Have you heard about grafted tomatoes? If not, your first reaction may be much like mine. What? Why?
The idea seems preposterous if not impossible at first, since we associate grafting with woody plants like Japanese maples, roses and fruit trees, all loved for beauty and bounty above a graft and reliant on sturdy root stock below.
But tomatoes? Don't we grow them from seed?
Everyone grows them from seed, but now commercial nurseries have embarked on a second seeding and are growing selected tomatoes to use solely as root stock in grafting. The impetus has been developing food plants that are resistant to pathogens in soils that have previously been treated with chemicals now banned, such as methyl bromide.
The original target market was commercial growers, but suppliers are betting that homeowners will be just as interested. They're grafting millions of starter plants for our spring and summer gardens.
Grafted vegetables aren't completely new. They've been planted in Europe and Australia for several years, but in 2014, they'll be available throughout the country at retail and mail-order nurseries.
Among the various producers of grafted veggies, the Plug Connection in Southern California will ship 13 varieties of its Mighty 'Matos, along with grafted cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, watermelons and cantaloupes.
All are grafted without any genetic modification onto vigorous rootstock that are resistant to such problems as wilt and nematodes and are highly efficient in taking up water and nutrients. The results are stronger plants that produce faster and more abundantly.
The benefit is especially important for heirloom plants that lack the disease resistance of modern hybrids.
Last summer, I experimented with a grafted tomato, and results were just as predicted. This year, I hope to find some of my favorite heirlooms on grafts to see if they, too, produce sooner.
In my microclimate, Pineapple and Brandywine always bloom and set fruit nicely, but sizeable crops never materialize until September, no matter when plants go in the ground.