Improving Heirloom Tomatoes

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Improving Heirloom Tomatoes

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru, Newsworthy

Improving on tomatoes?  Well, sort of!  Those who love tomatoes know that the heirloom varieties have the best flavors and an assortment of colors, shapes and textures.  Unfortunately most of the varieties are not known for their ease of cultivation when it comes to plant vigor and disease resistance.  Tough tomato varieties that are vigorous and disease free usually lack great fruit, so why not combine them both?  How to do that: GRAFTING.

Staff from the Greenhouses and Heartland Harvest Garden assembled on this overcast day in the Heartland Harvest Garden’s Seed to Plate Greenhouse to graft tomatoes today.  A “perfect” day for grafting!

Heartland Harvest Garden Intern Marisa Algaier from Missouri State University (left) and Greenhouse Intern Anne Peterson from University of Central Missouri (right) were our grafters.

I realized I didn’t get a shot of the tool used to make the cuts between the tough ‘Colossus’ and ‘Maxifort’ tomatoes as understock (the roots!) and the scions of the fussy heirloom tomatoes you want to grow on those roots.  The tool is called a Topgrafter and it makes precision cuts so that success in grafting is improved from 50% to 90%.  A dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes were selected for grafting onto the two types of understock including: ‘Cherokee Purple,’ ‘Flame,’ ‘Long Tom,’ ‘Pink Brandywine,’ ‘Prudence Purple’ and ‘Wapsipinicon Peach.’

Greenhouse Horticulturist Donna Covell (left) and Heartland Harvest Gardener Claire Zimmerman (right) teamed up to tape together the understock and the scions to create the grafted tomatoes.

Parafilm “M” is used as the tape to secure the graft union.  It stretches and sticks to itself to create a tight bond, which is critical so that the two tomatoes grow back together.

Here’s a photo of the actual taping process.  Gloves are used as you want to keep everything clean and pathogen free.

Greenhouse Gardener Kellyn Register then staked the newly grafted tomatoes — this is necessary just like a brace is for healing a broken bone.

Nursery tape was used to secure the newly grafted plant to its bracing plant stake.
Heartland Harvest Garden Horticulturist Matt Bunch placed each newly grafted plant into our homemade “Healing Chamber” where plants will recover and hopefully begin to grow together as a new grafted plant–hardy roots and tops that will produce heirloom fruit!
Stop by the Seed to Plate Greenhouse and see our Healing Chamber and watch how our grafted tomatoes grow.