How to make a show judge's life harder
It's been great to see lots of people showing off their produce and show prizes on social media the past week or so. Prime village fete season is here and I'm delighted to be judging at Foxham again after my debut there last year.
I dusted down my judging clipboard this week to find most of the 'equipment' I use is still in there. Can you spot what's missing in the above photo? NB there's a clue in the next paragraph...
I also see there's some hastily scribbled notes on what I was looking for, plus some general observations on last year's standard of display. I thought I'd expand these, so that my job is harder this year. These notes should be good for anyone thinking of dipping their toes into showing off their produce, not just at Foxham Show.
Before the show
- Have a look at the schedule and spot which items in your garden and/or house are likely candidates for you to show. It's been a tough growing season this year, but don't let that put you off. Everyone's in the same boat and there's bound to be something on the schedule you can enter
- Take particular care if any class specifies particular cultivars or varieties, or has lists of those which are acceptable. Only enter according to what's required as anything else won't be judged
- Check entry dates and get your forms and fees in on time to lessen the number of grey hairs sported by your show secretary. Chippenham's used to be the Wednesday before Saturday's show; Foxham has entry on the day, which is great because it's less of a gamble
- Make a note of when staging commences and/or finishes - you will need to allow plenty of time for picking your produce (you want everything to be as fresh as possible), travelling to the show and staging your entries
- If the schedule includes items which can be stored e.g. garlic, onions, potatoes make your show selections now, get them ready and put them somewhere safe where they won't be used for cooking (it does happen!). Also make sure you have a few extras to spare just in case - this also applies to anything you get ready on the day
- Sort out what you're going to use to show off your vegetables, fruit, flowers or plants. Paper plates are usually fine for the fruit and veg; a nice vase or bowl for flowers (but not one which will break your heart if it gets knocked over); consider what's best for a collection e.g a basket or trug. Check for any display specifics mentioned in the schedule and make sure you have what's needed
- If the schedule wants anything labelled or named, this can also be prepared in advance
- Check whether you need to bring water with you for staging flower entries and consider how you're going to get it there without getting it everywhere
- Select and pick your show produce + extras in the cool of the day. Keep Condition (including freshness), Uniformity, Size, Colour and Shape in mind when making your selections as these are the broad criteria usually used for judging. The exception(s) to the rule are the 'longest', 'biggest' etc classes e.g. longest runner bean
- Keep a look out for pests and diseases as anything with these won't be judged
- Cut your flowers straight into water so they maintain their blooms
- Prepare your produce - pay particular attention to any remarks in the schedule on length of stalks, presence of calyx etc. Discard anything which doesn't meet any minimum or maximum size criteria mentioned. This stage can be left until you get to the show, though bear in mind you may find there's not as much room as you'd like when you get there
- Try to handle everything as little as possible. Judges like to see the original bloom on produce (which also means no polishing!)
- Have enough containers and protective materials on hand for your produce so it won't be damaged in transit
- Keep everything in a cool place until it's time to travel to the show
At the show - before judging
- Arrive in plenty of time to arrange your produce to its best advantage
- Report to the show manager or steward, who may also give you show number(s) for your produce. Make sure any paperwork needed on the day is completed correctly (take a pen!) and either handed in and/or displayed next to your produce as required
- Some shows divide the display area e.g. into the schedule's classes - make sure you put your items in the right place as indicated
- Do not touch anyone else's produce - if something needs moving to make more room for you, contact a show official
- Leave the exhibition area when asked to do so at the end of staging time
- Have a good look at your entries - hopefully the hints above mean you have a few place cards - congratulations!
- Don't be annoyed if some of your entries have been cut - beetroots are checked for rings inside and snapping beans is a way of testing freshness
- Have a good look at the entries which did better than yours - can you see why they did so?
- Sometimes the judges leave comments next to good entries or those which were disqualified e.g. the dreaded 'Not According to Schedule' (NAS) - a great way to learn for the next time
- Have a good natter and a well deserved cup of tea and cake with your fellow competitors!
- Collect any prize money or awards you've been awarded and applaud your fellow competitors when they collect theirs
- Remove your entries on time, and/or decide what to donate to the post show produce sale/auction if this is on offer
- Start thinking about how you're going to sweep the board next year 🙂
- I've googled 'horticulture show entry tips' and the link takes you to a number of show sites with useful hints and tips for specific fruit, vegetables and flowers. Note that some of these will be specific to that show, so always check your own show's entry schedule
- If your show is held under the RHS's rules, then it may be worth getting your own copy of their Horticultural Show Handbook. This is what the RHS qualified judges follow and I've loosely based my own judging on this too. Shows may also produce their own specific detailed set of rules, such as the example I found from 2016 for the shows held on RHS premises. NB shows like Foxham's are designed to be friendly and encouraging, so are judged in that spirit and not to the letter of the RHS's rules
- Remember the TV programme The Great British Village Show? There's also a book of the programme, which provides lots of inspiration and tips for anyone putting on or taking part in a village show