Mortgage Lifters

Reader Contribution by Phil Nichols
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In my old age I’ve become a seed saver and plant mostly open pollinated varieties; though I’ve tried just about everything through the years.

A few years back, in one of the heirloom seed saver catalogs that I regularly peruse, I discovered a tomato known as Mortgage Lifter. As the story goes a gentleman farmed these prolific fruits during the Great Depression and they sold so well that he was able to pay off his mortgage—no mean feat at the time.

I’ve found Mortgage Lifters to be delicious and reliable producers—come drought or downpour. As such I’ve forsaken all other varieties.

Through the years I’ve tried cloches, milk jugs, water filled tepees, tricks, like laying a tomato set down on its side and so on in order to give tomato plants a jump on spring. What I’ve discovered is that all the extra effort is just that—a lot of extra effort. And the outcome is seldom better than simply waiting until the ground warms up to plant. I don’t even bother planting sets anymore, preferring to simply plant saved seed.

It’s been a very wet spring here in the Ozarks but we finally got a few dry days around the end of April and I decided to take the plunge and get my tomatoes planted.

Can’t remember where I came up with the wire mesh used in concrete pours but I imagine that I salvaged it from some job or other. At any rate many years ago I rolled the wire into baskets about 2’ in diameter. Then cut out the bottom row of horizontal wire to leave ½ doz sharp vertical wires that could be pushed into the ground to hold the cage in place (at least where the rocks weren’t too thick). As the years passed the bottom wires rusted away and I had to resort to another strategy to keep the cages from blowing over once the plants pushed out the top. Steel electric fence posts filled the bill admirably. I just pound them into the ground next to a cage and mate them up with a piece of electric fence wire.

Here in the hills, if you intend to have any sort of garden, you either build a six foot high fence of woven wire, keep a dog near by or trick the deer to an electric fence. I opted for a two wire electric fence. Each fall I roll up the wire and pull the east and west posts to facilitate plowing and discing. Once the spring plowing is done I put the posts back in, run the wire and bait the fence.

I believe it was a Rodale magazine that showed me the way to ensure that no deer would attempt to hop over the short electric fence. I take jar of peanut butter, a stick and coat the top wire at the juncture of several insulators around the perimeter. Deer are suckers for peanut butter and will inevitably try to lick it off. If you’ve ever got crossed up with a hot wire you can imagine what a surprise they get. I refresh the bait from time to time and once the deer are educated they give the fence and garden a wide birth.

In keeping with this year’s trench row experiment I dug a hole at the center of each tomato cage and dropped in some composted manure.

Those who garden or farm seriously soon learn that Mother Nature never plays fair. This season was no exception. I no sooner got my tomato seed in the ground when a monsoon came through. The spot for this year’s tomato crop was mostly under water for several days. I am seeing some young seedlings pushing through but suspect that I’ll have to do some replanting; which is pretty well par for the course here. Footnote: all but two of my cages had at least one stubborn tomato holding its own—love those mortgage lifters.

Everything in my first trench row is doing 60 except spinach. I planted some old seed which totally failed to germinate. Soooooooo I opened a new package and replanted. If it doesn’t get to hot to soon we should have some nice spinach.

The saved seed for my trench rowed corn wasn’t the best and germination has been spotty. So I sorted out the best of the kernels and did some replanting this past weekend. We’ll see how that works out.

What’s life without a little adventure?

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