EUGENE, Ore. – Summer is the time for county fairs. How many times have you wished you'd thought to enter some of your produce at your local fair?
This could be your year, if you start now.
Ross Penhallegon, an Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist, has years of experience judging produce at fairs. There are a few things home gardeners should consider to make their efforts more successful, he says.
Get a copy of the fair's exhibitor's handbook. This will contain the exhibition rules for fruits and vegetables – the "who, what, when, where and why" of your particular county fair competitions. Also, the OSU Extension Service 4-H program has a guide online to help you learn to grow and prepare produce for exhibits: Oregon 4-H Horticulture Contest Guide-Vegetables
Decide what you want to grow and show at the fair. You will be asked to submit a group of fruits or vegetables as closely alike as possible in color, shape and size. Uniformity is critical and one of the most difficult criteria to meet.
Choose produce free of blemishes. Do not enter produce scarred by garden pests. Discard vegetables marred by disease, rough handling or careless cultivation. But realize that some years, the "perfect" fruit or vegetable just may not be possible to grow. Sometimes "any" vegetables will be better than no vegetables at all, said Penhallegon.
Select normal-sized vegetables that are ready to be consumed or cooked, at their best and most flavorful.
"Vegetables and fruits should be what's accepted by industry or what is typically found at the grocery stores," said Penhallegon. "Just go look at what is sold in the grocery stores and then pick your produce for contests accordingly."
Choose specimens typical for the variety in shape, color, and size. For example, tomatoes are expected to be evenly round; don't select oblong tomatoes that look more like squashes in shape. Save those strange specimens for "weirdest vegetable" contests.
For more information about entering produce for competition, contact local county fair offices or local county offices of the OSU Extension Service.