UPDATE: Due to inclement weather, the 2016 Tomato Challenge has been moved to 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, rain or shine.
This year’s Challenge will be the 10th, and to celebrate we’re doing some things differently.
The event will be held Aug. 19, with appropriate fanfare and surprises.
Just give your plants plenty of tender loving care all season long, then bring your biggest, heaviest fruit to the event, where it will be weighed and recorded by Newsday garden columnist Jessica Damiano. We also will be awarding for smallest and ugliest tomatoes, as well as in three youth categories. Tomatoes do not have to be ripe to qualify.
Anyone can join, and there’s no need to RSVP. Just come to Newsday headquarters (235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, at the Ruland Road entrance) at 7 p.m.
Click here for the rules.
Paul Camillery, who is unable to attend the challenge, says his homegrown tomato weights 3 pounds even. "He grows them. I just make the sauce," his wife, Alice, says.
Al Merkle, Middle Island
Al Merkle grows a variety of tomatoes in self-watering Earth Boxes. He says his plants get "the gift of sunshine, drugstore-bought calcium tablets and the miracle of Miracle-Gro." Friends and family get something, too: the fruit of his labor.
Bill McLaughlin, Medford
Bill McLaughlin has been growing tomatoes for 40 years. In the past, he's used recycled mulch and has avoided chemicals and pesticides. But this year, he decided to water his plants with recycled koi pond water. McLaughlin reports his plants are "growing and producing more tomatoes than ever." As a bonus, he adds, "the price is right!"
Bill Jordan, Amityville
Bill Jordan has been gardening for many years. "I always plant a variety of plants that I grow from seed," he said, adding that this year he's "hoping to grow the prize-winning tomato!"
Fran Lehecka, Bohemia
Fran Lehecka grows her tomatoes in Earth Boxes and uses a string trellis for support. This year she's growing beefsteaks, better boys and early girls. For scale, Lehecka posed her father, Ted Lehecka, 87, near her plants. "He's 5-feet, 6-inches tall," she said. "Hopefully, the tomatoes will grow big like the plants so I can enter the Tomato Challenge!"
Thomas Cohen, Hewlett Harbor
Hewlett Harbor Police Commissioner Thomas Cohen, who also lives and gardens in Hewlett Harbor, has been growing tomatoes since he was 15, and he's got a secret up his sleeve: "Being in the fur business, I have contact with ranchers who raise mink," he said. "One of my clients is the finest producer of mink in Wisconsin, possibly even the best in the world, and they ship me 30-40 pounds of mink manure every year."
Cohen, who doesn't apply chemicals or pesticides, maintains mink manure is "the best organic fertilizer you can use," but he concedes "the average grower would have a tough time getting his hands on it."
Tony Corsentino, Mineola
Returning competitor Tony Corsentino of Mineola gave his tomato plants extra space this year, spreading them over two garden plots. "In one, I fed plants with fish bone compost; Miracle-Gro and cow manure in the other," he said of his experiment. The outcome? "Not much difference."
Patrick Dean, West Islip
"With all the blight, and frustration of getting my great white tomatoes to hold up, I have changed tactics this year," writes Tomato Challenge veteran Patrick Dean, who has relocated his sprawling garden this year into raised beds in a new spot in his yard. He also planted later than usual, and planted more varieties. "Moving into my garden are a variety of tie dyes, yellows, oranges, reds and blacks, in addition to five white plants."
Dean will be competing with other readers at this year's Great Long Island Tomato Challenge.
Adam Rasmussen, Ronkonkoma
Adam Rasmussen has been gardening for more than 15 years. "We are into experimenting with all sorts of different heirloom and open pollinated varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables," such as Cosmonaut Volkov, white wonder, Isis candy, blue berries, hillbilly, gold medal and black cherry.
"I made a decision years ago when my boys were born to not poison our vegetables and our earth with harmful chemicals," Rasmussen says. "We make our own compost in two 90-gallon bins. We also try to buy seeds and amendments from small companies that fight against GMOs."
Rasmussen involves sons Adam, 9, and Aiden, 8, with seed selection, planting and harvesting. "We grow in raised beds in 100 percent compost, plant tomatoes all the way up to the leaves, prune suckers, and use Epsom salt, cornstarch, ground watering, compost tea and a few other natural organic amendments. "My boys and I are very excited about the Tomato Challenge this year."