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Kitchen Gardening

Container Tomato Yields Big Results

In a surprise victory for small-space vegetable gardeners, a container-grown tomato won the largest tomato contest at a local garden center and a $100 gift card payday.

  • An Amana orange tomato won the top prize in a large-tomato contest weighing in at 1.32 pounds.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • Five large tomato entries included several other heirloom tomatoes and a picture-perfect Early Girl.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • Beth Zwinak, Tagawa's garden manager, and Susan Stauber, Burpee's Home Gardens representative, weigh tomato entries on the produce scale for accuracy.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey
  • The winner of the Weirdest Tomato category looks happy with the result.
    Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

It was a tough tomato year in my Denver, Colo., vegetable garden. Despite the challenges of a late spring snowstorm, rainy May weather and a lack of hot summer nights, I grew a prize-winning tomato.

I’ve written about the best practices for growing a giant tomato, but because this was such a difficult gardening year, I ignored just about all my own advice. 

I didn’t purposely plant a tomato variety known for producing super-big tomatoes, and I didn’t clip all the other tomatoes to direct energy to the biggest one to help it grow. Instead of growing this Amana orange in a large, well-amended vegetable bed, I planted it in a big patio container. There were no fancy soil amendments or fertilizers either.

The tomato did all the work on its own, growing to 1.32 pounds by the time I clipped it from the plant. Once it was harvested, I immediately drove to the tomato contest sponsored by Burpee Home Gardens at Tagawa Gardens in Aurora.

There were four other large tomato entries, and each was weighed on one of the produce scales. The prize-winning announcement came as a delightful surprise along with the $100 grand prize gift card.

The contest included categories for the weirdest tomato and the tastiest tomato, too.

In a year where there should’ve been a lot of weird tomatoes, there was only one. I was expecting to see a good crop of misshapen tomatoes, tomatoes with catfacing or even tomatoes with blossom end rot. But none of those appeared.

The tastiest tomato contest had about a dozen entries of all different sizes and colors. Garden center staff worked quickly to cut and serve tomatoes to the judges who rated each entry.

The award for the top prize was a tie; an Early Girl and a tomato called Compost Surprise because that’s where it volunteered to sprout and grow. The boy who entered it in the contest beamed when his tomato was selected. 

The tastiest tomato winner was a bit of a surprise, too. It was hard to believe an Early Girl hybrid tomato could beat the taste of all the heirloom tomato entries.

This contest reaffirms one of my theories about vegetable gardening. As diligent gardeners we can work as hard as we can to grow great vegetable gardens, but in spite of our best efforts plants will surprise us when we least expect it.

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