Retired Liberty doctor has knack for growing 'maters'

September 09, 2003|HERB BROCK

LIBERTY - A lot of backyard gardeners around the area have been busy the last few weeks harvesting what appears to be a bumper crop of tomatoes.

Dr. George Sweeney of Liberty has been doing the same, but he needs a little help to pick the tomatoes from some of his plants.

While most tomato gardeners can easily pluck the fruit from their plants by simply standing or stooping next to their vines, reaching in and grabbing them, Sweeney needs a piece of equipment to get to some of his. A ladder.

A man with the Midas touch when it comes to growing "'maters," the retired, 81-year-old general practice doctor has grown four, 10-foot tall tomato plants - make that, tomato towers - on tall stakes in the garden in the backyard of his Middleburg Street home.


"About 30 years ago, I decided I'd grow some tall tomato plants and succeeded at it," said Sweeney. "This spring I decided I'd try it again. And it worked again."

And how. Not only are the plants tall, the pink fruit they have been producing has been huge, some measuring 5 inches in diameter.

What's his secret?

The secret to Sweeney's success?

"It starts with the right kind of plant. The four tall plants are a variety called mortgage lifters," he said, laughing that the roots of the giant plants might be able to lift the foundation of his sprawling home as well.

Sweeney bought his four mortgage lifters at Delp's Garden Supply Center in Liberty on May 10 and planted them shortly afterward. Since then, he's fertilized them every three weeks with Miracle Gro, mixing two tablespoons of the fertilizer with two gallons of water and applying a half gallon of the mixture to each of the four plants.

The kind of plant and fertilizing care are important factors in the success he's had with his giant plants, but another factor also might be the soil - soil that has been in his family for many decades.

"I was born and raised in the original house that used to sit where this house is," said Sweeney. "It was the farm house on a 56-acre farm."

He jokes that the reason the people who developed the special variety of tomato gave it the name they did is because they "probably could pay off the mortgage on their farm from selling the gigantic tomatoes." But he has not followed suit. He doesn't sell the mortgage lifters. He gives most of them away.

Since the special plants started yielding their crop a couple of week ago, Sweeney has given away not only most of the mortgage lifters but also tomatoes from many other varietes he grows in his backyard and in a much larger vegetable garden he tends on the property of one of his four children in the Liberty area.

He also has a brown thumb

Gardening isn't the only hobby that occupies the time of Sweeney, a widower whose wife, Mollie, died in 1989. He may have a green thumb in his garden, but he has a brown thumb in the kitchen - as in golden brown, the color of the many cakes he bakes there.

In fact, he had just completed baking several cakes for a bake sale in the community during a recent visit by a reporter. The air in the kitchen was filled with a sweet, nutty aroma.

"People know I like to bake cakes and ask me from time to time to do some for this event or that," said the master gardener/bakery chef.

The ingrediants of the cakes he made for the bake sale included chopped dates, pecans, coconut and crushed pineapple.

Asked the name of the cake, Sweeney replied, "Name? Sure, it has a name. I call it my special no name cake."

But his masterpiece does have a name - jam cake - and he bakes a bunch of jam cakes for family and friends during the holidays.

"Baking and gardening are things I like to do. I'm not great at them, but they do keep an 81-year-old man busy," said Sweeney.

Central Kentucky News Articles