Thursday, May 20, 2010

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter

The name alone was enough to sell me on this heirloom tomato. The colorful story of how it got that name is a bonus.

The following history from Local Harvest is based on Jeff McCormack's transcript of the 1985 taped interview with M.C. Byles and his grandson.

M.C. Byles was affectionately known as "Radiator Charlie." He earned that nickname during his ownership of the radiator-repair business that he opened at the foot of a mountain where trucks climbing the steep mountain grade would often overheat. Radiator Charlie had no formal education, or plant breeding experience, yet he created his now legendary tomato by cross-breeding 4 of the largest-fruited tomatoes he could find: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety. After Charlie developed this large tasty tomato he sold plants for $1.00 each (in the 1940's) and paid off the $6,000 mortgage on his house in 6 years, largely through the sale of his tomato plants.

How exactly did he do this you ask? More details of the story from Slow Food USA: Charlie took 10 tomatoes and put them in a circle with a German Johnson (Okay, who else just thought "tee hee"?) tomato in the center. He collected pollen from the 10 outer tomatoes in a baby’s ear syringe and then squirted it on the flowers of the German Johnson (TMI). After seven years he had a stable tomato with the qualities he wanted.

You are invited to check out the progress of Mortgage Lifter and German Johnson in my community garden plot this summer. If you see any tomato hanky-panky going on just look the other way. I'm gonna need a new car in about 7 years.

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