IN the Olympic spirit of excellence and competition, growers and sowers and arrangers - as well as athletes - can be winners. Though Thanksgiving is upon us and winter is about to set in, it's still not too late to think upon showing the results of your summer labors, especially through the Southern part of the country. Not only is home-grown produce still available in some sections, but canning, craft, and flower shows are held year round.
Though it may seem, before you muster the courage to compete, that doing so will only emphasize your failures, the opposite is more often the case.
Gathering up all your accomplishments is sure to make you realize just how much of a winner you already are.
Watch your newspaper for coming events, like fairs and flower and craft shows, and send for the program and rules. When the competition catalog comes, read it carefully and decide what to show.
There will be a wide choice of classes you can enter, on things ranging from canned goods to houseplants to flower arrangements. But remember that good feeling and the fun of competition are even more important than blue ribbons and prize money.
Here are some miscellaneous suggestions to help you enjoy them all.
1.Read the rules and class descriptions several times. Every word is important, because any entry that does not comply, no matter how fine, will be eliminated. The horticultural classes are the easiest to enter with flowers.
Begin a few weeks early to nurture your most promising buds, to spray or dust with pesticides to keep the foliage and flower perfect, and to remove side buds to throw all the plant's strength into that one perfect bloom.
2.On the night before the show, cut and condition your chosen flowers and a few extras to have on hand in case a stem breaks. Plunge them into water up to their necks and leave them for several hours or overnight. They will take up enough water to look their best for hours.
3.For houseplant classes, all you have to do is clean up your healthiest ones and take them along. Canned goods are even simpler. Just dust and shine the jars, label as needed, and pack them in boxes.
Classes for them will probably be listed in another section of the fair book.
4.While your whole season of growing is the actual preparation for vegetable exhibitions, selection the night before or the morning of the show is the most important step.
The judge will not consider any with a mark of imperfection, not true to variety or class requirements, a bit beyond prime or out of shape. Then he will check for finer points - for example, the depth of the kernels of corn or the shallowness of the potato eyes, the weight of the head of cabbage, the solid neck of the onion.
Uniformity is much more important than size. A plate of small green beans that look as if they were all turned out by the same machine at the same setting will beat a plate of extra large ones every time.
5.There are excellent bulletins available free at your county extension office which tell you the fine details of showing, such as:
Leave one-half inch of stem on beets, onions, kohlrabi, parsnips, okra, and carrots.
Remove stems from tomatoes to prevent punctures.
Do not cut off taproots. Wash but do not scrub or peel.
If you have observed many fair exhibits, most of this is common sense, but you may want to ask the exhibiting agency for a printed page on harvesting and preparing vegetables for exhibit as a handy reference.
6.Display-classes of summer or winter vegetables and flowers give you a real appreciation of your garden's worth.
Clever arrangements are fine, but judging depends completely on the quality of the several vegetables, fruit, or flowers - and the judge will be happier if he can see it all at a glance.
Resist the temptation to show off your favorite specimen, unless it is a prime one. Your entry may also miss a ribbon if you show six vegetables when the rules say five.
Greens like kale or lettuce are sometimes shown in a jar of water. If the show falls when no one's entries are ripe, the judge will accept and expect green winter apples or green pumpkins or spinach that has gone to seed.
7.Don't let the details overcome the fun. If you take a selection of your best and realize that everyone else will do the same, any prizes you win will be welcome. Those you don't win will give you some fascinating lessons and motivation to try again.
8.The most challenging classes are those for flower arrangements, and much of this work is done in your head as you pick the color and container and decide how to develop the theme.
There are many books on flower arranging, and the pictures are as much help as the texts, but practice is the best way to learn.
After fixing bouquets for your home for a few weeks, you will find a certain subconscious feeling for the rightness of the placement of each flower.
Remember to space them farther apart at the edges and closer as you work toward the focal point, to put some in deeper so they aren't all on the same plane, to use your foliage to separate and set off the blooms. Don't add too much and make it fussy. And don't worry. If it looks good to you, it will look good to the judge and great to the general public.
9.Pack and drive carefully.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the show and set up. If you have a friend to help you hold and carry produce, all the better.
Moral support also helps as the tension mounts, but the entry committee will usually give you such a welcome that the fun returns.
If judging is open, you are sure to learn from listening. If not, read the comments on the entry cards.
The prize money you might get will usually pay for both the trip and the ticket.
The ribbons will remind you just how much your work is worth the effort.