Who am I?  Gardener, farmer, foodie, cook, garden writer, blogger. Will that do for starters? Here’s the description of my tomato-grafting project as it appeared in the grant application to SARE, the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program, which is funded by the USDA.

Heirloom tomatoes are increasingly popular everywhere from farmstands and farmers’ markets to large retail stores. However, many growers either avoid them altogether or grow limited amounts, because of their susceptibility to disease and relatively poor yield. Grafted tomatoes (heirloom scions on special rootstocks) have been shown to avoid these problems, yet their use has been restricted to hoophouse/greenhouse or hydroponic production. I have grown small quantities of grafted tomatoes for two years and field-planted them with moderate success. By growing commercial quantities of grafted transplants for three commercial growers, and subjecting them to stresses normally encountered by hybrid and other “regular” transplants, I plan to investigate whether commercially useful quantities of grafted transplants:

1. Can be produced on-farm at a cost that can be justified by the higher selling price for heirloom tomatoes;

2. Are viable for normal field transplanting techniques;

3. Are able to satisfactorily resist diseases; and

4. Produce quantities of marketable fruit that are at least competitive with hybrid transplants.

The results will be shared with interested growers with a publication, Tomato Grafting: A Guide for Northeast Growers that will be made available online as a PDF document on the EECO Farm website at http://www.eecofarm.org , the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County website at counties.cce.cornell.edu/Suffolk, at three on-farm workshops, and at CCE’s winter vegetable growers meeting.

One commercial grower on the North Fork of Long Island, and two on the South Fork, have agreed to participate by transplanting into their fields grafted tomatoes and an equal number of non-grafted (control) heirlooms of the same varieties, supplied by me, and cultivating them in the same way as other transplants they have raised themselves or purchased. Each grower will receive approximately 216 grafted transplants (72 of each variety) and 216 non-grafted heirloom plants of the same three heirloom varieties. Under the supervision of my project leader and technical advisers a study will be established at each farm using a randomized complete block design with four replications. Three varieties including Red Brandywine, Green Zebra, and Pineapple grafted on Beaufort rootstock, and the same number of ungrafted plants, will be tested for a total of six treatments. Each plot will be one row wide with 15 plants.