University of Missouri Extension

G6230, Reviewed May 2017

Exhibiting and Judging Garden Vegetables

Reviewed by David H. Trinklein
Division of Plant Sciences

Whether on an individual basis at fairs or in 4-H, FFA or a garden club competition, exhibiting vegetables is an excellent way to learn more about quality and handling of vegetables. While setting up an exhibit, you have a chance to meet others with similar interests and learn from them. Win or lose, you can learn from the experience and accept the challenge to improve future displays and exhibits.

Follow the rules

Rules and classes normally are set up by the show or fair committee. These rules should be followed carefully. Failure to set up or classify a display properly may mean automatic disqualification, even for the best vegetables.

Read premium lists carefully so that the correct number of specimens are exhibited in each class. There is no “correct” number of items for all events, and each committee is responsible for establishing its own requirements. The number of items required for any display, however, should be clearly listed in the fair catalog.

How many vegetables in a display?

When in charge of determining the number of vegetables to be required in each display, remember that normally the larger and heavier the product, the fewer specimens required. Therefore, large watermelons, muskmelons, pumpkins and winter squash are often shown as single specimens.

Vegetables of smaller size normally are shown in groups of three to six. Small pumpkins, eggplant and small winter squash may be shown in groups of three, while vegetables such as tomato, cucumber and pepper normally are shown in groups of four to six.

Root crops more often are shown in groups of eight to 12. Because crops such as potatoes, onions, carrots and beets are more variable in shape and development, a larger sample is necessary for a better evaluation.

For crops that are very productive and relatively uniform, an even larger sample is necessary. Therefore, such items as snap beans or cherry tomatoes are displayed in groups of 18 to 24.

Leafy vegetables, such as cabbage or lettuce, usually are shown as single heads, but when leaves are cut individually, such as for chard or rhubarb, about six to 12 stems should be in each display.

The contest rules should list the amount for each exhibit determined by the show or fair committee. If any changes are made, announcements should be made well in advance of display time so that participants are prepared to display the correct number of vegetables.

Some shows have displays called “collections” in which the exhibitor is allowed some choice in selecting and placing an assortment of vegetables. Quality and condition of the vegetables are important in these displays, but a pleasing arrangement and display is also considered in the judging.

Containers and materials

Two types of containers normally are used for a vegetable display. Plates are used most widely for displaying fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers or beans. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce or chard are displayed in jars containing water. Wide-mouth pint or quart canning jars usually are adequate, but the fair or show may specify other containers or even furnish containers. Large vegetables such as watermelons or pumpkins do not require a display container.

When paper plates are used, they should be simple and unadorned. The large, dinner plate size is preferred. Liners, pads, doilies and other flourishes are unnecessary and undesirable. The judge must make an objective evaluation of the vegetables, and extra items mean nothing and may actually annoy judges.

Plastic films may be used to protect vegetables during travel or set-up but should be removed before judging. Do not enclose moist vegetables in films during hot weather, as rapid decay might occur. A judge may understand slight wilting at the time of judging under hot conditions, but decay is inexcusable at any time.

Crop maturity

Because fairs and shows are held over a wide range of dates, having vegetables at the ideal stage of maturity at the time of a show may be difficult. Ideal maturity is desirable, however, and will win over immature or overmature products. Never exhibit overripe or overmature vegetables. In some seasons, only slightly immature crops may be available.

Rather than not participate, the beginning exhibitor could gain experience by showing slightly immature vegetables that are as perfect as possible. In large shows or fairs, however, where competition is keen, only enter the highest quality produce at proper maturity.

Preserving quality for the show

Many vegetable crops do not last long in the display, especially during hot weather. Timing a crop for proper maturity at the time of showing is important. Crops that apparently will mature ahead of display time should be picked just slightly immature and placed in good storage conditions until about a day or two before display time, when they may be allowed to mature for the show.

Crops that store well in a cool, dry place, such as a cool basement, include potatoes, onions, winter squash, watermelon, pumpkin, dry beans and Cushaw pumpkins (sometimes called crookneck squash).

Other crops require some refrigeration and/or moisture to keep them in good condition. Clean and refrigerate the vegetables immediately after harvest. Vegetables with a naturally waxy or corky skin may be refrigerated dry. These include pepper, cucumber and cantaloupe.

Many root crops and leafy vegetables should be stored in loose plastic bags or sprinkled daily with fresh water and kept in a refrigerator’s vegetable crisper. Such crops include green beans, carrots, beets, sweet corn, okra, cabbage and other leafy vegetables.

Moving vegetables to the show

Vegetables for display must be handled carefully. To prevent bruising during travel, they should be wrapped and padded in baskets or boxes. A lining or loose wrapping of plastic also can prevent drying. Protect them from the sun to prevent discoloration. Avoid light on potatoes, which can cause greening.

If vegetables have been stored cool and “sweat” when brought into a warm room, they should not be wrapped or placed in closed containers until they have warmed and moisture condensation has stopped. Wipe them dry before packing. Always take a few extra vegetables in case of damage or injury during handling and moving.

Factors considered in judging

When preparing a display for exhibit, knowing what judges will look for in the display is helpful. The judge may lift and examine products on all sides, so imperfections cannot be hidden (Figures 1 and 2). The important characteristics of good vegetables are not greatly different from those looked for in flowers and fruits.

Always show crops at their best. Some grooming is important, but grooming should not give an unnatural look to the crop. The main characteristics a judge evaluates in each exhibit are quality, condition, uniformity and typical of variety.

One of the most important but difficult to describe characteristics is quality. Quality means that the vegetable is at its best and in prime eating condition. Prime eating condition may be at a fairly young stage in some vegetables, such as summer squash, beets or green beans. It means fully developed fruits at the peak of maturity in others, such as tomato, watermelon or eggplant.

The inherent quality of a vegetable includes color, shape, texture, taste and size. Quality is also a measure of the ability of the person who has grown the vegetable for display.

Condition is a measure of how the crop has been handled. An important part of this evaluation is cleanliness. Such items as tomato or pepper are seldom a problem, but root crops such as onions, potatoes and beets, or leaf crops such as lettuce may present problems in cleaning. Do not wash vegetables for exhibit unless absolutely necessary. Instead, use a very soft cloth or brush, and lightly remove any soil. For some vegetables, washing may remove the waxy “bloom,” which should be left on. For others, washing gives an unnatural “scrubbed” appearance.

Vegetables also must be free of blemishes. Blemishes may be caused by insects, diseases or poor handling. Presence of such damage indicates poor care or culture and is a serious fault. Slight bruising or punctures caused by handling are undesirable but, if small, are not rated downward as much as damage by insects or diseases. Sun scald or hail damage are also undesirable.

One of the most obvious conditions of a display is uniformity (Figures 3 and 4). Uniformity of the products in a display is another measure of ability because of the difficulty of growing a large number of vegetables that look identical. The larger the planting, however, the more likely an exhibitor will be able to develop very uniform displays.

Size is an important aspect of uniformity. All vegetables in one exhibit should be the same size. In addition, the size should be typical of the variety — not too large or too small. Oversized vegetables do not receive extra points, and sometimes they may be at a disadvantage.

Uniform ripeness is also important. A display with slightly immature and uniform vegetables is better than one with items at different stages of maturity.

The vegetables should be uniform in shape. For example, do not mix round and flat onions; onions in a single display should be all the same shape. Select peppers, small pumpkins or eggplant of as identical shape as possible.

Uniform color is very evident and also important. A single off-color item in a display is a serious fault. Green peppers should be entirely green; one with a red splotch downgrades the display.

Typical of variety
All vegetables in the same exhibit should be the same kind and variety. Mixing types or varieties is usually an automatic disqualification. All entries should be typical of the variety. Some shows require that the variety be listed with the display. This practice is often helpful to the judge, especially in the case of very new or unusual varieties.

Automatic disqualifications

The judge will try to evaluate as many exhibits as possible. Failure to follow rules and to display properly may mean that your entry will not be judged. These conditions usually mean an automatic disqualification:

Pointers for exhibiting vegetables

All exhibits should fulfill the qualifications described above. In addition, individual vegetables have some special considerations.

Select straight, dark green spears. They should be at least 1/2 inch diameter at the butt end and trimmed to a uniform length of 7 to 8 inches. Display in water to prevent wilting.

Imperfections cannot be hidden

Figure 1
Vegetables will be inspected on all sides, so imperfections cannot be hidden.


Examine display vegetables carefully for flaws

Figure 2
Examine display vegetables carefully for flaws. These are less flawed than the tomatoes in Figure 1.


Uniformity is important

Figure 3
Uniformity is important when selecting vegetables for judging. These tomatoes are of high quality, but they lack uniformity.


Select good tomatoes

Figure 4
Select good tomatoes with uniformity for display.


Original authors
J.B. Lower, K.J. Hildahl and R.R. Rothenberger
G6230 Exhibiting and Judging Garden Vegetables | University of Missouri Extension

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