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Local woman grows oversized tomatoes

Irene Renfroe is excited to share the results of her summer gardening efforts with these “Heirloom Mortgage Lifter” tomatoes weighing in at 1.25 lb.
Irene Renfroe is excited to share the results of her summer gardening efforts with these “Heirloom Mortgage Lifter” tomatoes weighing in at 1.25 lb.

Recently, the J-C showcased Irene Renfroe’s beautiful July Phlox. This week she was excited to share the results of her summer gardening efforts with these heirloom tomatoes. The largest weighed in at 1.25 lb.

Unable to find seeds for her preferred Beefmaster’s tomatoes, Renfroe tried something new — Mortgage Lifter seedlings, whose shape resembled the Beefmaster. The result was spectacular with sweet-tasting fruit which had the possibility of reaching up to 2 lbs. in size.

When asked how she achieved such outstanding results Renfroe laughingly said, “Not sure what my secret is. I do use Miracle Grow and mix Epsom Salt with the soil when planting.” Renfroe also noted she begins her seedlings in coffee cans.

Renfroe’s tomatoes were noted in a 2010 edition of the JC. At that time she was using Beefmaster which yielded tomatoes weighing in at 1.5 to 1.75 lbs. Her lovely yard was recognized by the GFWC Heeko Club in 2008 during its “Pretty in Pawhuska” contest. In congratulating Renfroe for this honor, Pawhuska’s First National bank presented her with a laminated photo of the newspaper story.

Renfroe shared this story about how her prized tomatoes got their name. Internet research verified her story. Several mail-order seed catalogs also share this tale. The Mortgage Lifter heirloom tomato was developed in the early 1930’s by M.C. Byles, a radiator repairman. Nicknamed ‘Radiator Charlie,’ Byles (like many of his countrymen) struggled to keep his finances in order during the Great Depression. As the story goes, Radiator Charlie cross-bred the largest tomatoes he could find in his hometown of Logan, West Virginia, and sold the resulting plants for a dollar each. The profits he earned paid off his $6,000 mortgage.

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