Growing The New Grafted Vegetables

Super Natural Tomatoes

After last year’s success with growing grafted tomatoes, I was eager to try even more grafted veggies this year. After a cold, wet winter, a cold wet spring, and a cold, wet early summer, I figured that grafted plants were my only hope of getting any kind of decent production.

For those of you who are new to the site and the topic, grafted tomatoes are similar to grafted fruit trees, roses, or grapes. Early in the plant’s life, you partner a delicious but less productive scion (the top part) with a vigorous root system that’s disease resistant and tolerant of temperature swings. Like green magic, the result is synergistic; earlier, bigger yields from healthy plants.

Will They Work In My Cold Garden?

I knew my dear friends at Loghouse Plants were working miracles with grafting tomatoes and I just had to give their amazing plants a try. I knew that these super plants were super productive in Oregon, where even the summer nights are hot, and I wondered what would happen here in my maritime garden in Northwestern Washington.

Many Happy Returns

The results were everything I had hoped for and more. I picked plump, juicy tomatoes all summer and found a new favorite, Chocolate Cherry. In  October, I brought several large potted tomato plants into my unheated sunporch, and the cherry tomatoes just kept coming until the Thanksgiving snowstorm arrived with ice in its wings.

This year, I have high hopes for Shasha’s Altai, an heirloom tomato from Russia that fruits very early and is exceptionally cold tolerant. With our night temperatures still in the 50’s, a plant that thrives in Siberia should feel right at home. The fruits look more like globular clusters than plump round balls, but they ripen a fresh, bright red and the flavor is lively. I do hope it likes lots of rain….

Dream Team Tomatoes

Again, I’m growing some double grafts, including my personal Dream Team combination of Sweet Million and Sungold, both top favorites. If I had to choose just one tomato plant, this combo would be the winner, hands down. Both of these now-classic tomatoes are addictive for eating out of hand and fabulous for adding to salads of all kinds, from greens to tuna.

I’m also trying my hand at grafted eggplants and peppers, two crops that rarely perform well for me in ungrafted forms, usually because of cold nights (which cause serious setbacks for heat loving tropicals). Given last year’s good tomato production, I am hoping that I’ll have equally good luck with these grafted goodies.

Already I’ve got tiny babies forming on my Ichiban, a slim, black-skinned Japanese eggplant that I like to serve thickly sliced, rolled in egg and cornmeal, and pan fried with a dash of chili oil. Yow!

How To Plant Grafted Veggies

Plant grafted vegetables of any kind a little high rather than deep, making sure that the graft union is clear of deep mulch or excess soil. Otherwise, it is likely that the scion (top growth) will create its own, weaker roots and you won’t get the benefit of the grafting. If you’ve been accustomed to burying tomatoes up to their necks to strengthen the main stem, please don’t do that with these grafted gals.

As the plant grows, keep an eye on the main stem and pinch off any roots from above or shoots from beneath the graft. My plants get a pinch or two every week, since those fat tomato stems are extremely eager to produce new rootlets. Despite thick, sturdy main stems, tomato top growth needs considerable support. This year I am using very fetching metal tomato towers in pink and green, which will hopefully keep these beauties upright.

Trim For Best Production

Grafted plants often produce abundant foliage as well as fruit, especially the indeterminate types. To keep them focussed on fruiting, trim excess foliage frequently and limit the number of new shoots (snip extras off at the main stem). However, don’t get carried away with the trimming, since those leaves are capturing atmospheric nitrogen for your plant. They also act as sunscreen, preventing the blistered shoulders that come from sunscald.

More Bees, Please

I always plant tomatoes with companionable herbs and flowers to attract as many pollinators as possible, from hover flies to our little native bees. Thyme, sweet alyssum, and calendulas are very popular with all sorts of bees, so I tuck a few starts into each pot. When it’s harvest time, I can grab a sprig or two of fresh herbs to sprinkle over my sliced tomatoes for the perfect finishing touch.

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