‘I’ve been raising tomatoes for 50-60 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this’

It was approximately a month after he began planting his tomato plants last spring that lifelong Bellingham resident Marlyn Todahl noticed that one of his beefsteak variety stalks seemed a little off.

“I usually go to Youngstock’s (Nursery and Produce) and get 6-8 beefsteak tomato plants and plant them, and then wait a week and go back and get a different variety,” Todahl, 87, told The Bellingham Herald. “About a month or so later, I noticed all of them were about 6 feet tall, except for this one Beefsteak looked kind of funny — it was only 3 feet tall.”

Not only was it shorter than the rest, Todahl said, but it also had a “good, heavy stalk.”

Turned out that plant needed to be a little shorter and thicker — Todahl said that plant produced a 5½-pound tomato. Yes, that’s right — an 88-ounce tomato, or enough to fill six typical 14½-ounce cans of diced tomatoes with just a little bit left over.

“I talked to several farmers over in Yakima, and they said they never heard of tomatoes growing that big,” Todahl said. “It was unbelievable.”

The largest tomato on record, according to guinnessworldrecords.com, is an 8.61-pounder grown in 2016 and weighed in Walla Walla.

But Todahl’s mighty little plant was a bit of an overachiever.

In addition to the 5½-pounder, he said it also produced tomatoes that weighed 5, 4 and 3 pounds. And, as if that weren’t enough, he said his plant still has tomatoes he estimates to be 3 and 2 pounds on the vine.

Though Todahl’s largest two tomatoes look a little odd — with their deep grooves they more closely resemble red pumpkins or red peppers than plump, round tomatoes — he said he has plenty of usable tomatoes, so he put them in the freezer so he can pull them out and show them off to friends and visitors.

“I really don’t know what to think,” Todahl told The Herald. “I’ve been raising tomatoes for 50-60 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Though Todahl said he’s been more of a beekeeper than a gardener for the past 45 years, he takes particular pride in the tomatoes he grew. He said Youngstock’s got the plant starts from Joe’s Garden — a business he worked for when he was 10 years old through when he graduated from Bellingham High.

Todahl said not even the folks at Joe’s Garden could explain why this one plant produced more than 22 pounds worth of gigantic tomatoes.

“The only thing I can think of is I changed my fertilizer routine a little,” Todahl said. “It’s a fertilizer I make myself. I used a half-pound of coffee grounds, 2-3 banana peelings cut up ... and some crushed eggshells. Then I take a handful of commercial fertilizer — the solid kind, not the liquid — and I mix it all up and put a spoonful in every hole.”

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
Warren Sterling in a graduate of Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. He interned at Politifact.com before joining The Bellingham Herald as a summer 2019 intern.