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Backyard Gardener: The mortgage lifter tomato

Hello Mid-Ohio Valley Farmers and Gardeners. Memorial Day or fondly remembered as “Decoration Day” traces its roots back to the Civil War here in America. Graves of fallen soldiers from both sides of this bloody conflict were decorated with flowers. Christened officially in 1971 by The National Holiday Act, this weekend represents a lot more than the start of summer. We salute those fallen soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms as Americans.

Many gardeners will be transplanting tomatoes over the next few weeks. If you are looking for a good beefsteak tomato you may want to try ‘Mortgage Lifter’. Definitely a popular choice here in the valley, and a famous heirloom tomato around the United States, which was developed right here in West Virginia.

M.C. Byles of Logan W.Va., also known as “Radiator Charlie” developed this tomato in the 1930’s.  His nickname came about because he ran a radiator repair business at his home, situated at the bottom of a steep hill in coal country. Logging or mining trucks often over heated going up the steep hill and would roll into Charlie’s shop for repairs. 

Charlie loved to garden, especially with tomatoes. He developed a tomato that he could sell by crossbreeding four of the largest-fruited tomatoes he could find including ‘German Johnson’, another beefsteak, an Italian variety, and an English variety. He hand pollinated the ‘German Johnson’ with a baby’s ear syringe, and after 6 years of trials, he had what he felt was a stable plant that produced large, tasty tomatoes. He sold plants for $1 apiece and claimed people came from as far away as 200 miles to buy the plants.  In six years, he made enough money to pay off his $6,000 mortgage, so he called the tomato ‘Mortgage Lifter’.

‘Mortgage Lifter’ is a fairly disease-resistant (VFN) Beefsteak type tomato that matures in 80 days. It is indeterminate and bears one to two pound fruits. It is a very productive tomato, often described as pink or red, and is very meaty with few seeds and great tomato flavor.

“Radiator Charlie” lived to be 97 years old. Maybe there is something about this tomato we don’t know about. Contact me with questions at the WVU Extension Office at 304 424 1960 or at jj.barrett@mail.wvu.edu.

∫ Question of the Week: I have poison ivy growing near the house and my family is extremely allergic. How do I control this plant? — Itching for help.

First, I definitely understand your concern. For those who are allergic, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can be a nuisance in the landscape. All parts of poison-ivy plant contain resinous compounds called urushiols. When urushiols contact the skin, or are inhaled, they cause inflammation, itching, and blistering.

Poison ivy is a resilient perennial plant and can be very difficult to control. Most non-chemical approaches require at least some contact with the plant. In most cases herbicides must often be applied more than once for total control. Protect all parts of the body from coming in contact with any part of the poison ivy plant. In addition, never burn the plant as toxins can be inhaled in smoke.

Before you launch a control effort, make sure you have the right plant. The leaves of poison ivy are readily identifiable and help to distinguish it from most other weed species. The leaves are compound, with three leaflets that occur alternately along the stem. Leaflets may have smooth, scalloped or irregularly toothed margins but typically the lateral two leaflets have irregularly toothed outer leaf margins and smooth, untoothed inner leaf margins.

The leaf surface may or may not have a waxy or oily appearance. Leaves can occur in a variety of colors on the same plant, but leaflets typically have a greenish-red cast when they first emerge in the spring, then turn dark green throughout the summer, and eventually turn red, orange or yellow in the fall.

The fruit of poison ivy is a smooth, greenish-white berry with a waxy appearance. It grows in clusters the size of small currants. Each berry contains a single seed. Birds and other wildlife feed on the berries and consequently spread poison ivy in their droppings.

Poison ivy has a few look alikes. Fragrant sumac has three leaflets and is commonly confused with poison ivy. However, this species differs in that both fruit and leaves may be hairy. Virginia creeper is an aggressive vine growing to the top of the tallest tree. It can be readily identified and distinguished from poison ivy by the five leaflets making up the compound leaf. Neither Virginia creeper nor fragrant sumac contains toxic substances that irritate the skin.

Poison ivy can be a tough plant to control. However, several herbicides can be used to eradicate it. Herbicides should be applied during periods of rapid poison ivy growth to ensure maximum kill. One of the best times to apply herbicides to poison ivy is just before the plants are blooming. Keep in mind that poison ivy is a tough perennial plant with thick, woody rootstocks, and therefore regrowth and new sprouts are likely to occur. If regrowth occurs, it may take repeated applications during the same season or in the following year to achieve complete eradication.

One of the most effective active ingredients is triclopyr, a selective herbicide that kills broadleaf plants but does not harm grasses. Home and garden centers and hardware stores sell a large variety of herbicide products containing triclopyr, a common example of which is Ortho’s Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer©. Most farm stores will carry a product called Crossbow©. Check the label for the active ingredient triclopyr.

Herbicide products that contain combinations of the active ingredients dicamba and 2,4-D as well as triclopyr are commonly packaged together in a variety of broadleaf lawn herbicide mixtures. These are selective herbicides that can be used safely on grasses to control or suppress broadleaf plants such as poison ivy. These herbicides should not be applied in locations where other sensitive species grow near poison ivy.

Glyphosate (active ingredient in Roundup©) is a nonselective herbicide which can be used. Be careful! It will kill both grass and broadleaf plants, so care must be taken when using this product near trees, shrubs, flowers or other desirable species. High-volume solutions of glyphosate can be spot-sprayed or painted onto the foliage of poison ivy for control.

Whenever you use any herbicide, read and understand the instructions on the herbicide label before making an application.

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