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Enter cream of your crop in Benton Franklin Fair

Are your apples amazing this year? Expecting a tremendous crop of tomatoes? Is your mint plant magnificent?

Sounds like you many have a chance at some blue ribbons, maybe even a Best of Class rosette at the Benton Franklin Fair on Aug. 19-23.

Everyone living in Benton and Franklin counties who grows vegetables, fruit, peanuts, herbs or giant sunflowers can enter the open class horticulture competitions. Entries are split into adult, those 18 years of age and older, and youth, those under 18.

It costs just $5 to enter the fair with no limit on the number of open class entries.

"It's a good deal," said Kendra Myers, department superintendent, "because everyone who enters gets one free day pass to the fair. The passes normally cost $10."

However, you do need to complete an entry form before Aug. 1. But you don't have to specify what you're planning to enter, just that you will.

"When you're talking fruits and veggies what you have to enter any one day can be very unpredictable," Myers said.

Entry forms can be printed from the Benton Franklin Fair & Rodeo website, www.bffairrodeo.com. Or pick them up at the fair office, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, near the main entrance of the fairgrounds in Kennewick.

In addition to ribbons, there are also a few donated prizes for the top entries in the different classes for open class horticulture. Prizes include gardening books from Myers, a gift basket from NW Soy in Finley, a bag of fertilizer from Bleyhl Farm Services in Pasco and a trophy from Karen Evans.

"If anyone has anything they'd like to donate as a prize I'll gladly accept it," Myers said.

Open class entries will be accepted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Aug. 17 and 18.

"And don't worry if you forget something at home. You can enter what you have and bring the rest in later just as long as it's before 7 p.m. on Monday," Myers said.

Keep in mind if you're entering your produce on Monday evening, you'll have to deal with the Demolition Derby parking traffic.

Your best bet is to arrive at the fairgrounds well before the derby starts at 6:30 p.m. Otherwise, you'll likely end up with a parking headache, Myers said.

"I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about it," she said.

Even if your produce is more odd than picture perfect, there's a class for it at the fair.

Myers would like to see more entries in the giant, strangest and novelty categories.

"The past few years we've only had one or two giant entries, last year there was only the one pumpkin," Myers said.

Strangest is just that -- oddly shaped fruits and veggies -- while novelty includes garden-themed posters.

If you can make a show-and-tell poster you can show off your green thumb without hauling a single fresh vegetable, fruit or herb to the fair. This year's theme is recycle/reuse.

So if you can show how you've used those McDonald's salad bowls as mini greenhouses to get your seedlings started you have a chance at a blue ribbon, Myers said.

How to choose a winning entry

There's more to winning ribbons than possessing a green thumb. You have to have an eye for picking perfect produce, too. Here are some tips from Myers and Ross Penhallegon, an Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist:

-- When choosing your entry be sure to follow the guidelines in the fair's Exhibitors Guide carefully. Some entries are single items, others are multiples.

-- Look for the most perfect examples, skip those with bug bites or blemishes.

-- With multiple items, you want to be sure each one is the same color, the same uniform size and shape.

-- Vegetables and fruits should look like those typically found at grocery stores, Penhallegon said. But don't think you can pass store produce off as your own crop.

"Judges can tell the difference," Myers said.

-- Herbs can be entered in the Benton Franklin Fair in either pots or cut. But if you opt to cut them, supply a container.

"We ran out of donated containers to put them in long ago," Myers said.

-- The OSU Extension Service 4-H Program has an online guide to growing and preparing produce for fair exhibits. You'll find Oregon 4-H Horticulture Contest Guide -- Vegetables at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/ 4h/4-h2334.pdf.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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