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Vermont Garden Journal: Heirloom Tomatoes

05/18/12 5:55PM
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I'm Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal. I love growing heirloom tomatoes. There are varieties in almost all the colors of the rainbow from black to green to pale yellow. Some have potato leafed foliage and others look like fir trees. They all have the unique tomato taste we crave: some sweet as candy and others more intensely flavored. Many of these varieties have stories that are as interesting as their fruits.  Here's a story of one of my favorites.

Back in the 1930's and 40's in Logan, West Virginia, there was a man named MC Byles. Times were hard back then, so MC did a number of jobs to get by, from a mechanic to a professional wrestler. He finally settled on starting radiator repair shop at the bottom of one of the big hills in Logan. Business was brisk. The trucks would rumble up the hill, blow their radiators and coast back to MC's shop. He got the nick name Radiator Charlie.

Now Radiator Charlie liked to grow tomatoes too, but wasn't satisfied with the varieties in his area. So one year he collected the best ones, planted a circle of 10 tomato varieties outside his repair shop with one variety in the middle. He cross-pollinated them with the variety in the middle, selected the best seedlings and repeated the process for 7 years. He eventually developed a 10 to 12 ounce, red variety that was sweet and juicy: the perfect eating tomato. Charlie's tomato became popular, so he started selling plants each spring for $1/seedling. That was a lot of money back in 1940. But people would still come from miles around to buy Charlie's tomato plants. He sold enough tomato seedlings to eventually pay off the mortgage on his radiator repair shop. So to this day, this variety is know as Radiator Charlie's Mortgage Lifter.

Now for this week's tip, watch out for the viburnum leaf beetle larvae defoliating your viburnum bushes. Spray Spinosad now and again in a few weeks to control this pest.

Next week on the Vermont Garden Journal, I'll be talking about fertilizing roses. For now, I'll be seeing you in the garden!

Mortgage Lifter tomato
Viburnum Leaf Beetle


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