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Monster Tomatoes All In A Day's Work
Want to try a big, heavy, tasty tomato, something weighing one and a half pounds and about 9 inches in circumference?

John Mitchell of Riverbank grows them that size at his home off Estelle Avenue on vines that tower over 12 feet high.

"This is my third year growing monster tomatoes," he said. "My family doesn't mess with average size any longer. These are very sweet and bigger than most burger buns."

Mitchell and his daughter began experimenting three years ago with tomatoes after they planted sunflowers in his back garden and they grew to 19 feet with flowers 30 inches around. Mitchell began investigating composts and playing around with different mixes.

The secret to his "monster" Big Boy variety tomatoes is the fertilizer, he said.

It's all natural, Mitchell explained. It's a mix of items including grass, Chinese Elm leaves from trees in his front yard, mulched roses and sawdust. A few other ingredients remain, of course, his secret.

But Mitchell also adds a trick, learned from his grandfather, who believed in the power of positive and negative ions.

"I use magnets on the roots. I stick metal rods in the ground around the roots. That helps them grow," he said.

The tomato plants start off being about 14 inches tall and he plants them deep with about 13 inches underground on the premise the deeper the roots, the more nutrients they will absorb.

Whereas 'normal' tomato vines are four feet or so tall, his are already more than 12 feet high and still growing. He needs a ladder to reach the highest fruit.

He gets tomatoes off his vines until November or December, eats three or four a day himself and supplies his sister and brother-in-law who live next door.

And the taste is superb, he said. Much, much better than the store bought variety.

Store owners are more concerned about the look of their tomatoes than their taste, Mitchell offered. They may look red and ripe on the outside and be near green in the interior.

Mitchell was raised on a ranch, one of several his parents owned near Riverbank, Hughson, Patterson and Vernalis.

Every day after school, he worked on a ranch and by the age of eight was driving a tractor. His father raised the pedals with wooden lifts so he could reach the controls.