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Melissa Dede

Melissa Dede

Melissa Dede is a dedicated organic gardener. The passion to reduce the chemicals consumed by her husband and four sons has inspired her to grow much of her family’s food supply in a large plot at a suburban Canberra organic community garden. The thrill of competing at the Canberra Show has spread to her children who enter their garden produce and vegetable sculptures. In 2012 Melissa’s mustard zucchini pickle won the Champion ribbon for best condiment.

Read Melissa’s story about her vegetable gardening and her unexpected success at the 2012 Royal Canberra Show. (The excerpts below are from an interview recorded with Melissa in February 2012.)

Listen to Melissa talking about her 2012 show success


Melissa Dede holding a box of vegetables from her garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

The first thing I ever remember entering was when I was at high school, we were making jams and we made plum jam.  At the time the teacher we had was actually a steward at the agricultural show, so she [encouraged] us to enter it. I think I got a highly commended out of it and from there I started entering in the junior section of the cooking. When I was in Girl Guides and Brownies I used to enter and won a few prizes there also.

Mum started to enter cakes, and my sisters and I made cakes and slices. You couldn’t eat them after the weekend, so Mum used to give them to the dog – she thought it was wonderful, Christmas all at once.

Melissa Dede and her sons picking vegetables from their garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Melissa Dede's son picking pumpkins from Melissa's vegetable garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

After high school I was too busy working. I then bought a house [which] had a bit of a vegie garden at the back [so I started growing vegies]. I’d been to the shows and looked at the produce [and] I thought, “My stuff is a little bit better than that”. I should enter my things.

I did that a couple of times and then with the community garden I had a lot more produce so I entered more and ended up winning a few things. And then the kids all started entering as well. They entered a few things in the sculpture [section].

Melissa Dede picking tomatoes growing in her vegetable garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

It’s not easy. I’ve only won a few firsts and a couple of seconds. [With] tomatoes the only one I’ve ever won was a second [in coloured tomatoes]. I’ve entered in all the different types, and I’ve got lots of heirloom tomatoes, but still I can’t win the prize. ... It’s a matter of finding the type of tomato that will be good, and then you’ve got to get it ripe by the day. [It's about the inside of the tomato that makes it a winner, the core and the flesh on the outer rim.]

I’ve been having nightmares thinking, “Yes, they’re going to be ready just in time”. Within days the first three will be ready and then I’ll be thinking something’s going to eat it before I get it there. ... The next year I think, “Blow it, I’ll just throw them in the box and take them all down”. You give up being perfect. You have to just deal with it and put in whatever you’ve got. [The more categories you enter the better, as sometimes you think you won't win because it's not really perfect, but you enter because you may be the only one in the category and so you win!]

Melissa Dede picking beans growing in her vegetable garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Melissa Dede picking vegetables from her garden.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I suppose you grow vegetables for the enjoyment of eating them, but there’s also that side of getting enough and perfecting the vegetables. Sometimes it’s all down to the day as to whether you’ve got three of something, it’s the right size and colour. So I’ll enter it on the day instead of putting an entry form in before, because you just don’t know what you’re going to have [if] the bugs decide to eat this or the mice get it - there’s always something.

Melissa Dede placing vegetables on a plate.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

When you do collections, there are collections and categories where you can do four different types of vegetables. Whatever the basic category is, say for zucchinis and cucumbers, you’ve got to have three of each and they’ve got to be a certain size and all the same.

Then you would have to do the same with three corn that are perfect, three zucchinis, three potatoes and then other vegetables. With some things like pumpkins you only need one, but it’s got to be perfect with its skin and shape, [and] it’s got to have the stalk on it. It’s quite tricky to get enough into a category.

Melissa Dede with a display of vegetables
Photo: Jason McCarthy

All three things. Quality – no marks, no splits, no cuts. So watch your fingernails when you’re doing things because that has caused disaster in the past. The shape has to be uniform, and of course tomatoes have got to be all the same colour.  If they’re not, then close enough will have to do. 

Hopefully we’ve got close enough.

Melissa Dede unpacking her vegetables.  Her son and a show steward are in the photo.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I suppose once you start entering you get to the point of, “Well, I’ve won a prize in that one, so I’ll go with something else next year and see if I can win in that category”. Sometimes I’ve entered for years and years and I haven’t got anything in the category.

A young boy holding a plate of vegetables.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
A young boy pictured with a vegetable sculpture titled 'Angry Birds'.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Melissa Dede at the show with her pickles.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
A judge inspecting jars of pickes at the show.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I haven’t entered jams, pickles or preserves for many years since I was at high school. I’ve been doing them for plenty of years but usually never have the time to bother to put the entry in.

So it pays off sometimes just keeping at it.

Winning is such a shock. I’ve never made this recipe before, or mustard pickles. First prize and then grand champion as well! I’m still shocked.

An award winning jar of zucchini and chunky mustard pickle.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Melissa Dede standing in front of shelves of pickles.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Melissa Dede holding her award winning pickles and champion ribbon.
Photo: Jason McCarthy.

I’ve never won it even for the vegetables so obviously my efforts until 3 o’clock this morning paid off.

Listen to Melissa's story about her vegetable gardening


Listen to Melissa talking about her show entries before judging