Barton County gardeners brought the fruits of their labor to the fair Thursday morning for the annual Open Class and 4-H Horticulture and Floriculture exhibitions. Check in started bright and early at 8 a.m., and soon tables filled with the brightest and best flowers and the freshest, most colorful vegetables.
This year, Natalie Fullerton, judged both the open class horticulture and floriculture entries. A Kansas Rural Center program coordinator, Fullerton is originally from Nebraska. About 10 years ago, after she finished college, she judged horticulture there, and was happy to take on the duties of judging the Barton County Fair for the first time this year.
4-H horticulture and floriculture were judged by Wayne DeWerff, Ellinwood. He currently teaches science and P.E. at Raymond Junior High, and has taught agriculture science in the past. He has mentored Ellinwood Energizers 4-H members in horticulture and has been a regular fixture at area farmer’s markets for over 20 years, supplying locally grown produce from his 2.5 acre market garden.
Cottonwood District Horticulture Agent Rip Winkel is the sponsor for the Barton County Master Gardeners. He has spearheaded a community vegetable garden project this year at the Washington School in Great Bend. Three raised bed gardens are in use by the Master Gardeners, MPAC, and Barton County Academy. While providing home-grown produce, the gardens also provide a place to learn, experiment, and educate the public about gardening. Winkel said he’s received many comments expressing interest. The gardeners are also beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labor, with the first jalapenos being picked this week. They’ve also harvested swiss chard, which they entered in the fair. Helping with set-up, they are inspired to bring many more entries next year, he said.
Barbara Davenport has been involved with setting up the horticulture exhibits at the Barton County Fair Board member for many years. Her family’s involvement with 4-H and the fair extends to prior to the founding of the county fair 27 years ago, when it was still a 4-H fair she said. Her husband was a founding fair board member, and she helped organize the Barton County Fair Friends.
For many years, setting up exhibits was done with only a handful of regulars. Thursday morning, Davenport led a group of Barton County Master Gardeners who were on hand to help with set-up and resetting after judging was complete. Many hands made light work.
“When the Master Gardeners came along, it was like hallelujah,” she said. “I knew then we could do it better than we have ever done.”
Cottonwood District Horticulture Agent Rip Winkel is the sponsor for the Barton County Master Gardeners. He has spearheaded a community vegetable garden project this year at the Washington School in Great Bend. Three raised bed gardens are in use by the Master Gardeners, MPAC, and Barton County Academy. While providing home-grown produce, the gardens also provide a place to learn, experiment, and educate the public about gardening. Winkel said he’s received many comments expressing interest. The gardeners are also beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labor, with the first jalapenos being picked this week.
Judging started promptly at 10:30 a.m., and continued well into the afternoon. Marketability of the sample is the highest weighted factor in scoring, so judges were looking for cleanliness, uniformity of items, absence of blemishes, and eye appeal.
“Judging isn’t just about picking the best entry and awarding a ribbon,” DeWerff said. “It’s also a teaching opportunity.”
He spent extra time Thursday morning with 4-Hers who stopped by to find out how their entries fared, and get tips on how to do better next year.
Some vegetables, like onions, need to be picked a few days in advance in order to cure and show their best. Others, like cucumbers or tomatoes, should be picked as close to check-in as possible in order to maintain their freshness during the four days they will be on display. And cucumbers should be picked for freshness, but a short portion of stem should be left at the end of the plant to aid with keeping.
DeWerff took time to make sure two boys entering potted gardens understood how they could have improved their entries this year by taking a little time to prune for shape, deadhead spent blooms, and trim off damaged foliage. He also learned a little from one of the boys. As he described what role each plant played in the design, he shared a rhyme his mother had taught him -- “Thriller, filler and spiller.” DeWerff jotted the words down for later. The boy’s efforts were rewarded with a blue ribbon.
Flowers, similarly, were closely examined by Fullerton to determine if insect damage was present, if petals looked fresh, if stems were cleaned below water level. Form and color were also taken into account.
Most floriculture entries consisted of single-stem samples. Horticulture entries required a specific number of like vegetables to be displayed on a plate, except for “largest” entries and unusual varieties. But, children and adults alike let their creativity blossom with imaginative cut floral arrangements, vegetable collections, potted plants and fairy gardens.
After the judging was finished, Davenport and volunteers reset the entries with purple and blue ribbon winners in the center of the display, and the remaining entries organized by the color of ribbon or the class they were associated with. All will remain on display throughout the fair in Expo 2. Sunday, winners will pick up their entries and those awarded ribbons will turn in their claim tickets at the Fair Office to pick up their premiums.