Charlotte Pegoraro’s kale grew bigger and bigger this year until the ruffled blue-green leaves unfurled like an enormous umbrella.
“My giant kale,” Pegoraro said with a chuckle Monday as she registered the cruciferous vegetable – a close relative of cabbage – for exhibition at the North Idaho Fair.
But the Harrison resident’s tomatoes haven’t followed the same growth trajectory. They’re still small, green and rock-hard.
Stories of stunted cantaloupes, frost-bitten vines and late zucchini circulated Monday afternoon as North Idaho residents stood in line to enter homegrown fruits and vegetables for judging at the fair.
“It’s a weird garden year,” said Denise Durflinger, of Post Falls. “I’ve only harvested a few tomatoes. The purple beans are only about 1 inch long, and normally, I enter winter squash. … Everything’s about three weeks behind.”
For gardeners, it’s definitely been an inconsistent year, said Kelly McSheehy, co-superintendent of the fair’s Garden Building.
“I’ve talked to the people at the farmers markets,” she said. “For some, it’s their best year ever. For others, it’s terrible.”
Generally speaking, cool-weather plants – such as Pegoraro’s kale – benefited from the chilly temperatures and heavy rains at the start of the summer, said Jack Knox, the Garden Building’s other superintendent. But the soggy soil and temperatures that flirted with freezing hindered the development of warm-weather crops.
“Corns, melons and squash really don’t do anything below an ambient temperature of 60 degrees,” Knox said. “I know some people who planted their gardens two or three times. The first seeds rotted in the ground.”
Knox can sympathize. He planted his garden at the beginning of June, about two weeks later than usual. His corn is still about nine to 10 days away from ripening. And he’s picked just a handful of tomatoes.
Each year, gardeners submit about 1,200 entries in the fruit, vegetable, nuts and grains categories at the North Idaho Fair. Knox said numbers have increased in recent years. The surge in entries parallels increased national interest in home gardening.
“Since times are tough, more people are growing things,” McSheehy said. “People are also more interested in eating healthy.”
Emma Rey Bohl is among those new to gardening. The 9-year-old started a cabbage from seed as a class project at Skyway Elementary School in Coeur d’Alene. The cabbage was a beneficiary of the cool temperatures: It measures about 18 inches across.
“It’s the first year that she’s entering something she’s grown at the fair,” said her grandmother, Jennie Courtemanche.
But growers of warm-weather crops aren’t entirely out of the loop. A number of zucchinis were tagged for judging Monday afternoon. And even growers of late-maturing tomatoes have an option: The fair has a category for green tomatoes.