Mortgage Lifter Tomato Care – Growing Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Mortgage Lifter Tomato Care – Growing Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

By: Laura Miller
Image by Deb Nystrom

If you’re looking for a flavorful, large, main-season tomato, growing Mortgage Lifter may be the answer. This heirloom tomato variety produces 2 ½ pound (1.13 kg.) fruit up until frost and includes a delicious story to share with fellow gardeners.

What are Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes?

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are an open pollinated variety which produces a pinkish-red beefsteak-shaped fruit. These meaty tomatoes have few seeds and mature in approximately 80 to 85 days. Mortgage Lifter tomato plants grow 7- to 9-foot (2.1 to 2.7 meters) vines and are indeterminate, meaning they set fruit continuously throughout the growing season.

This variety was developed in the 1930’s by a radiator mechanic working from his home-based repair shop in Logan, West Virginia. Like many depression era home owners, M.C. Byles (aka Radiator Charlie) was concerned about paying off his home loan. Mr. Byles developed his renowned tomato by crossbreeding four large-fruited varieties of tomatoes: German Johnson, Beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety.

Mr. Byles planted the latter three varieties in a circle around the German Johnson, which he hand-pollinated using a baby’s ear syringe. From the resulting tomatoes, he saved the seeds and for the next six years he continued the painstaking process of cross pollinating the best seedlings.

In the 1940’s, Radiator Charlie sold his Mortgage Lifter tomato plants for $1 each. The variety gained in popularity and gardeners came from as far away as 200 miles to buy his seedlings. Charlie was able to pay off his $6,000 home loan in 6 years, hence the name Mortgage Lifter.

How to Grow Mortgage Lifter Tomato

Mortgage Lifter tomato care is similar to other types of vine tomatoes. For shorter growing seasons, it’s best to start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last average frost date. Seedlings can be transplanted into prepared garden soil once the danger of frost has passed. Choose a sunny location that receives 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Space Mortgage Lifter tomato plants 30 to 48 inches (77 to 122 cm.) apart in rows. Place rows every 3 to 4 feet (.91 to 1.2 meters) to allow plenty of room for growth. When growing Mortgage Lifter, stakes or cages can be used to support the long vines. This will encourage the plant to produce larger fruit and make harvesting tomatoes easier.

Mulching will help retain soil moisture and reduce competition from weeds. Mortgage Lifter tomato plants require 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm.) of rain per week. Water when weekly rainfall is not sufficient. For the richest flavor, pick tomatoes when they are fully ripe. 

Although growing Mortgage Lifter tomatoes may not pay off your home loan like they did for Mr. Byles, they are a delightful addition to the home garden.

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