Tomato Grafting Fail

img_7361

The results are in on the tomato grafting project I last wrote about in July and they aren’t pretty. The plants grew slowly and reluctantly. The tomatoes had blossom end rot and were inedible. I even managed to attract tomato hornworms for the first time ever.

Two early mistakes led to subsequent problems. First, I should have purchased or made a seed starting mix rather than the potting soil I used. I ended up with weak seedlings. Secondly, I did not manage the post-graft period well. Having a greenhouse within which to create a “healing chamber” for the grafted plants would have made the process much easier.

Since I have no space or desire to build a greenhouse I’m, most likely, going to give up on attempting to graft my own tomatoes. I did this project out of a geeky sense of fun but it resulted in a summer with no homegrown tomatoes and that’s a life not worth living.

A better project, for our climate, would be to figure out how to grow tomatoes with little or no supplemental water. The feral tomatoes on the side of my mom’s house prove this is possible. For years, we also used to have volunteer cherry tomatoes along a wall now dominated by a massive Vitus californica vine. Next year I’m going to keep things simple, choose a drought tolerant tomato from Native Seed Search and plant it directly in the ground early in the season.

How did your tomatoes do this year? What kind did you grow?

O79 Growing and Breeding Tomatoes with Fred Hempel

3517G

Want to know how to grow tomatoes? What are the best varieties to plant? Want to learn how to breed your own? Our guest this week is farmer and tomato breeder Fred Hempel. Fred farms and breeds gourmet vegetables in Northern California. His focus is on tomatoes, peppers, squash, herbs and edible flowers. In the podcast we ask if there is such a thing as a heirloom tomato? What does a tomato breeder look for in a tomato? Why do supermarket tomatoes taste so crappy? And what happens when you turn a tomato breeding project over to an eight year old. We also talk about how to water tomatoes and prepare soil. During the podcast Fred mentions:

Dumont #4 tweezers

And two tomatoes bred by Fred that you can get seeds for:

Blush Tomato

Orange Jazz tomato

I’ve had the pleasure of tasting these tomatoes at a lecture Fred does at the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa and they are really amazing.

Fred’s website are: Artisan Seeds and Artisan Seeds in Facebook and Baia Nicchia Farm.

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Should I Try Tomato Grafting?

Tomato-grafting
A question for you, our dear readers. Have you ever grown grafted tomatoes? Have you ever tried to graft your own tomatoes?

In case you’re not familiar with the idea, you can graft, for instance, an heirloom tomato on to a more hardy root stock tomato to increase disease resistance and yields. You can also graft tomatoes onto potato plants (two crops in one!) as well as graft tomatoes onto eggplants for plants that are more hardy in soggy soils. In the bad idea department, you can graft tomatoes onto tobacco (for nicotine laden fruit) and jimsonweed (for poisonous fruit–note this strange incindent).

The Illinois Extension service has detailed tomato grafting instructions and notes on root stock selection here.

So what do you think? Intrigued? Comments!

What to do with not-so-good tomatoes

tomatoesbefore

As we wait eagerly for tomato season to commence, or for our homegrown tomatoes to come in, we might find ourselves buying grocery store tomatoes out of desperation and then–inevitably- being disappointed.

Usually I try to avoid store-bought tomatoes all together, using canned when good fresh tomatoes are not available, but sometimes canned tomatoes just aren’t what you need, so you have to wait for summer… or suffer bad tomatoes. Now there’s a middle way. Grocery store tomatoes can be reformed.

Continue reading…

Why it’s Better to Pressure Can Tomatoes

Image: University of Wisconsin Extension Service

Image: University of Wisconsin Extension Service

As most avid canners know, 4.6 is the pH dividing line between acid foods that can be safely water bath canned and less acidic foods that need to be canned in a pressure canner. Most fruits have a lower, i.e. more acidic pH and can be water bath canned.

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are often near the 4.6 pH level and USDA tested recipes will call for adding either bottled lemon juice or citric acid (I prefer citric acid as the taste is more neutral).

I used to think that this issue was because different tomato varieties vary in their acid content. It turns out that it’s more about when tomatoes are harvested, not to mention what the weather was like during the growing season. Add this variability to other factors, such as how many cans you put in your canner, the material your pot is made out of and the type of heat source and you end up with a tricky question for the food scientists who test home canning recipes. All of these factors are why the recommended hot water bath canning time for raw packed tomatoes is 85 minutes.

I’ve hot water bath canned tomatoes and got great results (especially with San Marzano tomatoes). But 85 minutes is a long time. You can cut the processing down considerably and get better results by pressure canning tomatoes. Here’s a raw pack recipe that includes both hot water and pressure canning instructions. Note that you still need to acidify.

Thanks to Linda Harris, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist, Food Safety and Microbiology who gave a lecture at the Master Food Preserver conference where I gleaned these factoids.