The seed stalks of Gargantua the giant beet tower are more than 7 feet tall and need to be staked to keep them from flopping over. (Lou Murray, HB Independent / June 29, 2011)

The Orange County Fair is almost upon us. The fair in Costa Mesa opens July 15 and closes Aug. 14.

I expect to enter some of my vegetables in the garden competition. Also, Vic and I will both be exhibiting photographs in the visual arts photography competition. It is the first time that Vic has entered, and he was thrilled to have one of his photographs accepted.

He has been using our new Canon PowerShot SX30 IS, which has the equivalent of an 825-millimeter lens. With the camera's image stabilization system, it is possible to capture great close-ups of birds even without a tripod.

His contest image is of a trio of tom turkeys strutting their stuff in Great Smoky Mountains National Park last April. They had their tails up and spread like peacocks, with their wings pointed down to the ground in stiff splendor. Vic snapped a series of shots of them and managed to get a picture with all three turkeys lined up in a row.

Vic enjoys telling the other members of the Photographic Society of Orange County, the camera club to which we belong, that he doesn't even know which end of the camera to point at the subject. He claims that I hand him the camera while I'm driving and tell him what to shoot and that he just grabs shots out the car window. But it was a bit more work than that for the two of us.

First, we got up really early to catch the turkeys displaying courtship behavior. When we found some, we stayed with them for nearly an hour, taking endless photographs as they strutted across a broad meadow. Then, later, I looked at Vic's batch of photos and decided that one had real possibility. Apparently, the fair judges agreed with me.

Competition was steep. People could enter as many photos as they cared to pay for at $5 per entry. I entered seven photos and had two accepted. Vic likes to point out to me that he entered two and had one accepted, so his acceptance rate was higher than mine. Nothing like a little competition to keep a marriage lively.

However, I'm pinning my hope of a fair ribbon this year not on photography, but on a giant beet that I've named Gargantua.

Last year, one of my Lutz Greenleaf beets took a third-place ribbon. I was so proud. Or was it second? I wasn't proud enough to remember, apparently. This year, I think I have first prize nailed.

I planted Chioggia beets last fall and let three of them overwinter so they would be big enough for fair entry this July. One of them has exceeded my expectations. This monster has foliage more than 7 tall. As those of you who have grown beets know, the beetroot grows up out of the ground as it gets ready to harvest. Well, Gargantua's root is a full 24 inches in circumference. I won't know how long it is until I pull it up on entry day.

Gardeners can enter new vegetables each week of the fair. Last year, I entered a couple of different sunflower seed heads in the weekly giant sunflower contest. But I got bested each time. I don't think I'm even going to have a sunflower entry this year. The sunflowers that sprouted on their own in my home garden turned out to be the small, black-oil sunflower, not the gray-striped variety that makes giant heads.

At my plot in the community garden, I planted a variety called skyscraper, but those puny things are just barely scraping my knees. Unless they do a heck of a lot of growing between now and the close of the fair, they won't be ready in time.

The same goes for my pumpkins. I have four Amish pie pumpkins set. Although they are supposed to reach sizes of up to 90 pounds, even that size can't compete with an Atlantic giant pumpkin. If I get a big one that ripens in time, I may enter it.

The folks at the Huntington Beach Community Garden are attempting to grow a competition giant pumpkin, but they won't have one ready by fair time. They planted four seedlings of Atlantic giant pumpkins June 15 at the full moon. This variety was developed by pumpkin-growing champion Howard Dill. Under the proper conditions, these pumpkins can reach 1,800 pounds. Unfortunately, the baby plants at the community garden went into the ground too late to make ripe pumpkins by fair time.

Mary Lou Ledgerwood and Patty Swaaley are tending the giant pumpkin vines. They hope to enter a Southern California Pumpkinmania competition that has an October weigh-off date. Visit http://www.pumpkinmania.blogspot.com to see photos of the planting. It remains to be seen if the bunnies, opossums, raccoons, vine borers and various other pests that frequent the community garden will ruin their entry, or whether they will succeed in growing a giant pumpkin by fall. We're all rooting for the pumpkin.

Entry for the fair's photo contest closed in early June. But if you would like to enter some of your fruit or vegetables in the produce competition, visit http://www.ocfair.com to get the rules. Delivery dates for your produce are between 7 and 10 a.m. July 14, July 19, July 26, Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 at Centennial Farm at the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa. See you at the fair!

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