91-year-old man grows big tomato
by Elsie Hodnett
There are tomatoes — and then there are big tomatoes.

“Have you ever seen a Texas pea?” local farmer Ben Harrison asked. “They say they grow ‘em bigger in Texas.”

The “Texas pea” is a 1.84-pound tomato the 91-year-old man grew in his home garden in Lincoln.

“I went to Lincoln Super Foods and they weighed it for me,” he said. “I haven’t heard of anyone around here with a bigger tomato. I’m not saying they don’t grow them larger, just that I haven’t seen them.”

Harrison grew up on a farm in north Alabama in Colbert County.

“We farmed,” he said. “It was the only thing there was back then — that and making moonshine. We didn’t make moonshine.”

Harrison moved to the Lincoln area in 1941, and purchased the property where he currently lives along U.S. 78 in 1960.

“I’ve been retired longer than I worked,” he said. “I retired in 1979 from Bynum civil service. I worked 30 years, 9 months and 28 days with the government.”

Harrison was married to his late wife, Mamie, for 60 years, seven-and-a-half months before she died 11 years ago.

“I keep active,” he said. “That’s how I keep young. And I tell some good jokes — most of them are clean.”

Harrison has a small garden, with rows planted six feet apart so he can run small farming equipment through to plow and weed.

“I can’t work one like I used to,” he said. “I used to grow corn 15 feet tall and plant rattlesnake beans which would grow nearly to the top of the corn. You would have to pull the corn stalks down to pick the beans. Course you would have to pull them down to pick the ears of corn as well.”

Harrison said this year he planted about 20 tomato plants as well as peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe and okra.

“I’ve been eating ripe tomatoes and peppers for a month now,” he said. “I have baby watermelon and cantaloupe growing and some okra. All this rain hurt the garden some.”

Harrison said this year he planted 12 of the tomato plants using a posthole digger, lining the bottom with Epsom salt and then using potting mix to fill in the hole.

“On the Epsom salt bag it said it would help plants produce bigger fruit,” he said. “I have some tomatoes nearly as large as this one, which I plan to eat when it’s riper. One slice would make a sandwich.”

Harrison said he loves to eat both corn and tomatoes.

“When my wife was living, we had 18 tomato plants in the same area as the ones I have now,” he said. “They didn’t get this large, but we canned 118 quarts of tomatoes from those plants. One year, we canned 150 quarts of beans. I still can if I have anything to can.”

Harrison said he can’t just sit around—he has to get out of the house and keep active.

“I still drive,” he said. “I go to church every Sunday, but I don’t get out at night.”

According to Harrison, keeping active has kept him healthy and alive.

“I just passed the halfway mark to my next birthday so I’m closer to 92 than 91 now,” he said.

Contact Elsie Hodnett at ehodnett@dailyhome.com.

© 2013