Eat This

Grafted Tomato Update

Throughout the summer I've been reporting on the grafted tomatoes, called Mighty Matos, that Log House Plants sent me to try out.  Go here to see the earlier posts.

As I've said before, it is hardly fair to send a tomato to my house and expect it to live.  I'm just a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, and it's always cold and foggy here, even in summer.  Yesterday, Labor Day, we turned the heater on for the first time.  Sweaters are regular August attire. And I'm on the road a lot, so I'm just not the most attentive summer vegetable gardener.  So really, this may not be the best possible trial they could have gotten.

Here's a rather ugly picture of the messy tomato patch.  I put them in containers to keep the chickens away; that's what the little lattice is for, also.  If this experiment is successful, I'll build a better tomato bed next year. 

Grafted tomato2

I would say that, between the grafted Sungold and the regular Sweet 100 I bought on impulse at the garden center, I've harvested about 20 cherry tomatoes as of early September.  Not enough to even bring in the house–they all get eaten right off the vine.

I also got a Siberian variety (yes, Siberia.  Sigh.  I live in tomato Siberia.) called 'Sasha’s Altai.’  It has produced about three nice, red, flavorful tomatoes.  Definitely a variety I'd grow again.  They're small, but this actually qualifies as a big ol' tomato in my garden.  (If this story about it is true, I love it even more.)

Grafted tomato3

 

And I have a whole bunch of these rock-hard, still green Big Beef grafted tomatoes.  They look great–but will they ripen before it gets too cold and all the tomato vines turn black and die?  That has been my only experience with larger tomatoes since I've lived here.  We'll see.

Grafted tomato4

There you have it.  There's still time for a crazy wonderful tomato crop to come in.  I wait.

People have been asking me whether garden centers can really get away with charging more for these tomatoes.  I guess some garden centers are already looking ahead to next year and placing their orders.  So let me ask you:  IF these grafted veggies turn out to have a significantly better yield–maybe 50-100% more than their ungrafted counterparts–and/or IF they turn out to resist disease or otherwise stand up better to difficult conditions–what would you pay?  For, say, a 4-inch pot.  And again, let's say this was a sure thing, and your garden center could absolutely assure you that the harvest was going to rock your world.

And if any of you are trying these out, do feel free to share links to your own posts.

 

Posted by on September 7, 2011 at 4:11 am, in the category Eat This.
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10 Responses to “Grafted Tomato Update”

  1. Dave says:

    Grafting a tomato really seems like more effort is wasted to make it than would be to simply plant one from seed or a cutting. I can see why you would do it if the yield is significantly better but call me skeptical!

  2. Chellie says:

    I in Sacramento, Ca; the land of tomatoes. However, it has been a slooow tomato year. My brandy wines have tons of green fruit, but I have only harvest two red one so far. The scuttlebutt at the garden center is that the smaller tomatoes are doing ok, but the big ones are languishing. Sigh. I’m afraid I wont have enough toms to put up for the winter, even though I have eight plants! Sniff.

  3. Leslie says:

    I live in Davis and am having a better tomato year than I have had in a long time, which I believe is because I solarized my soil last year to knock back root knot nematodes. I know those will return so if the grafted tomatoes mean a good selection that is resistant to the nematodes I would pay 2 or 3 times as much. If you don’t have adverse conditions I’m not sure the increased cost would be worth it.

  4. Grafting seems like a lot of work for a tomato plant; I am skeptical as well. I don’t know how the labor-intensive thing will work out in the long run, especially with people so hard-hit by the economy. (Can we do this at home? I would think so.)

    We need to breed plants that will work in our climate, like the Siberian tomatoes. They have also grown a watermelon in Siberia–selection and spending the time and saving the seed from successes is the key.

    I grew ‘Siberian Red’ this year (in Colorado) because we also have very cool conditions at night, along with a short growing season. I’m not impressed with the flavor. I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about ‘Sasha’s Altai’ and want to try it, along with other Siberians, and hope to save seeds next year from the earliest, tastiest producers.

  5. I said this in the last post, but the main benefit of grafted tomatoes comes through increased resistance to soil born diseases, not necessarily increased yields. Of course, commercial growers who create optimal environments and soils for their growing operations often see both benefits. It seems a bit unfair to dismiss a horticultural technology that has been proven over hundreds of years in orchards, farms, and gardens simply because a single season in your garden in less-than-ideal conditions didn’t produce the bumper crop you thought it would.

  6. anne says:

    I live in the Oregon Cascades, and while we get a lot more sunshine than where Amy is, our season is shorter due to the more northern latitude. Some years are better for tomatoes than others. I’ve had good luck with the Siberian tomatoes; they have shorter seasons and while the individual tomatoes are smaller, the plants are prolific. Also, try the Siletz tomato, bred for the cooler west side of Oregon; short season (53 days I think), larger than the Siberians, good cropping.

    I don’t think you can really guarantee how anything will grow once it leaves the garden center, grafted or not. Too many variables. Grafting is a neat trick and can solve problems, but does involve more work; I don’t see a huge market for them unless people do pay more. Someone has to pay for the work. Personally, there are so many region-specific varieties out there, I’ll stick with those (unless I run into serious disease issues, in which case I think addressing those directly is better than grafting).

    As for Sasha’s Altai….don’t know if the story is true, but if it is, 2 thoughts come to mind: 1,000,000 rubles in 1993 was not as much as it sounds (the ruble was devalued against the dollar that year something like 70%). And, while people around the world were profiting off Sasha’s tomato, why was he not getting any of the proceeds? That would have been far better for him than one year’s income….

  7. intie says:

    Gardening really starts in the soil. Thinking about what goes on a microscopic, bacterial level is something most of us rarely think about, but proves time and time again to really affect the quality and abundance that our garden yields. Investing in soil inoculants means investing in the health and fertility of your soil for years to come. I think more people should be aware and this site, http://www.biositechnology.com/, is a great resource to get all garden enthusiasts on a path toward a better and healthier harvest!

  8. Ray Eckhart says:

    Can we do this at home?

    Possibly.  Here’s a fact sheet on the process that growers use. From what I understand, it’s worth it for growers in the greenhouse/high tunnel industry to get the higher prices they command outside the main growing season, or want to get a market edge for heirlooms, but whose soil may have become contaminated from continual planting of the same crop in the same spot; verticilium and fusarium wilts, for example.

  9. After being hit with fusarium wilt for the first time this year, we intend to graft next year. The problem is that the seeds for the rootstock are significantly more expensive than the heirloom seeds themselves, that cost gets magnified and passed on to the consumer. I’d go broke buying 4 inch pots, even for regular tomatoes. We start all of ours from seed. As such, we’ll likely try our hand at grafting our own stock next spring. Between the dismally cold summer stalling fruit set this year on the Central Coast, and now fusarium wilt, this year’s harvest for us has been a near total loss, a waste of 6 months of effort, and growing space. Grafting may be (we’ll have to see) the only way we’ll have any yield next year. At this point, I’d give almost anything just to have healthy plants in the garden. I’d be interested though to see how they do in a normal warm summer, not a Siberian one :P

  10. Laura says:

    Sandra is right. The primary purpose for grafting is to prevent soil borne diseases, such as verticillium, fusarium, nematodes, corky root rot, tobacco mosaic virus, etc. Here in the southeast, those are huge issues, especially as the humid summer progresses. Grafting is especially appropriate for organic growers, who want to avoid the use of chemicals. Plus, grafting tomatoes helps to keep these fungal spores from getting established in soil, which is a consideration for small gardens where tomatoes are planted in the same space year after year. I tried grafted tomatoes this year, and am amazed at the lack of disease. Only one grafted plant got anthracnose, which, as it happens, is not one of the diseases the rootstock I used is listed for (Beaufort and Maxifort) As for yield, I have little to compare it with, since I also grafted them onto heirloom tomatoes for the first time. I did get lots of tomatoes, but not nearly as many as with the commercial varieties I’ve planted in the past. Full disclosure: my website, betterheirlooms.com has supplies in small quantities to help home gardeners try grafting without having to buy huge quantities. Good luck!

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