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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

Newsday's 2018 Great Long Island Tomato Challenge contestants

It’s time for the 12th annual Great Long Island Tomato Challenge! Every year, my tomato-growing readers descend upon Newsday headquarters, tomatoes in tow, to enjoy an evening of competition and camaraderie. This year, I’d like to see you there!

There is no need to register; just bring your biggest (or smallest or ugliest) tomato to Newsday (235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville) on Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. I’ll weigh (or otherwise judge) your tomato personally, and you could be named the 2018 Tomato King or Queen.

As you await the big day, send a photo of yourself with your tomato plants, along with details about your growing techniques and the varieties you’re growing, to jessica.damiano@newsday.com, and you might be featured in an upcoming issue of Newsday and on Newsday.com. Then come back and follow the competition every Sunday all summer long.

Click here for the rules.

Annette Pennell

Annette Pennell of West Babylon has planted tomatoes
Photo Credit: Elaine Mignone

“They will not be the biggest, the smallest and maybe not even the ugliest in Newsday’s  2018 Great Long Island Tomato Challenge, but these lovely Husky Cherry Red tomatoes are being grown at my office,” writes West Babylon's Annette Pennell, an accounts administrator at Wire to Water Inc. in Farmingdale. The plants are growing in full sun in a raised bed, which, Pennell says, makes them “easy to maintain during the day.” Pennell, who has staked the plants with PVC pipes from the company’s warehouse, says the three plants “greet our workers as we enter the building each day, and we anticipate having fresh tomatoes on our lunchtime salads.”

Frank Liccardi

Frank Licciardi is growing the beefsteak tomato plant
Photo Credit: Pat Licciardi

"My husband, Frank, has the magic touch this year," writes Pat Liccardi of West Islip. "He shades his beefsteak plant during the hot-sun part of the day. I don’t know his secret, but it’s working and we can’t wait to sink our teeth in a fresh garden tomato."

Rich Koenig

Reader Rich Koenig, of Syosset, has been planting
Photo Credit: Carol Koenig

Reader Rich Koenig of Syosset has been planting tomatoes in whiskey barrels for 20 years. "First, I drill drainage holes," he says, "then place pieces of 4-by-4 wood under the barrels for air flow." Next, Koenig adds 3 to 4 inches of pebbles for drainage, fills the barrels with a combination of peat moss, cow manure and planting soil, and fertilizes twice per season. 

Anthony DiCocco

Anthony DiCocco of North Bellmore in his 750-square-foot
Photo Credit: Anthony DiCocco

"Hard work and tender care are the keys to a fine crop, and as you can see, you get out what you put in," says reader Anthony DiCocco. The North Bellmore resident is growing red and yellow onions, butter leaf and redhead lettuces, bell peppers, Roma bush beans, Italian pole beans, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, cucumbers,and Swiss chard. But his pride and joy are his tomatoes. "I have Italian plum, cherry and mammoth heirlooms which will be ready for the August contest," he says, adding that he grows them organically without the use or fertilizers or chemicals and follows an "old-world Italian recipe" using a barrel and "secret" ingredients.

Tony Corsentino

Tony Corsentino, of Mineola, is at it again,
Photo Credit: Linda Corsentino

Tony Corsentino, of Mineola, is at it again, this year growing Italian Finesse tomatoes with a “new secret formula.” Looks like it’s working, Tony!

Janet Hart

Janet Hart, of Lindenhurst, is ready for the
Photo Credit: Meryl Hart

Janet Hart, a legacy contestant of the Great Long Island Tomato Challenge, is participating for the 12th straight year, growing tomatoes as well as cucumbers and beans, in what she describes as her “very pathologically neat” garden in her Lindenhurst backyard. 

Alayna Gottesman

Alayna Gottesman, 9, of Farmingville, takes extraordinary measures
Photo Credit: Sal Ferrante

Alayna Gottesman, 9, of Farmingville, braved the elements late last month and “took extra precautions to protect her hopefully prizewinning tomato plant from heavy spring rains,” reports her grandfather, Sal Ferrante of West Islip.

We’re sure the seasoned tomato grower, who has attended the Great Long Island Tomato Challenge since she was 5 — for more than half her life! — let some of that rain irrigate her plants. We’ll see Alayna at this year’s challenge.

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