99. Ron Hanson Returns | Fair Judge | Eureka, MT

This year Mike hung his ribbons around the new mini-farm to scare the deer!

Ron Hanson was on my show last spring on episode 25 back in March and I asked him to come back because he was the fair judge at our fair here in Lincoln County.

Lived in Eureka, most of my life, I’ve gardened almost all my life, gardening is trial and error and you learn from your mistakes. I have learned an awful lot over the last 65 years. I worked for the forest service, and raised a garden every year since I was 12 years old no matter where I was at. I started a green house about 35 years ago, and sold my extra plants and it developed into a full time business called Hanson’s Hot house, that I did on the side while I was working for the Forest Service and expanded for about 5-6 years, finally retired so I could garden, it was keeping me from doing the big things in my garden I wanted to do.

A lot of people think that entering the fair is just about entering the biggest pumpkin or something, but there’s a lot  more then that?

Growing big stuff is just on weight, I don’t have much to do on that you just put them on the scale largest vegetables, and eggs.

And the smallest egg too? Right?

We pretty much have a category for almost every vegetable.

If you are going to enter anything in the fair, you should read what they are going to be judged on. It’s in every fair book, it’s only a paragraph or less. It tells you exactly what the judges are looking for in your vegetable entries. Basically what they are looking for vegetables, medium size, uniform in color, uniform in quality and uniformity in from, free of diseases and pests, and bruises and breaks. Root crops have to be trimmed, tops trimmed about an inch long.

cabbages and cauliflowers


sweet corn, you don’t husk. You have to be growing it, knowing it’s ripe  because you can’t husk it till the time of judges, so you need to eat some ears and make sure what you pick is ripe and not overripe.

This year there were 4 entries, very good entries

all vying for first place

they were uniform, met all of the other qualifications. What I had to do after I shucked them, test them all to

so I had to taste them, I eat a lot of raw corn, I love to eat the

one the looked the best was over ripe and tasted bitter. So I was able to give the first place ribbon based on taste.

So you don’t taste the other food?

It was the same with the eggplants, there were 3 entries that were just, they weren’t the best,

the best,

They each had some bad sides, they were all really good, so I put all the good sides were

2 large eggplants in each entry

they all looked really good. They had some scratches on the back and that’s when the superintendent says why don’t you judge them on the blemishes. When I turned them around, I could tell which ones by looking at the bad side.

Where people go wrong where they enter, they put 5 tomatoes out there, they’re supposed to be uniform in size and color and they’re not uniform, one will be large and they just grab five and put them on there. The uniformity is what we judge on.

Mike was saying some tip he learned in Kalispell is they look for them all on the same vine.

They don’t call for that here, there are some vine ripened tomatoes that are cluster tomatoes.

Some others you wouldn’t be able to keep them on the vine. What we look for at this fair we look for commercial and table quality. They want it the way it looks in the grocery store when you buy it or on the table.

I wouldn’t put the vines with them.

What other things do you have to share?

There’s displays of greens and herbs, and stuff like that.


With greens and herbs, lettuce, you want to pick those types of things the night before

put them in water.

It’s best if you can where you cut them or stick them in a glass of water, you get rid of the field wilt if you put them in the refrigerator the night before. And hopefully they’ll be snapped out of it the judge comes along the next day.

For cleaning things, I think it was golden beets, no it was new potatoes, they had scrubbed them till they had almost taken the skins off of them, that was a little bit excessive cleaning.

I had entered some peppers in the fair when i was kid, I thought I would put some olive oil on them and shine em up. I won first place. So I tried that about ten years ago, had some really nice peppers, I sprayed a little pam on them and they would have looked shiny if I hadn’t done that, they would have won anyway. The judge said he would  had given them the best vegetable overall, but they tasted terrible because it had the oil on it so just use water when you clean em.

Got any tips for beans?

Yeah, the snap beans, green beans, wax beans. You have to enter one quart in a box on a paper plate. What you look for is uniformity.

You want them to be the same length, all be straight, when you have a bunch that vary away from that it cuts down on the quality, when the others that are all straight. Youdon’t want one big fat one and one immature, all the same size.

I didn’t know they had to be straight. Lots of times they have a curve. 

beets again roots have be cut one inch above the vegetables, want to wash and clean and cut the tap root best to leave that on… scrub them a little bit…

clean free of any disease

pick enough beets out of your garden

sort through

5 in an entry as much as the same size and color and qualify as possible

Brassicas cabbage

2 cabbages

if one’s bigger then the other one. With cabbage, you can clean back the loose leaves, till its a nice head, so it’s a nice size, and it’s clean, where you cut it off.

carrots one inch on the root or the stem on the carrots, and scrub em so they look nice, but not overdoing it.

Got any tips since growing? Since you’ve been growing for so long? 

Soil is the main ingredient, you can build your soil up. A lot of people start to build their soil up and then read some book written back in New England and they recommend adding lime, and we don’t want to do that here because our soil is already alkaline.

these books tell you the best tell you all these things you need to dump in your garden. You don’t need to do that, just add as much organic material as you can, keep working it into the soil. and over the period of 2-3 years, you’ll have a, the worst thing you can do is just till up some ground

first year, you’ll probably have a lot of success, even without adding organic material. The worst thing is not adding organic and manure to it. You won’t be growing big juicy vegetables.

Sarah Harding recommended a really cool book, an old book from the 70′s. The Gardener’s Guide to Better Soil. And Kavita Bay also talked about the soil. Said she fell in love with gardening because she was passionate about the soil. I think that’s a big part of why organic gardening works. It’s about feeding the soil instead of feeding your plant. 


growing things to grow in the fair

have 4-5 tomato plants

pick your 5 plants

more you grow you can get that uniformity

I’m one that loves all kinds of new and different varieties 40 different types of peppers

only have 4 categories in the fair for peppers

grow what you’re interested in growing, then enter best in the fair, mostly read what it says before your enter.

Now with the herbs, because it only calls for one bunch. The rules only say sheaves of grain must be 1 & 1/2 inches in diameter, and grasses are bundled in 3″, but it doesn’t say what herbs should be. If a bunch should be 1/2 inch of stems? They need to come up with a standard.

We had herbs that had 4-5 stems in the water, and some that only had 1 in the water, we didn’t have a definition a bunch, so it was all considered a bunch. It all worked out. So I would suggest more then.

What do you judge herbs on? is it taste, smell?

again it’s on table quality and commercial quality

basically 50% is on quality

30% on variety

and 20% on arrangement

Qaulity is the really big thing, if you pick them the night before,

gonna be drooped over in the morning, if you pick them in the morning, and bring them on Thursday night.

You should pick them on Wed evening, and stick them in some water, and you bring them to the fair on Thursday night, then they should set once they have sat in that water.

What about fruit, honey and poultry? You said you do that too. Oh, the eggs is the poultry. 

There was no honey entered this year and only one dozen eggs so no contest there.

There was a lot of fruit. And there were some entries, there’s a chance there for people growing fruit fruit that could get some blue ribbons because they have to be grown by the exhibitor.

Again based on quality, variety and arrangement.

Do you have any tips for people growing fruit

Again most people have a few apple trees in their yard.

apples, pears or plums

pick a bunch, pick out the ones that are unblemished,that are all the same size

good quality should have a chance at a blue ribbon.

The berries I grow a lot of them, again pick a bunch of them … pick out the ones that look the bed pint

Do you get raspberries at the time of the fall?

I can go out right now and pick a few raspberries, I have some fall variety ones that started about fair time this year, no my summer ones were still producing at fair time (late August)

My fall ones started producing about the middle of September, with the last couple of frosts pretty much their done now.

I’ve had lots of raspberries

How about some success tips for raspberries?

lots of water, lots of water,

I wonder if that’s what happened? We didn’t pay enough attention last year.

was so busy with my hot house business

water the raspberries in the spring

we had a dry spring… and I pretty much lost my rapsberries a few years ago because I didn’t have time to water in the spring with my greenhouse.

Last year Mike put in this mini farm


How about corn, you always grow corn?

Well with corn, that’s where if you don’t put manure anywhere else, they’re real feeders.

I have very sandy soil, with my corn I would water for 12 hours and set the sprinkler and water at one time for then every 3 or 4 days. I’ve done that for years, the same corn I’ve raised for the last years was 5-6 feet tall.

This year I put an automatic sprinkler had it come on for a couple of hours in the morning and evening and my corn shot up to 9 feet tall doing nothing else different. So that water every day really made the difference. The nice thing was it wasn’t as much water! But it kept the ground moist, which really helped with the corn, especially with the long hot summer we had.

Especially this year. This summer was so dry.  

One thing about the what made me realize it was that type of water, was my sprinkler didn’t quite hit the back side of the corn so a couple of the rows, only got to about 6 feet like they always had!

That’s a great way to experiment! I’ll people are thinking about a lot of different things that way now! I think people will like this because maybe they think the fair is only for biggest item?

There were some nice big tomatoes, 5 on a plate but because they were a little bit too big, first place went to medium size uniformity. But the fair books says we are looking for medium size uniformity. So I suggests you read the fair book and grow plenty so you have more to choose from when your picking your vegetables… uniformity. That’ll get you the blue ribbon!

About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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