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World's largest cabbage weighed 124
pounds... but earlier was 150 pounds

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Bernard Lavery, of Llanharry, Rhondda Cynon Taff, Wales, grew the world's largest cabbage, a colossus which covered an area measuring 12 feet x 13 feet. When harvested, it lost a few outer leaves, but even without them, its official weight was 124 pounds (56.24 kg.) That would be 30 times as heavy as an average cabbage. Since then, growers in many countries have tried in vain to break that record.
(Click to enlarge)

Eager to discover the story behind the giant vegetable, we tried to find Dr. Lavery, who left Llanharry in 1992. After sending several emails to people we thought might know his whereabouts, we tracked him down in a small English village, Sutton St. Edmund (pop. 600), in the midst of the Lincolnshire Fens, 20 miles from Peterborough.

After congratulating him on still being the world's cabbage king, we asked him just how the giant plant was grown, harvested, weighed and displayed - and what became of it. Here is his story:


By Bernard Lavery

The giant cabbages were grown outside in my garden as part of my hobby activities and not my seed breeding business.

I did not drip feed them anything special, just a high nitrogen mixture twice a week. My method for feeding was to feed one-inch pipes under the huge bottom leaves and then pour water/liquid feed towards the centre of the roots.

I can remember vividly the day we harvested the cabbage as we had a large crane that lifted it into a lorry and then it was transported 210 miles to Alton Towers, a huge theme park where the Worldwide Giant Vegetable Championships were being held.

This specimen was only my second choice. The biggest cabbage broke into pieces during the harvest and had to be discarded. It was approx. one third bigger than the record breaker.

The method of harvesting was changed following that first disaster and we reverted to easing ropes under each side of the bottom leaves and then fastening these to the crane hoist.

When the ropes had the full strain of the weight, I crawled underneath the cabbage with a spade and dug the root out. We needed the root intact to enable us to wrap wet towelling around so that the cabbage would not lose too much weight before the Championships.

When the cabbage was unloaded the following day another disappointment awaited me, as every slight movement that took place from the lorry to the exhibition table caused loud creaking from the cabbage, and eventually several of the bottom leaves fell off.

These had to be discarded as only the leaves still attached to the actual specimen could count towards the final weight. So all in all, it was a disastrous harvest. Although I broke the world record, I should have chalked up one of at least 150 lb.

The huge cabbage ended up in a sorry state, with thousands of visitors poking at it over the four days that it was on exhibition. At the end of the show I gave bits and pieces of it away as souvenirs to whoever wanted it.

I have accumulated 25 world records and 36 British ones for largest vegetables and flowers over the years. Norris McWhirter, one of the founders of the Guinness Book of Records, told me that this in itself was another record: the most horticultural records attained by one person since records were first kept.

Several television crews and national press agencies covered the harvest and the Championships and it was broadcast world-wide in news bulletins.

It was a truly great hobby while it lasted and maybe as I am a seed and plant breeder by profession, this has to take some credit for my success.

When we asked Dr. Lavier about his later activities, he sent us this second email:

I returned home in March 1999 from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates after serving for three years as Agricultural Consultant to H.H. Sheikh Zayed's Private Department. This entailed looking after the gardens, plants and flowers in his 18 palace gardens and also inside the Palaces.

When I set foot on U.K. soil, I decided to take early retirement. Over the past five years I have enjoyed life to the full.

If anyone in Alaska (or anywhere else) grows a heavier cabbage, would you try to beat them?

I would not try to get any of my records back if they were broken. As I have already indicated, been there, worn the tee-shirt and enjoyed every minute of it. I am growing a few pumpkins and sunflowers for the children and these are about my limitations for this year.

The question some people ask me is "Can you eat these giant vegetables?" The answer is quite simple. If any vegetable is young and in its prime, then it will taste just the same as any other. If you let them get old and tough, then, just like small vegetables, they become tasteless and useless for the table.

I now live in Lincolnshire in a small village called Sutton St. Edmund with a nine-bedroom house and two acres of garden. I am, I hope, a young 66, as I have five young children, sons aged two and six, a daughter five, and four-year-old twins.

In the next edition of this e-book we'll tell you how American growers hope to beat Bernard Lavery's World's Largest Cabbage at a public weigh-off planned for August 2.



Story first posted July 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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