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209. Epic Tomatoes | Craig LeHoullier | Raleigh, NC
15th January 2018 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:07:25

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From his website:


Through the years, I’ve been known as NC Tomatoman. Some know me as the fellow who named Cherokee Purple in 1990. To others, I am the author of the books Epic Tomatoes or Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales, the co-host of Tomatopalooza, a co-leader of the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, or just the odd person with a garden where the driveway used to be. I am the tomato nut with a website, a blog, a newsletter (on occasion), and a huge tomato and pepper and eggplant collection. Really, all I am is Craig LeHoullier – someone that heirloom tomatoes chose to help participate in their continued relevance.

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time



Free Organic Garden Course WebsiteFree Garden Course

This interview actually starts out in the pre-chat because I know my listeners like to hear some of these things we talk about. My amazing guest today Craig LeHoullier was just recommended a couple of days ago and has already agreed to come on and talk about his amazing book: 

EPIC TOMATOES by Craig Le Houllier

I put out 2 episodes now I called RAW, where the content was key….

One of my next goals is to  put out a podcast and some webinars. What I’m supposed to do next will come to me and so I’m just having fun with it.  

Well if you need anything, I joined Podcaster’s Paradise, and I am always learning.


The Paul Colligan Book: How To Podcast: Four Simple Steps To Broadcast Your Message To The Entire Connected Planet … Even If You Don’t Know What Podcasting Really Is

My daughter bought me the Paul Collegan book up, she lives up here near Seattle, she’s helping me with the blog and Facebook. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I struggled with my husband for years, I got him a laptop, and a kindle, and a macbook, and finally I got him an iPhone 6, and it works. I finally found what works. I look at his feed compared to mine.

When my book came out, my daughter told me careful with the political stuff because gardeners come from all different political views.

I can’t help but let my feelings leak out a bit. IT seems like when I look, my listeners are pretty interested in the political things. Fortunately I work on the reservation, and so it’s a little more progressive then my

I’m a bit inspired by my Facebook feed in light of the news these days.

Democratic Underground moderator… the courage being shown, this is the time for good people to take a stand. We’re at crossroads right now, things can go a couple of years, this is the first time in my 61 years, I’m really worried. Human beings we do have faults and there’s a lot of them showing.

My husband and my step daughter were watching the news… We’re right at the stage at the beginning of the August 16th with the big thing down in Virginia over the statue thing.

Welcome to the OGP today! It’s August 16th, and my last day before I go back to school and training tomorrow!  So I’m excited to say Craig LeHoullier  is here to share with us! 

Tell us a little about yourself.

Live in Raleigh NC, I’ve lived here 25 years.

I’m a native New Englander. In Rhode Island is where my dad and grandfather instilled the love of gardening when I was really young. I didn’t do much gardening in Rhode Island, but then I met my wife in Grad school in NH. The first thing we did after our marriage is have our first garden.

1981 this is 2017 so that’s like 36 gardens?

I’ve had a lot of gardens in my life. I just can’t be without it!

Epic Tomatoes

  • I major in tomatoes

  • I minor in peppers and eggplant.

I truly love to grow everything. I find that gardening in Raleigh, NC is the most challenging. I didn’t realize how good we had it in 8 years in PA no matter what you through in the ground didn’t get diseased. It’s a different story here. I guess that’s how I got here on your show.

Wait a minute let’s back up because where should people be looking in Pennsylvania if you can just throw things in the ground and they grow? It’s a big state as big as Montana!

dig in your dirt

  • so we lived in Villa Nova
  • moved to Berwin
  • suburban
  • west Chester of  Philly
  • not terribly far from Lancaster.

The ground there was very rich and drained nicely

One of the advantages (living in Pennsylvania)

was we lived where they produced a lot of mushrooms, they could drive up to your place with a truckload of 32 cubic yards of mushroom soil and work that into your garden!! 


by the time we moved out of West Chester in PA where I caught the heirloom garden bug and that’s where my tomato collection started exploding. 

To just be able to go out into a garden and jam your fist in the ground up to your shoulder is just the direct opposite of here in Raleigh where every shovelful produced a clay pot or brick, if I did that here I’d  break my wrist

it’s where you live.


touch on the trees have grown where I used to have my garden. Now I’ve built an expertise on 

Container and straw bales

dig into the heirlooms


portable garden and be able to grow a lot of food wherever the sun shines

GrowingVegetablesinStrawBales I’ve got my second book is out it’s 

Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales: Easy Planting, Less Weeding, Early Harvests. A Storey BASICS® Title 

books 3 & 4 in my head in planning. One will be on the dwarf tomato breeding project, I’ve co-led for about the last 11 years we’ve been creating compact plants are compact and the tomatoes are often full sized. We do it the old-fashioned way doing  Mendelian breeding and crosses and selecting

I want to do a gardening cookbook we will probably self publish those so I can practice what that’s like. 

I like to

  • write
  • blog
  • teach
  • coach

no end to learn what we can

screw something up and find out when something goes wrong.

I love all of this I have so many questions I don’t even know where to start. I guess, Mike just started the Straw Bale thing, I’m curious about the pots, but your book is called Epic Tomatoes. IDK…


Where Epic Tomatoes comes from…

We pick things to love in life whether it’s our significant other or our pets. Every now and then something chooses us to become obsessed with.

For a period between 1986 and 1990

I received so many valuable rare tomato seeds from people all over the country where it was that family and I were the only ones had the variety.

I receive cherokee purple from a fellow in Tennessee

by 1990

  • Anna Russian
  • Lillian’s yellow heirloom


I got to slap names on or distribute by listing in the seed savers exchange

Sending them to friends so they’d be in seed savers catalogs

I am very lucky I have had a hand in reintroducing a couple of hundred different seed catalogs and availability. Kind of turning back the clock.

over 3000 tomato varieties

I’ve been seed saver exchange tomato advisor for over a decade now and it’s been so much fun!

They have questions on tomato history

I’m lucky the tomato decided someone who could help them spread their wings and

How did you get to be a tomato advisor? You started sending them seeds? What was your corporate job?

PHD in organic chemistry I was actually at pharmaceutical companies…

gardening thing developed in parallel to that

passion for gardening, so I’d work during the day and I’d do the gardening when I came home from work

I love stories

  • genealogy
  • cook
  • diversity

I love the idea of saving seeds and passing them on

tomato hobby was the prefect intersection or perfect storm of me being able to rope all of my passions into one pursuit 

seed savers exchange one of their main one of their tomato collected

listed in their year book

got to know them a little bit and went to a camp outs in Iowa

recognizes and values

  • tomato
  • beans

People who develop and expertise and that became the advisory network that would learn about it


take a step back my friends ask why tomatoes?


We all of us, if we look at our lives we have a something passion that we can’t seem to learn enough about.

My passion is biographies, I love to learn about people’s lives! So what’s one thing we as gardeners should know but probably don’t know about growing tomatoes?


lets’ give you a top 3 things to know about growing tomatoes!

fortunate to be at Monticello at their harvest festival and I gave a speech on 5 must dos for successful tomato growers. 

First would be amount of potential fungi and disease that lives in the soil

a lot of thee trouble people run into is starting low down in the plant foliage started dying off works itself  up the plant . So I think

MULCHING Immediately

  • untreated grass clip
  • fine hardwood bark
  • wheat straw as long as you make sure it has not been sprayed with persistent herbicides
  • straw bales
  • lawn clippings

Isn’t it sad that we have to put that caveat in because there is so much use of roundup and herbicides. You can be the greatest gardener in the world or have the greatest dirt but if you have a straw bale that has been impregnated with a persistent herbicide  it’sg gonna die so you need to know the source or your mulch!

But if you put a mulch and create a barrier so that soil doesn’t splash on the lower foliage.

#2. Space your plants so the get really good air circulation around the plants, and between the plants and the sun can shine around the plants as much as it can

especially in areas where it gets warm and humid

you can really alleviate or minimize the things that attack your plants!

anybody who gardens all of us know we have this enthusiasm for growing as much as we can. When we plant them they have all this space and then when they reach mature size your garden is a jungle

Hahaha, Jackie is laughing cause she knows this well!

for the most part most things that we grow like that type of crowding because there are so many different types of fungi.

viruses and bacteria

usually the fungi that are the bad actors on tomatoes plants. 

if we gardened in the 40s and 50s seed catalogs had like 150 or less tomatoes

90% were

  • red
  • few pinks
  • few yellow
  • flavors were good to ok

in 2017 because of the efforts in seed savers exchange 

maintain our genetic companies

small companies

conserving heirlooms




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