They are not exactly Jack with a beanstalk, but Mark and Juanita Thouin are raising the bar, so to speak, on growing tomatoes.

The north Murfreesboro couple with green thumbs say this is their first year growing tomatoes at their new house. The six plants have reached a height of at least 9 feet.

They had tomatoes at their previous home, but those never reached for the sky like their current crop. They also have green pepper plants in the same bed, but they do not have the same stature.

The tomato varieties are Brandywine and Jet Star, they said.

When asked for their secret, each had a theory. They did not credit the soil quite so much – it is topsoil, cow manure with peat moss, and worm castings (fertilizer using, well, worm waste). Mark said he did use a commercial fertilizer in the beginning, but not recently.

Juanita, a real estate agent and former newspaper reporter, said she attributes their success to her husband’s frequent watering. Mark said that during dry, hot weather, he waters every other day but does not soak the plants.

Mark, a retired manufacturing engineer, credited the growth to the raised bed system he applied his craft to in the designing and building phases. He installed crossbars across the top of the bed after milling holes into them. The crossbars hold metal conduit tubes in an upright position that act as support for the plants while allowing for adjustments in height as the plants grew.

Tennis balls stuck on gardening stakes, which are 7.5 feet tall, provide framework for netting to keep birds off the plants, Mark said. Juanita said the arrangement makes it easy to pick tomatoes, but acknowledged that the height sometimes forces them to use a ladder.

Mark said that next season he will alternate gardens, meaning he will grow the tomatoes in the nearby bed where he is growing green beans, and vice versa. The green beans have not reached the epic height of the tomatoes, so there is no worry about Jack climbing them to find a giant.

The couple said that since they are empty-nesters, they give away tomatoes and can most of the rest. They have eaten a great many BLTs too, Juanita added.

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