You can play a part in making this year’s Tanana Valley State Fair fabulous by entering your flowers, vegetables and herbs. This year’s entry day is 1-6 p.m. Wednesday. I don’t want you to show up a day early. Last year’s entry day was on a Tuesday. Wednesday’s entry day is an adults-only event and includes 17-year-olds. The kids and giant cabbage growers have already had their chance.

Although competitive exhibits are at the heart of the Tanana Valley State Fair, you don’t have to be competitive to enter. The fair’s long-standing tradition also includes education. People love looking at the horticultural and crop exhibits. Gardeners, nongardeners and visitors to our state enjoy seeing what grows here. The fair introduced me to Sweetunia Miss Marvel petunia, and she knocked my socks off.

There’s a misconception that to be competitive, vegetables must be the size of a Volkswagen. This is not true. Vegetables should be the same size and maturity as those you purchase from a grocer unless you’re entering your produce under Novelty Vegetables.

In this division, monstrously sized vegetables are judged by weight, height or diameter. Vegetables that are so ugly you would never eat them can be blue ribbon winners in Novelty Vegetables. This year, thanks to the generosity of the Alaska Farm Bureau, Fairbanks chapter, there are additional $100 prizes for the longest zucchini and the longest carrot. Growers of the widest cauliflower and broccoli will receive an extra $50.

You’ll need to check out the Tanana Valley State Fair’s Exhibit Guide online to understand the fair’s rules and requirements. Entries growing in containers, cut or harvested from your garden are called perishables and are organized according to division, class and lot. Gardeners are allowed only one entry per lot. Culinary herbs and crop entries are part of the Vegetable and Fruits division.

Use UAF Cooperative Extension Service’s publication, “Alaska Grown Produce: Selection and Preparation for Display” for general information only. Specific information, such as the requirement that green tomato entries must include three fruit with attached stems, don’t always match Tanana Valley State Fair criteria. Look closely at the exhibit guide. The requirements for cherry tomatoes are different.

Judges look favorably on entries that include variety name. If you can’t remember which varieties you’ve grown, check plant labels and seed packets before arriving at the fair. Entries requiring more than one item will be judged on uniformity of size, shape, color and degree of maturity. Make sure vegetables and flowers are immaculate and remove even the smallest bits of soil. Exhibits should be free from imperfections and injuries so be careful when transporting entries.

Because adult entry day for vegetables, fruit and flowers comes midway through the fair, you do not have to pay admission to bring in your entries. A free pass through the gate allows you to take your entries directly to Kiwanis Agricultural Hall. If you want to check out the rest of the fair, you’ll need to pay admission.

If you’re still undecided about exhibiting, consider the fair food. You can’t possibly taste everything you’d like in one visit. Become an exhibitor and you’ll have three reasons to walk through the gate: the day you enter, the day you check to see if you’ve won any ribbons and the last day when you pick up your entry. You don’t even have to have grown your perishable entry. Wildflowers and wild berries can be collected; flowers used in arrangements can be purchased. If you exhibit, you’ll have three opportunities to eat fair food without having to confess, to anyone but yourself, that the food is one of the real reasons you look forward to fair time.

Please note that perishable premium payout dates are Aug. 16 and Aug. 17. These are the days to collect your prize money. For premium payouts of $25 or less, you must stop by the Tanana Valley State Fair office at these times or forfeit your winnings. Checks for over $25 are mailed to exhibitors. If you follow the exhibit guide, I am confident you can be a winner. If you feel the competition is not important, you don’t need to collect.

Julie Riley is horticulture agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service’s Tanana District office. You might find her at the fair staffing the Extension booth in the Borealis Pavilion or taking entries and judging flowers in Kiwanis Agricultural Hall. Contact her at jariley@alaska.edu or 474-2423.