British competitive gardeners had a lot to celebrate in September, with at least 10 world records smashed by their prodigious produce.
Leading the way with the huge harvest was Gareth Griffin from Guernsey, who has demonstrated beyond any doubt that he knows his onions.
On 15 September, he presented the world’s heaviest onion – an eye-watering 8.97-kg (19-lb 12.4-oz) monster – at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show in North Yorkshire. (Griffin says his prized produce was placed on the floor of his motorhome surrounded by cushions on the long journey to the show from the Channel Islands!)
This surpassed the previous mark, for an 8.5-kg (18-lb 11.8-oz) specimen, which had stood since 2014.
For some context, the new record holder is around 53 times the weight of a typical brown onion and even heavier than a large bowling ball, which typically weighs 7.25 kg (16 lb).
Inspired to grow this particular root vegetable by his dad, Griffin’s casual hobby became more serious around 13 years ago after he witnessed the behemoth bulbs being cultivated by fellow record holders, such as Peter Glazebrook (more on him below).
“I am absolutely over the moon to have grown the world’s biggest onion,” Griffin told GWR. “My father grew giant onions for many years right up till the year he died, but his biggest was 7 lb 12 oz, so to have grown the world record means even more to me than it would to most people.”
The other reason I like growing giant onions is that even the huge ones still look like a normal onion but just huge. All over the world people use onions and know what size a normal onion is so when they see these giant onions are shocked – Gareth Griffin, grower of the heaviest onion
An almighty Allium was just a taster of what was to come. Shortly after, on 23–24 September, the annual CANNA UK National Giant Vegetables Championships – for many British fruit and veg growers, the most-vaunted contest in their diaries – returned to Worcestershire for the Malvern Autumn Show.
Proof that a passion for growing horticultural heavyweights is on the rise, the National Giant Vegetables Championships received a staggering 643 entries this year – their greatest ever number of submissions.
Nestled among the hundreds of lovingly nurtured fruit and vegetables were an incredible eight world record holders waiting to be assessed by Sebastian Suski.
Suski is no stranger to the world of growing giants himself, being the current holder of the longest cucumber – 113.4 cm (3 ft 8.64 in), confirmed on 20 Aug 2022.
This was the first year that Suski had taken on the role of head judge at this hallowed horticultural showdown, but he was not fazed by the scale of the task – nor indeed some of the entries:
“I felt really honoured to be asked to be a judge at the Malvern Autumn Show this year, as it’s one of the biggest shows in the world,” Suski explained.
“The public was amazed and inspired by the enormity of the veg. To see eight new GWR titles set this year, despite the challenging weather, is incredible.”
Showing that in this game experience goes a long way to boosting chances of success, nearly all the new records were claimed by growers with previous GWR titles under their belts.
Among them was one of the field’s best-known celebrities, Peter Glazebrook (UK), who has been entering competitions with his prize produce for 40 years, and specializing in growing giants for 30.
His debut record came in 1996 when he claimed the title for heaviest cucumber with a 9.65-kg (21-lb 4.5-oz) specimen – see how far that record has come on below.
Having already set a record for the longest runner bean (89.7 cm; 2 ft 11.31 in) in August, Glazebrook added two more to his tally at Malvern:
- Heaviest bell pepper: 750 g (1 lb 10.4 oz) – 5.5 times bigger than a standard medium pepper
- Largest runner bean leaf: 63.8 x 67.7 cm (2 ft x 2 ft 2.7 in)
Another familiar face on the record podium was Joe Atherton (UK). He has amassed so many titles for lengthy vegetables over the years that he has come to be known as the “King of the Longs”.
Keeping up this long tradition – joining the likes of longest beetroot (8.56 m; 28 ft), longest turnip (4.605 m (15 ft 1.3 in) and longest carrot (6.245 m; 20 ft 5.86 in) – he can now also add the longest luffa (a member of the gourd family that famously can be used as an exfoliating sponge when dried).
His entry measured in at 1.296 m (4 ft 3 in), akin to the height of an eight-year-old child.
Vincent Sjodin (UK) wowed the crowds at Malvern in 2021 when he unveiled the heaviest marrow, tipping the scales at a whopping 116.4 kg (256 lb 9.8 oz) and almost as tall as its cultivator!
This year heralded his triumphant return to the record books when he presented the heaviest cucumber: a 13.388-kg (29-lb 8.2-oz) specimen of Cucumis sativus was more than enough for him to oust the previous 12.9-kg (28-lb 7-oz) colossus from 2015.
Keeping it in the family, the Fortey clan from Cwmbran, Gwent, added an exotic species to their eclectic mix of collective horticultural feats with confirmation that their 3.529-m (11-ft 6.9-in) Physalis philadelphica is the tallest tomatillo plant ever measured in competition.
Originally from Mexico, the fruits of the tomatillo are also known as husk tomatoes or groundcherries.
The Forteys are already the proud recipients of GWR titles for the heaviest beetroot (23.995 kg; 52 lb 14 oz, set in 2019) and the tallest potato plant (2.847 m; 9 ft 4.1 in, set in 2022), to name just a couple of past successes.
Kevin Fortey, aka “Mr Giant Veg”, said of the achievement: “This will be our family’s ninth Guinness World Records title and is a very proud moment for all of us.
“It’s in our blood, as our dad started off the National Vegetable Growing Championships years ago, and it’s great to see it growing each year.”
Beans clearly had a bumper season in 2023 because in addition to the longest runner bean and largest runner bean leaf claimed by Glazebrook this year, Derek Hulme (UK) secured the title for the heaviest runner bean at Malvern.
With a weight of 196 g (6.9 oz), this prodigious Phaseolus coccineus pod surpassed the previous record by 20 g (0.7 oz).
The broad bean, aka fava bean (Vicia faba), records based on both weight and length also fell, and this time to a GWR newcomer: James Brown from Lanarkshire, Scotland, broadsided all of his rivals to claim both titles with two different entries:
- Longest broad bean pod: 43.1 cm (1 ft 4.97 in)
- Heaviest broad bean pod: 192 g (6.77 oz)
With dozens of world record giant fruit and vegetables cultivated over three decades, we asked Peter Glazebrook for some of his top tips for beginners who might be thinking of trying their hand at growing their own giant produce.
- Start with summer veg – like peppers, beans, tomatoes and cucumbers – as they have a short season and no really special growing facilities are required, so are less expensive
- Visit shows to talk to growers and obtain the right seeds
- Look online at giant veg sites to see how others have had success
- Helps to have a garden at home and plenty of time to devote to the vocation
- Dedication and hard work!
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