I found some transplants of the heirloom tomato variety entitled “Mortgage Lifter” at a local nursery the other day. I have NEVER seen them for sale as transplants and these looked so healthy, I couldn’t resist and bought nine of them! I have had dubious “success” growing them from seed in the past, so here is to getting a jump start on the heirloom tomato season. Some of them are going directly into the ground….yep, tomatoes into the ground in February. Rolling the dice with nature a bit, but if I do luck out, I could have tomatoes by late April. Some of the transplants will go into the hoophouse where nighttime temperatures should remain safe from potential frost conditions,and some of the transplants will remain behind safely in the crowded garage window with the other tender seedlings and transplants.
So how did this tomato get its name? The Mortgage Lifter tomato was developed in the early 1930’s in Logan, West Virginia by a radiator repairman, M.C. “Radiator Charlie” Byles. Without any experience in breeding, he made a successful cross of four of the largest tomatoes he could find – German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety. Radiator Charlie sold the first seedlings of his new tomato in the 1940’s for one dollar each to customers who drove up to 200 miles for his famous plants that bore tasty tomatoes averaging two and a half pounds. With these sales, Charlie managed to pay off his $6,000 mortgage in only six years, and so the tomato was named Mortgage Lifter.
I don’t think I can count on paying off our southern California mortgage with tomatoes anytime soon, but we should be rich in tasty produce soon enough.
UPDATE: Three of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato transplants into the ground outside today 2/8/2011
And here’s a picture of radiator Charlie with his fine tomatoes: