Friday, May 28, 2010

Backup Heirloom Tomatoes

A week ago I planted my German Pink Tomatoes out in the garden. These are very special tomatoes to me because I started the plants myself from seeds saved by my son from tomatoes he grew in his garden last year with seeds given to him by one of his gardening neighbors. His neighbor tells of these tomato seeds being saved and passed down year after year since his family came to this country from Germany a hundred years ago. See what I mean, these are very special tomato plants! I have never started tomato plants from seed before, and without a greenhouse I struggled a bit to rig up an appropriate lighting and shelving system for growing plants from seed at home. I did the best I could and most of my plants seemed to patiently hang in there, but I felt they always looked to be a bit stressed, puny and struggled to grow. At first, signs of mold showed up on the top of each little peat pellet in which I had started the seeds, and then more mold after I transplanted them into bigger peat pots. Then there was an infestation of gnats that had to be dealt with. Somehow they managed to hang in there and lived. Giving up on growing seedlings in a peat-based material, once transplanted into plastic pots, they seemed to do better. Then it came time to harden them off and once again they were stressed. Not having a good place to harden plants off at home, a make-shift cold frame in my garden was the best that I could do. Unfortunately, it was very sunny during their first few days outside, and almost immediately some of their leaves showed signs of sun scorch. I partially covered their make-shift cold frame with the lid to the box to shade them a bit from the sun, but, unfortunately, damage had already been done. So far they are holding their own, hanging in there and have not yet died. They still look puny after losing some of their original leaves upon transplant into the garden, but I noticed just yesterday that they are beginning to sprout a few new leaves. I'm going to take this as a very good sign, and hope that this means I may actually get to eat some of my home-grown heirloom German Pink Tomatoes right out of my own garden.

Meanwhile, at a local market I noticed a big rack of extremely healthy looking heirloom tomato plants marked at what seemed like an extremly low price. I could not resist. I purchased four of them and went straight to the Happy Valley Community Gardens and planted them in the last unplanted bed in my Garden Nbr. 02.
These tomato plants look very healthy and do sound promising. One is even called "German Johnson", another "Mortgage Lifter".Turns out the Mortgage Lifter tomato has an interesting history too. Developed in the 1940's by MC Byles, the owner of radiator repair shop and also known as Radiator Charlie. Wanting a better tomato, starting with a German Johnson tomato plant in the center of a ring of ten other types of tomatoes, with a baby's ear syringe he collected the pollen and squirted it onto the German Johnson. Each year he would save the seeds from the German Johnson and repeat the process, and after seven years he was satisfied that he had a stable tomato with all the qualities he was looking for. After that, he raised tomato plants each year and sold them for $1.00 each, paying off his mortgage with the proceeds.
It's an interesting story, and you can read more about it here - Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes.
I'll consider these our backup heirloom tomatoes.


  1. Don't feel bad about having back-up heirlooms. My own tomato seedlings succumbed to a wilt this spring and I had to purchase several packs of plants at a nursery. Every year of gardening is full of lessons to learn. That's why it is so fun!

  2. You'll like the German Pink--one of my faves. I'm also trying German Johnson and Mortgage Lifter this year for the first time (along with about 10 others!). Is the tag to the left "Gajo"? If those are Gajo de Melon, they rock and are another one of my faves.

  3. Monica, the left most tag is a "grape" tomato. I don't know much about them, but I liked the picture on the tag and thought they'd be good skewered with chunks of other veggies on the summer bbq. Thanks for the heads up about Gajos. I'll make a note to look for them next year . . .

    I was impressed with the heirloom-type varieties of tomatoes locally and so hope my German Pinks survive and produce because I'm curious to see how they compare to the German Johnson and Mortgage Lifter varieties.


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