EUGENE, Ore. – Summer is the time for county fairs, and it's time to begin planning to enter some of your best produce. This could be your year to win a ribbon.
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 handbook that has entry rules for fruits and vegetables and the "who, what, when, where and why" of your county fair competition. Also, the OSU Extension Service 4-H program has an online guide to help you learn to grow and prepare produce for exhibits: Oregon 4-H Horticulture Contest Guide-Vegetables
When it's time to show, 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. In places like Lake County, produce may not yet have ripened, but uniformity is critical.
Choose produce free of blemishes and unscarred by garden pests. Discard vegetables marred by disease, rough handling or careless cultivation. "But realize," Penhallegon said, "some years, the perfect fruit or vegetable may not be possible to grow. Sometimes any vegetables will be better than no vegetables at all at fair."
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 grocery stores," Penhallegon said. "Just go look at what is sold in stores and then pick your produce for contests accordingly. The “Contest Guide – Vegetables” is really good for helping people select vegetables for fair."
Choose specimens typical for the variety in shape, color and size. For example, slicing tomatoes are expected to be evenly round; select oblong tomatoes for salsa tomatoes. Save your 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.