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Backyard Growers to Show Off Fruits of Their Labors at Fair


Gardeners and their produce will take center stage at this year's Orange County Fair, which runs Friday through July 28 at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. The fair's theme is "Best Pickin's in California," in honor of the state's farmers and backyard gardeners.

You'll find many of the farm and garden displays near the front gate, including the annual fruit and vegetable competition. The contest will judge various classes of fruits and vegetables and sunflowers. Two of the most popular contests are the largest and most unusually shaped item categories.

Last year, one first-place entry included a 6-foot-tall amaranth stalk.

Entries are judged on arrangement, type, size, uniformity, condition, color, shape, appearance and market quality, said Gayle Cory, program coordinator for the Fair's farm and garden department.

The competition is open to all backyard gardeners, and there are no entry fees. Awards include first-, second- and third-place ribbons.

When you visit the farm and garden display, you can also pick up free seeds for growing strawberry-colored popcorn.

In addition to the produce contest, the fairground's Centennial Farm will be buzzing . . . literally. Areas of the farm have been taken over by the Bug Garden. Although many gardeners think of trouble when bugs are mentioned, many insects are beneficial for the garden, as this exhibit will show.

The Bug Garden was created to show the natural interaction between bugs and plants.

"We're rounding up everything in the garden and putting it in one central area so everybody can see up-close what's going on in a typical backyard garden," said Valerie Loew, a horticulturist who is helping coordinate the bug exhibit.

Pests such as aphids will be released in the bug garden, free to munch on plants. But their natural predators will also be let loose. They will include ladybugs and praying mantis.

Bug Garden coordinators liken the bug melee to a miniature "Jurassic Park," but they say there's a point to it all.

Entomology expert Bryan Carey, who is the Fair's bug coordinator, hopes to show gardeners that it's not necessary to resort to insecticides to kill pests.

Although tiny aphids do a lot of damage in the garden by sucking plant fluids, they are easily eradicated by ladybugs, Carey said. Plant something that attracts ladybugs such as sunflowers and daisies, and this beneficial insect will quickly clean up your aphid problem, he said.

The Centennial Farm will also feature a Butterfly House. In their larval stage as caterpillars, these insects are harmful, but as butterflies they beautify the garden and help pollinate.

The Butterfly House will include a variety of plants that attract butterflies, including buddleia, hibiscus and salvia.

For general information regarding the Orange County Fair, call (714) 708-3247.

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