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Tipping Scales For Record

Ealon McGee said he really didn’t set out to have the county’sbiggest tomato since 1994 when he found the 4-pounder growing inthe back of his garden.

“I’ve got three rows of tomatoes with four or five varieties,and when I pick them if I find a big one I’ll take it inside to seewhat it weighs,” he said.

After finding one that weighed almost 3 pounds, McGee took it toFrank Burns, at Brookhaven Nurseries, for his yearly “BiggestTomato” contest.

But then came the really big tomato.

“About two or three weeks later I was picking and I saw that oneback there in the back and I put it on the scales and it hit 4pounds,” he said. “So I figured I’d take it and trade it out.”

According to Burns’ scale, which he says is very accurate, itweighed just a tick under four pounds.

“This thing weighs in grams,” he said. “I have to do somearithmetic to figure it, but it’s super accurate. It’s labaccurate.”

That variety – one called a Supersteak – turned out to be thebiggest tomato that Burns has seen in his 16 years of looking forthe county’s biggest tomato.

“That’s where it gets the name ‘Super,'” Burns said. “It’susually a big tomato, but they’re real rough. It’s not a prettytomato.”

Mississippi State University Extension Service Director RebeccaBates said the tomato is also a little tough on the eyes because ithas a physiological disorder called catfacing.

“It’s caused from cold temperatures occurring during pollinationand fruit set,” she said. “It’s very common in early-plantedtomatoes.”

Ironically, Lincoln County’s second-largest tomato in thehistory of the contest came from Alfred Smith of Wesson. Any otheryear, his would have been the winner, at a little over 3 pounds,but McGee’s had him beat.

What’s interesting, Burns said, is that McGee didn’t do anythingspecial to grow a tomato that size.

He said some people get into the contest every year, and arevery competitive. Some will bury a 5-gallon tin full of fertilizerwith holes in it next to a tomato plant and prune all but two orthree of the fruits so they’re not sharing food.

“People take this very seriously, and go to great lengths to tryto win,” he said. “But I’ve never had anyone to bring one in thatwas that big.”

The 4-pounder didn’t take anything but some nitrogen, said McGeeand his wife, Barbara. Usually they use Triple 13 fertilizer, McGeesaid, but this year it was simply nitrogen that it needed.

“I had a soil test done early, and it said all I needed wasnitrogen,” he said. “We did that twice, I think, but that’s all wedid to them.”

Apparently that helped the whole crop, the McGees said.

“We had wonderful tomatoes this year,” Ealon McGee said. “All ofthem were big. I had one plant with six tomatoes that weighed atotal of 18 pounds all together.”

And those big tomatoes met the same fate as the other producefrom the garden.

The McGees take it into their canning kitchen and can them up,and then they share them with friends and loved ones. McGee saidpeople have encouraged them to sell some of their produce, but theywon’t think of it.

“We like to give them away, just for the joy of it,” he said.”You don’t want to sell them, because then it becomes a job.”

Barbara McGee said she and Ealon have been together 45 years,and that gardening has been a passion for them both ever since theywere young.

“We just love to grow things,” she said.