Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Grafted Tomatoes

A couple of weeks ago I bumped into an idea that was new to me: grafting tomato plants. I had checked a gardening book out from the library (through interlibrary loan), and the chapter on tomatoes had a little section on grafting a non-disease-resistant variety onto the rootstock of a disease-resistant variety as a way to grow more kinds of tomatoes. I immediately thought two things: 1. What a great idea! and 2. I could do that! As you can probably tell by my use of exclamation marks, I am pretty interested in this grafting idea.

I am fairly careful in my yearly selection of tomatoes for growing, making sure that I have several that have demonstrated their ability to produce tomatoes in my yard without keeling over first from one of those wilt diseases—Fusarium Wilt and Verticillium Wilt are both pretty common here in the Southeast, and at least one of those has killed tomato plants in my yard before. These diseases start at the root; they are soil-borne, so having the resistant variety in contact with the soil, according to what I read, keeps the non-resistant variety that has no soil contact safe from those diseases. Since the book I read was published in Great Britain, it was more concerned with corky-root disease and root-knot eelworms (we would call those nematodes), but Fusarium Wilt was also mentioned.

The book did not tell whether production was as high from grafted plants as might be expected from non-grafted plants, but I think this grafting might be worth a try. One of my friends keeps extolling the wonders of the tomato called “Cherokee Purple” (her neighbor grows it on trucked-in soil in a raised bed) but I haven’t tried it yet. Grafting would be a way for me to feel more confident that I would get tomatoes instead of just a dead plant.

I searched around online and found more references to the grafting procedure and its usefulness; one explanation with good diagrams was at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, but I can't seem to make the link work (it turned up as a pdf file in a Google search). Another source, though, was here at the University of Connecticut. This U of C page shows the "tongue approach" that was illustrated in the book. From all the information I read, it seems likely that it will take longer to get grafted plants ready to plant outside than regular seed-grown plants—maybe an additional eight weeks— but I usually plant a second shift of tomatoes, anyway, when the onions come out. If I can get this grafting to work, a couple of grafted plants can be part of the second shift.

The book that I read is Salad Crops All Year Round, by H. G. Witham Fogg, published in 1983 by David and Charles Inc.

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