Last year I pitched an article about grafted tomatoes---what a cool concept I thought. I was told it was more an agriculture story, not mainstream enough for the home gardener.
So what shows up in all the garden centers this year? Yep, grafted tomatoes, and more. Eggplant, cucumbers, peppers. Already popular in Asia and Europe, they've been slow to take off here, but sure gained steam this year.
Just like grafting an apple makes for a stronger, hardier tree with other good qualities selected like improved flavor and disease-resistance, the same goes for these grafted vegetables. The really good thing about grafted tomatoes is they can give heirloom tomato varieties that extra something to get higher yields than you would otherwise. How's that for a win-win?
Important note: Unlike regular tomatoes that should be planted deep, grafted tomatoes should be positioned so that their graft union (usually marked by a little plastic collar, or if that has fallen off, just look for the nubby seam) at least an inch above the soil. You do this so the original rootstock (scion) doesn't root and ruin the whole reason for growing it.
So...anticipating, and dreading a slow start to my gardening year, what with the winter that wouldn't leave and our new house exterior behind schedule, I bought one grafted Mighty 'Mato Indigo Rose and a regular Sweet 100 cherry tomato for two large containers. I thought... one experimental and one old dependable to take care of my tomato urges until the garden goes in.
What shows up the next day? Samples. Of grafted tomatoes and their ungrafted counterparts to test side by side. So without further ado and according to the FTC rules I will tell you I received Grafted Brandywine, San Marzano and Chocolate Stripes from the folk at Mighty "Mato and Harris Seeds among others. I gave one set to the neighbor and still await his verdict.
Meanwhile the Indigo Rose shot up huge and immediately put on baby tomatoes all over the vigorous vine. The best part? These gorgeous little globes are deep blue-purple draped over green. Striking.
And they have anthocyanins. Say what? I was introduced to these free-radical scavenging and anti-oxidizing pigments at the Minnesota Herb Society "Journey Through Thyme" 50-year celebration. Herb wizard Pat Crocker conjured up some great cooking during her presentation, Basic Black: Cooking with Magic.
Anthocyanins are members of a flavonoid group of phytochemicals with wide-ranging health benefits. They are found in herbs, fruits and vegetables with blue, purple and black colors. Or as my mama used to say, "A colorful plate is a healthy plate".
Mighty 'Mato Indigo Rose--Grafted Tomato
So in went the other grafted tomatoes unstaked into temporary two gallon pots, waiting for transplant into my new kitchen beds. Now here in mid-July and still no kitchen beds, all the tomato samples are in limbo, perhaps purgatory, but the Mighty Matoes are proving a point.
You can see that under horrible circumstances they are still making a better effort next to the regular plants. I can only think if I'd had that many large containers or here's an idea, real ground, they would have been prolific and healthy!
So as I'm waiting for my landscape to be "installed", what a less than picturesque word, I'm waiting on Indigo Rose to ripen soon (followed by the others). You're supposed to wait until the purple turns brown and the bottoms go red for optimum taste.
And the Sweet 100? In a year of weird weather and weirder plant happenings, with some things flourishing and astounding us while others languish, I still can't believe it's such a disappointment. You can usually always count on a cherry tomato when all else fails but not this time.
Time to invoke the gardeners mantra...there's always next year.
As for grafted tomatoes, I think they're a great idea.
I like to tell the story of when my daughter was six, how this normally mild mannered child, threw a royal tantrum, a veritable hissy fit, in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. We had wandered the halls marveling at all the beautiful works of art; canvases of iconic iris, sunflowers and sun-washed hillsides and starry nights, and the dreary Potato Eaters.
When it was time to leave we exited through the gift shop (as they always have you do no matter the country) where her eyes lit upon a paint set. I checked the price and quickly calculated the gilders needed. It was a steep amount for a simple paint set so I hurried her along. The next thing I knew she was screaming at the top of her lungs...I NEED TO PAINT!!! She obviously was inspired by the visit.
Today as I wandered around the yard, scuffing my feet in the sandy dirt of my future front yard that still awaits compost and topsoil, stone and edging, trees, shrubs, grasses, herbs, flowers and fruit, I felt a similar longing. I NEED TO PICK SOMETHING!!
At that moment I spied them. A few purple blobs on the nondescript strip of vegetation that the grader had missed when scraping the lot. Mulberries. Mind you, most people think of them as trash trees, but so welcome this evening. I picked a handful of dark fruits surprised at the number of ripening berries.
Mulberries in hand
Mulberries are considered messy, weedy, and picking them a kind of old fashioned, hard-up activity. We had a tree in Kansas. I would spread a sheet under the branches and shake the berries loose. Although they are a bit bland I added them to red currants and alpine strawberries atop lemon cheese tarts. Another time I combined them with apricots in a pie that I felt was so-so but my nephew devoured with gusto. Tonight I just ate them one by one until they were gone.
Mulberry foliage is actually attractive
There's something about finding and harvesting free fruit that feels good. I'm just a born forager.
With that tiny triumph I looked next door at the home we rented while we were building. It sits empty and forlorn now. However I have plants there in the ground awaiting transplant over here. As I perused the yard I noticed there were actually quite a few blooms going unappreciated. I did a loop and returned with a bucket of random flowers and foliage. I made a bouquet for myself and called it a night. It felt good to pick stuff.
Veronica, daisies, roses, campanula, monarda and phlox with hosta leaves.