Published on 07/22/99

Exhibit Garden Veggies in Fair, Club Show

Exhibiting is an excellent way to learn more about quality and handling of garden vegetables, whether you do it on your own or in 4-H, FFA or garden club competition.

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While setting up exhibits, we can meet others with similar interests and learn from them. Win or lose, we can learn from the experience and accept the challenge to improve.

The show or fair committee normally sets up the rules and classes. Followed the rules carefully. The most common automatic disqualifications -- incorrect number for the class, improper preparation of the vegetables and mixing types within a single display -- are all rules violations.

How many vegetables?

Read the premium lists carefully so you know the right number of specimens for each class. Each committee sets its own requirements. The fair catalog should clearly list the number of items required for any display.

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Photo: Wayne McLaurin

Larger vegetables like pumpkins are often shown as single specimens

In general, the larger and heavier the product, the fewer items required. Large watermelons, pumpkins and winter squash are often shown as single specimens.

Smaller vegetables are shown in groups of three to six and root crops in groups of eight to 12. Highly productive and uniform crops such as snap beans or cherry tomatoes require an even larger sample -- usually 18 to 24.

Leafy vegetables such as cabbage or lettuce are shown as single heads. Displays of cut leaves, such as for chard or rhubarb, usually call for six to 12 stems.

Factors Judges Consider

Because fairs and shows cover a wide range of dates, it's hard to have vegetables at peak maturity at the show. Ideal maturity is desirable, however, and will win over immature or overmature products. Never exhibit overripe vegetables.

It's helpful to know what judges look for in the display. The judge may lift and examine products on all sides, so you can't hide imperfections.

Always show crops at their best. Some grooming is important but shouldn't make the crop look unnatural. Here are the main things a judge looks for:

Quality. Quality means the vegetable is at its best and in prime eating condition. In some vegetables, that may be at a fairly young stage, such as in summer squash, beets or green beans.

In others, such as tomato, watermelon or eggplant, it means fully developed fruits at the peak of maturity. The inherent quality of a vegetable includes color, shape, texture, taste and size.

Condition. An important part of this is cleanliness. Such items as tomato or pepper are seldom a problem, but root or leaf crops may present problems in cleaning.

Use a soft cloth or brush and lightly remove any soil. Washing may remove the waxy "bloom" on some vegetables and may give others an unnatural "scrubbed" look.

Vegetables must be free from blemishes, too. Caused by insects, diseases or poor handling, such damage is a serious fault.

Uniformity. This is a measure of the gardener's ability, since it's hard to grow a large number of vegetables that look like "peas in a pod." The more you plant, though, the more likely you will be able to have uniform displays.

Size is important. Besides being the same size, they should be typical of the variety -- not too large or small. Uniform ripeness is important, too.

Select shapes as identical as possible as well. Color, too, is obvious and important. A single item off color is a serious fault.

Typical of variety. All vegetables in the same exhibit should be the same kind and variety. Mixing types or varieties is usually an automatic disqualification. All entries should be typical of the variety.

Some shows require that the variety be listed with the display. This is often helpful to the judge, especially in the case of very new or unusual varieties.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.