Gordon Graham's Humongous Tomato
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AUGUST 25, 2007
Eric Shackle

A tomato weighing 2.2 pounds (about one kilogram) was judged the largest and ugliest at the four-day Pittston Tomato Festival in Pennsylvania last week. That was less than one-third the world record weight, set in Oklahoma 21 years ago.
Instead of celebrating a new world record, this year's festival highlight was a pitched battle using ripe tomatoes as ammunition.
Twenty-one years ago Gordon Graham, a painting contractor, grew a tremendous tomato weighing 7 pounds 12 ounces (3.52 kg). It was as big as a lawn bowls ball and as heavy as a newborn babe. The Guinness Book of World Records certified that it was the world's largest tomato. And no one has grown a bigger one since then, although thousands have tried.
Graham lived in Edmond, Oklahoma, where, according to Oscar Hammerstein II, "the corn is as high as an elephant's eye." This tomato was almost as big as an elephant's wig.
In its pioneering days, Edmond, now a suburb of Oklahoma City, was a cattle town and railroad stop, and was once part of the Chisholm Trail, so the soil there probably still contains plenty of cattle manure - ambrosia to hungry tomato plants.
"I was experimenting with letting the plant get humongous before any fruit set, on the theory that if I had a big plant, it would support a big tomato," Graham told Southern Living's senior gardening writer Steve Bender, who had travelled from his home in Birmingham, Alabama, to interview Graham several years later.
Graham told him how he had watered and heavily fertilized the plant. When it had reached 12 to 14 feet (3.6 to 4.3 meters) in height a storm blew it over on to his rockmelons (cantaloupes).
He abandoned his experiment, but left the tomato vine to shade the melons. Then one day he noticed a single large fruit had formed. Like Jack's beanstalk, it grew, and grew, and grew to an incredible size. The plant reached a fantastic length of 53 feet 6 inches (16.31 meters), which was another world record.
That record was broken in 2000, when an English hydroponics firm, Nutriculture Ltd., of Skelmersdale, Lancashire, grew a vine 65 feet (19.8 meter) long "In the end the plant grew to over 98 feet but for record purposes it was 65 feet" the company told us. "It was grown in one or our hydroponic ebb and flood systems over a period of about 12 months."
Graham's humongous tomato gained national publicity after a TV crew visited his garden and taped a sequence that was shown on CBS This Morning. A fertiliser company, Miracle-Glo, offered a $100,000 prize to anyone growing a bigger tomato. No entry has come within a pound of the record.
"Miracle-Gro also presented him [Graham] with a replica of his tomato to commemorate his achievement," Bender reported "Made from epoxy, it's the exact weight, shape, and size of the original. On trips, Gordon faithfully carries it with him, packing it in his wife's bowling ball bag. 'I've had lots of fun at the airport, running it through their X-ray machine,' he says. 'They'll X-ray it, look at it, then X-ray it again.'"
In an advertisement, Miracle-Gro said, "Graham's prize-winner later became slices enough for 21 sandwiches for friends and family. Graham says he communes with his plants daily, sings to them and tunes a nearby radio to a country-music station. He also provides his plants with lots of Miracle-Gro and soil-building compost." The ad failed to mention that Graham's preferred manure were droppings from a pet rabbit.
Tomatoes are said to be the world's favorite fruit, although the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893 declared them to be a vegetable. In 1887 High Court judges had reasoned that as tomatoes were served with dinner, and not as a dessert, they must be a vegetable.They are New Jersey's state vegetable. Arkansas plays it both ways: the "South Arkansas vine ripe pink tomato" is the state fruit and also the state vegetable.
There's a huge "tomato tree" growing in one of the Walt Disney World Resort's experimental greenhouses in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. An Epcot web page says the "tree" produced in a year more than 32,000 tomatoes that weighed a total of 1,151 pounds (522 kg.)
A picture of this marvelous tree (which looks more like a grapevine) is captioned:
Yong Huang, manager of agricultural science at The Land pavilion at Epcot, inspects one of the two single-vined "tomato trees" growing inside the theme park's experimental greenhouses in Lake Buena Vista, There are two tomato trees currently growing at Epcot, each with more than 17,000 individual tomatoes on their vines. Huang, from Shenyang, China, discovered the plants in Beijing, China, and after meeting with scientists responsible for those plants he brought the seeds to Epcot.
The plant's single vine grows tens of thousands of golf ball-sized tomatoes which are harvested and served at restaurants across Walt Disney World Resort. Huang's first tomato tree at Epcot, planted last year, set a Guinness World Record when it yielded a harvest of more than 32,000 tomatoes from one vine. The tomato trees can be seen by guests on the pavilion"s "Living with the Land" boat ride.
We'd like to get hold of some of the tomato tree's seeds!


Internet users interested in growing, cooking, or consuming tomatoes will find some fascinating photos and stories in these links:
Seventeen inch circumference (UK photo of a giant tomato)
World record tomato forum
How to grow huge tomatoes
The story of Robert Gibbon Johnson and the tomato
That word... humongous


Other articles by Eric Shackle
Eric Shackle's book: bdb.co.za/shackle