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Biggest Tomato Contest | Winter 2015 Out Here Magazine

By Carol Davis

When Steve and Jeanne Marley won Tractor Supply’s Biggest Tomato Contest, Steve wasn’t too surprised. His garden is full of giant vegetables.

TSC’s winning tomato came in at 7.05 pounds — the largest out of 804 entries — which means the Marleys won a $100 Tractor Supply Gift Card along with bragging rights. The contest was run in select Tractor Supply stores in the northern half of the United States. Judging was from Aug. 1 through Sept. 12.

The winning tomato was a Big Zac hybrid, which was created by home gardener Minnie Zaccaria, who crossed two heirloom tomatoes several years ago to create Big Zac.

This heirloom-hybrid generally yields enormous 4- to 6-pound flavorsome fruit, Steve says.

“They taste great,” he says, “and it takes only a couple slices to fill up a pizza.”

The Marleys, of Clinton, N.Y., learned about the TSC contest from a friend who knows that they grow giant vegetables and participate in competitions.

“There’s a giant vegetable growing community out there,” he says. “It’s a big group of people who raise them for fun — pumpkins, watermelons, tomatoes. It was surprising to me because I’ve been gardening my whole life and just learned about it in last few years.”

This year, the Marleys grew giant sunflowers, tomatoes, and pumpkins, one of which was more than 1,400 pounds.

“That’s a big one, but nowhere near as big as they get,” Steve says. “We had squash nearing 800 pounds and gourds over 8 feet long. It’s pretty neat.”

The couple’s giant tomatoes also have set some local records in their home state.

“Last year, we grew one 5.75 pounds, which was good enough for a new state record,” Steve says. “Then this year, we knocked it out of park with 7-pounder. There are just a handful of 7-pounders in the world.”

The world record tomato weighed in at 8.41 pounds and was grown last year by Dan MacCoy, of Ely, Minn., according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Indeed, some of the Marleys’ tomatoes were grown from some of MacCoy’s seeds, Steve says.

Growing giant vegetables is really no different than regular gardening, he says. It’s all about the seed.

“If you’re a gardener and can grow good plants already, then you can do this,” he says. “It really is the seed. It’s the genetics that are important. Beyond that, careful pruning will help you get the bigger vegetables.”