Charlie Mace and the Great Tomato Race

Tomatoes are serious business, especially that first luscious, deep red tomato of the season.

Just ask Charlie Mace. For years, he had watched while his friend, a local postal carrier named Dan Beavers, grew the first ripe tomatoes in Street, Maryland. Last year, Charlie challenged his friend to a good-natured duel. The winner: whoever grew the first ripe tomato of the season. The only rule: The plants had to be started from seed.

The Underdog
Charlie knew that his chances of winning were slim. He had only been gardening a few years, and was a novice at growing tomatoes. His busy work and family life left him very little time in the garden. His friend Dan, on the other hand, is a veteran gardener who spends hours a week tending his crops. His garden is "neat as a pin," and one of the nicest in town.

The Secret Weapon
Charlie called Gardener's Supply for help. We recommended four products for growing better, earlier tomatoes.

"I'll take them all," Charlie said. They were on their way the next day, to be delivered by Charlie's friend, Dan. "He didn't know he'd be delivering the products I'd use to beat him," Charlie said with a laugh. Once the products arrived, Charlie got to work.

One Fateful Night
In February, Charlie planted two dozen seeds of two varieties, Italian plums and 'Mortgage Lifter', into the APS 6 trays. Six weeks later he transplanted them into his garden in soil covered with Tomato Booster Mulch. He then covered the plants with water-filled Tomato Teepees. Dan put his plants out too, covered with a plastic sheet and mulch.

"That night we had a hard frost," Charlie said. "The Tomato Teepees had ice on top, but amazingly the plants inside were fine. His friend wasn't so lucky. His plants were killed by the frost and he had to replant.

Harvest Day - July 2
Charlie harvested his first ripe plum tomato before the Fourth of July. "And it wasn't even an early maturing variety!" he said. "By mid-July I was supplying my neighbors with tomatoes." By the end of July, Charlie's plants were 7-feet tall, packed with ripe fruits, which he harvested with a 5-gallon bucket in hand. And Charlie's friend? He'll be back in the competition next year.

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