Sunday, August 14, 2011

Grafted Tomatoes: An Update

It's mid-August: time to check in with the experimental, grafted heirloom tomatoes. They have almost caught up with the hybrids, which were set out three weeks earlier (May 9 versus May 29). The Japanese Black Trifele plant is the most robust, vining upwards nearly to the top of the six-foot support poles.

The hybrids, for their part -- one Sungold and two Better Boys -- are filling out their eight-foot support tee-pees and have nearly reached the trellis roof. (And I must say that the tomato-guild assortment of companion plants at their base has done well too, forming a living mulch of basil, parsley, marigolds and nasturtiums that glows with variegated shades of green, orange, and yellow in the bright summer light.)

If all the pear-shaped fruit hanging on the Black Trifele plant ripens, we will have the best harvest ever of this smokey-flavored heirloom tomato with its rich, buttery texture. That alone would make the experiment worth the extra cost and effort!

Although there are some minor dead spots along the edges of a few lower leaves, so far this Black Trifele is the most successful heirloom we have grown.

The San Marzano Gigante 3, an Italian paste tomato with a portentous name, is also doing just fine, thank you -- festooned with long, pointed fruit, some of them almost as gigante as my hand.

The lower San Marzano leaves have a fair amount of the brown spots along the edges that appear sooner or later on all the tomato plants we have ever tried to grow in this garden. Eventually the whole leaf turns brown and shrivels up. So far it's hardly noticable unless you peer worriedly into the tangle of marigolds, basil, etc., at the base of the plant -- which of course I do constantly.

Big Beef is also looking good with clusters of mid-size green fruit. This is one of the varieties being tested by Amy Stewart of Garden Rant, and other garden bloggers as well, in controlled trials matching the performance of grafted versus non-grafted versions of the same variety. The preliminary results seem to be encouraging overall, although Amy's right in wanting to wait for the actual eating of the harvest as the last and final measure of success.

Meanwhile, I continue to peer anxiously at browning leaves, my personal measure of tomato perfection or lack thereof. The Big Beef plant has some dead branches but they are at the base and don't seem to be spreading upward in any great hurry.

Brandywine is another story. There are just a few small fruits on a stunted plant that has stopped growing at about three feet in height.

Whole branches are dying off completely. It started on the larger, upper leaves, some of which turned brown all at once and then shriveled. No slow spotting on the edges of lower leaves. No need to peer into the undergrowth. It's a major problem right out in the open. I've never seen this before and I sure hope it isn't contagious! I will remove the whole plant and hope for the best.

Three out of four ain't bad.

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