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A Monster in the Greenhouse
by John Harmon
August 11, 2002

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With all the rain falling around Whitehorse the last couple of weeks it's hard to remember that this has been a very dry sunny summer. It started in April when we got 306.3 hours of bright sunshine or 132% of normal for the area. That gave young plants in the greenhouse a very good start. Then in May we recorded 324.0 hours of bright sunshine, which is 123% of normal for the month giving young plants even more of a boost. In June we reached 304.8 hours of bright sunshine or 120% of normal for the month. I haven't seen the totals for July yet but I'm betting they were also above normal and if there's one thing greenhouse tomatoes love it's lots of bright sunshine.

Every year I grow a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes just to try them out and if they produce well, save the seeds. This year I have a half dozen or so varieties I haven't tried before. I've learned that many of the old varieties don't do well here in the north. I believe it's the long days or a lack of a long enough dark period. Some varieties reputed to produce big tomatoes just can't adjust to the long hours of daylight here and produce only small tomatoes no mater how well they are tended.

I had a couple of varieties this year that I thought might produce a contender to break the three pound limit. Up until a week ago I thought I wasn't having much luck. A couple of varieties were not producing and the ones that were didn't have any really big tomatoes or at least it looked that way.

One "new" variety I tried out this year is an old heirloom variety called "dinner plate". This one was producing tomatoes but it didn't look like any were going to be spectacular. There was one peeking out from under the foliage that was pretty good size but nothing to write home about. Last week it started to turn red so I had a closer look. It turned out to be like an iceberg with most of it's bulk hidden. As I parted the leaves for a better look I found a tomato that could easily live up to the name "dinner plate".

It turned out to be huge once all the leaves were pushed out of the way. This week I picked it and weighed it up. It tipped the scales at three pounds five and one half ounces. It is far from the world record of seven pounds and 11 ounces but still a whopper of a tomato and truly able to cover most of a dinner plate.

I love it when a plan comes together only this time it was an accident. I didn't do anything special to help this plant along. I didn't prune it down to one tomato because I was growing this plant for seed in a corner of the greenhouse that is filled with cucumbers and peppers just to be sure that it couldn't be cross pollinated by another tomato variety. I had already picked a couple of smaller tomatoes from this plant to eat just to see what they tasted like. It was producing a few tomatoes in the one pound range. It was a real surprise to find this monster lurking in the heavy foliage.

The lesson here would have to be that growing a really big tomato is as much a matter of genes and good luck as it is quality care. This plant just got the regular feeding and care that you would give to any tomato plant. It didn't get extra pollination or fed a secret fertilizer mix and didn't even get a big pot. It was grown in sawdust inside a five gallon grow bag.

Too bad that, as a sponsor, I can't enter it in this year's Titanic Tomato Tournament but it will make great sandwiches. Be sure to check your tomato plants carefully because somewhere in all that foliage you too could have a monster lurking even if you didn't really try to grow one.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John c/o The Yukon News, 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 2E4 or e-mail


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