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Big Tomato Tips
by John Harmon
by John Valleau


John Valleau is the Corporate Horticulturist for Valleybrook Gardens, growers of the blue pots of Heritage Perennials™ sold at garden centres all over Canada and in many parts of the USA.

John's own garden is under constant renovation these days, located in the scenic village of Jordan, in the Niagara region. Known as "The Tangled Garden", it's an eclectic collection of plants growing around a century farmhouse.

May 7, 2000

The warm spring weather has gardeners across the north busy getting raised beds and greenhouses ready to go. With the bigger prizes and more categories, both senior and junior, more folks will be trying to win this years Titanic Tomato Tournament.

Growing that titanic tomato is easier than you might think. Half of the trick to getting big tomatoes is having the right variety. Choose a variety that is known for big fruit. Delicious, the variety used for the world record tomato of seven pounds 12 ounces, is a sound choice. Some of the others to consider are Big Rainbow, Mortgage Lifter, Giant Belgium and this year I'm trying Old Collosus and Great White.

The thing that all these varieties have in common is that they all have more chambers inside or carpels. That's the compartments that contain the seeds. The big tomatoes are genetically predisposed to producing more carpels than the smaller fruited varieties. With the right conditions and a little help from you they can produce tomatoes with dozens of carpels.

To help your plant create as many carpels as possible you want to insure complete pollination. Tomato blossoms are most receptive in the middle of the day. Commercial greenhouse operators pollinate tomatoes by shaking the tomato plant mid-day on a sunny day either by hand or with a vibrator. In the hottest part of the day the petals on the flower will be open completely and the pollen is at it's stickiest. Gently shake the tiller with the flowers and you will be able to see the puff of what looks like yellow dust as the flower releases it's pollen. Hand pollinate every day it's sunny between ten in the morning and two in the afternoon to ensure complete pollination. The better the flower pollinates the more carpels it will produce and the bigger the tomatoes will be. A handy way to do it is to touch the tiller with the flowers gently with the end of an electric toothbrush. Keep pollinating the same flowers daily till the flower folds up and the tomato starts to form.

Another factor is media. If you use soil ensure your soil is high in organic matter to hold moisture. Lots of rich compost will do the trick. The soil Ph should be between six and six point five. Here in the north with our short season you might want to consider using a container for your record breaking attempt. Besides allowing you to move the plant indoors on cold spring nights a container will allow the soil to heat up more. Use a black container to absorb more heat. For ordinary tomatoes a five gallon container is big enough but for titanic tomatoes you might want to go bigger. Spacing for varieties that grow huge fruit is different too. Give these plants more room, up to 12 square feet (four feet by four feet) per plant so they get as much light as possible.

Mulching is important. Besides helping to conserve heat mulching will keep the soil from drying out too quickly and will help to ensure an even supply of moisture. Tomatoes don't like being too wet (starves the roots of oxygen) or too dry. A consistent supply of water and nutrient is essential for steady growth and to help prevent the fruit from cracking that can be caused by growth spurts. The fruit can also crack from too much nitrogen without enough potassium in the soil. To supply potassium add things like aged poultry manure, or seaweed. Fish and seaweed based fertilizers are good choices for supplemental feeding.

For more information on growing big tomatoes check out

This is America's #1 Big Tomato Contest with over $82,000.00 in prize money awarded! The annual New Jersey Tomato Classic features tips and techniques on how to grow big tomatoes, a picture gallery of tomato finalists with their prize winners. You will also find tomato recipe links and a chance to request free tomato seeds although I'm not sure they will send them to Canada. Just the photos alone are enough to inspire any tomato grower.

If you missed the information about this years contest in the Yukon drop me a line or check out

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail Website:

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