Things have changed a lot since I did my degree in botany many, many moons ago. In those (prehistoric) days research into plant genetic engineering wasn’t really funded by big business, it was championed by small university science labs around the country all hoping to find the magical cure for the world food shortage. How idealistic were we? At that time food crops for the future were the holy grail and the race was on with limited facilities, optimistic scientists and sound values.
Some might say that chemicals have solved the world food crisis, but I’m afraid I don’t hold with that theory. Yes, there have been some huge and dramatic in pest control but at what cost to our pollinators?? Let’s be honest, how does an insecticide that kills insects know that bees and ladybirds are the gardeners’ friends? They don’t. But I digress. Probably best not to get me onto that subject here!
Back in the real world, tthere’s an age-old technique in gardening that has taken a modern twist to support greenhouse growers. It’s called grafting. When you consider that this technique has been used by generations to improve fruit cultivation and harvests and is still used today then you start to understand its importance. Grafting is something that relies on a plants ability to heal itself. It’s an amazing phenomenon. For stem grafts, you take a reliable parent plant that has good disease resistance, a strong root system and is generally a good grower and this forms what is called the rootstock. You then take a stem of the plant your want to grow, it needs to be a close relative (usually the same family, though it can sometimes work with odd partners) and you graft this onto the rootstock. If you match the diameter of the top to the bottom and have a good technique and good hygiene it can work. It’s a fun thing to experiment with and a great project for the kids. But it takes time and you need to know your rootstocks and your fruiting stock. You also graft a healthy bud of one variety onto the stem of another variety of the same genus, this is especially useful for apples and many other fruits.
In recent years a new generation of grafted fruiting plants that offer the very best in performance have become available to gardeners and greenhouse growers. They are now readily available mail order and at many garden centres. You’ll find a good range of grafted tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and aubergine plants.
Look out for them; they will sell out fast. These plants offer earlier crops, higher yields, sometimes (suppliers claim) increased by as much as 60-70% though I’d guess the ones I grew gave a 30-40%+ increase. They also show better disease resistance, especially to soil borne diseases and also good tolerance to nutritional deficiencies and overall much more vigorous growth.
They need good compost, plenty of room to grow and lots of quality feed, but they will romp away in your greenhouse and produce a generous crop for several weeks and months this summer. It’s something different to try, you’ll get a bigger crop for the same greenhouse space and it’s a fascinating thing to teach to the children.
Suttons Seeds have introduced a range of tomatoes using the latest technique of grafting higher up the stems, for an even earlier and bigger crop and an extra truss of fruit, Their Tomato Twins present two great varieties on one plant with tasty cherry red Florryno and the lovely orange Orangino.
Available mail order from www.suttons.com