Adventures in Tomato Grafting

Warning: super nerdy garden post ahead.

I attended a workshop put on by the local ag extension office at the end of April.  The topic: Tomato Grafting.  I had a vague idea of what plant grafting involved, my knowledge limited to: 'I think it's when you splice together two different fruit trees...?'  Turns out you can do this with tomatoes too!  and lots of other types of plants.  I learned that, here in Utah, heirloom tomatoes can be difficult to grow as there are a lot of diseases present that try to make their lives difficult, especially verticillium wilt.  It is, in summary, a fungus that lives in the soil and there is not much you can do about it.  Enter: tomato grafting.  The idea behind tomato grafting is putting the heirloom tomato plant on a disease resistant "root stock" so the plant will have a fighting chance against diseases such as verticillium wilt.  There are varieties of tomatoes that have been bred to be resistant to certain diseases and you can usually find this information on the seed packet.  So, to give a very abbreviated overview, you start tomato seeds for the disease resistant tomato plant that you want to serve as your "root stock"; simultaneously, you start tomato seeds for the tomatoes that you actually want to grow and eat, i.e. an heirloom brandywine variety in this case.  You let them grow for 3 to 4 weeks. And then, grab a razor blade and...

...literally cut the plants in half!!!   What??!!?  

At a nice 45 degree angle, of course.  You want the stems to be close in diameter, and then you put the heirloom variety that you want to grow on the root stock, matching up the nice 45 degree cuts you made on the stems, and secure the two together with a little clip made specifically for tomato grafting.  (I apologize, I do not have any pictures of the process, I will be better about that next time, but the image below provides a good summary).

As someone new to seed starting, who had a less than successful go at it, just slicing off the tops of these tomato seedlings was...uncomfortable.  The idea that you could just plop a tomato plant top on a completely different stem and have it survive seemed a little out there to me, but, it worked!  If you look closely in the photos below, you can see where the two plants were joined, like a little scar from surgery...

The workshop recommended grafting more than you intend to plant in the ground as the survival rate for grafted tomato plants is not 100%, especially when it's your first time.  I lucked out, and 5 of the 6 that I grafted survived and are now happily thriving in the backyard. 

Mind blown.

I can't wait for these, I love me some brandywine tomatoes. 

I told you this was nerdy.  I would apologize, but I warned you at the outset.