Monster Tomatoes

How to grow a giant.

By Amy Goldman


Delicious Monster tomatoI have devoted my working life to glorifying heirloom fruits and vegetables. Extolling their beauty, flavor, utility, and diversity. Heirlooms are standard, open-pollinated (OP) varieties that breed true from seed (unlike F1 hybrids), and can be passed down to the next generation. And they should be transmitted and used for breeding, as many are rare and endangered. Although I’m a seasoned vegetable competitor, though no longer practicing, and have grown some gigundos in my time, “monstrously large”has not been my priority. Now my attitude is more relaxed. Growing and appreciating giant tomatoes is life-affirming. 

Most of us grow our tomatoes solely to eat, and get a kick out of the big ones that come along, with low input—or even no input at all. Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) co-founder Diane Ott Whealy likes “giants on their own, without steroids” in her Iowa garden. A ball of twine and a stake, an old rusty Folger’s coffee can (with the lid and bottom removed) to protect tender ‘German Pink’ transplants from freezing, is about all Diane and her father, Dale Ott, do to coddle the plants. The aim is dinner-plate-sized glistening pink slices served up with a sprinkle of sugar. ‘German Pink’ is an Ott family heirloom beefsteak weigh-ing in at 1 or 2 pounds apiece, and it is celebrated as Tomato No. 1 in the SSE seed collection.

Tomatoes are tremendously diverse in size and shape, but only beefsteaks need apply for world records. Monster beefsteaks have a higher number of locules (seed cavities), a quality associated with increased weight and volume. Such fruits are often fasciated (eccentric, conjoined, misshapen); so too are the blooms that give rise to the fruits. The keen competitor knows to identify the big “king flowers” or “megablooms” and hand-pollinate them in hopes of pro-ducing a winner. (King flowers or megablooms are often described as large and conjoined, with extra “body parts”—i.e., sepals, floral whorls, multiple pistils—and are thus easy to spot because they are big and abnormal.) It takes an “extreme gardener” with extraordinary knowledge, skill, and determination to raise the world’s biggest. The rewards are plentiful: exhilaration, sense of achievement, cash prizes, fame, and glory. One hopes these valiant strivers can spare the occasional tomato for eating.