Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sustainable Saturday - Graft

No, not the graft of political corruption.  But rather, the sudden trend of grafting tomato and pepper (and even eggplant) starts.

Grafting, of course, is a time honored practice in agriculture. In grafting, tissue from one plant is joined to tissue of another plant.  Usually, one plant is used for its roots and one plant is used for its upper parts (i.e. fruits).   The technique has been used for hundreds of years to allow European grape plants to be grown in the United States, for fruit trees to be dwarfed, and for certain fruit trees with a long maturity period to bear when young. A hardy rootstock can be grafted to a less hardy fruiting or flowering variety, and voila - a plant that is more hardy. (How I would love to grow camellias in upstate New York.....)

Another use of grafting is related to pollination.  Most apple trees require cross pollination, and two different types of apple trees can be grafted onto one root to produce what is, in effect, a self pollinating tree.  This is useful in limited space situations, such as those commonly found in cities.

And now, we have grafted tomato plants - once available only to commercial growers, they are now available to the average gardener.

So what is there not to like?

A number of seed catalogs, this year, are selling grafted heirloom tomato and pepper plants.  I did some research and, apparently, tomato grafting has been done for years in Japan.  The resulting plants are disease resistant thanks to selected rootstocks, and pesticide use can be minimized.

Heirloom tomatoes, as delicious as they are, are prone to disease. In our area of New York, for example, late blight is a major problem.  Several years ago, we were hit hard by the same blight as caused the "Irish potato famine" (it infects tomatoes, also .Most everyone, including us, lost all of our tomato plants before they could bear more than a couple of tomatoes. 

We just haven't had good luck with heirloom tomatoes.  We still grow them, but we have gravitated back to...gulp, more mainstream varieties that do well in our area - especially a grape variety called Juliet, a beefsteak called Big Beef,  and an "old time" hybrid tomato called Better Boy. Although a hybrid, Better Boy has been around for more than 50 years.

But, of course, there's a catch to grafting.

Grafting is labor intensive.  Hence, grafted tomato plants are expensive - for example, three grafted tomato plants cost $22.95 at Burpees.  Three heirloom non-grafted tomato plants are $14.95. 

The average gardener would struggle enough (if they don't have sunny enough windows to grow as many tomato plants as they need, or don't have the money to get grow lights) with $14.95 for the non-grafted varieties.

Still, I am intrigued - just not intrigued enough to spend the money this year.  Next year, maybe?

3 comments:

  1. This was very interesting, my mom use to love to garden. I remember growing up we had a pomegranate tree and tons of rose bushes.

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  2. I balk at spending $6 for a pony pack. Tomatoes have given my fits for the last few years. Well to be honest most of my edible gardening efforts have been a struggle the last few years. But hope springs eternal, right? And I already have plans for the coming year.

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    1. Hope is the middle name of all gardeners, isn't it? We didn't have a good gardening year last year, but we'll be back.....

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