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Friday, September 2, 2011

Better Gardening Next Year

Ozarks Gardening; Sep. 1, 2011
Jim Long

My cousin, Bonnie and husband, Ernie, who live in Seattle told me they are still waiting on their first ripe tomato of the season. It’s normal for the Pacific Northwest to have moderately cool summers, but generally they pick their first ripe tomatoes about the third week of July. Not this year, with daily temperatures staying in the low 70s.

This past week I made my annual trip to the Garden Writers Association conference, held this year in Indianapolis. The trade show is a large part of the event, along with lots of speakers and workshops about the business of writing. I was there promoting my book, How to Eat a Rose, in conjunction with the International Herb Association’s designation of the rose as the official Herb of the Year for 2012.
Josh Kirschenbaum with the Mighty 'Mato brand of grafted tomatoes.

At the conference I visited with Josh Kirschenbaum, the PR guy for Territorial Seed. They’re the seed company who introduced the Mighty 'Mato brand grafted tomato plants, with 2 different tomato varieties grafted onto one stem. He asked how the two plants he’d sent me back in May were doing. I admitted I hadn’t seen specific results, good or bad, since every bug in the Ozarks had attacked all one hundred of my tomato plants. And how there was just no control for the weeks of temperatures in the early one hundreds.

Josh had brought along tomatoes from Territorial’s trial gardens. They’d collected their first ripe tomatoes, near Portland, Oregon, on August 21. What he brought, which he described as the entire crop of ripe tomatoes to date (on 60 plants) could be piled into two cupped hands. The tomatoes were small, ping pong ball to golf ball size, and those were Better Boys! Like Seattle, Portland has been plagued with chilly days and even chillier nights and tomatoes don’t like that any more than ours have liked the heat.
The tomatoes produced, they just were dwarfed.

I visited my friends up near Osceola, Missouri a couple of weeks ago to check on their experiment with tomato grafting. As you know, tomatoes in Missouri or Arkansas, in mid August, should be over shoulder high and lopped over, hanging downward. You may recall their grafting experiment was with 2,000 grafted tomatoes, growing beside 4,000 non-grafted ones.
Big tomatoes off of little bitty plants.

My friends took me out to the field to see the tomatoes, saying I should prepare to be shocked. When we got there on the 4-wheeler, I admit I stood with my mouth hanging open like I’d been struck dumb-stupid. The scene before me were acres of tomato plants, no more than knee-high. Each plant was full of large 6 and 8 ounce tomatoes, about a bushel per plant, but the plants were dwarfed. They explained that every plant was that way, regardless of whether it was a hybrid or heirloom, grafted on not. The tomatoes had been irrigated regularly and all received the same fertilizer, but simply had not grown to full size. I inquired whether they could draw any conclusions about the grafted vs the non-grafted tomatoes and my friend, Lonnie said, “The one thing I’ve learned from this experiment, is that this was not the year to do experiments.” I think it’s a pretty good observation. Don’t judge your gardening talents by this year’s results, nothing was going our way this season, for anyone.

Better gardening next year!

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