The Growers Diaries: Growers

The Growers Diaries: Joe Atherton

Joe Atherton

Joe is a staunch and dedicated gardener living in central Mansfield, England. He grows world-record vegetables in his custom-made, hand-built greenhouses.

Greatest achievement Holding 7 World Records
Growing Since 1960s
Favourite plant Onions
Biggest learning curve Preparing veg for shows

Growing giant vegetables becomes an obsession. The main challenge is the weather, especially this year! - 3/4°C overnight, then temperatures of 12°C during the day.

You´ve got to be dedicated and you´ve got to have a damn good wife behind you as it starts off as a hobby, but if you want to win – it becomes an obsession. There is no judge apart from the scales and the tape measure in growing giant vegetables, no arguments as the biggest & the longest win!

It would be impossible to grow an 8.5m beetroot in a hole in the garden, especially without breaking it, so I use guttering. I have quilts on the longer roots covered with black blankets as the black keeps them warm with the temperatures we are getting. Then in the summer, I will take the black off and just leave the quilts on as the roots are so fine, they need to still be kept warm.

The influence of showing giant vegetable at the end of the season helps a lot. Not everything is going to succeed but hopefully something will and if you can get something out at the end of the season – good luck!

My runner bean trench have poles for the beans to grow up but at this time of year it is too early to sow, otherwise you would not have any beans left for the show.

The season would probably start in the second week of October with onions and then you aren´t sowing your tomatoes until May so you are spending 6 months just sowing seeds!

At the moment I am sponsored by CANNA and I am growing in Bio Terra Plus. It is a lot easier to use as you don´t have to check the pH of your water when mixing feed, it is a lot less faffing about.

Growing up in the North, every club and pub had a leek show. Within a 90mile radius of where I lived there were 8 leek shows and one year, I won them all! Somebody said why don´t you try growing the heaviest leek – and I did. I broke the record in 2001 and since then I have just been adding different vegetables.

As far as I know, I am the only person to hold 6 World Records at the same time.

You grow that many vegetables, you cannot get them all right. There is always something that goes wrong!

Right now, things are starting to move. I am quite happy with the Kohlrabi, I have odd splitting but it isn´t a problem. They just don´t like this heat!

I have a Flakkee type carrot here and a Marcus Powell carrot also, I will just see at the end of the year which is the better carrot. The onions in the bed of BIOTERRA are clean, fresh and healthy. They have just started to put a bit of size on so I will see how they are at the end of the day. I also have another bed of onions that are in a soil mix, they don´t seem to be doing as well as the ones I have in the BIOTERRA.

My Bulgarian Long Leek have tubes which are blanching the leek and encouraging them to grow upwards.

My potatoes are looking a bit sick, I don´t know quite what it is, but if anyone has any answers please let me know!

My runner beans were put in yesterday. Once you plant your runner beans – put some slug pellets down! Within one day, I already have a slug trail.

One of the reasons I have the light on at the moment above my tomatoes is due to my back garden being very shaded. This light adjustment assists the tomatoes! All that is left is for the tomatoes to go out and to sew some radish.

A lot of people always say you haven´t given me that seed or my onions aren't that shape, I don´t care what they say – it is how you grow them!

I went to Malvern one year, I had one no bigger than a golf ball and I left it in my pocket then I weighed it in on the scales and I did actually get 6th place. There was only 6 in! So I say, no matter what you have got – take it!

We´re in August now and some of the shows have been and gone. Malvern is only a fortnight away, this is the worst of the season. You get some veg that could have been shown last week and some that you need another month of growth on.

The cucumbers could do with another month. This variety always turns yellow and I am not sure I could get 2 more weeks growth out, depends on the weather. Never had so many female flowers and I could have done with that before. You can see the difference between the pollinated and un-pollinated flowers in the growth. I took a Kohl-rabi into a show at the weekend and weighed in at 24.6kg, I may have lifted the biggest but I hope not! One of these isn´t too bad which has a couple of decent pups at the bottom.

Everything is hanging on and waiting! My giant tomatoes aren´t in the fridge yet, some of the tomatoes are ripening to fast and has a slight patch on it.

My carrots are like forests just everywhere. Pigeons beware.

I wish I had good tops on these onions. I have 4 onions that are over 31 circumference, the only thing that is lacking is the height in the bulb. But I still say a lot of that is down to the light, you need a grow light in early on to really pull them up!

Hoping for some red cards and a world record come Malvern in September.

I have been growing for a few years now. You´re thinking 24/7, if some of the veg hasn´t grown to what I want, I am thinking about what I have done wrong or what I should have done. It´s not one day, its 365 days a year.

Today is the 22nd September, it is lifting day for Malvern! I get everything lifted and in the car, hopefully by tomorrow dinner it will all be on the bench. The CANNA UK National Giant Vegetable Championships has been at two or three different venues, it ended up Malvern. For me, it is the best show in the world! I have 17 entries I think in 17 different categories.

When you lift the vegetables, it has to be the long vegetables first. When you lift the longs, it is very stressful! This long radish is grown in a tube as you can tell, the roots are nice and fine and there are plenty of them! The hardest bit is cleaning all the compost off them. Once that is prepared and put in the boxes, the next day will be the heavy vegetables.

My heavy carrot is 6.18lbs, by the time is it trimmed it´ll be 6lbs, which is well as good as I am gonna get! Some people have that many tricks such as chuck it in a bucket of water but I have tried most of them and the best way for me is just wrapping it in a damp cloth and put it somewhere where it is cool, then load it in the car as late as possible! My smaller Kohl Rabi are coming out first, the bigger ones I will lift later.

The role that family plays in me growing my vegetables is tremendous. If you´re wife isn´t behind you 100%, it´s just not worth doing it.

I use the BIOCANNA substrate and feeds, at the onion shows this year and every big show well I am getting 2nd place! But the bloke that beats me also uses CANNA products too.

I am hoping to get some first place cards, everybody wants to win and I don´t care who it is but that red card on the table means everything. Quality vegetables, a judge has to judge them so a lot of it is the judges preference. Giant vegetables only have one judge – the scales.

Malvern Autumn Show 2021

We set off this morning and got here just before lunch, unloaded, got weighed and measured so now we wait and see what happens. I think my Kohl Rabi could be a British record, but hopefully I may have broken a World Record for the Longest Leek and set a new World Record for the heaviest Broad Bean.

I feel on top of the world! I beat the World Record Longest Leek measuring 1.36m and I set a new World Record for the Heaviest Broad Bean weighing 106g!

Carmel Atherton: Joe loves it, he absolutely loves it. Joe will talk vegetables 24/7. You know how you get footballers? 24/7? Joe will talk 24/7! Joe does most of the growing on his own in the beginning as he just works in the greenhouse and all I do is take tea to him when he wants one. When it comes closer to the show time, you have to get everything prepared as some of the vegetables you don´t know what they are until you pull them up, it is a lot of hard work!