This oxheart tomato weighed in around 1.23 pounds.
Above photo © digital_eye - istock.com.
Alll other photos courtesy of Bob Westerfield.
Not every gardener envisions setting a world record for growing the largest tomato, but many of us have fantasized about producing one that was is bigger than the hamburger that we intend to put it on. Just to set the record straight, the Guinness World Record for the largest tomato ever grown was 7 pounds and 12 ounces and occurred in 1986. It’s hard to believe that over 25 years later, no one has officially broken that record. Even if your goal is not to get into the record books, it is a fun garden endeavor to at least try and produce a brag-worthy sized tomato.
In order to begin your quest of growing a monster tomato, you have to start with good genetics and select a breed of tomato that is known for bearing large fruit. The world record tomato was a variety called ‘Delicious’ and already had the genetics for producing hefty-fruited plants. Other varieties to consider to produce that one big tomato are ‘Big Zac’, ‘Supersteak’, ‘Beefsteak’ and ‘Giant Belgium’. Some of these varieties may be found at your local garden center and be ready for planting. If not, you may have to purchase seed from one of the seed catalogs and grow your own. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before planting time.
Pinch off the lower stems and plant the tomato half its length to encourage strong rooting and faster growth.
Select a site that receives full sun throughout the day. Your garden site should be well drained and amended with generous amounts of organic matter to make the soil rich. Raised beds can also be a good planting option for growing giant tomatoes. If planting more than one tomato plant, leave a minimum of 4 feet between plants so they won’t have to compete for sun, water and nutrients. When planting tomatoes, be sure to select the strongest-looking transplants from the garden center or your started plants.
After the soil amendments have been tilled in thoroughly and deeply into the planting bed, dig a hole larger than the root ball of the tomato transplant. Pinch off all stems and leaves from the halfway point down to the root system on the tomato plant. Now plant this entire bare stem deeply into the soil, as it will root out and provide a tremendous base for your developing prize tomato. Use a strong cage that is at least 3 feet wide so you allow plenty of sunlight and don’t crowd the plant. Be sure to stake the cage down to keep it from toppling over. Use three layers of newspaper around the base of the tomato, and then add some straw or bark as an organic mulch on top. This will help to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.
Search for a “megabloom” among a cluster of blooms on your tomato plants. A megabloom occurs when one or more blooms have fused together. These blooms can potentially form a giant tomato.
Thin blossoms to either a single bloom or one megabloom to allow the plant’s energy to go into forming a large tomato.
Remove excess stems and shoots from the tomato, leaving the energy to go up into the main trunk and prize bloom.
Nutrition and irrigation are vitally important to growing a large, grapefruit-sized tomato. Have your soil tested to determine its pH and current nutrient levels. Begin by providing fertilizer at planting time, but resist fertilizing again until blooms begin to form. Tomatoes also need proper irrigation. Depending on your soil type and whether you are growing conventionally or in raised beds, you may need to irrigate two or three times a week to keep your plant healthy. Pinch off outside stems on the tomato plant to allow more energy to go into one or two main branches. As the tomato plant begins to bloom, watch for what are known as “megablooms” to form. A megabloom is a single blossom made from multiple blossoms that have fused together. Each blossom makes a fruit, so a megabloom can potentially make one large tomato.
Continue pruning all but the main shoots and megablossoms on the plant. If you can’t find a megablossom, I would instead select the largest bloom from a cluster of blooms and pinch off every bloom but that one. If your goal isn’t to break the world record, you could have two to four single blooms located on different areas of one plant. This will allow all the nutrition and energy to go into forming much larger fruit. To prevent disease from invading your plants, remove the foliage from the bottom 12 inches of the plant.
Keep a careful eye on the cultural needs of your tomato plant. Fertilize again when tomatoes begin to form and are about the size of a dime. A combination of organic fertilizers, as well as the use of some liquid fertilizers, can help push a tomato quickly to bragging size. A healthy developing tomato can increase up to a ½-inch a day. When the fruit stops growing, it will begin to ripen; within a few days, it will be ready for harvest. Avoid leaving these giants on the vine too long, as they will deteriorate quickly and lose weight.
Growing a giant tomato is not all that different from growing regular tomatoes. It takes good soil, plenty of sunlight, proper nutrition, irrigation and pest management for a successful crop. Growing a record tomato just involves sending all that care and energy into one or more carefully selected blooms with the hope that a megaprize will appear. My hope is that this article will inspire someone to try and grow a colossal tomato and just maybe be the new world record holder. As for myself, I already have my eye on a couple of tomato blooms in my garden and plan to take care of them like I would a newborn baby!
Bob Westerfield is the Extension Consumer Horticulturist for the University of Georgia. Adrianne Todd is Bob’s technical assistant working at the University of Georgia Griffin Campus.