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“Doc” Skelton improves tomato-growing strategy

POSTED: July 7, 2014 8:59 a.m.
Bonny Harper/Barrow County News

Many of Doc’s tomato plants are growing 16 tomatoes or more each. Fran’s tomato plants, which have also been growing, have not thrived as much as Doc’s, she said.

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"Doc ‘n’ Fran’s ‘Mater Farm," reads the handmade sign on the metal fence surrounding Dr. C.B. Skelton’s tomato plants.

Skelton, or "Doc," as most know him, is in his third consecutive year of tomato-growing, but this year he’s doing things a little differently, and his plants have never thrived this much.

His great-granddaughter Ashton Locke made the sign for Doc and his wife, Frances Lynch Skelton.

Doc said last year was a "sorry year" for tomatoes. None of his grew until late July and August, and then there were about six to eight tomatoes on each plant.

This year, Doc said he started getting tomatoes three weeks ago, and his plants are growing as many as 16 tomatoes each and are still blooming.

Doc said his trick this year is a tip he found online about growing tomatoes: each plant must have no more than three branches growing from the root stem, and the grower should cut off all but the top three or four leaves on each branch.

Doc cuts off the excess leaves every week, he said, and he believes that’s what’s been making his tomatoes flourish this season.

Something else Doc has done all three seasons is use creek water or rainwater on the plants, rather than city water. He doesn’t like to use city water because of the "chemicals and cost."

Last year Doc said he had a creek close by to water his plants with, but this year he’s changed locations and no longer has a creek as readily accessible. To solve the problem, he affixed a gutter to the roof of his shed so that when it rains, the gutter carries the water into a large bucket, to which Doc attached a hose so he can use the rainwater on his tomatoes.

"And if the good Lord doesn’t send enough water, I use a pump to get it from the creek," he added, noting that tomatoes need to be watered three or four times a week.

Doc said there’s a creek three or four miles away that he pumps the water from before hauling it back in a truck.

Doc, 88, and his wife, Fran, have been married just under a year, which Doc said is not "romantic," but rather, "rheumatic."

Fran has some tomato plants of her own, but she did not start off the season cutting off the excess leaves as Doc did, and she said her plants have not been as fruitful as his.

"They started out tall, but they don’t have as many tomatoes on them," she said. "And one plant doesn’t have any on it."

Doc said he started growing tomatoes three years ago because his daughter is a caterer, so he gives her tomatoes. In addition, his great-grandchildren love them, to the extent that one of them would choose to eat a tomato if given the choice between that and ice cream.

Doc’s son-in-law has nicknamed the tomatoes "Granddaddy Homegrowns," said Doc, who doesn’t sell any of his tomatoes, apart from the ones that go to his daughter who caters, but he doesn’t get any money for those either.

"There’s none left to sell after all the family gets theirs," Fran said, laughing.



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