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Plan to win a blue ribbon at the fair? Plant now

Keep on growing

Submitted photo If you want to raise a giant pumpkin for a new competition at the Rowan County Faair, you’d better get busy.

By Sue Davis

Rowan County Extension Master Gardener

On Sept. 14 at the Rowan County Fairgrounds, a stream of home gardeners, home chefs, crafters, photographers and seamstresses will flow into the display barns with baskets, boxes and bags of their best work and skills.

This is the day that fair entries for the annual Rowan County Fair are delivered for judging. By noon Friday, blue, red and white award ribbons will be given. At the end of the fair, a cash bonus is paid for each ribbon.

This is a chance for a new gardener to match his or her growing skills with seasoned home gardeners across the county. For 2017, there are a few changes, new categories and new challenges. This year, there are three age groups for each category: youth, 10 years and under; junior, 11 years to 18 years; and adult, 19 and older. You will need to get your entries into the fair office by Sept. 8.

When the fair opens Friday afternoon, colorful displays of all of the entries give you the chance to see all of the contenders. This is when the entries are the freshest, and you can see easily why one plate was selected over another.

The judging of vegetables is based on four visual characteristics and follows the rule of number of items per plate. Plates are provided by the fair. Uniformity carries the most weight in the judging. Cucumbers are displayed five on a plate. The five cucumbers should be about the same size, same variety, same uniform color and same amount of stem.

The second most important element is smoothness. Some cucumbers are just lumpy by nature, but the skin should be clean and as smooth as the variety allows. Trueness to type helps the judge with what the skin should look like.

Trueness to type is the third element and freedom from blemishes is the last element of judging. Do not bring vegetables that have bug entry holes or softness. Bring only the healthiest items when you come to drop your crops off to be judged.

The most coveted award is Best in Show, awarded in each division. One of the newest items in this year’s fair will be the largest pumpkin and watermelon contest. Growing the largest watermelon and pumpkin can have some extreme rivalry.

Why should you care about a competition that is three months away? As in many aspects of life, to be a contender, you have to prepare. During the next few months, you can plant, cultivate, encourage and harvest your entries.

Squash of all varieties look great as a landscape plant around your house or a flower bed that gets eight hours of sun a day and can be easily watered if need be. Do research or ask a garden center how long it will take for your selection to mature and what you need to do to have high yield and quality.

Prepare a site for a variety of peppers. There can be bell peppers any color, any variety of sweet peppers, and hot peppers, small and large. Plant two of each variety that you want to enter.

Another popular plant to enter is squash. There are green ones, yellow ones, acorn, butternut and spaghetti.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension has many online and hard copy publications available for the home gardener. Get in the game, prepare, plant and be a contender for a blue ribbon at the 2017 Rowan County Fair.

If vegetables and fruits are not your interest, select a small variety of flowers to grow and display. To contend, you need to know what you still have time to plant. This year, the fair is mid-September, so you want your crops to be at their prime in about 90 days. Our county’s many garden centers can help with this. There are categories for hanging baskets, arrangements and single-stem entries.

You can compete in the pickles and preserves category. For the food preservation category, you do not have to grow your own fruits and vegetables. Learning about food preservation is a good way to safely enjoy the items you find at local farm stands and farmers’ markets all year.

The fair book will be available online at https://rowan.ces.ncsu.edu/ very soon.

On Sept. 9, the Rowan County Extension Master Gardeners will host a do-it-yourself series event on How to Win a Blue Ribbon in many categories. We will provide the entry forms, help you complete them, and take them to the fairgrounds immediately after the event. Do not bring your entries to this event. We will also explain the fair entry take-in process. This event is Sept. 9 at 10 a.m. at 2727 Old Concord Road. For more information or questions about preparing for the fair, call 704-216-8970.

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