Garden Detective

Jessica Damiano's award-winning garden blog gets to the root of things.

Teenage duo takes first place in Tomato Challenge

The teenage brother-sister team of Angel and Peter Notarnicola of Massapequa have nabbed first place in The 2011 Great Long Island Tomato Challenge at Newsday headquarters earlier Friday evening.

Angel, 18, who works at a dog grooming shop, and her 16-year-old brother Peter, a soon-to-be senior at Barry Technical School in Westbury, have been planning their victory for three years. They entered the challenge in 2009 but left empty-handed. Undeterred, they planted seeds last year, but none grew. This year, using the same seeds -- “old seeds” -- as Angel called them, they tried again, starting them indoors in early April. “We planted three Big Zacs and three Delicious tomatoes. The Delicious did not grow,” Peter said. So they nurtured the Big Zacs and strategized.

When the time was right, the duo mixed in generous helpings of their own homemade compost, which they whipped up with grass clippings, kitchen scraps and autumn leaves. The compost is so rich they didn’t apply any fertilizer at all. They moved the plants outdoors and “we waited for a couple of flowers to develop,” Peter said. “Then we pulled off all the flowers and left just one developing tomato on the plant.” As more flowers appeared, they pulled them off, too, allowing the plant to concentrate all of its energy into developing its sole tomato. “We read about pruning online and talked to people,” Angel explained. “We grew these tomatoes especially for the competition.”

Their love of gardening was nurtured from an early age by their grandfather, who grew pears, tomatoes, cucumbers and grapes, among other fruits and vegetables. “He showed us how to pick figs,” Angel remembers. “We made jam out of all the fruit, even the pears.” Their grandfather passed away in 1999, but although they were very young, somehow two little green thumbs were cultivated. The pair is no stranger to victory: In the past, Angel and Peter have won prizes for their herb display and heaviest tomato at the Long Island Fair at Old Bethpage Village Restoration. And they're nowhere near throwing in their trowels. Something tells me they’ll be back again next year.

All the dirt from the 2011 Tomato Challenge, including details of a dramatic, unprecedented occurrence, will be published in Newsday in my LI Life cover story on Sept. 4. Stay tuned...


Tags: 2011 Great Long Island Tomato Challenge

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