tomato grafting: a tactic for heirloom success?
ICOUNT TOMATO GRAFTING AMONG MY NEWEST OBSESSIONS. I know, I know; did I need another obsession—and particularly one that offbeat? But after a season of widespread tomato troubles and my generally leery feelings about counting on a plentiful crop from heirlooms in particular, why not considering turning to grafting for an edge? Growing a desired though perhaps less vigorous variety on tougher rootstock has been the trick in many crops (think roses, fruit trees, and many other ornamentals). Tomatoes, it turns out, are no exception. Into the world of grafted tomatoes we go…
It was a recent email from Johnny’s Selected Seed, which sells not just seed for tomato-rootstock varieties but also grafting clips to hold the freshly connected plant parts in place, that piqued my interest.
It alerted me to what is apparently a commonplace tactic in greenhouse tomato production, where soil infected with fusarium, for instance, would otherwise have to sterilized in a costly manner before planting again. By grafting the crop whose fruit you want (called the scion) onto resistant rootstock, you can limit the effects of such troubles as corky root, verticillium, and crown rot, plus most common nematodes—and also just get bigger yields from relatively weak-growing but favorite varieties.
“Grafting is an increasingly popular technique among tomato growers who have had disappointing yields and disease problems,” said the note from Di Cody of Johnny’s. “It’s especially helpful for heirloom, greenhouse, and hoophouse tomatoes.”
The note linked to a 2008 article in the trade publication “Growing for Market,” in which one farmer said: “I will not grow an heirloom tomato that is not grafted anymore,” and that grafted rootstocks are an “heirloom grower’s best friend.”
For heirlooms, choose the tomato rootstock Beaufort, said Di’s email (others are better geared to greenhouse production of hybrids). One thing that scares me, even more than the slice-and-dicing itself with a razor or Exacto knife: the price of seeds for the rootstock. Fifty seeds of ‘Beaufort’ cost $20.95, and I still need the grafting clips. Hmmm…what price tomatoes? But I remain fascinated.
I read about how to graft by three methods in “Grafting Tomatoes,” Johnny’s useful pdf, and watched the University of Vermont Extension how-to grafting video (above). Soon, in typical Margaret fashion, I started even farther down the research rabbit hole, and was reading things like these:
In Hanoi, where the hot, wet months mean tomato diseases flourish, grafting is a tactic used to produce a valuable cash crop anyhow. In Japan, an Ohio State project reported, about 95 percent of watermelons, oriental melons, greenhouse cucumbers, tomato and eggplant crops are grown as grafts.
Also at Ohio State, there was information (and even a video, up top) of the advantages of grafting for field-grown tomatoes—not just those in the greenhouse. Even Wikipedia has a good page on tomato grafting, with various photos (including the one a bit above).
I even found grafted tomato plants for mail-order sale—but in the UK. So what do you think? Would you try your hand at grafting in the pursuit of a heavy crop of your favorite tomato, or maybe start nudging your local nursery to press for grafted plants from their supplier? I have a bumper crop of sauce in mind over here.