Longmont womans tomato plant grows tall, yields more than 100 pounds — Longmont Times-Call

Longmont womans tomato plant grows tall, yields more than 100 pounds - Longmont Times-Call

Maggie Newman of Longmont poses Wednesday with some of the many tomatoes her "$4 plant" produced this year. Radiant heat from her home’s brick facade worked after sunset to make a highly hospitable microclimate. (Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call )

The single seedling she bought for $3.98 at Home Depot and planted in mid-June yielded nearly 300 tomatoes before Sept. 17, when it toppled in slow motion on the front porch.

"She was a fat girl," Maggie Newman, 79, said. "And by then, it would take at least two sets of arms to encompass her. She just got top heavy a lot of us do and my husband wasn’t willing to go on the roof to tie her up."

The letter carrier in Newman’s west Longmont neighborhood said he ate more BLT sandwiches this summer because of the bumper crop, which Newman shared by the dozens with him, her grown children, her neighbors, and members of her Longmont Senior Center line dancing class.

"I thought it was absolutely insane how many tomatoes grew on that plant," Josh Bielenberg, 36, of Westminster, said from his mail truck cab. "And those tomatoes were excellent, better than most."

Other gardeners got very different results this summer, said Deryn Davidson, the horticulture agent at Colorado State University’s Boulder County Extension office in Longmont.

"Most of the calls we were getting were, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes? They are not ripening,’" she said.

During a typical summer, Newman’s Early Girl hybrid variety tomato plant might yield about 30 pounds of fruit, Kim Jackson, the annuals greenhouse manager at The Flower Bin Garden and Nursery in Longmont, said.

Jackson estimated that Newman’s plant delivered a 112-pound yield based on an estimated ounce count for each of the tomatoes produced.

Seed companies such as Bonnie Plants in Alabama expect such high yields, spokeswoman Joan Casanova said.

"But we have ideal growing conditions in our test gardens and master gardeners tending those plants," she said. "Colorado has more environmental challenges."

Maggie Newman, of Longmont, poses next to her tomato plant (Courtesy photo )

That was especially true this summer, when unseasonably cool temperatures and above average rainfall created atypical growing conditions in Boulder County, Jackson said.

"So, that was one happy tomato plant," Jackson continued. "Kudos to the gardener. She must have done everything right."

The perfect microclimate

Newman never considered herself someone with a green thumb.

The Roma tomatoes she planted in her backyard went bust even though she moved them three times last summer to different spots.

But the small front yard garden between the sidewalk and her home’s foundation gave the Early Girl a great place to take root.

"I called that her nest, like she was a chicken sitting there," Newman said.

Newman and her husband created the nest by digging out a juniper shrub to make space for the lone seedling flanked by flowers.

Newman also supplemented the soil once home to a brickyard with a mix of peat moss, steer manure and another dirt mix.

Then, she gave the Early Girl "lots of love and water when it wasn’t raining" and let the southern exposure and radiant heat from her home’s brick facade work after sunset to make a highly hospitable microclimate.

She also supported the plant which she calls "The Girl" with a 6-foot bamboo teepee climbing structure.

Later, she and her husband pounded eight 8-foot metal stakes around the plant and wired them to a porch column and other poles before placing the Girl’s vine "arms" on them.

By the time she tipped, the Early Girl’s crown came within two feet of the roofline of Newman’s single story home.

"There were lots of blossoms and green baby tomatoes on her. She was still going full blast," Newman said.

A bay window with a view

A cardboard box filled a fourth full with red and green tomatoes salvaged from the collapsed Early Girl sits on Newman’s kitchen counter into October.

But she misses the plant most when she steps onto her front porch once crowded by leaves and wires and tomatoes.

"It feels empty out there," she said. "I was attached to the Girl."

And when Newman glances at the bay window in her living room, she remembers the time she spent there contemplating the ripening bounty of a single plant pressed against nearly all of the glass.

"How many people can have as much success and joy as I had?" Newman said. ". I would sometimes refer to her as my Jack-and-the-Beanstalk tomato plant. I think if I had enough stakes, she would have made it up to heaven."

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

Maggie Newman of Longmont poses Wednesday with some of the many tomatoes her "$4 plant" produced this year. Radiant heat from her home’s brick facade worked after sunset to make a highly hospitable microclimate. (Matthew Jonas / Longmont Times-Call )

The single seedling she bought for $3.98 at Home Depot and planted in mid-June yielded nearly 300 tomatoes before Sept. 17, when it toppled in slow motion on the front porch.

"She was a fat girl," Maggie Newman, 79, said. "And by then, it would take at least two sets of arms to encompass her. She just got top heavy a lot of us do and my husband wasn’t willing to go on the roof to tie her up."

The letter carrier in Newman’s west Longmont neighborhood said he ate more BLT sandwiches this summer because of the bumper crop, which Newman shared by the dozens with him, her grown children, her neighbors, and members of her Longmont Senior Center line dancing class.

"I thought it was absolutely insane how many tomatoes grew on that plant," Josh Bielenberg, 36, of Westminster, said from his mail truck cab. "And those tomatoes were excellent, better than most."

Other gardeners got very different results this summer, said Deryn Davidson, the horticulture agent at Colorado State University’s Boulder County Extension office in Longmont.

"Most of the calls we were getting were, ‘What’s wrong with my tomatoes? They are not ripening,’" she said.

During a typical summer, Newman’s Early Girl hybrid variety tomato plant might yield about 30 pounds of fruit, Kim Jackson, the annuals greenhouse manager at The Flower Bin Garden and Nursery in Longmont, said.

Jackson estimated that Newman’s plant delivered a 112-pound yield based on an estimated ounce count for each of the tomatoes produced.

Seed companies such as Bonnie Plants in Alabama expect such high yields, spokeswoman Joan Casanova said.

"But we have ideal growing conditions in our test gardens and master gardeners tending those plants," she said. "Colorado has more environmental challenges."

Longmont womans tomato plant grows tall, yields more than 100 pounds - Longmont Times-Call

Maggie Newman, of Longmont, poses next to her tomato plant (Courtesy photo )

That was especially true this summer, when unseasonably cool temperatures and above average rainfall created atypical growing conditions in Boulder County, Jackson said.

"So, that was one happy tomato plant," Jackson continued. "Kudos to the gardener. She must have done everything right."

The perfect microclimate

Newman never considered herself someone with a green thumb.

The Roma tomatoes she planted in her backyard went bust even though she moved them three times last summer to different spots.

But the small front yard garden between the sidewalk and her home’s foundation gave the Early Girl a great place to take root.

"I called that her nest, like she was a chicken sitting there," Newman said.

Newman and her husband created the nest by digging out a juniper shrub to make space for the lone seedling flanked by flowers.

Newman also supplemented the soil once home to a brickyard with a mix of peat moss, steer manure and another dirt mix.

Then, she gave the Early Girl "lots of love and water when it wasn’t raining" and let the southern exposure and radiant heat from her home’s brick facade work after sunset to make a highly hospitable microclimate.

She also supported the plant which she calls "The Girl" with a 6-foot bamboo teepee climbing structure.

Later, she and her husband pounded eight 8-foot metal stakes around the plant and wired them to a porch column and other poles before placing the Girl’s vine "arms" on them.

By the time she tipped, the Early Girl’s crown came within two feet of the roofline of Newman’s single story home.

"There were lots of blossoms and green baby tomatoes on her. She was still going full blast," Newman said.

A bay window with a view

A cardboard box filled a fourth full with red and green tomatoes salvaged from the collapsed Early Girl sits on Newman’s kitchen counter into October.

But she misses the plant most when she steps onto her front porch once crowded by leaves and wires and tomatoes.

"It feels empty out there," she said. "I was attached to the Girl."

And when Newman glances at the bay window in her living room, she remembers the time she spent there contemplating the ripening bounty of a single plant pressed against nearly all of the glass.

"How many people can have as much success and joy as I had?" Newman said. ". I would sometimes refer to her as my Jack-and-the-Beanstalk tomato plant. I think if I had enough stakes, she would have made it up to heaven."

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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