Local gardener is new king of growing tomatoes

By Larry Sagers

Deseret News

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 6:58 a.m. MDT

Dale Thurber is the king of growing tomatoes in Utah after setting a state record.

Larry A. Sagers

The flags are unfurled, the trumpets are sounding and the carriages are making their way down the street. This is not a coronation for a new national ruler cleverly hidden inside our state, but the proud grower of Utah's biggest ever tomato.

If you are looking for the castle that keeps this giant wonder, don't bother. Enter via one of these websites; www.gianttomatoseeds.com or www.delectationoftomatoes.com.

The king is Dale Thurber, who might be described as passionate, eccentric, strange, weird or peculiar, but since he is growing tomatoes, he is just described as a normal gardener.

His prize winner was a Church cultivar that was certified by Utah State Department of Agriculture and Food officials as weighing 3.208 pounds or 3 pounds and 3.33 ounces on Sept. 13. This is an open pollinated tomato so you can save seed.

Unlike other large fruits and vegetables, where the record seems to increase by leaps and bounds each year, the tomato record stands at 7 pounds, 12 ounces and was set by Gordon Graham of Edmond, Okla., in 1986.

I could understand wanting to beat the record, but I had a little more difficulty with the rest of the business. I asked him how many different kinds of vegetables he grew this year.

He gives me numbers but could likely have given me names.

"We are raising about 1,100 varieties of garden fruits and vegetables this year and half of these are heirloom tomatoes," he said. "We've obtained many of the most highly regarded varieties from around the world, with more than 30 countries represented.

"Add to the tomato list some 130 cultivars of peppers and about that many cucumbers and the list expands rapidly."

Thurber explains that there are many methods for tomato fruit size definitions. Common terms describing tomatoes include currant, cherry, salad, beefsteak, grape, pear and plum. They also describe tomato size (and shape).

Thurber's method developed with other growers is very simple and definitive. The most simple, objective method for classifying tomatoes by size is to put it on scales. These are miniature (less than one ounce), small (1-5 ounces), medium (6-16 ounces), large (less than 1 pound), big (less than 2 pounds, claimed), giant (less than 3 pounds, documented) and super giant (less than 5 pounds, documented).

Thurber is proud of his produce. "We are growing some of the biggest, best, most flavorful and most unusual tomato varieties in the world. Fall produce (pumpkins, winter squash, etc.) is still available, but most of the tomatoes have frozen."

Thurber is determined to beat his and many other records in his quest. Thurber had these in mind when he established his enterprise in 2011.

To learn about his passion and his business, I looked up the word delectation. According to the audioenglish.net dictionary, it means a feeling of extreme pleasure or satisfaction or an act of receiving pleasure from something.

I asked him to explain how he ran his enterprise, and he broke it down into three parts. He has customers who participate in his Community Supported Agriculture where he supplies them boxes of produce each week for a nominal fee.

He also sells the produce at farmers markets and locally to consumers.

The third part of the business is his extensive seed collection, which he markets nationally and internationally. The development of the giant vegetable seed, the superbly hot peppers and other unusual cultivars are part of that.

He set his objectives for his micro-farming business in West Valley City as follows:

Enhance physical and psychological health

Facilitate appreciation for and enjoyment of the best (healthiest, tastiest) food the earth has to offer with an emphasis on the amazing, versatile, nutritious, domesticated tomato.

Promote ecologically responsible and sustainable food growing practices

Encourage self-reliance and independence from the "system for nutritional needs."

Other crops he produces include basil, borage, cilantro, fennel and oregano as herbs and arugula, lettuce and asparagus as salad crops. Flower crops include sunflowers, four o' clock, morning glory, nasturtium and marigolds.

Garden tips

Check www.redbuttegarden.org for its gardeners after dark schedule.

Wasatch Community Gardens Winter Composting at Grateful Tomato Garden, 800 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City from 10 a.m.-noon on Oct. 27. Fall is a great time to start composting. Use leaves and garden plants to build the perfect compost pile. Cost is $10. Garden tips

Check www.redbuttegarden.org for its gardeners after dark schedule.

Wasatch Community Gardens Winter Composting at Grateful Tomato Garden, 800 S. 600 East in Salt Lake City from 10 a.m.-noon on Oct. 27. Fall is a great time to start composting. Use leaves and garden plants to build the perfect compost pile. Cost is $10.

Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.

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