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Horticulture at the Utah State Fair

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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved

Bart Anderson, horticulture supervisor for the Utah State Fair, encourages anyone who is interested in growing fruits and vegetables to visit the fair and see Pederson’s and many other gardeners’ best produce. For those who want to enter their own produce, he advises them to pick up a Fair book at the office at 900 West. Entries are accepted on September 3 between noon and 6:00 PM.

Exhibiting and judging is an excellent way to learn more about quality and handling of vegetables.


Rules and classes are normally set up by the fair committee and must be followed carefully. Failure to classify a display properly may mean disqualification, even for the best vegetables.

Read premium lists carefully so that the correct number of specimens are exhibited in each class. The number of items required for any display, however, should be clearly listed in the fair catalog.

When in charge of determining the number of vegetables required in each display, remember that the larger and heavier the product, the fewer items are required. Large melons, pumpkins and winter squash are often shown as single specimens.

Smaller vegetables are shown in groups of three to six. Small pumpkins, eggplant and small winter squash may be shown in groups of three, while tomato, cucumber and pepper are normally shown in groups of four to six.

Root crops are shown in groups of eight to 12 items. Crops such as potatoes, onions, carrots and beets are more variable in shape and development, so a larger sample is necessary for a better evaluation. When a crop is very productive and relatively uniform, a larger sample is necessary. Snap beans or cherry tomatoes are displayed with 18 to 24 items.

Leafy vegetables, such as cabbage or lettuce are shown as single heads, but when leaves are cut individually, such as for chard or rhubarb, use six to 12 stems in each display.

Two types of containers are normally used for the vegetable display. Plates are used most widely for displaying fruiting vegetables. Large watermelons or pumpkins do not require a display container.

Plastic wraps can be used to protect vegetables during travel or set up but should be removed before judging. Do not enclose moist vegetables in films during hot weather, as rapid decay occurs. Slight wilting at the time of judging under hot conditions is understandable, but decay is inexcusable anytime.

Having all vegetables at the ideal stage of maturity at the fair is difficult. Ideal maturity is best and will win over immature or over mature products. Never exhibit overripe or over mature vegetables. In some seasons only immature crops may be available.

Handle vegetables for display carefully. To prevent bruising, wrap and pad them in baskets or boxes. A loose plastic wrap prevents drying. Keep them out of the sun and the heat and take a few extras in case of damage or injury during handling and moving.

Crops must always be shown at their best. Some grooming is important, but grooming should not give an unnatural look to the crop. Look at these characteristics when judging a crop.

Quality. Quality means the vegetable is at its best and in prime eating condition. Prime eating condition may be at a young stage such as in summer squash, beets or green beans. In others, such as tomato, watermelon or eggplant, it means fully developed fruits. The quality of a vegetable includes color, shape, texture, taste and size.

Condition. Condition is a measure of how the crop has been handled. Cleanliness is important. Peppers or tomatoes seldom show problems, but root crops such as onions, potatoes and beets, or leaf crops such as lettuce present problems. Do not wash vegetables for exhibits unless absolutely necessary. Use a soft cloth or brush, and lightly remove any soil. Washing removes the waxy "bloom" on some vegetables giving an unnatural scrubbed appearance. Vegetables must be free from blemishes caused by insects, diseases or poor handling. Such damage shows poor care or culture and is a serious fault. Sun scald or hail damage is also undesirable. Slight bruising or punctures caused by handling are also undesirable but, if small, are not rated downward as much as damage by insects or diseases.

Uniformity. One obvious condition of a display is uniformity. It is another measure of growing expertise since it is more difficult to grow many vegetables that looks like "peas in a pod." The larger the planting, the more likely an exhibitor can develop very uniform displays.

Uniform ripeness is also important. The display with slightly immature and uniform vegetables is better than one containing items at different stages of maturity.

There also should be uniformity of shape. Onions in a single display should be all the same shape. Do not mix flat and round types. In selecting peppers, small pumpkins or eggplant, select shapes as identical as possible.

Uniform color is very evident and important. A single item in a display that is off color is a serious fault. Green peppers should be all green. One with a red splotch on it downgrades the display.

Size. All vegetables in the exhibit should be uniform in size. Besides being the same size, they should be typical of the variety C not too large or too small. There are no extra points for oversized vegetables, and usually they are low in quality.

Typical of variety. All vegetables in the same exhibit should be one variety. Mixing varieties is an automatic disqualification. Some fairs require the variety be listed. This practice is helpful to the judge, especially with new or unusual varieties.


Evaluate as many exhibits as possible. Failure to follow rules and to display properly may mean that your entry will not be judged. Conditions that mean disqualification include incorrect number for the class, improper preparation such as excessive peeling of onions or greening on potatoes or mixtures of types or varieties within a single display. These are special considerations for individual vegetables.

Asparagus. Select straight, dark green spears. They should be at least 1/2 inch diameter at the butt end and trimmed to a uniform length of 7 to 8 inches. Display in water to prevent wilting.

Beans C snap green or yellow, pole or bush. Display beans with about 1/4 inch of stem. Pods should be plump and fleshy with small seeds about 1/4 inch in diameter. Select pods with the same curvature and arrange them with the stems and curves facing the same way.

Beans C lima. Select full size, dark-green pods inside which are still tender and fresh with well-developed beans. Do not use pods that are yellowing. Arrange neatly as described for snap beans.

Beans C dry. Unshelled dry beans are harvested, selected and displayed in the same fashion as fresh beans. Do not wash, but remove soil by brushing.

Beets. Select roots 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter that are well colored, smooth, tender and well shaped according to variety. Allow most of tap root to remain. Trim tops 1to 1 1/2 inches.

Broccoli. Select dark-green heads that are fresh, firm, tender, tight and crisp. The minimum diameter of the head should be 3 inches with the stalk 6 to 8 inches long. Remove all leaves below the head. No yellow florets should show on the head.

Brussels sprouts. Sprouts should not be less than 1 inch in diameter. They should be round, fresh and firm. Stems should be smoothly trimmed to about 1/4 inch.

Cabbage. Heads should be firm, crisp and heavy for their size. They should not be trimmed excessively, but loose leaves should be removed, keeping the last two to three "wrapper" leaves that show the "field" color rather than the shaded undercolor.

Carrots. Select straight roots typical of the variety, free from cracks, knots and green shoulders. Cut tops squarely about 1 inch long. Remove dead leaves and wash carefully, but do not scrub.

Cauliflower. Select heads that are firm, crisp, white and free of graininess and roughness. The head should not be granular or ricy. Remove lower wrapper leaves.

Chinese cabbage. Heads should be thick, firm and crisp. Allow two to four outer leaves to remain. Heads may be washed and dried before showing.

Cucumbers. Cut from the vine with about 1/4 inch of stem. Wipe gently to clean and remove spines. Wash only if necessary. Select smooth, straight, crisp, dark green fruit. Yellowing or softening indicates over ripeness. Cucumbers should have at least two classes C picklers and slicers. Picklers should not be more than about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and 5 inches long. All other things being equal, large pickling cucumbers are not superior to small sizes. Slicing cucumbers should not be more than 2 1/2 inches in diameter and generally range between 6 to 9 inches, although longer types are acceptable if characteristic of the variety.

Eggplant. Select normal sized fruit, well colored without greening or bronzing. Color should be deep purple, nearly black. The calyx or "cap" should be bright green with about 1/2 inch of stem remaining. Do not "oil" fruits to increase shine but polish lightly with a soft cloth.

Endive. Select full crisp, fresh plants. Wash roots and exhibit with roots in water.

Garlic. Select plump bulbs with dry necks. Trim top to 1 inch and trim roots to 1/4 inch.

Kale. Select plants with bright stems and dark green, crisp leaves. Wash roots and exhibit whole plant with roots in water. Lower leaves may be removed if discolored.

Kohlrabi. Select firm, tender stems 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Trim tops to allow only 1 to 2 inches remaining, and trim bottoms to 1/2 inch.

Muskmelon or cantaloupe separate from their stems when ripe and should be shown without a stem attached. Select well formed, round fruits with slightly sunken stem scars. Netting should be well defined with the rind showing a grayish or yellowish tinge. Clean with a soft brush rather than washing. Crenshaw melons should be represented in a separate class and should be shown with about an inch of stem attached.

Okra. Select fresh, green, straight pods no longer than 4 inches with about 1/2 inch of stem attached. Clean by gently brushing, but do not wash pods.

Onions. Select large, smooth, clean bulbs. The neck should be dry and trimmed to 1 inch. Brush clean and remove extremely loose outer dry skins. Leave on dry skin that is clean and tight to the bulb. Do not peel onions beyond dry, mature skins. Roots should be clean and left on the bulb, and trimmed back to no less than 1/2 inch for a neater display. Never cut them off entirely.

Parsnips. Select medium sized, smooth, straight roots, free of side roots. Roots may be washed and dried. Trim tops to 1 to 2 inches.

Peas C English. Select large, plump, bright green pods well filled with seeds at the eating stage. Do not wash, and handle carefully to preserve the waxy "bloom" on the pods.

Peppers C sweet, green, red, yellow. Colors should be displayed as separate classes. Green peppers should not be streaked with red. Select large, deeply colored, heavy fruits. Cut stems squarely 1/2 to 1 inch long. Select for uniform number of lobes. Wipe clean if necessary.

Peppers C hot. Select for uniform color, shape and size. Allow about 1/2 inch of stem remaining. A class of dried hot peppers is sometimes included.

Potatoes C Irish. White, red, russet. Select carefully for uniformity of shape and size. Do not display any tubers with green skins. Wash gently if necessary, but if they are fairly clean, brush with a soft brush for best results. Potatoes should not appear scrubbed.

Pumpkin. Select symmetrical round or oval fruits. Each pumpkin should stand upright and have a uniformly developed color characteristic of the variety. Cut stems 3 inches long or longer depending on the pumpkin size. Wash or wipe clean, but do not polish away the natural wax.

Radish. Select smooth, brightly colored or pure white roots characteristic of variety. Wash and dry roots, and remove discolored leaves. Exhibit with leaves in a bunch or bunches.

Rhubarb. Rhubarb should be selected with good uniform color. Stalks should be straight, not curved or twisted. The tops should be neatly trimmed, leaving 1 to 2 inches of leaves and prongs. Basal husks should be removed. Stalks should be bundled for the exhibit.

Spinach. Select thick, crisp, deeply colored plants. Roots should be washed and any lower, discolored leaves removed.

Squash C summer. Straightneck, crookneck, zucchini, etc. Harvest close to time of exhibit as summer squash should be young and tender. Brush gently to clean, or wash if necessary. Largest sizes are undesirable in this crop. Best eating stage size is as follows: Crookneck, 4 to 5 inches long; Zucchini, 6 to 7 inches long; Scallop, 2 inches diameter. Trim stems to 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Squash C winter. Acorn, butternut, buttercup, Hubbard, etc. Harvest when mature with hard rinds. Color should be fully developed and typical of the variety. Brush gently to clean, or wash, but do not remove the waxy natural covering. Allow about 1 inch of stem to remain.

Sweet corn. Select fully filled ears with kernels at the "milky" stage, not ears with kernels that have a mealy interior when tested by pressing with a thumbnail.

Swiss chard. Select crisp, well colored leaves with bright, tender stems. Leaves and stems should be 8 to 10 inches long. Wash if necessary, and exhibit with stems in water.

Tomatoes. Tomatoes should be in separate classes according to color or form: red, pink, yellow, cherry, pear, etc. Tomatoes should be full colored and at peak maturity, but not overripe. Varieties without cracking or green shoulders are superior. They are shown with the stem end down with the stem and calyx removed. Clean fruits carefully, and do not wash unless absolutely necessary. Do not cover with film or other moisture proof material that promote rotting. Size should be typical of the variety, not abnormally large or small. The blossom end scar should be minimal although the accepted size of it may vary with variety.

Turnip. Select smooth, firm roots with good color and free of side roots. Select roots 2 to 4 inches in diameter, but uniform in size within a display. Cut tops back to about 1 inch. Tap root does not have to be cut back, but the very thin end may be removed as necessary for good appearance of display.

Watermelon. Select large, well shaped symmetrical melons with good color development typical of the variety. Mature melons may have a cream or yellow colored bottom, or "ground spot."

Overripe melons are often dull in appearance and somewhat springy when pressed. Melons at the best eating stage should have a velvety appearance. When cleaning melons, do not remove the waxy covering. About 1 to 1 1/2 inches of stem should be allowed to remain on the melon.

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