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Florida State Fair

Florida State Fairgrounds
February 8-19, 2024

The Florida State Fairgrounds is the home of the annual Florida State Fair and over 150 year-round events! The Fairgrounds stretches across 330 acres and is permanently located adjacent to I-4 and I-75 in the heart of bustling Tampa Bay.

It is a fun event, and students in western Hillsborough County are given a day off to attend the fair, which has a midway, numerous food and beverage vendors, an amphitheater that daily offers shows, and numerous judging events such as with livestock and crafts.

One of the judged events is Horticulture, and this year Joyce decided to again compete. She last competed in 2021, and was disappointed in the judging - a fact confirmed by those who were there. Joyce was the clear winner yer somehow another entry prevailed. Okay, don't get mad, get even.

In previous competitions, such as at the Florida State Fair and the Strawberry Strawberry Festival, Joyce has competed very successfully, winning numerous Blue Ribbons and even some Best in Show awards. (A perhaps overly simplified explanation of Best in Show is that in the Fruit Competition you not only have the Blue Ribbon winner in the banana category, but that your Bananas Class winner is better that the winners of all other fruit categories, e.g. Apples Class, Oranges Class, etc. ... so in this example you are Best among all fruits competing. But regarding Joyce we are talking about plants, and classes of plants, and not only being the best in her class of plant, but she was judged as better than the other six horticulture class winners and hence: Best of Show.

(It may be no surprise that that Joyce’s mother Irene had also been a Best in Show winner in various Women’s World categories at the Florida State Fair and at the Florida Strawberry Fest - green thumbs run in the family.)

So back to this year, where Joyce's main entry in Horticulture would be in the Cacti event, and her sumission was a cactus with the common name of Turk's Cap.

(Click on any slide to enlarge it.)

Keeping any plant healthy requires some effort, and cacti can require more than most other plants. Cacti need to be inspected regularly. Cacti need well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. A healthy cactus should be firm to the touch; soft and squishy can mean there is internal damage or decay. Watering for cacti is almost an art and the word is. "If in doubt, underwater." Overwatering can easily cause root rot. The plant should bud annually and deliver "pups" which are baby cacti sprouting from the base plant. Some references say that the Turk's Cap species is slightly more high maintenance than most other cacti and is actually endangered.
Turk's Cap cactus usually grows up to 3.5 inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter (though Joyce's submission was taller and wider). Explorer Christopher Columbus reportedly discovered Melocactus (the actual name of the species) on a West Indies island and brought it and other cacti to Europe.

The nature horticulture judging (and for many other crafts competitions) is that the judging is done before the Fair opens, so people attending on Day 1 will see all the entries and what entrees were awarded what ribbons and other recognition. So while the Fair would not open until Tuesday, February 8, the entries for the horticulture competition had to be in by Saturday, February 3. So in Saturday we made the trip to the fairgrounds: Jay driving like he was carrying precious crystal and Joyce in the back seat cradling the plant like it was a new baby. According to Joyce, every bump in the road between Brandon and the Fairgrounds threatened to destroy her work, but we somehow made it intact to the exhibition building where her cactus would be received by Fairgrounds staff personnel.

Joyce had a good time talking with Fairgrounds staff members and other competitors who were turning in their entries. Just about everyone was impressed with Joyce's entry and she found herself giving an impromptu class on the care of her Turk's Cap. Eventually the plant was duly registered into the competition, and Jay and Joyce returned home, with Joyce beginning her daily wondering about how well her submission would do in the competition. Adding to Joyce's wonderings was that a friend who expected to be present after the judging and before the grounds opened to the public said she would call Joyce with the results. But each day . . . no call.


Wow! Over 300 entries in the Horticulture Competition.

Over 300 entries and look who had Best of Show! Congratulations, Joyce.

Well, with the thrilling emotional HIGH of Joyce adding another Best of Show ribbon to her already full collection of awards, Jay and Joyce spent another three hours or so sampling some fair food and looking at other exhibits. Yes, it was a good day!

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