HOUSTON – As with most battles, someone wins and someone loses, but the case of the Chickasaw Tomato Battle the competitors live in the same house.
Sarah Taylor was named the First Annual Chickasaw County Tomato Battle champion with a red, ripe tomato tipping the scales a 15.5 ounces. The event was sponsored by the Chickasaw County Extension Service who provided the plants, offered advice and settled most disputes.
“Sarah and her husband Nona both picked up plants and got to work,” said Chickasaw County Extension Agent Scott Cagle. “The problems started when one of the plants died and Sarah claimed it was her husband’s plant.”
Cagle said the Taylors worked that one out themselves. But when a second plant got to looking another week, Nona called Cagle and asked for help.
“I will admit I saw them each pick up healthy plants but I did not see them plant them,” said Cagle. “I did point out to Nona that this might not be a battle he wanted to win.”
And Sarah’s two plants thrived, while Nona did the best he could with the cards he was dealt.
“We really had a lot of fun with this competition,” said Cagle. We had 28 people enter the competition to see who could raise the biggest tomato.”
The rules saw all competitors get the same breed and size plant at the same time. They were told to take them home and battle it out.
“Carolyn Skelton has taken Master Gardener classes but she said a worm ate her homework this year,” said Cagle. “I had one competitor say they were ‘green with envy when they found out Sarah won.
“Everybody had their own secret formula and technique,” Cagle added. “This is the South were raising homegrown tomatoes is a badge of honor.”
Sarah won a $50 gift certificate or dinner for two at Jake’s Steak House in Okolona. She said she was carrying Nona as her date.
“We’ve been married 22 years and this isn’t the worst we’ve seen around her,” said Sara with a smile. “We plan on doing it again next year. I’ll help him, if he asks nicely.”
Sarah said she mixed Epsom salt and commercial fertilizer in her soil before planting. She said it was a wet spring and she didn’t water her plants. No weeding, not pruning and no special attention she added.
Cagle said his office is routinely called on to help people with garden problems.
The Taylors called on him a few years ago to help them get their muscadine vine to produce.
“It’s what we do,” said Cagle. “I will be the first to admit I don’t have all the answers but I do have the phone numbers to professors at Mississippi State who have seen most problems and who want to know if something new is going on out there.”
Cagle said the tomatoes used this year were called BHN-1021 and are a new hybrid that is resistant to many problems found in home gardens.
“I’ve always felt good soil is the key,” said Cagle. “Plants grow strong and healthy in good soil and fight off a lot of diseases and pests that way.”
Cagle said he is already planning next spring’s Second Annual Chickasaw County Tomato Battle and is considering a cabbage war, too.
“Mrs. Sarah hold the crown and bragging rights this year,” said Cagle. “We hope more people will get involved the next time.”