Goliath the beet is on the right. The first-place winner in the largest beet category is the monster to the left, while the third-place winner is snuggled down among the giant zucchinis. (Lou Murray / August 11, 2010)

The Orange County Fair is drawing to a close, and the last vegetable competition is over in the Farm and Garden category. Last year, I entered the competition for the largest sunflower head. Twice. Neither of my sunflowers was big enough to win a ribbon. This year, I entered the largest beet category.

I was so pleased with my large beet that I named it Goliath. It was a beet of the variety called Lutz Greenleaf, and it weighed in at a colossal 5 pounds, 4 ounces. Not bad for a beet, I thought.

I planted it in January 2009, so it was 21 months old. If it was a human baby, it would have been walking and talking by now. Of course, it wasn't a human baby, but I had nurtured it like one, watering it, weeding it and fertilizing it month after month.

Entries were due at the fairgrounds by 10 a.m., with a new competition every Tuesday. Vic accompanied me like a proud papa and took photos of me and my beet. He even phoned several of his eight siblings to tell them about our entry. We had high hopes for baby Goliath.

But after we turned our darling over to the fair volunteers, we peeped at the competition. I was shocked. Goliath was a dwarf next to a beet the size of a basketball. And another one was nearly twice as long as Goliath. My hopes for a ribbon sank. I figured that the best we could do was third place, and that would be possible only if no one else brought in a bigger beet.

We got a free fair ticket for entering the vegetable competition, but didn't really need it because we were volunteering to staff a booth last Friday for the Amigos de Bolsa Chica. The Amigos were providing personnel for the Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks booth.

As soon as we arrived on Friday, we headed over to Centennial Farm where the produce competition is held. I was really pleased to see how the competition has grown. When we first started going to the fair back in the early 1980s, the vegetable exhibit was just a selection of produce, and not a very good selection at that. We can tell by the vastly increased number of entries that there has been a resurgence in home gardening this year over years past.

Glenn McKenzie of Huntington Beach got a first-place ribbon for a spectacular stalk of bananas. I didn't know that bananas would grow so well in Huntington Beach. It had quite a few bunches of bananas on the stalk, but only the oldest bunch had turned ripe and yellow. I hope the other bunches of bananas will turn yellow for him when he takes his stalk and blue ribbon back home.

Julie Fernald of Huntington Beach took a blue ribbon for a most unusually shaped lemon. This monster had several points at the bottom, like a yellow starfish gone berserk.

Vic called me over to see the young adult vegetable competition. Adam Wagner had a beet that put mine to shame. This monster had nearly a dozen beets growing out of a monster beet root. I don't know how Adam did it. That beet took a blue ribbon in the young adult category.

I finally went over to the large beet category in the adult division. Vincent Wagner of Huntington Beach had entered his really long beet in the most unusually shaped vegetable category. That left second place in the largest beet category open to Goliath. And there it was, a nice red sticker on my entry card. Whoopee, my produce had finally won a ribbon at the Orange County Fair.

First prize in the large beet category was captured by Ty Sagai of Costa Mesa, and Gene Peterson of Fountain Valley took third. There were a lot of other winners and entrants from Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley, indicating that there is a whole lot of gardening going on around here. We headed off to celebrate our second-place ribbon.

Our idea of celebrating at the fair was to load up on as much deep-fat-fried food as we could stomach. We started with deep-fat-fried clams and sweet potatoes. Vic hankered for a Texas turkey leg, which he shared with me.

I got a heart-healthy order of sushi, then headed for some deep-fat-fried butter. You heard me right. It's churro batter that is shaped around a pencil-thin strip of butter and deep-fat-fried. I about had a heart attack just looking at the size of the order. The two deep-fat-fried sticks of butter rested atop a huge bed of churro strings. And then to make matters worse, the whole calorific dessert was topped with whipped cream. After that settled in our stomachs, we got an order of Tasti-chips, which are freshly fried potato chips.

Our only regret was that we didn't have room for a pulled pork sandwich, barbecued tri-tip, roasted corn on the cob, or a salad topped with a carnitas-stuffed and deep-fat-fried avocado. Vic wanted a deep-fat-fried Twinkie. But the human body has its limits, and those treats will have to await another visit to the fair.

As we sat at the Harbors, Beaches and Parks booth, Vic began to make plans for next year's vegetable competition. He was enthralled by the perfectly shaped giant pumpkins in the largest pumpkin category. His plan for next year is to rent a warehouse. I quit listening right there.

I think he mumbled something about visiting the Surf City Hydroponics store and getting one of those LED light setups. He wants to grow a giant pumpkin hydroponically in a warehouse, using LED lights on tracks to follow the vines as they spread out over the floor.

He said when the pumpkin set fruit, he'd place it on a pallet so it could be moved when it was ripe. And of course he planned on putting Tempur-Pedic mattress foam under the pumpkin to cushion it. I think he had one too many deep-fat-fried treats and that his brain arteries were clogged. But that's just my opinion.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at LMurrayPhD@gmail.com.