Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

US opens up to tomato grafting

Many plants benefit from the controlled growing environment that a greenhouse brings, but it is always extremely satisfying when you develop a tough-to-grow crop for the table.

Grafted heirloom tomatoes are this year’s cultivation craze.

Although grafting has its detractors, it helps you get the incredible taste of an plump-looking Brandywine (Solanum lycopersicum) combined with the hard-wearing, high-yielding qualities of an established hybrid. Although the greenhouse will help in this regard, grafting can also add a level of resistance to soil-borne diseases or nematode problems.

The process is similar to that used on apple and grape varieties to create more productive, disease-resistant fruit and many tomato crops can be grown the same way.

It has been labeled as the biggest single change in hybridizing tomatoes since the early 30s and hardy rootstock can be used with whatever type of tomato the grower likes to make it more disease-resistant and productive.

However, even with the added insurance that a greenhouse brings, grafting is not easy and it takes time and practice to produce significant bounties.

You can cheat a little by buying ready-to-plant grafted tomatoes at your local garden center or through mail-order outlets.

Barbara Pierson, the nursery manager for White Flower Farm in Litchfield, recently told the New York Times: “It’s not just hype – it really works. And I was a nonbeliever. I grew regular Brandywines on their own roots next to grafted ones and got three times as many. And I got them earlier, too.”

The theory is a simple one – the greater root mass of these grafted plants can draw extra water and nutrients from the soil, so irrigation and fertilizing becomes much easier, while the hybridization brings genetic resistance – and it has been used worldwide very productively.

In fact, the US has come late to the game with one billion grafted vegetables planted around the planet in 2011.