The first time I won a blue ribbon for some of my homegrown veggies, I had an unexpected emotional response. I still recall the pre-contest butterflies, hoping that one of my entries might catch the judges’ attention — and the resulting delight when my sweet basil, hot peppers, and cherry tomatoes all gained a top prize. I remember that day like it was yesterday.
Competitive gardening is similar to other competitive sports. Medals, ribbons, and prize money are nice, but gardeners enter their vegetables in contests for the pleasure of seeing how their skill stacks up against the competition. They also get validation for the personal accomplishment of growing something wonderful from a handful of seeds.
This book is for gardeners of all skill levels who want the competitive challenge of growing prizewinning produce. It includes everything you need to know about the horticulture competition process, from locating contests and studying the rules to tips for thinking like a judge. I wrote this book for another type of gardener, too — for growers who’d simply like to find ways to improve their vegetable gardening efforts. The tips in this guide are equally useful for those who’d like to harvest high-quality produce for eating instead of competing.
I can’t promise you’ll gain fame or fortune by entering your homegrown vegetables in a contest, even if you follow every strategy. What I can promise is that you’ll have a bit of fun, meet some interesting folks, and gain a new appreciation for the traditions of our country’s rich agricultural heritage. If you need a simple mantra to encourage you to plant a prizewinning garden, remember this: Seeds want to sprout; plants want to grow.
Since medieval times, fairs have been held to attract crowds. Some groups gathered together for religious purposes, others for trade and commerce, and many had educational aspirations. No matter the reason, all fairs eventually evolved into social and shopping occasions that included entertainment. Fairs haven’t changed much in all these years.
Today’s gardeners would have a difficult time identifying the vegetables our ancestors ate. Wild tomatoes looked like yellow berries growing on bushes, and carrots were nothing more than white, rangy roots. It took years for vegetables to grow into the ones we recognize today. Gardeners owe a debt of thanks to those first farmers who dug tubers from the earth to feed their families and then kept the tastiest to transplant and grow again. Compared to what gardeners plant today, early farms and gardens didn’t offer much vegetable diversity. If we were transported back in time and could peek into a medieval English garden, we might see beans, cabbages, onions, leeks, lettuce, and peas. Mercifully, the world of vegetables mushroomed in the 1400s when intrepid explorers transported plants and agricultural products from one part of the globe to another. That’s how corn (maize), potatoes, and beans from the Americas found their way into European dining rooms.
Jodi Torpey, author of Blue-Ribbon Vegetable Gardening, is a garden writer, an award-winning gardener, a Craftsy online gardening instructor, and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.WesternGardeners.com. Torpey’s writing exists in both digital and print mediums and she’s a popular speaker at gardening conferences and events around the country.