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Every year is a challenging year for gardeners, according to Rapid City Master Gardener Mel Glover.

The summer of 2012’s record-breaking temperatures and drought increased the challenges, but it didn’t discourage 4-H members and local gardeners who proudly entered their summer harvest in 4-H Achievement Days and the Central State’s Fair’s horticulture classes.

“We had a pretty good year,” 4-H leader Kathy Andersen said. Andersen’s Rushmore Riders Club took advantage of the community garden at the Central States Fairgrounds.

Although the tomato crop was slow to set on, Andersen’s kids plucked enough to make salsa this week that was judged on Thursday.

“We have lots of tomatoes, but they’re still green,” Andersen said, surveying the garden with a few club members Wednesday evening. “I don’t know if the drought delayed them, or what. …”

It was the heat, according to Glover.

“We had great weather in March, and people got excited about their gardens, but it got too hot. When it’s over 85 degrees, tomatoes don’t set on,” Glover explained.

Rather than fighting weeds this summer, Andersen’s gardeners decided to let the pesky plants grow and shade the ground around their vegetable plants. It seemed to pay off, she said.

Plants seemed to grow better in their plots than some of the other plots, Andersen said.

A major challenge this year was having enough produce ripe in time to enter in Thursday’s Achievement Day judging. Three examples of each crop are required in most categories.

Dominick Croyle of Rapid City managed to find three green peppers on his plants. They were not the biggest ever harvested, but that didn’t discourage the 8-year-old, who tried his hand at gardening for the first time this summer.

“It’s fun,” Dominick said. Especially when you get to pick something, he added.

Mistie Hansen, 14, found pleasure in planting the garden, then watching it grow.

“And, then you get to pick it and eat it,” she said, grinning.

Dominick and Misti learned something every time they came to the garden, said their sister Trista Salmon.

“They wanted to come here even on days that the 4-H club didn’t,” Salmon said.

Horticulture isn’t 14-year-old Lillie Woods’ favorite project, according to her mom, Rhonda Woods.

Woods encouraged her daughter to try horticulture and gardening so she could learn the value of fresh produce.

The Woods drove 25 miles one way from their home near Hermosa to participate in the community garden for the fourth year. It proved a wise decision when their Hermosa garden was hailed out, Woods said.

Maintaining the garden was a challenge because of the drought and heat, Woods said. “It took more water.”

The clubs involved in the community garden took turns keeping things watered as the summer heat intensified, Andersen said.

Bev Dartt of Wall and Karen Jensen of Newell shared the judging duties on Thursday for the 4-H horticulture entries.

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The community garden in Rapid City produced about 60 percent of the produce entered, Dartt said.

“Several kids are saying their home gardens dried up because of the heat, drought or grasshoppers,” Dartt said.

Pennington County 4-H youth program advisor Tiffany Meyers reported that another pest plagued some gardens more than the drought this summer: hungry squirrels.

Entries in the open horticulture categories trickled in slowly Thursday afternoon at the Central States Fair.

Glover, a co-superintendent for the horticulture exhibits, predicted the pace would pick up Friday morning. Horticulture entries have grown steadily in recent years as more people discover the benefits of growing their own food, he said.

Experts wait until that last minute to pick their crops, he said. Judging takes place at 1 p.m. today.

“We’re very pleased with what’s coming in,” Glover said, inspecting the collection of onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins and zucchini that had arrived.

Two separate varieties of homegrown peaches almost begged to be eaten.

Entries of full-size tomatoes could be slim this year because of the heat and the growing season, Glover predicted. “It’s always hard to get them ripe on time.”

Curious gardeners can check out the open horticulture exhibits until Wednesday, when they are released.

For the remainder of the week, the horticulture building will host a variety of programs for home gardeners.

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Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or andrea.cook@rapidcityjournal.com

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