How they did it

DIEGO RIO, Lake RonkonkomaThe tomato: 1 pound, 14 ounces

BeefsteakThe strategy: Rio starts his tomatoes from seed and uses organic fertilizers but never applies pesticides. "I have been planting and growing fruits and vegetables in my backyard garden for 60 years," he said. "This year I am 84 years young and celebrating one of my best crop harvests ever." In addition to yielding an abundance of large tomatoes from his 8-foot plants, Rio has had a banner year growing figs. He says his friends and neighbors tell him he spoils them with fresh produce from his spring, summer and fall harvests.

ALICE DIANA, RonkonkomaThe tomato: 1 pound, 2.4 ounces

Burpee tomato

The strategy: Diana, 63, grows all her plants in 18-inch raised beds. "My secret to an incredible harvest is feeding and nurturing my plants from the very beginning, making sure my soil is in tiptop condition. I use soaker hoses for all my veggies and then place grass clippings on top to cut down on weeds and also keep the soil moist," she said. "My greatest joy is watching my granddaughter Emma pick her favorite cherry tomatoes, wash them, and then down they go. I just love sharing my vegetables with family and friends and hearing about all the wonderful dishes they make."

SOCCORSO ROBERTO, West BabylonThe tomato: 1 pound, 6.8 ounces

Beefsteak

The strategy: Roberto, 67, tills his soil every fall and spring and then mixes in compost, which works its way into the soil all winter. "In March, I grow seedlings. As the tomatoes grow, I tie them so they can climb tall and grow big," he said.

JANET HART, LindenhurstThe tomato: 1 pound, 11.3 ounces

Beefsteak

The strategy: Hart, 55, a four-year veteran of The Challenge, is determined to become its first female winner. "We need a queen," she said, wearing what by now has become her signature tomato tank top, which she wears to the event for good luck every year. Hart talks to her plants every day. "I tell them how much I love them and give them lots of TLC," she said, adding, "I get the most enjoyment when I'm in the garden. It's the best stress

release."

JACK MAGUIRE, Kings Park

The tomato: 2 pounds, 2 ounces

Tomato tree

The strategy: Maguire, 46, cages his plants and applies 5-10-10 fertilizer, grass clippings - and fish! "I mulch fish carcasses by burying them with grass clippings," he explained. "Ten days later I unearth the area and put a small layer of the soil around the base of the plants."

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