By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning author of 9 books, content writer, website publisher, and owner of Tomato Dirt, the web's leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Congratulations to Tomato Masters August 2013 Runner Up … (drumroll, please!)
Just three quarters of an ounce separated Geo’s tomato from this month’s winner (read about the 36-ounce winner here.) He grew his 2 pound, 3.25 ounce (35.25 ounces) tomato on 5 acres in central California – just one of the hundreds of fruit he harvested from 210 tomato plants he grew this year.
Here is what Geo shared with us about growing his prize tomato.
“I started growing tomatoes 40 years ago. When I bit into an extra-sweet cherry tomato, I spit the seed onto a paper plate to save them.
My oldest son, Travis, was three when he discovered the taste of extra sweet cherry tomatoes. For him, waiting for the first red tomato was like waiting for Christmas Eve. He not only got the first, but the first 300! It would be weeks before I would find a red tomato to eat myself.
When our children were 9, 6, and 6 (a boy and boy/girl twins), we moved to this 5 acre paradise from our 38 foot by 150 foot home lot on Main Street. They had the freedom of the country and put 100 miles on their bikes the first week. We built a pond, using the second spring to irrigate our new garden. I remembered the days I worked with my dad in his victory garden in the 1950's and wished he was here to see his grandchildren in our victory garden.
We went to Home Depot to buy tomatoes and other plants. I bought 2 six packs. Travis looked at me and said, "Is that all the tomatoes you’re going to get?" I tried to explain to him how many tomatoes those plants would produce, but all he could see was 12 little plants. So I went to every store in town and bought six packs of every different kind of tomato I could find. I don't remember how many that was, but my wife thought I was crazy.
That tomato garden become a time eater. We started in early spring so plants had to be covered, cages built, weeds pulled, plants tied … more weeding, watering, building cages, weeding, watering, weeding, tying plants, weeding, watering, weeding, harvest, canning … but the reward was in the tomatoes. Friends, relatives, coworkers, strangers
all got some of my son’s dream.
Then one year, I read an article in the paper about "The Tomato Man." His 5 acres of tomato plants were to be lost to housing development. My dream was born. I couldn’t help wonder, even at age 50 plus, “How many varieties can I grow?” I set about working to find out. Even as my body grew older, my mind worked on ways to cut down the labor. One year I said “no garden” … and I was miserable!
This year I put all my experience together. I got seeds from TomatoFest and started them February 1 in my son’s empty bedroom. I built raised beds with a tractor and a rigger, then back filled and used the tractor to smooth out the top.
I dug holes about the size of a 5 gallon bucket, 2 feet apart, and filled them with two parts Miracle Gro Garden Mix and one part aged organic cow manure. I spread landscape ground cover to control the weeds. To water the plants, I used flood irrigation from my well or the river water from our irrigation district. To stake plants, I used 16-foot cattle fencing teepeed as a tomato cage. That meant no tying...just weaving!
The strangest thing about this year crop is we’ve had no tomato hornworms, just one on a plant in a container. Every year in the past, tomato plants have had hundreds of tomato hornworms, but just one this year so far. I even improved on the weeding technique: as I hold a beer in my left hand, I can weed with my right hand, stopping occasionally to pick an extra-ripe tomato. One bite of tomato, one drink of beer.
When I told my wife that I had planted 210 tomato plants of 42 different
varieties, she asked, "What are you going to do with them?"
"Feed them to the cows," I said.
Instead, I have been sharing my tomatoes at work,
thoroughly enjoying my friends’ amazement. One lady took a whole
collection of tomatoes home, dehydrated them, and shared the results
with me. They were so tasty!
Now I know what I’m going to do with my tomatoes. I bought a digital electronic smoker.
I must say I failed to map my garden on paper when I planted all those different varieties. I inserted a little stick next to each of the seedlings, with that variety’s name, but can't find them now because the plants have grown too large. Identifying my tomatoes will have to wait until next season.”
Thank you, Geo, for your inspiring story!
Thank you for your enthusiasm! We appreciate the time and effort you take to share your tomato successes with us and with other Tomato Dirt-ers. It is tremendous fun to see your photos and read about your tomatoes when you enter the competition. We look forward to seeing your next entries and being inspired. YOU make this competition a success.
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