Summer Vegetable Gardens
At the end of July, gardens produce many beautiful vegetables and fruits. Zucchini and cucumbers are multiplying, and the long-awaited tomatoes have arrived. It is BLT’s (Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato) in my house, sometimes even for lunch and dinner.
The Behnke Belgium Giant
In the past, I dreaded this time of the year. When I was a little girl, it was all about the famous Belgium Giant Tomatoes that my grandfather, Albert Behnke, grew. I think these were why I would never eat a tomato until just a few years ago. According to Albert Behnke, there was only one tomato worth growing and eating: the Belgium Giant.
For many years I thought my grandfather developed this tomato; however, he got the seeds from a gardener in the Midwest. So, when doing a little research, Victory Seed mentioned a gardener in Ohio who developed the plant.
I believe it was sometime in the mid-’60s when Albert Behnke would plant hundreds of these tomatoes at his home in Burtonsville, MD. My stepfather, Joe Festerling recalls that he had to get 16 foot long two by fours and sink them in the ground. Each plant had lime and cow manure mixed in the surrounding soil, and a bale of hay was spread around to help with the moisture and weed control.
The Belgium Giant Tomatoes were huge meaty pink tomatoes with very few seeds and low in acid. So you have to be careful when you pick them. You can’t wait until they are pink, as that would be too late.
SAVING THE SEEDS
This process was, for me, horrible. Tubs and tubs of these large tomatoes would be collected and left to rot. UGH! Once they got to a particular stage of real nastiness, one of my jobs was to take them and rub them against a screen with a pan under it. If you had any cuts on your hands, you were in trouble because they would start stinging right away.
The seeds were then collected and stored for the following year. I think the smell, all the flies that would appear and the summer heat made me dislike anything to do with tomatoes. But, of course, my family could never understand this about me. I would shudder where they would stand in the garden and eat them ripe off the vines.
They Got How Tall?
The Belgium Giant plants would grow to over 7 feet tall and needed heavy stakes to hold them up. Each tomato could weigh anywhere from 2 to 5 pounds! What Behnke’s did was grow the plants from seeds to sell to our customers. It became one of our best-selling tomatoes…
Why We Stopped Growing Belgium Giants
As the years went by, unfortunately, our plants were cross pollinated by other tomatoes planted nearby, and we could no longer be sure of the seeds we would collect.
Also, seed companies such as Burpee Seed and Victory Seed had the seeds for sale. But, as with many things, it was decided to stop production entirely around 2010 at Behnke’s.
In the last few years, I have developed an appreciation for fresh tomatoes, and while I will never stand in the garden to take a big bite out of one, I enjoy them on my BLT.
I will love to hear if you remember this giant of tomatoes!
Here are a few photos of my Uncle Albert taking a bite of one of these beauties and of my Aunt Ele Behnke holding one. Below is my brother John Peter Thompson and my cousin Mark Behnke with our grandfather, Albert Behnke.