Cultivation Street would like to introduce you to Kevin Fortey, AKA, Giant Veg. After helping out Cultivation Street founder David Domoney with a giant cabbage for ITV’s Grow Your Own at home, we wanted to take this opportunity to ask Kevin a few questions. As we know many of our school and community gardens are proud produce growers, so we thought you’d like to know the secrets behind these World Record Breaking Veg.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Kevin Fortey, 42, and from Cwmbran in South Wales. Our family consist of 3 generations of Giant Vegetable Growers. We have successfully spearheaded the Giant Vegetable movement both in the UK and across the world, encouraging and recruiting growers from all ages and all walks of life into having a go at growing, small, medium and incredibly large fruits and vegetables.
I’m an author, really passionate grower and have appeared on a number of TV programmes including a three-part series on Countryfile and more recently on Grow your Own at Home with Alan Titchmarsh, sharing tips with David Domoney on growing oversized vegetables and helping David with ‘Alan the Cabbage’.
So how did you get started growing these giant veg? How long have you been doing it?
I’ve been growing giant vegetables since the age of four (37 years) when my late father, Mike Fortey, developed the giant vegetable movement over a pint and a bit of banter on who could grow the biggest pumpkin and onion in the town of Cwmbran, South Wales. He inspired my brother, Gareth and I to compete against him on his allotment and gave us the bug for growing. It’s certainly in our genetic makeup.
Since our Dad passed on in 1996, growing giants has become a sport, rather than just a hobby, with thousands giving it a go around the world.
What keeps you motivated and interested?
Being out in the great outdoors is the greatest therapy. Developing new seeds and hand selecting the biggest and best fruits and vegetables is great fun. It’s an art that has been passed down from my Dad, who taught us from a very young age. He wasn’t able to secure his name in the Guinness World Records like ourselves, but he started off the Giant Veg growing from an embryonic stage and we have grown it to become a worldwide sport.
As well as growing, we have travelled to the US and Europe to inspire others into growing oversized vegetables. Last year my son, Jamie helped to launch a US School Sunflower contest and was invited over to the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, California. From this visit, he helped to inspire school gardeners and teaching professionals as well as parents. Sadly, this year several events have been cancelled but hopefully these events will pick back up in 2021. In the meantime, hopefully we can continue to inspire even more people online.
I’m very passionate about promoting the benefits of gardening and mental health and have helped a number of growers within our Giant Vegetable Community who have experienced mental health issues. Gardening is a great diversionary activity. It’s fun, intergenerational and helps to bring both families and communities together.
What’s your greatest achievement whilst doing what you do?
As well as securing 3 Guinness World Records, one of my greatest achievements was developing our website and Facebook group, ‘ Giant Vegetable Community’. This group has enabled Giant Vegetable growers to communicate and link up from all over the world. Our group has amassed over 4,200 members and has grown into a really successful community, where we have mentors that help newcomers as well as competitions for everyone to have a grow. Sadly, this year, for the very first time since our Dad started off the Championships, the UK Giant Vegetable Championships have been cancelled. In an effort to keep growers motivated, I have set up a number of online competitions to get online interactions.
Have you won any awards? If so, can you list them?
One of the highlights of our growing years, was taking part in the Great British Village Show, in 2006 which featured on BBC1. Our success on this programme resulted in securing the coveted title for growing the UK’s largest marrow, at the time, 110 pounds. This was exhibited at Highgrove, where we were presented with a special prize from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. This programme was presented by Alan Titchmarsh along with co-presenters Angelica Bell and James Martin. A truly memorable experience.
In terms of awards, in 2019, we grew the UK’s Largest Marrow, which weighed 92.5kg (203lbs), as well as the World’s Heaviest Beetroot which weighed 23.995kg, just under 53lbs in weight. Our former Guinness World Records included the Longest Radish and Heaviest Chilli.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve grown?
As well as growing the World’s Heaviest Beetroot, in 2015, my brother and I secured our biggest achievement in the Giant Veg world, securing a place in the Giant Veg history books, growing the world’s longest radish, measuring just over 88in (2.2 metres). It was the most nerve-wracking experience taking the fine tap root out of the long drainpipe.
In 2017, we secured our second World Record growing the world’s Heaviest Chili Pepper, weighing 348g, at the UK Giant Vegetable Championships in Malvern.
I’d say the largest vegetable that we have ever grown was the 203lb marrow in 2019. It was well over 1 metre tall (insert pic), the size of an average 5 year old child.
What’s the average growing time for these large veg?
Giant Vegetables such as Cabbage are started off in January
The Giant Beetroot, is usually planted in February
Tomatoes and cucumbers are planted in May
Giant Leeks grow for almost 12 months.
What do you do with them when you’ve finished with them?
As we are trying to develop Giant seed lines, we select the biggest and best genetics to produce the very best seeds with the potential to achieve world record breaking lengths and weights.
Some of the vegetables are also used in movies and as props for different events. These have ranged from Giant Radish for a Vegan society, to a selection of giant produce to launch the Vauxhall Combo Van range in Essex last year, which carried 800kg of fruit and vegetables. A Giant Swede was also used in Pudsey the Movie.
Could you talk me through your day to day activities? So, what you do to look after the veg etc.
The busiest time of the year is in March - April, when the seeds are being sown and the grounds are being prepared. Following this, it's maintenance of plants, pollinating fruits and checking for pests and diseases. We have tried to minimise the amount of watering that we do by using battery timed irrigation, linked to trickle irrigation pipes. This feeds the plants more effectively as the nutrient and water goes deeper into the root base of the plant, creating stronger healthy plants.
We will foliar feed the vegetables with SB plant invigorator, a organic horticultural soap as well as seaweed every 7-10 days. This also acts as a preventative measure for mildew.
How many of these giants do you grow at one time?
We have around 15 different types of giant fruits and vegetables growing. We also have an allotment where we grow a lot of the kitchen garden produce. In our greenhouse this year, we have stacks of tomatoes, cucumbers and different types of peppers growing in capillary systems. This system essentially absorbs nutrient and moisture from the reservoir up into the roots of the plants.
Do you donate your produce to any charities etc?
We have gifted giant cabbages to schools and young plants to local schools. One of the giant cabbages was used to feed 1000 school children. As well as eating the cabbage, the school children had a maths, science, and cookery lesson from one vegetable. As well as boosting your immune system, there's so much that can be learnt from vegetables.
Do you use them for your own recipes?
Our biggest marrow was used for making chilli and marrow chutney last year. It made over 1000 jars of chutney. We're still making our way through them. They make ideal gifts for the neighbours.
The marrow was also used to make zucchini bread as it's known over in the US.
Giant tomatoes are used to make sauces once we have extracted the seeds. This is a time-consuming task, but nothing is wasted.
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