A pair of judges from the ag and floral departments at the Western Idaho Idaho Fair were conferring Sunday afternoon, when one of them noticed something odd.
A half dozen plates in the pepper display were empty. Prized peppers were missing.
Did someone pinch them?
Harriet Calverley, one of three judges in the floral department, noted that it appeared only hot peppers had disappeared (hot jalapeno, serrano and hot cayenne). Her husband, Paul, the lone judge of the peppers and tomatoes this year, looked bewildered.
“I just can’t hardly believe it,” Harriet said. This has never happened before, Paul said.
I had spent a couple hours chatting with the Calverleys about fair entries and their own gardening prowess for this week’s Dig In garden video. Both were longtime University of Idaho advanced master gardeners and won a truckload of ribbons before becoming judges a decade ago.
“In our yard, we fight for space,” Harriet said. “I want flowers, and he wants veggies.”
It seemed awfully brazen for someone to pocket peppers while all three of us were standing right there.
Sometimes produce gets tossed if it rots before the end of the fair (entries may be reclaimed at 10 a.m. on Aug. 29). But that wasn’t what happened in this case.
When I returned to the scene of the (apparent) crime Tuesday to shoot some video with advanced master gardener Debbie Courson Smith, another judge there gave us the rest of the story. It was an inside job, she said, not foul play.
“The exhibitor that brought the peppers donated them to another participant in the salsa contest,” fair spokeswoman Becki Woodbury said Wednesday.
So no pepper caper after all.
IF YOU GROW, YOU SHOULD GO
1,079 Western Idaho Fair ag contest entries in 2016
1,047 floral contest entries
With gardening, there’s always more to learn. Perusing fair entries inside the air-conditioned North Expo building could give you some good ideas on new things to try next year, Debbie said. (She found some purple peppers she might try.)
Ag judges don’t eat the produce they’re assessing. So what criteria do they use to decide which are the best?
“Three tomatoes that look exactly the same, that’s what you’re shooting for — uniformity, color,” Paul said. “You have to keep the tops on. If you lose a top, that’s a disqualification for the tomato.”
You’ll also lose points if they have blemishes, such as cracks, he said.
One contest is called “collection of small peppers.” Submissions are different varieties of peppers (one contest is for peppers over 3 inches, another is for peppers under 3 inches).
Paul was so impressed with the quality of the peppers in four of the five entries in this year’s larger “collection” category that he awarded four blue ribbons.
Oh c’mon, which one was the best? When pressed for the top entry, Paul said Marilyn McDonald of Star had the best five peppers, and he happily agreed to hold them up for a couple of photos:
Harriet is the flower expert, but I asked her what caught her eye among this year’s produce entries. She led me over to the gourd section — not a place I would have lingered had she not pointed out the one that seemed to be smiling back at me.
“While it was green, they put it in a mold,” Harriet said. “Isn’t it cute? People are really intrigued by that.”
OK, that’s unexpected. Bravo to Antonia Tamayo of Caldwell for the smiley-faced gourd entry.
I suspect some are intrigued because they think it grew that way naturally, but who knows? Tamayo won a blue ribbon, Reserve Best - Gourd (“reserve best” essentially means runner-up), and at least $15, according to the tag on it.
Ribbons mean an entry has won cash (usually between $2 and $5.50 for ag and floral). Special awards come with an up-to-$50 prize.
Sometimes the ribbons dwarf the entry itself, as in the case of a winning floral design by Janet Petersen of Eagle. The theme was “Amber Waves of Grain,” and it was a small dried design not to exceed 5 inches in any direction.
One thing I learned this year: There are contests for best leaves, specifically hosta leaves. Several contests, in fact, because there are so many different sizes of hosta.
These folks won blue ribbons for their hosta leaves: Hilary Lilya of Boise, up to 3 inches; Melissa Rudd of Boise, 3 to 6 inches; Hilda Packard of Boise, 6 to 8 inches; and Ann Swanson of Boise, over 8 inches.
The contests I’m always drawn to are the “largest” and “tallest.” Is bigger always better? No, but it’s impressive.
Congrats to Richard Wanzer of Boise for his 184-inch sunflower (that’s over 15 feet), which won for “tallest sunflower stalk.” I had to step back quite a ways to get the whole thing in a photo.
“Can you imagine trying to get that into your pickup?” Harriet said. It’s looking a little droopy but it’s still intact.
I love giant pumpkins so that’s the first thing I look for. This year was a disappointment because the largest watermelon (a 62-pounder grown by Laura Whiting of Nampa, photo below) was bigger than the heaviest pumpkin (25 1/4 pounds, grown by De Zborowski).
“Nobody brought in any. We don’t know why,” Paul said, though he did note that tomato and pepper entries seemed to be down this year, due in part to later-than-normal ripening.
I have to admit I’m always more interested in seeing the produce in the ag section than anything in the floral department — but I definitely spend a lot more time admiring the latter.
My favorite flower was a bi-color purple dahlia entered by Georgia Wells White of Boise. She won a blue ribbon.
The rich color and variety of the flowers is intoxicating, and the arrangements are surprisingly creative. The mini and novelty gardens are gee-whiz inspiring — stuff you’ll want to photograph to share with fellow gardeners and/or try to replicate yourself.
Boise’s Mel Koob had many top entries in the ag/floral departments, and I couldn’t possible share them all. My favorite was the rustic chair that she turned into a planter.