On June 20th, the Kingwood Garden Center awarded prizes in its 5th Annual Tomato and Vegetable Contest to area gardeners. Prizes were awarded for Largest Tomato, Best Tomato, and Best Tomato by junior gardeners.
The Houston area is known for its sunny days, long growing season, and ample rains, which typically lends itself to bountiful crops even for the most novice gardeners. That was not the case this year. Would-be contest entrants battled recurring cold snaps followed by torrential rain. "We had customers come in for tomato plants several times this year." Joy Hanold, manager of the Kingwood Garden Center, explained. "After the cold season passed, the heavy rains knocked the blooms off many plants. It was a rough year for vegetable gardening."
The contest was judged by Stephanie Manley, blogger and author of Copykat.com, and Kathleen Holloway, also known as "The Veggie Lady." Manley publishes restaurant style recipes and cooking videos at Copykat.com and is the author of two cookbooks, Dining Out at Home and Dining Out at Home 2. Holloway began selling fresh vegetables in the Kingwood area in 2015. Her vegetable market is held each Saturday in the parking lot of Holy Comforter Lutheran Church on Woodland Hills Dr.
Although the number of entries was down from previous years, the challenges did not deter the hardy few. Gerald Johnston of Kingwood took first place in both the "Best Overall" with a Sungold tomato and "Largest Tomato" category with a Brandywine variety. A Brandywine tomato also took the second place prize in "Best Overall" with the entry by Larry Martion. Craig Archer won third place in "Best Overall" with a Celebrity tomato. In the "Largest Tomato" category, Johnston's winning entry weighed in at 1.5 pounds, followed in second place by Craig Archer, and Regina Archer in third.
The highlight of the day was the winning entry in the junior category from Hannah Hubbard of New Caney. A first time gardener, the judges were delighted with the flavor and freshness of the tomato. Judge Holloway encouraged the young gardener to keep at it saying, "I would buy these tomatoes from you to sell at my market."
Hannah and her family recently moved to the New Caney area and discovered the Kingwood Garden Center when buying plants to landscape their newly built home. After 30 years in the corporate world, her mother drew on her ranching roots and incorporated raised beds in their yard for organic gardening. "Hannah can learn something from it and it keeps us busy," her mother explained.
When asked the secret to their success, Hubbard attributed it to the Heirloom tomato variety as well as the care they took soil preparation. Double winner Johnston avoided frost damage by starting his tomato plants by seed indoors under a heat lamp in early January and then planting them outdoors in mid-March. "The one thing I noticed is that the plants I started early did better," explained Johnston, "Those plants had time to set."
The Tomato and Vegetable Contest is one of the staff's favorite events at the Kingwood Garden Center. "We see our customers take plants out the door," said owner Nancy Robertson, "but this is one of the few times we get to see their results. It's very rewarding to see what our customers are growing."
Aspiring gardeners are invited to stop by the Kingwood Garden Center located at 1216 Stonehollow Dr in Kingwood for assistance by their knowledgeable staff. For more information visit kingwoodgardencenter.com or call (281) 358-1805.