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Entering homegrown veggies in the Elkhart County 4-H Fair brings the community together

While the memory of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair is still fairly recent, I thought I might share some of my experiences in entering vegetables in the horticultural exhibits in AG Hall.

It is kind of fun to participate in this contest with some of your better efforts from the garden in an attempt to get a first, second or third place ribbon on your entry. While I have never grown anything just for the purpose of competing, I usually have a few things that I think might be prize-worthy and enter them into the competition. Also, since I seem to get my gardening in a bit earlier than some people, I occasionally have vegetables that might be larger or more mature than some.

After having been involved in this competition for a number of years, I know pretty much what the judge is looking for. Unblemished (or nearly so) vegetables tend to get the blue ribbon. The judge also values the maturity of the vegetable, as well as each vegetable in the grouping being consistent in size and appearance.

Gardening and appreciation for nature in general helps to create peace and harmony in society.

There are also categories for largest or most unusual vegetables and I have done well in these categories, although how you could take any gardening credit for placing with an odd or distorted vegetable is beyond me.

I nearly always do well in at least one of the potato categories, but my spuds this year were simply not up to standard and I did not enter any. However, I did have a rather large potato that got second place in the largest potato category. This seemed to be kind of a fluke since there were larger potatoes entered among the general potato exhibits.

Also, although I got a blue ribbon for having the largest gourd, there was only one other entry in this category, so that wasn’t exactly a huge competition.

My dutch flat type cabbages did really well this year, so I was very pleased to get a first place for my cabbage against a number of other cabbages. I also got a first for largest cabbage.

Another entry in which I have usually been able to place was in the dill head competition. I knew the dill head I took in looked pretty good at home, so that was nice when I received a blue ribbon for it. The carrots I took in looked very good to me but the judge liked another entry a little better. Getting a red ribbon for second place is still pretty cool though.

When you start to get your vegetables around at home to take in for the judging, there seems, for me at least, to be a bit of a ‘what else can I take in’ mentality. So then it was off to find 11 perfect green beans (I didn’t) and five jalapeño peppers that also were of a prize winning quality (they weren’t).

My wife usually decides which vegetables make the cut but I took it upon myself to select the beans and peppers. I should have known better. There is not much glory in a ‘thanks for exhibiting’ sticker on your entry.

As a Master Gardener, I feel it is nice to support the horticultural exhibits at AG Hall during the 4-H fair to help promote gardening in the area. The Master Gardeners also have members on hand to answer diagnostic questions relating to specific problems or concerns you might be having in your own garden.

There are also seminars given about various gardening subjects by members of the newest class of Master Gardeners. Purdue University is the source for most of our information with all of their agricultural research at our disposal.

While it is nice to receive accolades for a few of your gardening efforts, to me it is even nicer to hear a friend or neighbor mention they saw your entries while visiting the fair. Recognition of what we enjoy and sharing that interest with others helps to connect us all. I have said it before and I will say it again: gardening and appreciation for nature in general helps to create peace and harmony in society and a sense of personal satisfaction and perhaps even some spiritual enrichment in your own life. So get out there and garden!

For more gardening tips and inspirations from Master Gardener Jim Carpenter, subscribe to the Gardening for Life email newsletter.

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