209. Epic Tomatoes | Craig LeHoullier | Raleigh, NC

Craig LeHoullier Epic Tomatoes author

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

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

10,000  more varieties different tomatoes now! If you get their yearbook. 

stretch your imagination

  • heart shaped tomatoes
  • one the size of a pea
  • softball
  • purple
  • striped
  • swirled one

You could almost say learn to play with your food

different colors


  • let’s make white tomato sauce
  • yellow
  • green

People are gonna ask you what varieties and know the stories and histories

I like the biographies of the things that we grow

  • tomato varieties have stories!
  • peppers
  • melons varieties
  • all of us who are involved in this things called gardening

being able to tell them an interesting story about the tomato you used to make that yellow tomato sauce and  it was sent to Craig and he got it from Robert Richardson who got it from Lillian Bruce who was an elderly woman who got the seeds from her son who went to farm shows and find intestering tomatoes to bring back to her


Tomato Grower Supply

amazed how delicious

I think the easiest to save of all

the ones where you simply let the vegetable or fruit dry on the vine


  • beans,
  • peas
  • peppers
  • dry on the plant

on the plate

pepper go to whatever ripe color to what it’s gonna get to

except for one variety

are on their way to a different color

  • chocolate
  • red

once it hits it’s final color

air dry for a week or so

I said to my wife jokingly because we turned the tv off 8 years ago

don’t get the newspaper

  • read to each other
  • listen to audiobooks
  • laughed

maybe people would enjoy it!

driving in the car

why does it have to be fiction?

cooky thought

read a gardening book…add little tidbits

I came across this book called Homegrown Humus Cover Crops. So yesterday I actually read her book as an audio book, cause I wanted to see how long is it gonna take? If we are going to do a study group on the book how long will it take? It was about an hour.

I thought who would listen to a garden podcast? When they’re doing that boring weeding job or riding their lawnmowers. 

I’m a person who has, I’m a

list keeper

better job adding things to the list

then ticking them off


books 3&4

water the garden

save the seeds

make dinner for my wife on the couch post knee surgery

no brainers on the list everyday to check the no-brianers off. 

getting to the ones who take some that fall at the bottow of the to-do lists.

I always think why would anyone stare at a blank page? granted I have 13 books in the work. For me is usually summer vacation get a book done, but it’s submit submit submit….

found that I can write very fast in short bursts

lots of different things in the course of the day

My wife is an introvert she can be in her quilting room for hourse

I do things 30 min

sit for an hour

touch type 2000/words an hour on the lap top.

130 words/minute

you shoud do my shownotes for my podcast! I can barely type 60 wpm… 

don’t like to edit and proof

  • daughters
  • wife
  • friends

I enlisted quite a few people to help with the proof reading and editing.

I say kudos to them because I show things to my family and then I print and i’m like look at these mistakes.

Let’s take a minute to thank our sponsors and affiliate links

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Now Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.


For example in mid august

plants are still alive but not looking great


know that they need something

maximizing the garden and trying to find the enthusiasm

when it’s hot


we’ve already canned 20 quarts of tomatoes


remove all the disease foliage and do the chores.

get another big crop

hard part

for me

I’ve never been a good 12 month gardener because I put so much into it by February 

  • seed starting march
  • planting
  • june
  • July

I spend Sept-Dec

  • chilling
  • thinking back
  • what didn’t work
  • blogging
  • writing
  • Epic Tomatoes in Driveway

    What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

I’ll tell you what I like to tell people

the people who love gardening the most appreciate the journey rather then focus on the destination.

Ive got 98 tomatoes

35 peppers

growing in my driveway

various states of thriving…

all different varieties

but I know I’ve lost some of them

planting the seeds

which ones are growing like I expect

purple foliage

a bee crossed a little bit of that pepper so now I have a mysterious hybrid

The mad scientist lights up!


putting a little music on in the garage


getting them in the ground

fruit form

I will lose 20%

  • wilt
  • deer
  • plant will fail to thrive

It’s great to

eat them

tastes like

  • I’m burning calories
  • birds are singing
  • getting dirty



journey part

I know I have a lot of plants growing if I only had room for 6 and I lost 30% of my crop I could see why people would be despondent. 

wonderful about gardening spot


instead of being totally focused on I didn’t get in as many pounds

I learned a lot

tried all of these new things

diseases hit but I figured out what went wrong so next year I can change it.

journey not the destination

It’s the single act of garden! 

I know my listeners are gonna be like ME Too! That’s what I love too!

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

I guess here’s what’s interesting

My grandpa and dad taught me to garden when I was very very young. But for the most part I did it on my own.

Even though I’m an extrovert and I like people and I have a passion like gardening

I like to be an explorer

  • didn’t read a whole lot of books
  • If I do this, this is likely to happen
  • try this

Maybe I’ll take some advice from a different pursuit when I was getting a degree.

If you are going to change something only change one thing at a time


would be

epsom salts on my plants

also use fish emulsion


what I tell people is do an experiment

  • do everything the same
  • apply epsom salts
  • take good notes!
  • foliage
  • yield the same


that’s how you answer the questions

what can I do in gardening? That make some things make things better

if you’re

  • tinkering
  • playing
  • trying to learn something
  • controlled study
  • plant your doing nothing to is the control
  • the other is the experiment
  • Then at the end of the year you can add to body of gardening

So valuable no wonder you have a degree in organic chemistry!

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.

Back when I was a regular gardener

in the dirt

  • short handled blade
  • cutting tool…


now that I’m a container gardener

I need a big wheeled gardening cart that I dump the bags of potting manure and mix with the cow manure

  • wheel it over to my containers
  • plants
  • need to have something

large capacity

roll around my yard…

I hear you, when I first thought of this question I thought a shovel but then I picked a wheel barrow and I have been looking for a cart!

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

So it varies

thing is with great tomatoes

slice them on the plate

  • mozzarella
  • parmesan

Classic caprezi salad

so many good recipes!

nothing but the tomatoes

our go to

favorite cherry tomato

sun gold

bundle of tomatoes bliss and joy

cooking show

Lidia’s Italy

trapanese sauce

essentially make pesto

  • use cherry tomatoes
  • basil
  • toasted almonds
  • garlic
  • olive oil

The flavor that creates it’s a cold sauce like typical pesto you just heat your pasta


pale color, it doesn’t look like much but almost so good you can’t eat it.

One thing you’ll ask me.


emails is nctomatoman@gmail.com

I spend about the last 1/2 hour doing diagnoses I feel like its a network of my tomatoes friends I probably will never meet but we share our passions of gardening



NC TomatoMan Facebook Page

Facebook Page

Instagram Epic Tomatoes NC TomatoMan


Instagram @nctomatoman

I like to be out there and answer questions. There’s nothing like a spirited discussion about what tomatoes is better! 

when the book came out my daughter said if you want to sell some books you have to be out there and build a network and be with other gardeners more accessible

You can teach an old dog new tricks

love anytime people want to get in touch with me.

How do we connect with you?

emails is nctomatoman@gmail.com

Instagram @nctomatoman

We’re all pieces of the puzzle of waht we’re doing to make the world a better place! believe the wonderful emails

pictures of diseased

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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