Discover the secret to growing enormous -- and delicious -- vegetables.
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One thing you never want to say in jest to gardener John Evans is "Can you super-size that?" For Evans, super-sizing isn't about French fries or soda pop; it's about growing really big veggies.
From artichoke to zucchini, Evans has accumulated all kinds of awards for his giant crops. But just as amazing as the size of his vegetables is where he grows these giants. The Alaskan frontier is known for big mountains, big glaciers, big animals and now, big vegetables, like this enormous turnip from Evans' amazing garden. Evans resides in the rustic outback of Alaska and grows giant veggies so big that the Guinness Book of World Records has come knocking a record nine times!
When you see vegetables like this 'Stone Head' variety of cabbage, which weighs about 35 pounds, it's easy to understand what all the fuss is about. It would take about 68 grocery store cabbages to equal one of Evans' gargantuan cabbage heads. And take a look at this leek.
So how does he grow humongous vegetables that, believe it or not, are not stringy and even taste delicious? One reason is the short, intense growing season of Alaska. After all, Evans' plants get to enjoy over two months of practically nonstop daylight. And you don't have to dig deep to learn that his plants are extremely well nourished. For example, these Brussels sprouts grew to the size of apples last year.
Evans points out the glossiness of his plants' foliage, which is caused by a type of wax that keeps bugs from eating the foliage. Slugs, aphids and most other bugs don't seem to like his plants, and plants that don't have to resist pests or diseases can put their energy into growing vigor.
To grow a large zucchini — say, a 35-pound zucchini — Evans recommends growing the plant in its own contained, raised area, which helps hold in moisture and warmth. And he grows only one zucchini on each plant.
"The secret to my success," he says, "is compost tea. The reason it's called tea is because it looks like tea, but it doesn't act like tea." Most gardeners know compost is good for the garden, but Evans says compost tea is even better if you want to grow bigger.
To make compost tea, gather a diffuser, some air hoses and an air pump, put them in a five-gallon bucket filled with water, and turn it on. The air jets pump air into the water and encourage the growth of millions of good, aerobic bacteria. Next, add about eight cups of compost to the bubbling bucket. Evans adds a special blend of ingredients that contains, among other things, simple sugars. Allow the tea to brew for 24 hours. Evans then mixes five parts water to one part tea. He applies the tea two different ways by saturating the ground and directly watering the plants' foliage. This creates a bio-film, which protects the plant from diseases and pests.
"What happens in the soil is that everything is stimulated by all the microorganisms to such a high point that they will give that plant the maximum food for its production," says Evans. And more food for the soil means bigger, tastier and healthier veggies.
For Evans, bigger veggies aren't always the goal, but a bigger bounty is. Evans is a big potato fan, so to ensure a large yield, he sprays the tea on the ground and the leaves of the plant. The average potato plant produces anywhere from seven to eight potatoes, but just one of Evans' plants nets about 40 potatoes. "It's hard to believe he gets 40 potatoes from one plant," says James. "But that's the benefit of compost tea, even in Alaska's rugged climate."
There's another way to tell that Evans' plants are healthy — by their Brix level or the amount of sugar they contain. In the grocery store, most veggies have a Brix level between 7 to 10 Brix, but his plants measure a whopping 20, and that means they are deliciously sweet to eat!