I've been hearing about these newfangled grafted tomatoes. The promise of an heirloom tomato grown on modern, disease-resistant rootstock sounded almost too good to be true. And more than one tomato variety grafted onto a single rootstock? Whoa.
Here's Ann Lovejoy to tell us more. And yes, there's a giveaway–tell us why YOU would most benefit from grafted tomatoes and Log House Plants will ship you some! Yes, it's a little late in the season, but come on, you can make room for a few more tomatoes, right? Have an adventure! OK, here's Ann:
Gardening here in the maritime Northwest is fabulous if you want to grow perennials. For years now, my favorite hobby has been orchestrating year-long sequences of bloom involving everything I currently find appealing, from calendulas to the geekiest of Latin-only rarities. That is very pleasant indeed, but growing food can be really challenging unless I stick with cool climate crops like Black Dragon kale and broccoli raab. As it happens, we eat a ton of greens, which appreciate our chilly springs, delayed summers, and early autumns. We also look forward all year to homegrown tomatoes, which just hate our cold nights and foggy mornings. Even using water-filled cage wraps, I'm most successful with fast-ripening cherry and grape tomatoes, or modestly sized slicers like Oregon Spring or Stupice (if it ripens in Siberia, where it was hybridized, it had better ripen here). Some years, I end up with lots of chutney and fried green tomatoes no matter what I try.
That's why I jumped at the chance to grow grafted tomatoes, which until this summer have only been available in the U.S. to commercial growers. Grafted grapes, roses and fruit trees are familiar to most gardeners; grafted tomatoes may sound weird, but they make total sense. Since the most delicious tomatoes are often weak and disease prone (especially in iffy climates), grafting partners those awesome heritage varieties with productive, disease resistant rootstocks. Now we get bigger, great tasting crops on healthier, vigorous plants with greater tolerance for seasonal temperature swings, extending the growing season in both directions.
That gives backyard gardeners like me a chance to produce enough tomatoes to can our own sauce, the way you could in, say, Ohio, where summer means something. Commercial organic growers also appreciate the robust health of grafted tomatoes, since they crop more heavily and need little or no pesticide treatments. Grafted tomatoes are also less susceptible to heat, cold, flooding, air- and soil-borne diseases, and salt damage (a seaside and sometime soil issue) and resist the revolting early and late blights that thrive in maritime climates, including mine. In Asia and Europe, grafted vegetables are so common that commercial growers use plant-specific grafting robots to match the tiny scions (the top bit) with the baby rootstocks.
Tomatoes are usually grafted when both scion and rootstock seedlings produce their first set of true leaves, which makes for extremely fiddly work. Each tiny stem must be sliced at the proper angle, then neatly mated with its partner. Next, they get clamped with a wee bit of tubing to hold them together as they heal, which takes days (sometimes weeks) in carefully controlled environments. Its not at all surprising that the first grafted tomato plants available to American gardeners come from Log House Plants, a wholesale nursery in Cottage Grove, Oregon thats been run as a multi-family coop for thirty years. Co-owner Alice Doyle is renowned in the nursery industry for innovative ideas and her world-wide researches (tough job, no doubt) allow Log House to introduce a lot of the coolest new plants.
After seeing grafted tomatoes growing on Crete, Alice decided that Log House Plants had to offer them in the States. No robot are involved, and through thoughtful trial and error, Log House folks have developed grafting, healing and acclimatization procedures into a lively art.
If you give grafted tomatoes a try, do not follow the usual practice of deep planting or mulching, since roots formed on the scion lack the advantages the rootstock brings to the union. Keep the graft well above ground and pinch off any shoots from beneath the graft. Handle grafted plants gently and cage or stake them well, providing ample support to avoid damaging the graft. Feed and water as usual, pruning off excess foliage to direct more energy to fruiting. I favor a combination of liquid kelp extract, guano, and a moderate (5-5-5) fertilizer, with an occasional dose of fish emulsion. This year, I'm also taking a tip from Rutgers University and giving my tomatoes a single dose of seawater (inlanders can use SEA-90 instead).
I'm trying out a pair of grafted combos–meaning two varieties grafted onto one rootstock–with Rose and Moonglow in one pot, and Brandywine Red and Brandywine Yellow in another. I'm eagerly tracking the ripening of the first tiny fruit (none of my ungrafted tomatoes have even bloomed yet). Now if the sun would just burn through the clouds….
Okay, folks! Want to give grafted tomatoes a try? Log House Plants wants to send you some! Dazzle us with your cleverness–or your desperation. We'll pick a winner by this weekend.