Saturday, April 6, 2013

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato is a 1940s non-commercial tomato developed by Marshall Cletis Byles of Logan, West Virginia.  As might be expected, he didn't like his given name, so he was known locally as "Radiator Charlie" because he operated a small auto repair shop at the base of a steep hill that was notorious for making trucks overheat.  Radiator Charlie became interested in gardening after he began working with his family, at age 4, in the cotton fields of North Carolina.  He didn’t have any formal education or actual plant breeding experience, yet he would go on to create a most remarkable variety of tomato that would carry his name.
Green tomato
Sometime during the early 1940s, Radiator Charlie decided that he wanted to develop a very large tomato, so he set about trying to locate the largest tomatoes that he could find. He soon located four varieties: German Johnson Pink, Red Beefsteak, an unknown Italian variety, and an unknown English variety. From these, he grew 10 plants which he cultivated in a very unorthodox, unique fashion. He planted 9 of the plants in a circle and then planted a German Johnson Pink in the center of the circle.  Radiator Charlie then cross pollinated the German Johnson's flowers with pollen from each of the 9 plants in the circle and saved seed from the resulting tomatoes. The next year, he planted the seeds and selected the best seedlings. The very best of these again went to the center of a circle, while the remaining ones were planted in a circle around them. Again, the plants in the middle were hand pollinated with pollen from those in the circle. Byles repeated this process for the next 6 years until he had created a stable variety that met his needs. After that, he never grew another type of tomato. The resulting variety became known as the Radiator Charlie's Tomato and soon established itself as being very desirable. Every spring, gardeners from as far away as 200 miles away came to buy tomato seedlings from Radiator Charlie for the rather substantial price of $1.00.

Radiator Charlie sold so many of his new tomato plants over the next few years that the profits paid off the $6000 mortgage on his home! After that, the tomato variety became forever known as Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter Tomato! In 1985, Radiator Charlie shared some of his seed with the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which formally introduced his tomato to the general public.  Ever since then, it has been a very desirable tomato variety. Radiator Charlie" Byles died at the ripe old age of 97.

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