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By avoiding groundhogs, couple comes up with prize tomato

September 03, 2008

Harry and Rose Barger had been plagued by groundhogs in the past, so this year they decided to plant their tomatoes closer to the house.

The result? A 1.95-pound tomato that was big enough to win the $50 first prize in The Herald-Mail's 2008 Big Tomato Contest, held this past Saturday, Aug. 30, at Hagerstown's City Market.

Mr. Barger, well-known for his work with the local branch of the Salvation Army, said that the fact that the plant wasn't in direct sun all day long might have helped.

Mrs. Barger said the plant grew 10 to 12 feet tall, or as she described it, "three bricks from the top of the house and three feet wide."

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The variety was Super Steak and the Bargers said they had purchased the tomato plant from T&C Greenhouse on Leitersburg Pike (Md. 60).

Second place went to Don Harkcom, who grew a 1.82-pound Delicious tomato using advice gleaned from Marvin Meisner's book, "Giant Tomatoes."

In a September 2007 interview in The Washinton Post, Meisner said that the process of growing a big tomato begins with picking blossoms with a double pistil, the female organ of a flower from which the fruit develops.

Harkcom said that at his wife's request, he had reduced the number of plants he put in from last year's 97, but switched to a variety with larger fruit.

Saturday was their 22nd wedding anniversary, Harkcom said, and he planned to use his $25 second prize to take his wife out to dinner.

(To read more about Meisner's book, go to www.giantpumpkin.com.)

Third prize of $10 went to Betty Bingaman, whose family operates a stand at City Market, but the way she tells the story makes her win seem almost like an accident.

"I started a bunch of heirloom tomatoes for a customer and he gave me some of the plants," she said.

That was about it, she said.

"I put compost on the garden in spring, but I haven't watered the garden at all," she said.

Her entry weighed 1.74 pounds and the variety was Pineapple.

Among the other contestants was Wanda McGurl, who works for Del. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington.

McGurl grew a deep yellow variety called Kellog's Breakfast and was kind enough, even though she didn't win a prize, to cut slices for everyone to taste.

Others who helped include the staff of the City of Hagerstown, which arranged for space at the market and provided advance publicity for the contest.

Thanks also to Holsinger's Meat Market, whose managers were kind enough to weigh our entries on their digital scale when the entries provided too close in weight for our old-fashioned spring scale to judge them accurately.

The Herald-Mail put this contest together because:

o We did it before, a long time ago, and it was a lot of fun back then.

o We wanted to call attention to the Garden Blog, which you can reach by going to www.herald-mail.com/blogs/maginnis/.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this column or the blog, please send them to Bob Maginnis, editorial page editor, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, MD 21741.

Or you may send e-mail to bobm@herald-mail.com. Please put "garden" in the subject line. Thanks to all who participated.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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