Mark your calendars, friends. On Saturday, September 10th, Ben Chung and the rest of the gang at the Orleans Farmers' Market will be hosting a giant tomato contest. There will be cash prizes—$200 for first place for adults, $100 for second, and a $100 first place prize for kids. Chemical fertilizers are considered cheating, and you have to grow the tomato yourself, on Cape.
The weight to beat is 7 pounds 12 ounces—that's the world record Gordon Graham set in Edmond, Oklahoma back in 1986. That's also the size of a newborn baby! Yikes. (To see a picture, click on over here and scroll down.) Considering it's been twenty-five years and no one's broken Graham's record, you probably don't have to grow that big, but if you want to get a two or three or even four pounder, Chung has a few tips.
First off, you want to choose the right variety. He recommends growing an indeterminate—they grow and fruit all season instead of all at once, which means they have the potential to get BIG. He's growing Delicious (the same variety Graham grew), Soldacki, Big Zac, and Hungarian Oxheart. Unfortunately, I called around, and these varieties aren't readily available locally. I asked Clare Bergh (the woman who grows over 150 varieties of tomatoes, and sells the seedlings at the Orleans Farmers Market), and her list of suggestions is at the bottom of this post.
Once you've got the variety picked out, you'll want to choose a good spot. Ben says to look for somewhere sunny, somewhere that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Then he says to loosen the soil, mix in some compost, and water the plants deeply once a week. This is better, apparently, than a little sprinkling every day.
When the plants start fruiting, keep your eye out for one fruit that seems bigger than the rest. Then pinch the others off—suckers, stems and all—and let the plant devote all of it's energy to getting this one tomato BIG. (Ben says you can replant the suckers, so they don't go to waste, and they'll turn into new plants.)
Now as that one fruit gets BIG, it will need support. You'll need to cage the entire plant, for starters, so that it doesn't blow over—Ben recommends a cage at least 5 or 6 feet tall for that. Finally, you'll want to net the fruit—wrap some bird netting under and around it, and tie it to the cage, so that it has plenty of support. If you're growing a two or three pound tomato, it could easily bend over and break the plant, so this is important.
Are you in? It sounds like a lot of fussing, but I think I am. I planted sixty-two tomato plants this year and no, I do not know what I was thinking. Given that they will all be in peak production mode right when I am about to go into labor and learn how to take care of a newborn baby (thank you Mom, for volunteering not only to help with the baby but also offering to help put up the tomatoes harvest!), I think I can spare a few plants for experimenting.
Good luck, everyone, and until then, happy growing.
BIG TOMATO VARIETIES FROM CLARE BERGH, BON TERRA NURSERY
ANANAS NOIRE- 80 days, Ind, 1-1.5lb dark brown fruit with green shoulders, rich, full-bodied, sweet, smoky flavor.
ASHLEIGH- 85 days, Ind, Lazec Macedonia, 1-2lb red fruit, huge meaty old fashioned flavor, abundant producer.
AUSSIE- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb red fruit, meaty, fluted, bold rich complex flavor, great disease resistance.
BIG ZEBRA- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb orange-red and green striped fruit, loaded with deliciously sweet and robust flavors.
HENDERSON’S PINK PONDEROSA- 87 days, up to 2 lbs pink red, rich and meaty.
ISPOLIN- 72 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark jade-pink beefsteak, superb earthy sweet flavor.
ITALIAN TREE- 85 days, Ind, 1-2lb meaty red fruit, superior old-fashioned flavor, great for canning, grows to 15' tall.
KELLOGG'S BREAKFAST- 80 days, Ind, W Virginia, 1lb+ orange fruit, outstanding flavor.
MARIANNA'S PEACE- 80 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark pink fruit, full tomato flavor, good acid/sugar balance, very productive.
MEME BEAUCE- 70 days, Ind, Quebec, 1-3lb flattened red fruit, heavily ridged, good taste, absolutely gorgeous fruit.
MRS. MAXWELL'S BIG ITALIAN- 69 days, Ind, 1-2lb dark pink beefsteak, incredible flavor, very prolific.
OMAR’S LEBANESE- 80 days, Ind, 1-4lb pink fruit, meaty, excellent rich flavor, beautifully ridged.
SYLVAN GAUME- 80 days, Ind, Russia, up to 3lb red ox-heart shaped fruit, delicious flavor, very productive.
VIRGINIA SWEETS- 80 days, Ind, 1lb+ golden yellow fruit with red blush, sweet rich flavor, abundant harvest.
BOY-OH-BOY- 75 days, Ind, 1lb+ red fruit, excellent flavor, solid flesh with few seeds, disease resistant.