Valley residents share stories, send photos showing garden giants
We’ve all heard stories about the gigunda tomato someone grew. Or the humongous zucchini.
But have you ever seen these monsters?
Have you just had to take someone’s word for veracity rather than seeing it with your own eyesâ¢ Well, the Valley News Dispatch challenged readers to offer the biggest and the best fruit, vegetable or flower and, as usual, Valley residents delivered some whoppers – although no one managed to top the 38-inch (and still growing) Sicilian zucchini in Alex DiBiasio’s Vandergrift garden. (The specimen was the subject of a feature story Aug. 24 in the Lifestyle section.)
Mike Diebold of Leechburg, a borough police officer, outgrew a 2 1/2-pound tomato of Chris Sydlik of Brackenridge. From seed, Diebold says he grew a 2ß-pound ‘mater, but we have no proof, because Diebold ate the evidence!
‘It was the largest tomato I’ve ever grown,’ says Diebold, who couldn’t believe his eyes or the girth of this baby.
He weighed the tomato at home, but was unsure that his scale weighed it correctly. ‘So I took the tomato to IGA (supermarket) and put it on their scale, and it was 2ß pounds,’ he says. (Yes, but does he have eye witnessesâ¢ We want corroborating evidence.)
‘I have no idea what variety it is. I got the seeds 3Ý years ago on the Internet from some place in New Jersey that was giving away seeds from a 4-pound tomato. It produced the meatiest tomatoes I’ve ever seen, with not a lot of seeds,’ he adds.
Diebold, 24, says his love of gardening was inspired by his grandmother. ‘She got me into gardening when I was young. I have a small town garden now, about 20 by 20.’
In that garden, he grows watermelon, tomatoes, carrots, garlic and corn – and this is where we get his second tall tale – but this time there’s proof. We’ve got pictures.
‘I have corn stalks still standing that are about 15 feet tall. I had to get on a 5-foot ladder to reach the ears. It’s sweet corn. The seeds were given to me by a friend. The corn is good but a little tough,’ he adds.
Diebold says gardening provides a haven for him. ‘I enjoy gardening. It gives me a chance to get away from everything else.’
Amber Bash of New Kensington, 11, is developing a love for green and growing things with the help of her dad, Chuck, according to her mom, Charla Bash.
Every year, Amber, a fifth-grade pupil at H.D. Berkey Elementary School in New Kensington, and her dad plant something different. In previous years they have grown popcorn and pumpkins.
‘This year, they planted sunflower and watermelon seeds,’ Charla Bash says. ‘We have three sunflowers that are so-o-o big. We have a ranch house, and one sunflower reaches the roof – it’s pretty tall for a sunflower.
‘She really is proud of that plant. She took care of it, watered it and everything.’
Janice Lojak of Tarentum says her husband, Pete, this year grew the granddaddy of all pickles.
‘My husband is an avid gardener, and this year, he decided to grow pickles,’ she says.
And one day, while Pete Lojak was out picking pickles, he stumbled on one he had missed in previous pickings.
‘It was a least six inches long. We thought it was a zucchini,’ Janice Lojak says. ‘It wouldn’t fit in the jar. Not only is it long, but it’s quite fat. We would show people the pickle and they didn’t believe how big it was. You couldn’t put your hand around it. How we missed it, I have no idea. It brought us a lot of laughter.’
Well, the Lojaks underestimated this pickle. This is a big sucker. In order to pickle the pickle, the Lojaks had to cut off the ends to squeeze it vertically into a quart jar – it fills the jar from top to bottom and side to side. We saw it with our own eyes.
Pete Lojak has a green thumb, his wife says. ‘He grew it from seed – he grows everything from seed. He starts in March. He has a little greenhouse in the basement,’ she adds.
‘This was a great year for pickles,’ she says. ‘He canned them. We have two shelves in the garage full of jars. He made his own sauerkraut, too. He does green and yellow beans, tomatoes with zucchini, onions and peppers. He had red, white and yellow onions and 24 tomato plants, and there are only the two of us.’
Pete Lojak has a large town garden in which he grows, eggplant, tomatoes, red cabbage and German striped tomatoes, his wife says, noting: ‘Those tomatoes were his pride and joy this year. He tries something different every year.’
Mario Montemurro of Arnold came close to DiBiasio’s big zucchini, but no cigar. His Sicilian zucchini, grown from seed, came in at 36 inches.
‘It was the largest I’ve ever grown. I was really surprised,’ he says.
The zucchini, of course, is long gone, having been consumed. ‘I fixed it with garlic and olive oil – it was good,’ he says.
He says this is the first year he has attempted to grow this variety of zucchini, although he always grows regular zukes. ‘A friend sent to Burpee Seed Company and started the seeds. He gave me one, and of the 20 plants he started, mine was the only one that survived. I planted it May 10.
‘I did nothing special to it. I got 10 to 12 zucchini from it in different forms, curved, horseshoe, straight. I couldn’t let it grow on the ground, so I put it on a big branch and let it go up. It took over the branch, so I got it on a second branch. It overgrew that and started crawling on my hedges. It grew to at least 35 or 40 feet – it really stretched out. My garden is only 17 feet long.
‘I have to think about whether I want to put another one in, but I probably will,’ Montemurro says.
Mike Freshwater of Cheswick loves to grow flowers. He particularly is fond of his roses, but this year it was a hydrangea bush that captured his interest.
‘I grew one blossom that was over a foot in diameter. It was beautiful – blue and white – gigantic. I have never seen one as big in my whole life.’
He is an avid gardener, always watching and recording gardening shows on television, and his wife recently bought him a greenhouse. ‘I love flowers,’ he says. ‘I can’t begin to describe how big that hydrangea was. It was immense.’
And, Warren Greene of South Buffalo still is amazed he managed to grow a 19 1/2-inch cucumber.
‘I grew it from seed. I just put it in the ground in early spring, probably May. I didn’t fertilize it or anything. I have never grown anything that large before,’ he says.
Greene does a lot of gardening. This year, he put in green, yellow and lima beans, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, asparagus and potatoes. He also grows rhubarb. ‘This was a good year for the garden. I got a lot of cucumbers. Last year, I grew a 1 1/2-pound potato.’
Greene pulled the cucumber off more than three weeks ago but has no intention of eating it, because it probably has big seeds, he says.
‘I was surprised when it got so big. I usually pull them when they are small, but this one hid from us. That’s how it got so big.’
His wife, Mary, says they should not have harvested the cuke. ‘We should have left it grow – it might have been 30 inches long. This is a burpless hybrid cucumber. We have given many to friends, and they were all over a foot long.’