Combine science and nature and you can achieve some pretty impressive things. On my recent tour of Lufa Farms in Montreal, Canada, I learned about how the commercial rooftop greenhouse makes use of grafting to produce tasty and healthy tomatoes.
While indoor gardens are protected from the elements, the plants still fall victim to the occasional parasitic or fungal disease. Lufa Farms doesn’t use any pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on its hydroponic crops, and growing tomatoes without them can certainly be tricky. So, what Lufa has done is grafted the root of a tomato plant resistant to fungus with the top of another known for its amazing taste. It’s not easy, but the end result is usually a healthy and delicious fruit.
Rising In Popularity
The art of fruit and vegetable grafting was born in Asia in the 1920’s and can be used for eggplants, chilies, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and melons. In the US and Canada, the process has been fairly limited to hydroponic systems, but it’s actually becoming more popular out in the fields too where avoiding soil-borne disease is paramount. Word is spreading about the positive impacts of grafting, which also include increased plant vigor and crop yields. Oregon State University says many growers have seen their yields increase by 50% or more after grafting their fruits and vegetables.
How It’s Done
There are many videos and DIY articles on grafting out there, but basically, the process involves taking the Scion, or top part of the plant, and attaching it to the root of another vegetable plant. The flavor and quality of the vegetable are found in the Scion, while the disease resistance and vigor comes from its root system.
In addition to being better able to fight disease, grafted fruits and vegetables have also been shown to fight cold temperatures better, meaning they don’t need as much heat in the greenhouses. They’ve also been found to have an increased nutrient and water intake compared to non-grafted varieties.
Grafting Success Stories
Beyond the tomatoes produced at Lufa Farms, there are many examples of grafting done right:
- The Wonder Bell is a grafted pepper that is vibrant red in color and has a sweet flavor. It apparently produces peppers like crazy and is highly disease-resistant.
- The Ketchup and Fries plant is where grafting really gets interesting for me. We have the UK to thank for this gorgeous creation; potatoes grow in the soil while cherry tomatoes grow from the stem. How’s this for high yields: you can harvest up to 500 tomatoes from a single plant, and about 5 lbs of potatoes.
- The Tree of 40 Fruit truly is a stroke of genius; artist Sam Van Aken bought an orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station that was about to be shut down. The orchard grew several heirlooms, antique and native varieties of stone fruit that were hundreds of years old. To preserve them, he grafted parts of the endangered trees onto a single fruit tree. In the spring, the tree bears beautiful blossoms of several different colors before rare varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds appear in the summer.
An interesting movement involving the subject of grafting is taking place in some North American cities. It’s called ‘Guerrilla Grafting’, and it involves the grafting of fruit bearing branches onto non-fruit bearing trees. The idea is to make fresh fruit readily available to city-dwellers and to those who can’t afford it; fruit usually appears within five years of successful grafting. In San Francisco, a group of activists did their grafting at night, since altering city trees is illegal due to certain vandalism laws and health and safety codes.
While grafting is certainly an interesting way to create more disease-resistant, vigorous plants, it doesn’t mean the end result will always be perfect. Like all crops, grafted plants are still prone to above ground pests and diseases like mildew, mites, and blight. The Royal Horticultural Society says blossom-end rot is still possible in grafted tomato varieties as well. Having said that, they should be free of all soil-borne diseases and pests.
It’s not easy, and it’s not perfect either. But grafting certainly is a valid alternative to using pesticides.