Tomato contest winners - 8-11-14

(Pictured with her winning entry is Esther Albin, whose 2 pound, 9 1/4 ounce Beefsteak tomato won the $100 first prize.)


The 2014 Big Tomato Contest is done and the prizes were awarded this past Saturday at the historic Hagerstown’s City Market. The winner of the $100 first prize was Esther Albin, whose big Beefsteak tomato weighed in at 2 pounds, 9 1/4 ounces.

Albin and her husband said they really didn’t do anything special, “just (adding) a little bit of 10-10-10, some epsom salts and some mushroom mulch on top.” Albin also grew Mortgage Lifter tomatoes and brought in one that weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces.

The $50 prize for second place went to Paul Bernard, whose heirloom tomato (the seeds of which he says have been in his family since the 1800s) weighed in at 2 pounds 7 7/8 ounces. HIs second entry, a Big Zac, weighed 2 pounds, 6 3/4 ounces.

Third place and a $25 prize, went to Sue Kyler, whose heirloom specimen whose seed was brought years ago from Oakland, Md, weighed 2 pounds, 4 1/4 ounces.

“We did put antacids around them because of low calcium in the soil,” she said.

Other entrants included, John Murray, whose Burpee’s Porterhouse weighed in at 2 pounds, 7/8 of an ounce; Donald Slifer, whose Aussie tomato weighed in at 1.14 pounds.

“A neighbor of mine married an Australian girl and they gave me some seed. I’ve been growing it for 40 years,” he said.

Also entering was Mariann Saloom, whose Big Boy weighed in at 1 pound, 4 ounces.

Other growers included: Brenda Hollar, whose Mortgage Lifter weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces; John Sullivan, whose heirloom tomato weighed 1 pounds, 12 ounces; Mark Litton, whose tomato weighed 1 pound, 1 1/4 ounce and Riley Crist, whose biggest entry weighed 13 ounces.

Crist said the only special thing he did to his plants was to talk to them.

Trey Green brought a 2 pound, 1/2 ounce Supersteak.

“We just put a little epsom salts around them. That was something my grandfather did,” he said.

June Chunning’s entry was a 1.4 pound Beefsteak and Selena Kendle brought a 1 pound, 9 ounce tomato.

The contest might not have gone as well as it did without the help of John Sullivan, the third place winner in 2013 with an heirloom variety called Town Creek that weighed 2 pounds, 1.5 ounces.

The City of Hagerstown furnished a digital scale last year, but it didn't work when city personnel tried it this year. So they bought another one. When the batteries were loaded into the new one, it also failed to work. I was looking around for a merchant who might lend us a hand when Sullivan spoke up and said he had a scale in his car. He brought it in and it functioned perfectly. Thank you, kind sir!

After all the prizes were awarded and we began cleaning up, we found we had one tomato left. The only way to identify the owner was by weight and the scale was gone at that point, returned to the generous Mr. Sullivan. So my wife and I went to Radio Shack, got a battery for a digital scale we hadn’t used in a while and found that the orphaned tomato  weighed 1 pound, 14 ounces. That meant it belonged to Donald Slifer. We then called Slifer and left a message, asking if he wanted the tomato returned.

He called later and said that we could have it. I appreciate his kindness and in view of the fact that he’s been growing this variety for 40 years — four DECADES, by golly — I’m going to save some of the seeds.

Thanks to all who entered, Gaela Shoop and Karen GIffin of the City of Hagerstown and to my wife Sandy and my sons, Adam and Michael, for all of their help. As I said in a recent 

column, we haven’t made a lot of money on this, but we’ve met a lot of nice people, seen some beautiful flowers (many in close-ups that reveal a tiny world of beauty) and allowed our family to 

stay closer together by sharing a project. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our family enterprise.




Are there any lessons to be learned from the contest winners? Of course. The first is persistence. Some of the winners grew tomatoes whose seeds had been saved for years. Not all tomatoes have seeds that can be saved — hybrid seeds won’t reproduce faithfully.

Next week we’ll do a column on that topic, because I want to save some of those Aussie seeds, and I want to do it correctly.

Now, about using epsom salts: The University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center

recommends against it, unless a test shows that the soil is low in magnesium. However, as several of our entrants have discovered, if you haven’t done the test, a little bit won’t hurt too much. Too much, the Clemson University Cooperative Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center notes, and it could interfere with the uptake of calcium. A calcium deficiency is one cause of blossom-end root. 

The best plan: Have your soil tested and follow the lab’s recommendations. For more on soil testing, go to our archive and look at the Jan. 20 column.

And how about that mushroom mulch? Some Internet sources, not affiliated with a university, warn that mushroom mulch can contain diseases and is not nutritious. If you’re using it as a side dressing, I’ve had good luck with composted cow manure, the type that is prepared and bagged. I recommend buying it at  garden center, where the people working there are more likely to know their stuff. People employed at the big-box stores are hard workers, but they might not get to stay in the garden area long enough to learn what’s good or bad. Buy at a place where their business depends on how well your garden grows.


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