Mortgage Lifter tomato

Looking for an all-American heirloom tomato with a great backstory to boot? Look no further than the classic Mortgage Lifter tomato.

The Mortgage Lifter Tomato is an extra-large pink-red heirloom tomato cultivar known for its giant, delicious fruits. Also known as Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter, this garden favorite is grown on huge, rambling vines which produce sweet, tasty tomatoes. Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are a gourmet variety not often sold in supermarkets.

Read on to learn all about Mortgage Lifter tomatoes.

“I didn’t pay but six thousand dollars for my home, and paid most of it off with tomato plants”

M.C. “Radiator Charlie” Byles, In an interview with his grandson Ed Martin, as reported by Living on Earth’s Jeff Young
Mortgage lifter tomato plants at the garden center

The Mortgage Lifter tomato

Mortgage Lifter is an heirloom tomato cultivar bred in 1930’s West Virginia by Marshall Cletis Byles, an amateur tomato enthusiast. Mr. Byles went by the moniker M.C. “Radiator Charlie” Byles, as he worked as an auto mechanic in a shop at the base of a mountain road where transport truck radiators tended to blow while trying to go up the big hill (reference). He named his tomato “Mortgage Lifter” because he sold so many of the plants that he was able to pay off his mortgage with the proceeds.

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are very large beefsteak-type tomatoes that can routinely reach 2-3 pounds each in weight. The peel is generally a red color with a hint of pink (and sometimes a touch of green on the ribs near the stem). Mortgage lifter tomatoes are very tasty, with a subtle sweet taste perfect for a sandwich on a hot summer day.

“With absolutely no experience breeding or growing tomatoes, Mr. Byles had a goal of developing the largest, most delicious tomato possible. …and once he was happy with his results, he sold plants for a dollar each, thereby paying of his $6,000 mortgage in six years; people came from hundred of miles to purchase the plants as news spread fo their excellence.”

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time, by Craig LeHoullier
Mortgage lifter tomatoes

What do Mortgage Lifter tomatoes taste like?

The Mortgage Lifter tomato has a delicious, mild, sweet taste. These tomatoes are not as intensely-flavored as some other heirloom tomatoes (such as Brandywine or Black Krim). Mortgage lifter tomatoes are a wonderful all-around tomato for eating fresh. They lack the bitterness that can turn off some palettes but are not overwhelmingly sweet either. While the taste is subtle, Mortgage Lifter is often named among the best-tasting types of tomatoes.

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes have inherited some of their sweet taste from their parent varieties. Mortgage Lifter tomatoes were bred from German Johnson tomatoes.

Other similar large pink heirloom tomatoes to try to include Brandywine tomatoes, Pink Ponderosa, and Anna Russian (heart-shaped).

The mortgage lifter tomato - baby seedling plant

How to grow Mortgage Lifter tomatoes?

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes can be grown at home from seed or can be purchased as potted seedling plants from a plant nursery. If growing from seed, purchase your Mortgage Lifter tomato seeds in the winter and plant them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost in your area (usually this means sowing seeds indoors sometime in February-March). Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are the open-pollinated variety, which makes them excellent candidates for seed saving.

An easier option is to buy Mortgage Lifter seedling plants. Mortgage Lifter is one of the most common types of heirloom tomatoes to grow, and therefore many nurseries stock baby plants in the spring (typically March-June).

Whether you’re growing from seed or from purchased seedlings, don’t put them outdoors until the threat of frost has passed. Tomato plants can be damaged at temperatures below 43°F (6°C).

Mortgage lifter tomato seedling plant

Once outdoors, plant your Mortgage Lifter tomato plants in nutrient-rich soil that drains water easily. These are large plants that should be spaced about 2 feet apart. They grow particularly well in raised garden beds and in large containers like wine barrel gardens. Put the large Mortgage Lifter plants in a location where their leaves get direct sunlight for at least 6-8 hours per day.

Mortgage Lifter tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning their vines keep growing longer and longer throughout the season. These larger vines require a significant trellis or cage structure to support them.

Foliage of mortgage lifter tomato plant

Fertilizing Mortgage Lifter tomato plants

Tomatoes are heavy feeders (especially large ones like Mortgage Lifter). These plants can benefit from high-quality organic fertilizer. Start with some homemade compost or an organic tomato fertilizer.

How long for Mortgage Lifter tomatoes to ripen?

Mortgage Lifter tomato plants typically take 70-90 days after being planted outdoors to produce ripe tomatoes. Expect to care for your transplanted tomato plants outdoors for 3 months before the largest Mortgage Lifter tomatoes become ripe.

Harvesting Mortgage Lifter tomatoes

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are very large and take a long time to ripen on the vine. Some gardeners choose to leave some fruits on the vine to ripen to peak ripeness, so those fruits can be enjoyed fresh in the garden or harvested for fresh tomato toast. Extra fruits can be harvested/removed early and ripened indoors (at room temperature) as a form of insurance against hungry animals such as deer or birds who might get to your ripening tomatoes before you do!

How tall do Mortgage Lifter tomato plants grow?

Mortgage Lifter tomato plants are among the largest types of tomatoes to grow, easily reaching 6-10 feet (or more) when growing conditions permit. These vigorous plants grow largest when given a sturdy trellis structure to support the vines. Plant size can also be increased by planting them in a sunny location with nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, and consistent watering.

Mortgage Lifter tomato plants are indeterminate, meaning that the vines continue to grow longer (or taller if staked vertically) throughout the growing season. Unlike determinate tomatoes, they don’t reach a terminal mature height. They keep growing longer until the plant is killed by frost or manually cut back.

Mortgage lifter tomato seedlings at the plant nursery
Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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