Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Experiment in tomato grafting

The search for great tomatoes goes on and takes unexpected turns! This season, we turned onto a road that could take us to new abilities to deliver great tasting tomatoes to more people. The experiment started about a month ago when we planted seeds of rootstock tomatoes, the key ingredient in the experiment, along with some of my favorite heirlooms from tomato guru Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms in Napa/Solano/Sonoma/Yolo. He's famous for the earth-shattering Berkeley Tie Dye tomato of a few years back. 

BTW, the tomatoes in the trays you are looking at were grafted yesterday and sadly, none of the tops are from Brad's varieties. We had to go with some standard hybrid varieties for the first batch because of the science of grafting: Rule number one is that the bottom and the top of the plants to be grafted must be similar in size. When my heirlooms got behind the rootstock in size, Eisley's Nursery in Auburn was most gracious in supplying me with appropriately sized plants from their greenhouses. It's a great nursery if you've never been there. But they had no heirlooms, either, so these are kind of practice grafts using hybrid plants like Early Girl, Better Boy, Beefsteak, Champion, Jubilee.

All these pictures were taken this morning. As with any patient after surgery, these plants are now in my "hospital" recovering from the extreme process they underwent yesterday. Yesterday afternoon they looked really bad but I gave them lots of water in the pots and a gentle misting a few times in the afternoon, as well as cutting off some foliage, and most are still surviving today. The first 3-5 days are the most critical, because the vascular system of the rootstock cannot deliver nutrients and water to what is called the "scion" -- that is, the top that you put on the plant. 

Pretty much any of these plants that are still alive in two weeks will be viable for putting into the field. The advantage for undergoing the process is disease resistance and root system aggressiveness. I was given 9 grafted plants from a UC Davis trial last year and found them to be great producers that had no disease and lasted well into November. The latter, I think, was because their root systems could support the tops better deeper into the cold months.

I'm thinking these plants not only could be good for me, but also for many home gardeners with limited space who would love to grow tasty heirlooms but also want a bigger harvest. So if this topic interests you, keep an eye here as I will be posting photos daily. Maybe not with nearly as much commentary ... more like a visual journal of the grafting process.

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