Campaign: Diary of a Giant Onion & Cucumber Grower Peter Glazebrook

Diary of a Giant Onion & Cucumber Grower

Week 36-39: September 3 - September 30

Large Onions

The warm sunny weather continued throughout the month of September, but I didn't water the onions further as the Coco held ample moisture below the bulbs. It was noticeable that the CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown plants retained fresh green tops well after the soil onions had given up. For this reason, I was only able to enter the Canna Coco Professional Plus-grown bulbs in the five major heavy onion shows that I attended this year. I got mixed results but was always in the top three places and actually won the 'Three Heaviest Onion' class at Malvern to finish off the season. When I lifted the plants, it was clear that the root systems on the CANNA Coco-grown onions were far stronger than those of the soil-grown plants. Despite this, even the CANNA Coco-grown onions had traces of Pink Root, although this was more pronounced on the soil-grown plants. I think that this must relate to the temperatures that we have experienced this year. The onion bulbs are more solid this year than they were last year, but I have still had to strip off some of their soft outer skins before storing them away for seed production next season. This was similar for the smaller soil-grown bulbs.

Leeks, Heavy and Exhibition

I was only able to show heavy leeks this year and there was little to choose between Coco-grown and soil-grown plants. None were heavy enough to win at the three major shows in which they were entered. In fact, all winning leeks came from the North East of England where the climate is cooler. Despite not winning, I am very pleased with the strong, healthy root systems that developed on the CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown plants.

Heavy and Long Cucumbers

I continued to water all of my plants with CANNA A & B at pH 5.8/EC 2.1 with CANNAZYM, CANNA RHIZOTONIC and CANNABOOST right up until the time that the fruit was cut from the vines for the shows. Mildew finally started to take over this month, which slowed the growth of the cucumbers. I entered three shows for the longest cucumber, but I was beaten every time. All of mine were over 750mm long, but they had not grown long and thin, rather they were all heavy-weights. Malvern is the only major show with a 'Heaviest Cucumber' class and it is always very strongly contested. I am pleased to have won with a cucumber weighing 10.92 kg. Now that the season is over, I have started to remove the plants and I am finding that the CANNA Coco Proffesional Plus growing medium is absolutely full of healthy roots.

Week 31-35: July 30 - September 2

Large Onions

Last month's heatwave continued through most of August, and 2018 is now officially the hottest English summer on record. Most plants have matured too early this year despite being artificially shading to protect them from the midday sun and ventilated to the maximum possible. Interestingly, those plants growing in CANNA Coco Professional Plus have remained fresher for longer than those grown in soil. It is possible that the larger root systems of the Coco-grown plants have provided them better access to the available water/feed. All plants were watered throughout the month with CANNA A & B at pH 5.9 and EC 2.1 with added CANNAZYM, CANNA RHIZOTONIC and CANNABOOST. I will not water them again now that the plants have stopped growing as the Coco substrate is already wet below the surface. I have started showing the large bulbs, but I am finding that they are weighing-in on the light side. It would seem that growing conditions have been too hot and dry this year or perhaps I used too little potash. Most of my soil-grown bulbs have now been lifted.

Left: Best CANNA Coco Profesional Plus-grown onion. Right: Best remaining soil-grown onion

Leeks, Heavy & Exhibition

I have been fully ventilating the leeks all month, and have also been shading them using fleece. Unfortunately, the heat has slowed their growth and many older leaves have been lost. I have now lifted all of the exhibition plants, none of which are good enough for showing. I am, however, pleased with the extensive clean white root systems pf the CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown plants. The heavy leeks are being watered daily as per the onions and, while not as large as last years leeks, none have run to seed and none are displaying distorted growth patterns. The bulbs of the onions grown in Coco and soil are of a similar size and colour.

Left: Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown heavy leek. Right: Best soil-grown leek

Heavy & Long Cucumbers

I am almost certain that these cucumbers do not like hot, dry days with temperatures of 30°C and above. The plants are healthy, but the early-set fruits have ripened too early and have stopped growing. The later-set cucumbers are doing better and are still green, however, their growth is slowing as the days become shorter. Now that the cooler nights are encouraging water condensation, mildew is starting to set-in on the leaves. I have been watering the cucumbers every other day throughout the month, as per the onions, with CANNABOOST. I did not top-dress the root ball with more Coco this year. I had a disaster in the middle of the month with what was perhaps my best cucumber. It dropped off its stem onto the ground, perhaps as a result of wind or insufficient support. This one weighed 22-lb leaving me wondering 'what might have been'? I have provided additional support for all of the other cucumbers.

Left: General shot of right-hand cucumber bed. Middle: Left-hand cucumber bed with ripening fruit. Right: Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown cucumber.

Week 27-30: July 2 - July 29

Heavy Onions

The very sunny, very hot and very dry weather continued from July for the whole month and we experienced near-record temperatures during both the days and nights last week. My plants have been continually shaded all month, but there has been no escape from the 30oC air temperature. This has taken its toll on the foliage, with no new leaves growing to replace the dried out older ones. In general, the CANNA Coco Professional Plus grown plants have greener tops than those grown in soil. Thrips have been a major problem this year. It seems to me that they are becoming resistant to the insecticide sprays that I am using, and these sprays themselves have weakened the leaf growth on all plants. I have watered the plants more this month with CANNA Coco A & B, CANNAZYM, RHIZOTONIC and CANNABOOST at pH5.8 and EC 1.8-2.0. Run-through of the large pots being achieved several times. Bulb growth has continued at a steady rate through July but is now slowing. The onion bulbs are smaller than they were last year, but appear to be sound with no soft wet skins.

Left to Right: 1) Best Soil-grown heavy onion. 2) Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown heavy onion.

Leeks, Heavy & Exhibition

The sides of my growing frame have been fully opened up all month, leaving only the roof in place, as we have had no wind during the heatwave. I have used fleece to shade the foliage of the leeks from the hot sun but, despite this, some scorching damage is evident. The leeks have been watered daily, as per the onions, but there has been little run through. In mid-July, the first of my exhibition leeks ran to seed and most of the others, both in CANNA Coco and soil, have now followed. Sadly this means that there will be none to show this year. My heavy leeks have grown tall, which could be a sign that they also will run to seed, but so far they are ok. My CANNA Coco Professional Plus- and Soil-grown plants are now of a similar size and colour.

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: 1) Exhibition leek grown in CANNA Coco running to seed. 2) Exhibition leek grown in Soil running to seed. 3) Best soil-grown heavy leek. 4) Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus-grown heavy leek.

Heavy and Long Cucumbers

The cucumber vines have grown only slowly, despite almost daily fleece shading from the hot sun. Most have been slow to grow dark green leaves and are still on the small size. They do not seem to be liking the hot/dry atmosphere. The first cucumber set in mid-July and the last one has just been pollinated, which is a week or so later than in previous years. I am watering them largely as per the onions, but only every other day and I have not yet added any CANNABOOST. There has been little run through so far. The roots of the vines have covered the surface of the CANNA Coco underneath the black & white polythene but, none have top dressed yet. I am only growing cucumbers in CANNA Coco this year, with three plants in each of the two raised beds.

Left to Right: 1 and 2) Heavy cucumbers growing in CANNA Coco Professional plus in 2 raised beds. The best 'Heavy' and 'Long' examples will be chosen from either bed.

Week 23-26: June 4 - July 1

Giant Onions

The weather was generally better in June than it was in May with lots of sunlight, although the dry heat was problematic at times. I have used no supplementary heating or lighting this month, but I have used fans to circulate and exhaust the hot air. I continued to water with CANNA Coco A & B at pH 5.8 and an EC of 1.5, supplemented with CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC into the middle of June. After this time, CANNA advised me to raise the EC to l.7 and to add CANNABOOST, which I have done.

The leaves of the CANNA Coco Professional Plus grown plants are now looking darker and more closely resemble those of the soil grown onions. I have the impression that the leaves of the CANNA Coco grown plants are remaining fresher for longer than those of the soil grown onions.

Bulb growth has continued in all plants (although not as fast as I would like) and the Coco grown onion bulbs have a similar circumference and height to those grown in soil. All of my onions are smaller than they were last year at the same point in the season but could catch up during July if the heat subsides a little. Despite renewing the predators, some plants from both the Coco and soil groups have suffered from thrip damage during the month. Unfortunately, I have had to revert to spraying with insecticides.

Left to Right: 1) Best soil grown onion. 2) Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus grown onion.

Heavy & Exhibition Leek

My leeks are growing in a frame with removable sides, so ventilation has been straightforward during the hotter periods of June. I continue to feed the leeks as per the onions, although I am watering more frequently since most of the leeks are in smaller pots and leeks naturally drink more water than onions do. In contrast to the onions, I have had no thrip problems so far on the leeks, possibly because their grow area is more open than that of the onions. During the recent hot weeks, the leeks from both Coco and soil groups are beginning to grow very tall. Unfortunately, this hints at problems to come later in the season, particularly for the exhibition plants. Generally, the soil grown leeks are larger and darker in colour than those grown in Coco.

Left to Right: 1) Best soil grown heavy leek. 2) Best CANNA Coco Professional Plus grown heavy leek. 3) Best soil grown exhibition leek. 4) Best Coco grown exhibition leek.

Cucumbers, Heavy and Long

I started my cucumber seeds on May 25th. Once chitted, I set them in small pots of CANNA Coco Professional Plus and watered them with CANNA Start. The pots were quickly filled with roots and I planted the cucumbers on into their final 100 litre pots in my high polytunnel on June 4th. I am feeding/watering with CANNA Coco A & B (pH5.8, EC 1.5) plus CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC. Despite the good weather and hot sunshine this month, I have not had to water the plants much because the medium is covered with black/white polythene to retain moisture. I can see white roots spreading through the growing medium, so all looks well for the moment. One plant was not keeping up with the others so I replaced it with a spare on June 17th. The sun has been very strong, so I have fitted permanent fleece shading over all plants. A little brown leaf edging is apparent on two plants (may be too wet) and these have a paler colour than better ones. I have not yet supported the plants in an upright position.

Left to Right: 1) Cucumber seedlings in CANNA Coco Professional Plus. 2) Brown leaf edging on a good plant. 3) Best Cucumber Plant.

Week 18-22: April 30 - June 3

Giant Onions

The weather has continued to be changeable throughout May, switching between hot, dull, sunny and cold, dry, wet and even frosty. I have used additional heating and lighting, as required, to try to maintain a reasonably steady growing environment. During the hot, sunny periods I increased the volume of water the onions were receiving, but didn't see any run-through. I have been feeding with CANNA Coco A & B (pH 5.8, EC 1.5) with CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC added at their recommended dosages.

Unsupported leaves seem to sort themselves out ok and so far I have had no problems, although I have observed some yellow tipping of the older leaves. The Coco grown plant leaves are still a paler green than those grown in soil. The onions are starting to bulb now and growing taller in the neck, but their size remains well behind last years onions at the same point in the season. Having said that, they look strong and should continue to grow well given June's traditionally long warm days. I am aware that I am well behind other top growers at this point, but I feel there is still time to catch up if I can maintain ideal growth conditions.

Above L-R: 1) Best soil grown onion. 2) Best Coco grown onion. 3) 3 Coco grown onions with one soil grown onion behind.

Heavy & Exhibition Leek

The leeks are receiving no additional heating or lighting so it is no surprise that the weather has affected them more than it has the onions, although they are growing ok with no obvious problems. The Coco grown leek leaves remain paler than the leaves of those grown in soil. My Coco grown heavy leeks are smaller than those grown in soil, but the reason for this may be plant selection as I am only growing a few. The Coco grown long leeks look to be at about the same stage as those grown in soil.

I am using insect predators on both leeks and onions in an attempt to protect against thrip damage. So far the predators have kept the plants clean, whereas other plants, on which I am not using predators, are being badly affected. I have now removed the support pipes from my long leek plants and have wrapped them in 450 mm high pipe lagging. I am hoping that this will encourage them to grow taller and that it will also start to blanch the leek barrels. I am watering/feeding as per the onions.

Above L-R, Top-bottom: 1) Best soil grown heavy leek. 2) Best Coco grown heavy leek. 3) Heavy leek roots in Coco. 4) Best soil grown exhibition leek. 5) Best Coco grown exhibition leek. 6) Coco grown exhibition leeks foreground, soil grown in the back ground.

Week 14-17: April 2 - April 29

Giant Onions

he dark, cold and wet days of March continued in to April until we had a minor heatwave, during which temperatures reached the high twenties, for a week. Then it was back to cold and wet for the last week of April. I have needed to run supplementary lighting most mornings and, during the darkest periods I have maintained this all day. I have watered the onions when temperatures were high enough to dry the surface of the growing substrate. I am using CANNA A & B at EC1.4 and pH 5.8 with CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC, but not to run through. I have not supported the onion leaves artificially and have not covered the substrate surface to this point in the season and may not do it at all now.

The coco grown plants are still paler and smaller than the soil plants. Generally, they all look ok, but after starting a month later this season I am now five weeks behind and am blaming the poor weather.

Above L-R: Three coco-grown onions and one soil-grown onion. 2) Best coco-grown onion. 3) Best soil-grown onion.

Heavy and exhibition Leeks

I planted the leeks out when the temperatures were high enough during May. All plants grown in CANNA Coco Professional plus had strong, clean, white roots, but were becoming pot-bound. I am using a mixture of 50, 90 and 130 litre pots this year. I have no space for heating in the external growing frame but have draped a soil warming cable around the pots to provide a little heat during frosty nights. All leeks have established themselves now and the Coco grown plants remain paler than, but of similar size to, the soil-grown leeks. The leeks for the exhibition classes are still in plastic pipes but I will soon need to replace these with loose collars. My general plan is to water the leeks as per the onions but so far they have received very little due to the cold/dark weather.

Perlite/coco mix for all coco grown leeks

Above L-R, Top to bottom: 1) Coco grown giant (top) and exhibition (bottom) leek roots. 2) Soil and coco grown giant leeks (top)/Soil and coco grown exhibition leeks (bottom)

Week 1-13: January 1 - April 1

It's April and the 2018 season is well underway. I'll be growing giant onions once again and following a successful trial last year, will also be growing heavy & exhibition leeks.

Giant Onions

I germinated my heavy onion seed in November in a peat and seed compost mix, then potted them on as required into CANNA Coco professional plus under 24-hour lighting. In the first week of January, I started watering with CANNA Coco A & B at (EC 1.4, pH 6.0) to run through. As per previous years the young coco grown plants were paler than those grown in peat/soil mix (but this I know will change later on) but had larger root systems and more foliage. I also started to include CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC in the feed.

I have closed down the 24 hour lighting area, and moved all plants into the greenhouse cabinet under a regime of 10 hours of supplementary lighting. I increased the supplementary lighting from 10 to 10.5 hours during the day in the second half of January.

The best of the onions were potted-on, from 125 mm square pots, into 175 mm round pots with taller support canes and clips. Plants were watered at least once per week with CANNA Coco A & B (EC 1.6, pH 5.8) during the last three weeks of January. January was dark and cold with gales and very little sunshine. Night-time temperatures regularly fell to 8°C, although I tried to maintain them at above 10°C in the greenhouse cabinet. The coco grown plants remained paler than those grown in peat/soil mix but were slightly larger throughout January. The weather in February and March was a continuation of the dark, cold, wet weather that prevailed in January and was as miserable as I can remember this period ever being. I delayed planting the onions out into my two growing tunnels until March 6-8th, even though they were heated and had supplementary lighting.

I would have preferred to plant out earlier but, even with the support of supplementary heating and lighting, severe night-time frosts were bringing temperatures down to 7-8°C inside the greenhouse on some mornings. I was pleased to see that when I did replant them, the coco grown onions had strong white root systems. This year I'm using smaller pots than I have done in the past.

I have planted:

  • 3 onions in 90-litre pots
  • 2 onions in 110-litre Air-Pots
  • 1 onion in a 130-litre pot

I have also introduced predatory insects into the greenhouse as a preventative measure against the potential of Thrip attacks. Plants are now growing under a mixture of T5, Son T and CDM supplementary lighting and, in the last week of March, I have increased day length to 12 hours. The plants were watered with CANNA Coco A & B (E.C. 1.5), CANNAZYM and RHIZOTONIC and have needed little additional attention. I have not yet supported the leaves or covered the growing medium with black and white polythene. All plants recovered quickly from being potted-on. The coco grown onions remain paler than those grown in peat/soil mix but are no longer larger. After measuring their height and circumferences in the last week of March, it is clear that all onions are 4-6 weeks behind last years growth schedule.

Above clockwise from top left: 1) Giant onions 1st week January, Greenhouse. 2), Giant onions 1st week February (bright green coco grown plants in the foreground), 3). Best coco grown onion 1st week April, 4), Best soil grown onion 1st week April.

Heavy and Exhibition Leeks

I started rooting my leeks from pips on October the 6th. Some were planted in recycled CANNA Coco Professional Plus, others in peat. I added supplementary lighting from November 16th for eight hours during the day. Plants were potted-on as required and watered as per the onions. When the coco grown plants were potted-on, they were moved into fresh CANNA Coco in 125 mm square pots. The exhibition leeks now have support tubes over them, with the aim of extending their final length. Like the onions, the coco grown leeks were paler than those grown in peat, but as of January the 1st they were of a similar size.

During January, I moved the leeks to a separate greenhouse cabinet with 9 hours of supplementary lighting and then extended that to 9.5 hours. The best of the leeks were potted-on into 175 mm round pots in February and I also raised the support tubes on the exhibition plants. The plants grown in Coco remained paler than those grown in peat/soil, but the coco grown plants were larger during February. Watering continued as per the onions. I am maintaining night-time temperatures at above 7ºC, which is a little lower than for the onions.

I was not able to plant the leeks out during March, as it was too cold to prepare the growing frame and the pots, so they remain in my greenhouse cabinet with heat and supplementary lighting. The plants are almost too large for this restricted space/headroom now. I continued to water as per the onions throughout March, but more frequently as they tended to dry out on the heated bench.

As with the onions, the coco grown Leeks were paler, but of a similar size to those grown in a peat/soil mix. I didn't pot the leeks on, as I had been hoping to plant them out during March. Unfortunately, I now expect them to be pot-bound, although more frequent feeding/watering should keep them growing.

Above clockwise from top left: 1) heavy & exhibition leeks 1st week of January, 2) exhibition leeks 1st week of February, 3) exhibition leeks foreground 1st week of April, 4) exhibition leeks (cabinet) 1st week of April

Peter Glazebrook from Halam, Nottinghamshire has been growing and showing vegetables for over 30 years, with the giant varieties being his major area of interest for the last 26 of these. He is so well known within the growing community that he has his own Wikipedia page, on which he his described as being "a vegetable grower and living legend".

During this period, Peter has achieved 15 world records accredited by Guinness. However, just like hearts, records are made to be broken. Three of Peter's world records remained current in 2017, namely heaviest potato (4.98 kg/10lb 14oz; 2011), heaviest carrot (9.07 kg, 20 lb; 2014) and heaviest cauliflower (27.48 kg, 60 lb 9.3 oz; 2014). However, time stands still for no-man and the world carrot record moved to Minnesota last October. Perhaps it is just on vacation.

In 2016 Peter completed his first CANNA project and competed at the 'CANNA UK Giant Vegetable Championship' at Malvern at which he obtained a personal best and 1st place (in the heaviest cucumber category. Peter also competed at Malvern in 2017, where he took first place in the categories of heaviest onion (7.38 kg; 16 lb 4.3 oz.), heaviest tomato (2.88 kg; 6 lb 5.6 oz.) and heaviest radish (10.38 kg; 22 lb 14.4 oz.) and second places for the 3 heaviest onions category (17.2 kg; 37 lb 14.7 oz.), the longest beetroot (3.71 m) and for the longest carrot (2.73 m).

Peter's aims for the 2018 season include recovering his world record for the heaviest onion, a title he lost (after previously holding it in 2011 and again from 2012-2014) to Leicestershire's Tony Glover in 2014. Peter also hopes to challenge the records for the world's heaviest cucumber and the world's heaviest leek. Every year the giant vegetable landscape becomes increasingly competitive and Peter hopes to stack the odds in his favour by continuing to grow using CANNA products.
Growing medium: CANNA Coco Professional Plus
Plant: Giant Onion x6 Giant Leek x6 Exhibition Leek x6 Giant Cucumber x6
Location: Polytunnel/Glasshouse
CANNA Nutrient: Coco A & B (5-4-3)

Peter will also be using CANNA additives (RHIZOTONIC, CANNABOOST Accelerator and CANNAZYM) with empthasis on the use of PK 13/14 later in the season for his onions.