Preparing the Soil
At the end of the season
After all the hard work you put in to growing your giant specimens, after everything has been dug up and shown, you have to turn your attention to next year. Your soil requires fresh organic matter at least every 3 years, but it is preferable to add organic matter every year.
Make sure the tunnel or your growing area outside is clear. You then need to find yourself some well rotted farmyard manure. If the manure is too fresh it can actually be counter-productive. It will take out nitrogen from the soil whilst decomposing and means the ground will not be at its best when it comes time to planting.
Once you have located your farmyard manure you need to dig a trench about a spade deep, and place about 4-6 inches of manure into the trench and backfill the trench. This will ensure that the manure will be well composted by the time it comes to planting.
Every 3rd year it would be wise to double dig the growing area. This basically means that when you dig the trench, before you add the compost you turn over the soil in the trench. Then you incorporate the manure into the freshly dug trench, before backfilling the trench.
In addition to or alternatively to adding manure plant a cover crop of winter rye in November and turn it over in early spring. This has the added benefit of drawing any excess salts away from the soil
A month or so before you are ready to plant; you need to dig the soil over with a spade to aerate the soil. A week or so before you are ready to plant you will need to rotovate the soil, or if you do not possess a Rotovator, use a fork. You will need to incorporate a base fertiliser to the soil before using the Rotovator or fork. We tend to use Vitax GR124, which provides a good balance, and some chicken pelleted manure. If you want to grown giants you need to feed them like giants, but it is all about balance and finding what works for you, but be generous with your base fertiliser.
Once you have added the base fertiliser you are ready to rotovate/fork the soil. What you are aiming for is a relatively lump free and loose mixture. This will ensure that the soil drains better, which in turns helps the soil warm up quicker, and provides an excellent growing medium for good root development, which is essential for growing Giant Veg.
Our advice would be to purchase a Rotovator. It not only makes your life easier, but you will not be able to get the soil to such a fine consistency without it.
We have kept a record of the measurements of each Giant Veg we grow since we started. If you keep an accurate record it well enable you to measure your progress from one year to the next and enable you to predict with relative accuracy the weight of any vegetable at any given time.
You should maintain a consistent regime of measurement to ensure accuracy. Ensure you use the same method each time you take a measurement. The main measurement you will take is obviously the circumference. For example, if a Swede measures 40 inches, I would know that it would weigh between 40-45lb, dependant on the relative height. Through our record keeping it has become apparent that every inch = a pound in weight. The other measurements you would take are from stem to blossom end in a straight line or around the actual vegetable. Whatever method you use remain consistent.