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Another year, another attempt at growing

January 11, 2011

Well, I’m hoping this year I’m finally on the ball by thinking about stuff several months in advance. In addition to actually updating this darn thing, if only for the handful of faithful friends who keep coming back to read even though I’ve been a dismally unreliable blogger.

I’ve already got my tomatoes started, and they should be due for their first feeding soon (if you read the previous blog post, sigh, from April 2010, you can read a more in-depth lament on feeding new seedlings.) I’m ditching the “Cherokee Purple” and Brandywine this year in favor of three varieties I ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: Striped Roman, Green Zebra and the delightfully dubbed Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter.

Now, I wish I could have met this fellow, born Marshall Cletis Byles, known as “M.C.” or just Charlie.

M.C. Byles with his now-famous Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.

Evidently, he owned an auto repair shop at the base of a mountain in West Virginia, and made most of his business by repairing the blown-out radiators of trucks that pooped out on their way up the mountain (and rolled back down in defeat), hence his nickname. He kept tomatoes in his back yard, and began his own breeding program that consisted of planting 9 or 10 plants in a circle around a central specimen, then saving the seeds of the strongest plant for next year. Wash, rinse, repeat for five or six years, until he had developed new, stable strain that reliably produced 1- to 3-pound tomatoes.

They were so delicious, sweet and, well, huge, that by selling the plant seedlings at $1 apiece — quite a bit of money in the 40’s and 50s — he paid off the $6,000 mortgage on the garage business in short order and he came to call them the Mortgage Lifter.

SESE’s catalog described 2-pound tomatoes, so I’m crossing my fingers and trying to go slowly and pay attention to the tiniest details this year in order to get things off right. Hell, if Radiator Charlie could do it–completely self trained–any of us should be able to grow our own food, and have reasonably good results.

So, with that, I’m off to water and possibly feed my little seedlings, and set up my second plant light for another row of indoor seed-starting potential.

Follow this link for the transcript of a radio show that describes the development of the tomato and even has an interview with the grandson of M.C. Byles, who discusses memories of his grandfather.

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