Monday, May 25, 2009

Tomato Grafting Update

I wrote back in January about grafting tomatoes, a technique described in a gardening book I had read. This Spring I grew extra seedlings so I could give the technique a try. When the plants seemed big enough, I followed the directions as well as I could, wishing the whole time that I had a couple of extra hands.

The instructions said that regular clear tape (“Sellotape”) could be used to hold the stems of the two tomato plants together, but this turned out to be a less than ideal tool for the job. The tape was too flexible and did not hold the plant stems together firmly enough.

Of the three pairs of plants that I tried to graft together, two died pretty quickly. The third, a Glacier grafted onto a Rutgers rootstock, is still alive, but the graft is less than perfect.

I spoke last week with another gardener who, it turns out, also tried grafting tomatoes for the first time this year, but he used special grafting clips to hold his plants together. His success rate was better: all three of his tomato pairs grafted successfully.

When we were talking, he couldn’t remember where his clips came from, but I have poked around online and found a source, hydro-gardens.com, and I have ordered grafting clips to try again.

I think this technique is worth perfecting because so many excellent (as described by others) tomatoes won’t survive the fungal spores (the VF in the initials VFN) that live in my yard. Using VFN-resistant rootstock, I should be able to grow more kinds of tomatoes.

I have started some more tomato seedlings so that I will be able to try grafting again. The plants will be big enough in just a few weeks, so they might even produce some tomatoes, if the grafting works, before the first frost in October. With that goal in mind, I have started Wuhib, a determinate paste tomato, and Rutgers, a determinate non-paste canning tomato.

Both are open-pollinated (heirloom), and I know that Rutgers produces well in my yard. Wuhib is still a bit of a question mark. I am growing it this year for the first time, and have planted in the ground only one plant so I won’t lose too much if it dies.

I plan to use Wuhib as the fruiting part of the graft and Rutgers as the rootstock. These are just seeds that I have plenty of. If the grafting clips work well, I will look for more tomato varieties to try the technique on next year.

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