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The Mortgage Lifter Tomato

There’s a well-known phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention.”  The Mortgage Lifter tomato is an invention that exists because its inventor had a very real and very pressing need.  I wanted to write about this tomato because I felt there was a story behind the name.  I was not disappointed!

Since it’s popular with home growers, you may already know the story of how this tomato got its unusual name. But if you don’t know the story — or you’re wondering if you might be able to grow this tomato in your garden — keep reading to learn more about the Mortgage Lifter tomato.

Closeup of two large pink heirloom tomatoes.

History of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato

This tomato was developed in the 1930s by M.C. Byles, a West Virginia radiator mechanic who went by the nickname “Radiator Charlie.”  Like millions of others, Byles was negatively affected by the Great Depression.  He came up with a plan to create a larger, better-tasting tomato he could later sell.  He crossbred four tomatoes (a German Johnson, a beefsteak, an Italian tomato, and an English tomato) over six years to create the tomato.  In the 1940s he began selling his tomato plants and the profits allowed him pay off his house — hence, the name Mortgage Lifter.

Characteristics of the Mortgage Lifter Tomato

The Mortgage Lifter is an indeterminate heirloom tomato.  Its vines grow 7-9 feet long, love to climb, and need supports at least 7 feet tall. The fruits are large beefsteak tomatoes that are pink or pinkish-red in color.

Closeup of a ripe Mortgage Lifter tomato and some green fruits on the vine.
M.C. Byles’ creation, the Mortgage Lifter tomato.

Ripening Season (early, late, etc)

Mid-season variety that takes 79 days to produce ripe fruit and continues to produce until the first frost.

Tomato qualities: tart, sweet, firm, etc

Slightly flattened shape, sweet taste, meaty, few seeds, very juicy.

Tomato size

Large, up to 2 1/2  pounds.

Overhead view of a large pink heirloom tomato.

Planting Zones

Zones 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Start seeds indoors 8 weeks before the last spring frost.

Size and Spacing

Mortgage Lifter seedlings should be planted deeply with only the top 1-2 sets of leaves showing (after planting, pinch off the others). Moisten the soil prior to planting. Plant tomatoes 24-36 inches apart next to a sturdy support — a trellis or heavy-duty stakes that are at least 7 feet tall. You’ll need these once the plant gets going!

Tomato vines with blossoms, next to a wire garden trellis.

Once planted, tamp the soil gently — don’t compact it. Water your newly planted tomatoes thoroughly, taking care not to get the leaves wet. You may also apply fertilizer at this time.

Pollination

Like most heirloom tomatoes, Mortgage Lifters only need natural pollinators like honeybees, bumblebees, and wind.

Plant Care

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes require normal tomato care.

Sunlight

At least 6 hours of sunlight each day.

Soil

Should be acidic (6.5 pH), well-draining, and amended with compost and decomposed manure to a depth of 24-36 inches.

Water

Spread a 2-3 inch layer of mulch around your tomato plants, but keep the ground clear of mulch three inches around the base of the plant. Water on a regular basis at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry. Provide 1-2 inches of water each week to keep the ground moist (not soggy).

Fertilizer

Once blossoms start to appear on your tomato plant, add extra compost, a cup of compost tea, or a slow-release tomato fertilizer on the soil near the roots. Do this every 1-2 weeks until the first frost of the fall kills the plant.  Be careful not to add too much nitrogen as that could keep your plant from producing fruit (low-nitrogen fertilizers have “3” or lower as the first number).

Pruning/Pinching

Lush, bushy tomato plants won’t give you many (if any tomatoes) — you have to prune/pinch them aggressively! This short video will explain all you need to know about suckers and how to remove them so that your plants will produce the best yield of fruit.

Tomato vines with small green fruit.

Disease

Mortgage Lifters are reported to be very disease-resistant for heirloom tomatoes.  However, the normal precautions should be taken to protect your plants from the common tomato diseases like blight, fusarium wilt, Septoria leaf spot, Verticillium wilt, and Southern bacterial wilt.  Keeping the foliage dry by watering the base of the plant is your best defense against tomato plant disease.

Closeup of unripe green tomatoes.

Pests

Tomatoes suffer a number of pests including aphids, whiteflies, tomato hornworms, slugs, pill bugs, and rodents. Companion plants like marigolds, catnip, fennel, dill, basil, and cilantro repel common tomato pests. Netting helps keep out birds and larger pests, but can also interfere with beneficial insects and pollinators.

When to Harvest Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes will be ready for picking about 79 days after transplanting and harvesting will continue until the first frost.  Once picked, the fruit keeps for 3-4 days at room temperature.

Assorted picked heirloom tomatoes in a display box.

Common Uses For Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Their large size aside, Mortgage Lifters are classic tomatoes and are useful in a wide variety of recipes in raw and cooked form.

Closeup of a BLT with tomato slices.

What Does This Tomato Taste Like?

Mortgage Lifters taste sweet with low acid — what people think a “real” tomato should taste like.

Cooking

One advantage to the Mortgage Lifter’s generous size is that it’s ideal for stuffed tomato recipes.  It also works for soups, stews, casseroles, sauces, and pizzas.

Two large baked stuffed tomatoes.

Eating Raw

Some people like to use this tomato in gazpacho, salsas, and pico de gallo.

Closeup of fresh salsa or pico de gallo.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes can produce anywhere from 12-20 pounds of fruit per plant and with their long harvest season, you’ll probably need to preserve them.

Canning

Tomatoes are some of the easiest produce to can. Click here for an article that will tell you everything you need to know to safely can and store your tomato harvest.

Freezing

Tomatoes can also be frozen, although you might never have thought about doing that. Frozen tomatoes become mushy when thawed out, so use them for cooked foods. For the best way to freeze your tomatoes, read this article.

Drying

Making your own sun dried tomatoes will save money and give you better-tasting dried tomatoes than store-bought. This article covers three drying methods for creating delicious preserved tomatoes.

Recipe Ideas 

Stuffed Tomatoes 1 (filling without any meat)

Stuffed Tomatoes 2 (filling with meat included)

Gorgonzola and Mortgage Lifter Pizza

Tomato Pie With Sour Cream Crust

Summer Tomato and Ricotta Tart

Health Benefits of Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in vitamins C and K, potassium, and folate. They’re also one of the best dietary sources of lycopene, an antioxidant credited with reducing the risks of heart disease and cancer. Tomatoes aren’t just delicious — they’re healthy too.

Large pinkish-red heirloom tomatoes, one that has been cut into slices.

Where to Buy Mortgage Lifter Tomato Plants or Seeds

Because of their popularity, Mortgage Lifter starter plants are not hard to find.  Seeds are even more widely available at local garden centers or online retailers like Amazon.com.

Where to Buy Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes

Mortgage Lifters, while wildly popular with home growers, are considered a gourmet tomato, which means won’t be available in most grocery stores.  Farmers markets and farm stands will be where to look for them.

Wrapping Up the Mortgage Lifter Tomato

A tomato plant with a couple large pink heirloom tomato fruits on it.

Even though he never attended school as a boy, MC Byles had an inventor’s mind.  Using unorthodox methods, he drew upon what he knew about growing tomatoes to develop his own.  Initially intended to be a way for him to keep his house, he ended up creating one the most beloved tomato varieties among home gardeners.

Have a tip to share about Mortgage Lifter tomatoes?  Leave it in the comments section below!

For more tomato information, click here for our other tomato-related blog articles.